The year 2020 has special meaning for the residents of the Tolland County town of Bolton. Throughout the year, the people of this rural and residential town are celebrating the 300th anniversary of the founding of their community. The Tercentennial observance includes special activities in each month of the year, including a road race, a variety show
and a theater festival. Although it has only about 5,000 inhabitants, Bolton is known for its great community spirit — a spirit that has been part of its history for three centuries.
Originally part of the Hartford Colony, the region was known by the names of Hartford Mountains and Hanover. When it came time to incorporate in 1720, it was thought that calling the place Hartford Mountains might discourage settlers looking for farmable land and calling it Hanover after the royal family of England might not be the most ideal choice either. So the name Bolton was chosen, reflecting a British abbey and a town area in the Lancashire section of England from where many of the Colonial settlers had come. Through the years a special relationship has continued between the two Bolton communities separated by the Atlantic Ocean.
The town of Bolton chartered by the Colony of Connecticut was geographically larger than Bolton is today. In October of 1808 the northern half of the town seceded and became the Town of Vernon, named for a naval war hero. With industrial expansion, the new northern town quickly grew to a population that ultimately became 10 times larger than its mother town. The southern section, which kept the name of Bolton, remained mostly agricultural with quarrying as its main industry. Part of the town near the famed Bolton Notch is still known as Quarryville.
Bolton Notch is a natural feature of the landscape east of the Connecticut R
have determined that it is a notch in the bedrock shaped by the forceful flow of an impounded lake formed as glaciers retreated northward about 17,500 years ago. In the 1600s European settlers heading southwest from Massachusetts discovered that using the notch was a good way to avoid the more active and restive Native American communities along the coast. The trail they followed became known as the Connecticut Path. A section of that path is preserved in Bolton Notch State Park, located near the junction of CT Route 44 and U.S. Route 6.
In the years after the first settlers arrived, the Connecticut Path was widened into a roadway that accommodated wagons and could be used for herding livestock. As the railroad became an important mode of transportation in Connecticut, a rail bed and tracks were laid through the notch. In 1917 the State of Connecticut purchased land around the notch and turned it into a recreational area that preserves its history for coming generations. Hikers following trails in the park may notice dark red crystals that stud some of the rocky outcrops in the area. These stones are garnets, which were named the official state mineral in 1977.
Part of the history of Bolton Notch includes the story of Squaw Cave, a centerpiece of the
state park properly. According to local legend, Wunnetumah, daughter of a Podunk Indian chieftain, married a settler by the name of Peter Hager. In those times such a marriage was illegal. The couple lived without incident in the cave until Peter Hager was shot by some local residents who accused him of chopping wood on the Sabbath. Sadly, he died and was then buried by her people. The cave serves as a memorial to them. A recent feature of the park area is an American flag painted on the exposed rock
face that can be
seen from a great distance away.
The Town of Bolton is a great place for people who like to walk, with both town and state parks within its borders. Helping to preserve the legacy of the town is the Bolton Historical Society, which recently purchased Roses’ Farm, a pastured area of several hundred acres where General George Washington camped with his troops and French soldiers on their way to Yorktown also were headquartered. The road traveled by the troops in now known as the Washington-Rochambeau Revolutionary Route National Historic Trail. Washington, Rochambeau and Alexander Hamilton stayed at what is now called the Bolton Heritage Farm House several times during the Revolutionary War Era.
The Heritage Farm House had been built in 1825 for Rev. Thomas White, a Congregational clergyman who was asked to be the town’s settled pastor after the departure of the previous clergy candidate, the renowned Jonathan Edwards, who left to take a position at
Yale University. The Rev. Mr. White stayed on for many years as the town minister. During his tenure the first meeting house was constructed. The current Congregational Church building, erected in the classic Greek Revival architectural style, was completed in 1818. The longest tenured pastor in the history of the church was the Rev. George Colton, who served from 1763 to the time of his death in 1812. Standing six feet and seven inches tall, he was known locally as the “high priest” of Bolton.
An interesting historical “first” occurred in Bolton in 1805. The first “camp meeting” religious gathering ever held in New England was sited here. Camp meetings were outdoor assemblies of Christian believers who gathered to hear revivalist preachers over a number of days, camping out in local fields for the duration of the meeting. From June 30 to July 2 of 1805 the prayer and preaching assembly was held with the famed preacher Lorenzo Dow as the featured speaker. The camp meeting drew a crowd of around 6,000 people, which was about three times larger than the total population of Bolton at the time. Subsequent camp m
eeting gatherings were held locally in 1836, 1838 at 1847, which resulted in the main road to the gathering place being named Camp Meeting Road.
Although the center Town Green area of Bolton is a pleasant place to visit, there are other
places well worth stopping by. Food lovers will enjoy a visit to Munson’s Chocolates on Hop River Road and an ice cream cone from the Fish Family Farm Creamery on Dimock Lane is good in every season. Using milk directly from its herd of Jersey cows, the Fish Family markets its full line of dairy products to loc
al folks and visitors alike. Another welcoming place in town is the Bentley Memorial Library. Named in honor of long-serving town librarian Elinor Hees Bentley, the library is a place where the traditions of this special community are preserved and presented. Three hundred years of shared history as a town makes for many interesting tales!