What a lovely day to visit Sperry Park today. Before setting out, I’m rummaging around for some background information. Let’s start by gathering some old photos, shall we?
First we have the photo “Bridge near Sperry’s Mills. Circa 1890.” as published in the Woodbridge Bicentennial Booklet. Under the photo the following text appears:
“Handsome gifts have been made to Woodbridge. Sperry Park perpetuates the name of our first settler. It was given in 1907 by the heirs of Enoch and Mary Atlanta Sperry, on the site of their home and in their memory.”
Well, that’s a start! Who are those folks perched up on the bridge in 1890? No clues for us… yet! A copy of this photo is in the collection at the Darling House… so we will have to dig there at some point. The text referring to “our first settler” of course refers to Richard and Dennis Sperry, the prolific couple from whom it is said 10 children and 60 grandchildren descend — read more about them in the post titled Sperry Family in Woodbridge.
But what else do we know about Enoch and Mary Atlanta themselves? And who exactly are their heirs who gifted this park to the Town in 1907? Let’s start with Mary: here she is in a photo taken towards the end of her long and eventful life.
Turning to my genealogy records, I see that Mary Atlanta was my 3rd cousin, six times removed. She was born about 1795 here in Woodbridge and died at about age 69 on August 10th 1864. Find-a-Grave tells us she was buried at Westville Cemetery.
When Mary Atlanta married Enoch, presumably sometime shortly prior to 1820 when their first child was born, the couple must have known their kinship — their common ancestors, Richard and Dennis Sperry, were Enoch’s 2nd great-grandparents and Mary Atlanta’s 3rd great-grandparents, making them 2nd cousins once removed.
Enoch Sperry and I are more closely related — he is a son of my 6th great-grandparents, Simeon Sperry and Patience Smith. My line continues through Enoch’s sister Anna, who married into the Wooding family and had a daughter who married into my grandmother’s Lounsbury clan in Bethany. The park in Woodbridge is closely aligned to Enoch and Mary Atlanta, although we can see from an entry in the Town of Woodbridge Annual Report for 2014 that the land was also associated with Simeon and before him, his father Nathaniel 2nd. There’s no telling who built the original house that once stood on this “Sperry Home Lot” — was it Enoch (1787-1856), his father Simeon (1739-1805), or his grandfather Nathaniel (1695-1751)? But we do know that Enoch and Mary Atlanta eventually lived there. This screen from my genealogy database shows more details about their family.
Of their six children, born between 1820 and 1838, Mary and Enoch buried one child, Joseph Hart Sperry, who died at age 16 after being thrown from a horse in 1846. Then, just ten years later when Mary Atlanta was about 61 years-old, her husband was killed by an ax murderer on New Year’s Day 1856 in the woods near their home which was located on the present-day Sperry Park property. Vividly described in newspapers of the day, the killing shocked the small community of Woodbridge.
One can imagine that the impact of Mary Atlanta’s loss of her spouse in this violent manner can been seen in the expression she wears in the photo above, likely taken after Enoch’s death.
Of the couple’s five surviving children, we know the following information published in 1918 in “A Modern History of New Haven and eastern New Haven County, Volume 2”:
To the union of Enoch and Mary Atlanta Sperry were born children as follows: Hon. Lucien Wells Sperry born March 8 1820 in Woodbridge married Harriet A. Sperry daughter of Enos Sperry of Westville. She died about 1888 and Mr. Sperry in 1890. They left one daughter Mrs. Eugene S. Miller. At the age of seventeen years Lucien W. Sperry went to New Haven to learn the carpenter’s trade. As the years passed he improved his educational opportunities to such an extent that he was enabled to teach school. In 1845, associated with his brother Stiles D. Sperry, he began a mercantile career and for twenty years or more the brothers were located in business in Westville, Woodbridge, New Haven, and Hartford. In 1855 Lucien bought a tract of land on Mill river just east of the railroad and with Chauncey Sperry, son of the late Enos Sperry, engaged in the coal and wood business continuing same until 1863. In his later years he was connected with several local banks and was a director in railroads in which the town and city had interest. In the middle sixties he began a political career in which for many years he was most popular, prominent, and successful, holding almost every office in the gift of the people. His political affiliations were with the democratic party. In 1864 he was elected first selectman and held that office until 1868 when he declined renomination. In 1866 he was elected mayor of New Haven and was reelected in 1867 and again in 1868, receiving the largest majority ever given a candidate up to that time. In 1869 and 1870 he represented the fourth district in the state senate. From boyhood Mr. Sperry was identified with the militia of the state. When twenty he was chosen captain of a company formed in his native town and during the following year was appointed lieutenant colonel of the Second Regiment of which later he became colonel. He was captain and afterward major of the Second Company Governor’s Horse Guard.
Stiles Denison Sperry born October 15 1822 married Anna E. Briggs of Providence Rhode Island. He was a prominent merchant in New Haven and later served as treasurer of the State Savings Bank at Hartford holding that position at the time of his death. He served two terms as representative in the state legislature from Hartford. He was a prominent and influential Mason and held high offices in that fraternity.
Nehemiah D. Sperry was the third in order of birth. Joseph Hart Sperry was killed in 1846 by being thrown from a horse. Laura Ann Sperry, born October 20, 1835, married Andrew J. Randell and resided in Brooklyn, NY. She died January 25, 1879. In early life she was a school teacher. Enoch Knight Sperry born in Woodbridge married November 10, 1863 Sarah Amanda Treat who was born July 29, 1844 daughter of Jonah Newton and Mary Amanda Gould Treat, and a descendant in the ninth generation from Richard Treat who came to New England as early as 1639 and was an early settler of Wethersfield, Connecticut. Mrs. Sperry’s line of descent from Richard is through Governor Robert, Robert 2, Robert 3, Robert 4, Jonathan, Joseph, and Jonah Newton Treat, the latter a mason and builder of New Haven. Enoch K. Sperry for a number of years was the efficient accountant and bookkeeper of the City Bank of New Haven and engaged in mercantile pursuits in that city. He was appointed United States consul to Barbados by President Lincoln and served several years with honor and distinction. Later in life he had charge of the Treat estate. His wife died April 8, 1877. Their only daughter, Edith Amanda Sperry, was born January 8, 1873. Nehemiah D. Sperry our principal subject attended the schools of his native town and for two years was at the private school of Professor Amos Smith of New Haven. …
The entry goes into much greater length in describing Nehemiah’s accomplishments, including his public service as a “former member of congress from the second district of Connecticut, former Secretary of that state, and for twenty eight years the efficient postmaster at New Haven” — the entry continues with a very long list, indeed! — before concluding with some additional biographical information about his immediate family: “Mr. Sperry was married in 1847 to Miss Eliza H. a daughter of Willis and Catherine Sperry of Woodbridge. She died in 1873 and in 1875 he married Miss Minnie B. Newton, a native of Lockport, New York and a daughter of Erastus and Caroline Newton of that place. Their daughter Caesara married Ephraim I. Frothingham. Mr Sperry died November 13, 1911.”
Nehemiah Sperry is associated with two houses of note; one here in Woodbridge, the other in New Haven. In the Woodbridge Bicentennial booklet, included on a page at the back depicting “Old Woodbridge” is a photo captioned: “The Nehemial Sperry House, Circa 1800.” This house is no longer standing, but apparently had been located on Litchfield Turnpike, near the intersection with Bond Road and was torn down in the 1970s. Of course, if this house was built in 1800, it would pre-date Nehemiah and may instead have been inherited by him. Could it have been built by his father Enoch (1787 – 1856), or even his grandfather Simeon (1738/39 – 1805)? To shed more light on this question, it sounds like a trip to the Town Clerk’s vault may be in order…
Meanwhile in New Haven, Nehemiah built a home on Orange Street in 1857, just one year after his father’s murder. This home is listed on the website for Historic Buildings of Connecticut, where further details are available.
Now the land that was left to the Town of Woodbridge, to become Sperry Park, had been known as ‘the Sperry Home Lot’ and the history of this property can be traced back a few generations, again quoting from “A Modern History of New Haven”:
The name of Sperry is familiar to those acquainted with the history of New Haven and vicinity for from almost the very dawn of the colonial period to the present members of the family has been conspicuous characters in the locality’s social and business life. … In the town of Woodbridge there is a fertile tract of land in the valley to the westward of West Rock near the Judge’s Cave so called because it was for a time the hiding place for the regicides Generals Goffe and Whalley and Colonel Dixwell who fled to America after the restoration. This tract early took the name of Sperry’s farms the home of Richard Sperry a farmer who though not one of the original planters of New Haven was an early settler his name being of record in the town as early as January 4 1643. This Richard Sperry was the last friend and protector of the regicides Goffe and Whalley at a time when their pursuers from England were trying to ferret them out of their hiding places. There is a family tradition that he came to New Haven as agent for the earl of Warwick. The tenure of Sperry’s Farms has continued for upward of two hundred and fifty years in the persons of his descendants.
I. From Richard Sperry of Sperry’s Farms are descended the sons of the late Enoch Sperry who are in the sixth generation their lineage being through Nathaniel, Nathaniel 2, Simeon, and Enoch Sperry.
II. Nathaniel Sperry son of Richard born August 13, 1656 married October 2, 1683 Sarah Dickerman who was born July 25, 1663 daughter of Abraham and Mary Cooper Dickerman and grand-daughter of Thomas Dickerman of Dorchester, 1636.
III. Nathaniel Sperry 2, son of Nathaniel born March 8, 1695 married December 25, 1719 Sarah Wilmot born February 26, 1695/96 daughter of John Wilmot. Mr. Sperry died September 8, 1751.
IV. Simeon Sperry, son of Nathaniel 2, born March 16, 1738/39, married Patience Smith. Mr. Sperry lived and died in Woodbridge his birthplace, though at the time of his birth the territory was the town of New Haven. By occupation he was a small manufacturer and farmer. He held some minor town offices. He was a man of retiring disposition but he had great decision of character and undoubted integrity, and he enjoyed the confidence of all who knew him.
V. Enoch Sperry son of Simeon born in 1787, married Mary Atlanta Sperry daughter of Asa and Eunice Johnson Sperry. Mr. Sperry was born in Woodbridge and lived on the mill site at the upper end of Sperry’s Farms where were located the gristmill and machine. Like his father he too was a small manufacturer and farmer and held a few town offices. He possessed a natural mathematical mind and would solve the most difficult problems in his own way without the rules of ordinary arithmetic. His home life was beautiful. He always had family devotion and was a sincere Christian, a man of the highest integrity and one who would go further than most men to assist those in distress or need. He was greatly interested in matters of the day and would discuss political and religious questions with great freedom and intelligence. Outside of business his chief delight was in church affairs. He was a member of the Congregational Church and often moderator of meetings, and he was frequently chosen to settle disputes both in and out of the church, his decisions being seldom questioned.
Now it’s time to head out to Sperry Park. Let’s see what remains today of this ancient story…
In order to get to Sperry Park we have to turn down Sperry Road from Dillon Road. Not too far in, the asphalt portion of modern roadway ends and the going gets bumpy as we travel “along the colonial, and still dirt, Sperry Road.” This description is quoted from the 1982 “Survey of Publicly Owned Property in Woodbridge, Connecticut” in which Sperry Park is the first parcel described, as the survey recounts the acquisition of property by the Town in chronological order. It reads in part:
The combined Sperry and Henry C. Hickox Memorial Parks land consists of five acres, more or less, on either side of Sargents River, east of Sperry Road, below the Sperry Road Bridge. They are surrounded by extensive New Haven Water Company lands. As defined in its deed, Sperry Park is “that portion of the ‘Sperry Farm’ known as ‘Home Lot’ on which the Dwelling House stood and which contains four (4) acres, more or less, bounded and described as follows, to wit, Easterly by land of New Haven Water Company, Southerly by land of said . New Haven Water Company, Westerly by land of said Water Company and by highway and Northerly by highway.”
The spring (mentioned in the deed) is on Sperry Road. The entrance to the Park is at its northwest corner and leads to a small parking lot. The tree-shaded ‘Home Lot’ is bordered on the north by an old stone wall. Cellar holes and old lilac bushes are on the crest of its hill to the north of and above the river; its land slopes down in fields and ledges to the river, Sperry Falls and small pools below and then rises sharply in the evergreen and fern covered banks south and west of the river. The old Sperry millstone can be seen and grist mill site can be detected. The wooded Hickox land of one acre, more or less, according to its deed (though an earlier deed refers to 1 and 1/4 acres) is bounded “WEST and NORTHWEST by Sperry Road; EAST by land formerly of the Heirs of Enoch Sperry, et ux; and SOUTH by land formerly of Bevil Smith. The Easterly line can be determined by a series of old stone bounds set in the ground.” Together the two Parks offer a quiet setting for walking along the colonial, and still dirt, Sperry Road; for walking through the fields and woods of the parks or sitting by the ever-flowing Sargents River, Sperry Falls and pools.
Here are some of the photos I took as we followed the path in and came to the site of the old mill and picturesque Sperry Falls — one can imagine, still as beautiful as the day Enoch last set eyes upon it.
Time-lapse video of Sperry Falls.
Update #1: “Indeed, there are deeds!” is an additional post, describing some of the documentary background of the property transfers involved in creating Sperry Park.
Update #2: I’ve just come across a nice little write-up of Sperry Park by a local photographer who comments on the Park’s origins and our above mentioned Nehemiah. What a nice little tribute! Visit J.G. Coleman’s blog to read his piece titled, “The Pride of Old Woodbridge”