Rocky Hill History
Rocky Hill is a community in the lower Wethersfield in the state of Connecticut. The residents of this community have wanted to become a separate town since 1820s. 1843 is the year when the social movement led by Elias W. Robbins finally succeeded and the Stepney Parrish became what today is known as Rocky Hill. Glastonbury and Newington later separated from Wethersfield too. There are many other "daughter" towns of bigger cities in Connecticut.
The early history of the town started in 1634 when a fertile land along the Connecticut River was purchased by John Oldham and other settlers from Wongunk Indians. A few families ventured south form the newly built Wethersfield Village, and started building mills and farms. Philip Goffe was one of such adventurers. A little brook running through current town alongside Connecticut River was named Goffe Brook because of him.
Goffe built his house higher on the hills to avoid occasional floods the river causes in spring and established the still running Rocky Hill-Glastonbury ferry service. This ferry is now the oldest ferry in the United States. The land provided materials for ship building and farming.
The newly created Wethersfield was altered by forces of nature before the turn of the century. The Connecticut River changed its course and isolated the port at the inner village in Wethersfield, so the Rocky Hill's newly established port became more accessible to ships and benefitted the community by shifting the commerce, trade, and shipbuilding center towards the southern part of Wethersfield.
During the colonial era many towns were growing rapidly and demanding more rights from the city centers. Rocky Hill had a healthy population by the early eighteen century and people started complaining that it was too far to walk to church, especially when rains were turning roads into swamps. The people of Rocky Hill wanted a separate parish and they got their wish granted in 1722. They got named Stepney Parrish and completed the first meetinghouse four years later, led by Daniel Russell.
The city was expanding rapidly; many beautiful colonial houses were built on the eastern side of town, along the river. Inns and taverns sprung up on the main street to service travelers and seafarers. See also 10 Best Places to visit in Connecticut.
The most famous house of that period was Shipman's Tavern with its legendary Connecticut River shad dinners so loved by Samuel Colt. Shipbuilding industry was booming; people traded livestock, salted meat, wheat, poultry, chees, wood staves, lumber, and potash. Due to this prosperity, more colonial homes were built and more money came into the city.
The need for slaves had arisen and wealthy families purchased them to work in their large estates. The Goffs, Griswolds, and John Robbins were such families. The times changed quickly here, and by the time of Civil War only 13 African Americans lived in the town and none of them were slaves any more.
The town contributed in the American Revolution in the fight against Britain. About 50 veterans are buried in the Rocky Hill cemetery that perished during the Revolution. Several ships were commissioned for the fight efforts by the state as privateers.
The newly gained independence brought some financial losses when Boston and New York became the main ship building hubs, and the industry in Wethersfield declined. The decline was felt even more when the conflict with Britain renewed and the Embargo Act was signed into law by Thomas Jefferson in 1807. The later War of 1812 pushed the industry even further into decline.
When the independence of Rocky Hill came, the town had about 1,000 farming residents and was considered a pillar of stability and deep rooted habits. The number of residents hasn't really changed during the entire 19th century, firmly cementing the notion that the maritime industry won't be returning to the area.
The twentieth century marked the greatest migration form the country to growing cities. Rocky Hill was no exception – a good part of the town, the area to the east was still famed, while the western part of town became prominent hillside orchard growers. The railway split those two areas directly in the middle.
The population stayed relatively the same, but some Italian and Irish immigrants now joined the old Yankee families and worked on the farms. African Americans also worked on the fields. The agrarian lifestyle was the bloodline of the community and the building of the Grange Hall further solidify the hold of agriculture.
Despite the efforts to resist industrialization, factories were built in town and they rushed the new century in. The town had some small establishments that made brooms and shoes. The Champion Company's factory was built 1896 and produced school desks with iron cast frames. Rocky Hill was also home to the Pierce Hardware Company. In 1925 the largest industrial development began on Divided Road with factories mainly producing rayon.
Those changes did not happen without a cost. In 1921 a fire started in Belden's Store and took down the store, the Grange Hall, and several sheds. The fire was very symbolic – it burned down the Grange Hall which had stood as a symbol of agrarian culture. The town was really at the crossroads between the old and the new. Modernization was taking a stronghold on the town and the changes could not be reversed.
A decade later two main steamers, the Hartford and the Middletown, were retired after almost a century of service, and that left a void in peoples' heart. The shipping industry was dying completely. The railroads took the place of ships and then cars did it even more. The Silas Deane Highway was built in 1930s in hopes of attracting more cars. Old trolley line was replaced by a bus service.
Modern times were ushered in with the passage of Interstate Highway Act of 1954 and the construction of Interstate 91 in the early 1960s. The internal combustion was the winner in this situation, and the old agrarian lifestyle fell victim to modern changing times.
The railroad and later the roads brought more people into little towns, like Rocky Hill. Its population grew from 1,000 to 18,000 by 1943. After the WWII the town transformed from a rural community to a residential suburb of Hartford. All the new residents needed more houses, more schools, and more cars. The eastern side of town still had the colonial houses, while the western side went over the major change after the WWII and farmlands got replaced by condominiums and houses.
Many small old schools were demolished and new spacious facilities were built. Rocky Hill High School and Griswold Junior High School took the place of old schools. 1960s marks the time when Rocky Hill shifted to Town-Management system to handle the numbers of people and their issues more efficiently.
Another huge change happened in the diversity of population. While many cultural background people were moving into Connecticut, a large number of Italians moved to Hartford at that time. When the housing projects and old tenement buildings in downtown were demolished to make way for urban renewal, the Italian population moved to Rocky Hill in great numbers.
Many organizations were created to cater to this Italian population in the middle of the century that remain active today. St. Rita's Bakery still caters to Italian segment, and St. James Church has been geared toward Italian youth education and integration since 1945.
Today, the town is home to many diverse ethnic and cultural groups and is considered a suburb of Hartford. Rocky Hill is a great example how history and nature forces influence the present.