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  • Writer's pictureMaggie Meahl

Field Trip To Norwich, CT: Day 1, the Geography

Updated: Nov 11, 2022

First Church, Norwichtown, CT
Perched on the western edge of the Green, is the First Church, Norwichtown, CT. Formerly called a "meetinghouse" it now serves many denominations. Was built in 1805 and is the fourth or fifth meetinghouse erected on or near this site. Seventeenth- and eighteenth-century meetinghouses routinely burned down or were upgraded to the white chapel-style ones we associate with New England.

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.

Yantic Falls

Yantic Falls
View from above the mighty Yantic Falls. A must-see.

Yantic Falls
Norwich has some very good signs dotted across the area to help curious visitors.

Railroad bed above the Yantic River next to the falls.
Railroad bed that goes over the Yantic River next to the falls on the right. The first railroad came to Norwich in 1840. I bet my great-grandfather walked these tracks with his friends in the 1890s.

Yantic River Mill, Yantic, CT
Stonework shell of a former Yantic River mill. Note that it is on a hill!

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.

Map of Bean Hill and Norwichtown, CT
Norwichtown and adjacent Bean Hill neighborhood. The oldest neighborhoods in the greater Norwich, CT area. Both are a decent walk from each other down West Town Street.

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.

Joseph Carpenter Silversmith Shop
Newly restored Joseph Carpenter silversmith shop built in 1772. Run by the Leffingwell House Museum. Great example of an 18th century trade building.

Dr. Daniel Lathrop School
Dr. Daniel Lathrop School built in 1783. Next door to Carpenter's silversmith shop. Gambrel roofs provided more storage and head space.

Mediterranean Lane

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.

Captain Richard Charlton House built around 1800. Mediterranean Lane. Anybody know who he was? Will be trying to connect him to Joshua Huntington.

Mediterranean Lane
Steep sloping grounds of Mediterranean Lane. Near or part of former Charlton lands?

Shabby-chic entrance to a house on Mediterranean Lane

Old farm building on Mediterranean Lane.

Old farm building
Another old patched up farm building on Mediterranean Lane.

Bean Hill

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.

Norwichtown original house lots.
Marked up map of original proprietor home lots. Not sure who made this map. Caulkins? West Town Street leads to Bean Hill which also has a tiny green on it.

Old crusty urn with lovely patch of grass. Bean Hill.

"1743" House on Bean Hill

Bean Hill old homestead. Original windows?

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.

John Gager homely from 1659. West Town Street, Norwichtown, CT.
Location of original John Gager home lot and possible bastardized version of his home or more likely one of his descendants' home. More study would have to be done. The Yantic River is somewhere close by.

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.

Back of John Gager house
Backside of "John Gager" house. Notice a 9 over 9 window amongst all the different windows.

Evidence of old well.

John Gager house
East? end of "John Gager" house. Note the typical Yankee additions including what I think was an outhouse. Also, an old stone foundation. Started to get a bit scared at this point that a mad homeowner would emerge.

Land record of John Gager. Courtesy of Norwich City Hall.
Land record of John Gager. Courtesy of Norwich City Hall. It describes the land above. I believe Frances Manwaring Caulkins read all of these town records. There are so many......

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.

Mohegan Sun Resort. Uncasville, CT. View of Thames River looking toward Norwich.

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?

1 Comment

Bonnie S. Benner
Bonnie S. Benner
Jul 31, 2022

I found this site by googling Thomas Stoughton reference in another post. I'm just wondering through your other post now. Pictures are very nice. I'm know I have Huntington' in my family branches, just haven't taken an interest in them.

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