Field Trip To Norwich, CT: Day 1, the Geography
Updated: Nov 11, 2022
The Norwich, CT area is extremely historic, geographically beautiful, but challenging at the same time. Lots of hills! Recently I had a chance to visit it on a beautiful late spring day. Photography is not my strong suit but I think I captured the spirit of the area pretty well. It was Sunday, hot, and quiet which enabled me to get around easily.
I have been studying this area, and its people, for many years in order to write a family history of one branch of the very large Huntington family that populated this area for centuries. Unfortunately, my research and writing process is slow.
Norwich was given to a group of white Puritan families (primarily from Saybrook) in 1659 by Chief Uncas of the Mohegan Tribe through a very good deal for the white settlers. The Mohegan Americans were the original stewards of the land that the settlers would forever alter. Luckily, the tribe survived and both groups have worked together in the last few decades to right some of the wrongs.
The reason for this trip was for me to get a better sense of the size, scale, and geography of Norwich and its surrounding spin-off towns, particularly Yantic and Franklin. As Nathaniel Philbrick reminded us would-be authors in a 2021 Zoom talk regarding his latest book: Travels with George: "1. all history is local. 2. Hidden in the landscape is the roots of our events. 3. We cannot always condemn people by the standards of today." All good advice for would-be authors of history books.
Philbrick explained that he has to go to the places he's writing about. I totally agree. That is why his books read like a novel--Bunker Hill is my favorite.
I spent all day Sunday exploring this beautiful area (which I have done many times, but it is always challenging to know where I am re: north/south, east/west and the rivers). I visited the iconic Yantic Falls, Norwichtown Green, Mediterranean Lane, Bean Hill, the large hilly town graveyard, and finally a dinner at the Mohegan Sun. Some of it I walked and some I drove.
How the Mohegan Sun came to be is a very interesting story for another post.
The Norwichtown Green area remains somewhat unchanged from colonial days. Originally, it would have been covered in vegetation, swamps, streams, and trees. Then the settlers came in and clear cutted the area to make their houses and barns. Apple orchards would have sprung up quickly and cattle would have been grazing everywhere. In the 18th century little country stores would have been built around the Green and look similar to the ones below. By the Civil War-era, large elm, ash, oak, and other hard wood trees surrounded the Green and its well-kept colonial and federal homes.
Eventually those little retail buildings were razed as the downtown "Chelsea" area became the commercial center and the old Green neighborhood became quiet and more residential in nature--less agricultural. Today, the homes are varied in architecture including a mixture of 18th and 19th century homes. Some most likely having original 17th century innards in them.
The Norwich Historical Society and Leffingwall House Museum have done a great job to save important old buildings and highlight important sites in this area. A lot of very old homes remain but in lackluster condition due to Norwich's unfortunate poverty rate. I truly hope Connecticut can fix this ASAP. On the other hand, as they say, poverty can be a friend to antique homes because they never see much change.
Mediterranean Lane is this quiet country road that shoots off of the Green. The unusual name must harken back to exotic trade goods that the residents would have seen in the 18th and 19th centuries courtesy of the many ship captains that lived in the area including a "Captain Charlton" who reportedly built this one-story house in 1730. I believe, the Huntington family had a rum distillery between Mediterranean Lane and Huntington Lane.
As I moved west, away from the Green, I was traveling on the original path of the second tier land allotments from the original 1660 land distribution of the nine-mile square area. Most of the leaders of the Saybrook Group had land around or nearer to the meetinghouse.
Gager Home Lot
Anyway, after I visited the Norwichtown green area and Bean Hill I went to find the "The Post and Gager Burial Ground"--which exists but has no surviving headstones. When I was driving up the narrow Lee Street, the first house I saw was the "John Gager House: 1659." There is not much known about the Gagers so it was a welcome surprise. Of course, his daughter, Lydia, married Simon Huntington III in 1683.
I was kind of nervous on this very quiet street so I did not take good pictures. The house appeared abandoned and/or not very well kept at all.
The Mohegan Sun
Finally, after cooling off at the Courtyard Marriott right near Bean Hill, I drove out to the Mohegan Sun for dinner. It is the only decent place to eat in the area right now. As Norwich sees more and more revitalization, I hope this situation changes.
Postscript: If you read this far, can you please give me some feedback on this blog, if you follow it, and which posts you like best?