An excerpt from: History of New Haven, Connecticut
THE TOWN OF WOODBRIDGE
Bv Reverend S. P. Marvin.
Published in 1892
— Location and Natural Features — Geology and Mineralogy — Flora — Industries — The Regicide Judges — Amity Society — Union Society — Chapel — Ministers —
Location and Natural Resources
The town of Woodbridge lies northwest of New Haven, having New Haven and Orange for its southern boundary, Derby, Ansonia and Seymour on the west, Bethany on the north, and the West Rock range of hills on the east. It was incorporated in 1784. The scenery of Woodbridge is picturesque and attractive. From numerous points may be seen the city of New Haven, the mouth of its harbor and Long Island sound, with its white sails or its palatial steamers, as they pass to their destined ports. From some of its elevations may be seen more than fifty miles of Long Island sound, and of the north shore of Long Island. Round Top and its companion, Tomlinson hill, are each of them over 600 feet high, and from their tops may be seen with a glass, in addition to the extensive view of the sound and Long Island, some 15 of the towns which surround them. The late President Woolsey, of Yale College, when taking the view from these hills, remarked: ” We have no view in the vicinity of New Haven to equal this.”
The Ravine has long been attractive for its romantic and delightful driveway, with its high and shaded bluffs on the one side, and its clear, silvery brook on the other, rushing over the pebble stones at one time, and at another forming a cascade, at the foot of which a pool in sleeping beauty mirrors the bold and rugged rocks and trees of the over-hanging banks, and the fleecy clouds floating in the sky above it.
The streams abound with the speckled trout, the glens with the partridge, quail and woodcock, while the forests are made musical with the chatter of the red and grey squirrel.
Woodbridge is celebrated for its healthy atmosphere. Being seven miles from Long Island sound, and having an altitude of from four to six hundred feet above the sea level, it combines the sea and mountain air, making a most delightful and healthful atmosphere. Those who have resided in other localities say that the atmosphere of Woodbridge is as good as at Litchfield in this state, or any place within a hundred miles of New Haven. It is a suggestion of some of the old physicians of New Haven when anything is the matter with the babies, ” Take them up to Woodbridge. The Woodbridge air is better than any medicine I can give them.” Woodbridge is also celebrated for the excellence of its water, which is noted for its purity and coolness. The necessity of ice is hardly felt, so cool and refreshing is the water from its numerous springs.
Geology and Mineralogy
The soil is a rich loam, which holds the fertilizing properties which are put upon it, and their influence may be seen for years. The surface is somewhat uneven and stony, but when once cleared of stones it amply repays in productiveness for all the labor of removing them.
In some parts of the town are immense boulders, the relics of the glacial period, while the eastern valley and the Sperry’s farm plains give evidence that they were once covered with water, which was an arm or bay of the sound.
The gneiss and granite are the prevailing kinds of stone. Slate is found, but not in quantity or quality to repay its being prepared for the market. In the northwest part of the town indications of silver have been sufficient to attract the ” prospector,” and boreings have been made, but not with satisfactory results. Along the hills on the east side is found the argillo magnesian limestone, out of which cement similar to the Rosendale is made. Quite extensive works were started for its production, but for some reason the venture did not prove a success.
The fruits and flowers common to this part of New England flourish here. Apples, pears and quinces are quite productive. The peach is somewhat unreliable, though in some years produces a valuable crop. The wild flowers are abundant in variety, decking the hillsides and rendering beautiful the ravines. The cardinal flower grows brilliant by the brooksides. The pitcher plant, quite rare in most places, grows in the meadows. The pipsissewa and the trailing arbutus are found in the woods.
Agriculture in its various forms maybe said to be the principal industry of the place. Market gardening is carried on to some extent, and milk is extensively produced for the New Haven market and the villages of Ansonia, Birmingham and Seymour. Woodbridge was once famous for its excellent beef, but the great corporations of Chicago and Kansas City have so extended the dressed beef industry that the raising of beef by the farmers is not so profitable as formerly. The cattle trade was once extensive and lucrative, but at present D. N. Clark is the only cattle broker doing business between Albany and New Haven and the surrounding villages.
Quite a number of mechanics and other business men are engaged in the city, and ride back and forth night and morning.
The friction match had its origin in this town. Messrs. Anson Beecher, William A. Clark and Thomas Sanford were pioneers in the business. Mr. Beecher moved his business to Westville, where, under the direction of Mr. Eben and Wheeler Beecher and their brothers, it assumed large proportions, and became a source of great wealth. William A. Clark continued to carry on the business in the north part of the town, gaining a high reputation for his matches and a competence of wealth. After his death, under the management of his son- in-law, Frederick P. Newton, it was absorbed in the Diamond Match Company and removed to Westville.
The timber trade was at one time quite extensively carried on by James J. Baldwin and others between this place and New York, but with his advanced years the business has declined.
The Regicide Judges
Though the Judges’ cave on West Rock is just without the limits of the town, still there are several locations which have a historic interest as places to which the regicides fled, or where they secreted themselves, and were aided by the early settlers of Woodbridge. There are several places which bear names evidently derived from their having been the residence of the exiles, such as the ” Lodge,” the ” Harbor,” the ” Spring,” “Hatchet’s Harbor,” and others. Of these places the Lodge was probably the one most frequented by them. This was in the northwest part of the town. Reverend I. P. Warren, in his history of the three judges, thus speaks of it: ” Here by the side of a ledge of rocks, some 20 feet high, was built a cabin of stone, 9 by 10 feet in dimension and covered over by trunks and leaves of trees. From the top of the ledge is a fine view of the city and Long Island sound, with the intervening villages and scattered farms and dwellings. A little spring of clear water issues from the crevices of a rock a few rods distant.” ” This,” says President Stiles, at one time president of Yale College, “was undoubtedly their great and principal lodge.” The “Harbor” was about three quarters of a mile above Halsted Bishop’s, on the stream across which the New Haven Water Company have built their large dam. Another hiding place was with Mr. Richard Sperry, the ancestor of the Sperrys, once so numerous on the flat known as “Sperry’s Farm.” It is evident that to Woodbridge and its inhabitants, as much as to any other place or people, the regicides owed their escape from the emissaries of Charles the Second, who had come over from England to apprehend them.
Amity Society – The Congregational Church is Established
The Ecclesiastical Society of Amity (including Bethany till 1763) was formed in 1737.* After petitioning the general court for 20 years, consent was granted, and it was formed from the northwest part of the town of New Haven, with the addition of one mile and six score rods in width from the northeast part of Milford, and in length, from an east and west line about four miles south from the Waterbury line. Before this, those living on the New Haven side had gone to the First church of New Haven, and those on the Milford side to the First church of Milford, some of them having to go ten or twelve miles to church on the Sabbath and to procure the administration of covenant ordinances for their children. (* Incorporated in 1739)
The first record which we have of the society reads thus: “At a meeting of the inhabetence of the parish of Amity, in the town of new haven legally warned, met on the twenty-seventh day of October, 1738. And at said meeting, by vote, in the first place made choice of Cap. iack Johnson for their moderator. Secondly, thay by vote made choice of Ebenezer peck as their society dark and sworn according to law, thirdly and sum more then tue thirds of said inhabetence convened voted to build a hous to meet in for the worship of God and none dessented thereafrom said intention.”
They then appointed a society committee and laid a tax of three pence on the pound, to be paid in one month, for the support of the Gospel, and voted ” There should be two places for meeting, viz., that the dwelling hous of Mr. Joseph Willmot and the dwelling hous of Mr. Joseph Perkins shall be the places for the meeting for divine sar- veces.” The location of the meeting house was to be determined by the following vote: ” It was then voted that the county survear with tue chain bearers under oth shal be cald out between this and the firs day of Jenewary to measure and compute the distance of way from each of the inhabetance to sum sartain place to build a meeting hous for the worship of God.” The size of the house was to be ” fifty and five foot in length and forty foot in width.”
The internal arrangement of this house was with square pews all around the four sides, except that part of one side occupied by the pulpit. There was an aisle leading from the front door to the pulpit through the center, and two rows of pews each side of this broad aisle. The pulpit was elevated some ten feet above the audience, with a canopy or sounding board suspended over it. The deacons’ seat was under the pulpit, facing the audience.
At a subsequent meeting, May 13th, 1740, they voted to ask the advice of the association “for a minister to preach to us in order for a settlement. Left. Ebenezer Becher and insin Barnabas Baldwin be a comtee to make our requests to the association for a minister.” The advice of the association was probably favorable, as on the 30th of June following they voted they would have preaching on the second Sabbath day in August. Probably this meeting on the second Sabbath of August 1740, was the first meeting held in the new meeting house. At first they were not successful with their candidates. Reverends Gideon Mills, Mr. Whittlesey and Nathan Birdsey were each employed as candidates, but for some reason did not settle with them. The next candidate was more fortunate. Mr. Benjamin Woodbridge, having preached as a probationer, won the affections and confidence of the good people of Amity, and received a call May 13th, 1742. His settlement was to be ^fiOO, with the condition that if he ” turned to any other practice or opinion than that on which this church is or shall be settled,” and he cease to be the pastor of the church, the settlement was to revert to the parish again. In addition to the settlement he was to have as a permanent salary £200 a year. After some explanations by the parish, Mr. Woodbridge accepted the call and was in- installed on the 3d of November 1742. Captain Isaac Johnson and Theophilus Baldwin were elected deacons, and the church adopted the ” Halfway Covenant.”
No one was allowed in those times to hold a religious meeting or to give an exhortation in any meeting without consent of the proper authorities. Accordingly, on the 24th of November, the following vote was passed: ” There was chosen by the church in Amity, as their representatives for sd church, with the Pastor, to order for the opening and shutting of the pulpit doors, “and for giving leave or prohibiting any persons preaching or exhorting publicly, according to the laws of the government on that occasion, Dea Isaac Johnson, Francis Griffin and Dea Theophilus Baldwin.”
Very soon after the church was finished rules were adopted for seating it and dignifying the seats. The males and females sat on opposite sides of the house. In all cases the men sat on the right of the minister and the women on the left; the dignity of a person was reckoned from the amount of his tax rate for the building of the meeting house. ” Each person should sit according to their building part.” As this dignifying the meeting house was peculiar to the fathers, the following rules or votes respecting it are given: ” Voted, that the two foremost seats should be the highest seats. 2. That the two pews on the right and left hand of the fore doors should be the next highest seats. 3. That the two pews on the right and left hand of the pulpit should be the next highest seats. 4. That the two next seats to the fore seats the next highest seats. 5. That the third seats in the square body should be equal to the four seats in the front gallery.” And so they proceeded through the house. The corner pews under the gallery stairs were the lowest in dignity. ” All persons, males at 21 and girls at 18, were to be seated.” In 1753 the church was reseated and dignified, and this proviso added to previous rules: ” That but one head should be reconed to a man in order to advance him in seating.”
In the early years of the parish clocks were not in use in the churches, and the length of the service was determined by an hour- glass. When the service commenced the hour-glass was placed upon one end. When the sand had run through it was turned on the other, and when it had run through a second time the meeting closed.
To provide for the comfort of the worshippers, as stoves were not in existence, they built ” Sabba-day houses” upon the green. These were one story high and about 15 feet square, with a fireplace. A row of these houses extended across the north and east sides of the green. Usually two families united and spent the noon in each of them.
Tradition has it that often the cider bottle was brought and passed around, but a better one is that noon prayer-meetings were frequently held in them. These “Sabba-day houses ” became a source of contention, as some of their owners would rent them to tramps to the annoyance of the neighbors. Accordingly, one Saturday night a company of men repaired to the green and tore down all the Sabba-day houses on the east side of the green but one. It being too near morning to pull that down without being detected, they wrote on the door with chalk, “Be ye a/so ready.” Molly Woodbridge, when she heard of it, said, “This was a very solemn admonition.”
In 1761 they voted ” to shingle the roof and color the sides and ends of the house and that a number of gentlemen might build a bell chamber on the top of the meeting house at their own cost.” In the following year (1762) the north part of the parish was set off, and constituted the parish of Bethany. The territorial center of the parish of Amity remained at the same place where the ” survear and tue chain bearers” had located the center of the ” inhabetance” 20 years before. It was about 1802 that the canopy was lowered and a window put in back of the pulpit. The house was again painted, and a tax levied in dollars and cents, the first mention made of money of this denomination on the society’s records. In 1831 a committee was appointed to build a new church and to dispose of the old one. The new meeting house was located but a few rods from the old one, and was a great improvement in internal arrangement, as well as architecture, on its predecessor.
The parish has ever kept up with the progress of the age in taste and refinement. In 1862-3 they remodeled the interior and beautifully frescoed it, and built a pulpit recess on the back of the house, making it a most attractive audience room, which has been taken as a model by several other parishes.
In 186;”) a neat fence was built enclosing the church green, and in the following spring the grounds were laid out with walks, and trees were set out, making a beautiful park. A few years later a lecture room and church parlor was built and connected with the church, $500 of the expense of which was defrayed by Mrs. Zina Carrington. In 1891 Mrs. Mary Clark Treat gave the church a beautiful pipe organ, as a memorial of her father’s family, Mr. Treat Clark.
During the pastorate of Reverend Jason Allen, those who were opposed to him, uniting with those belonging to other denominations, formed a new society, calling it the ” Union Society.” They built a meeting house, which stood opposite the west part of the church green. They seem to have been aggressive and bitter in their opposition to the old society of Amity, and attempted to obtain a part or the whole of the fund, but were unsuccessful in their purpose. The meetings in the united meeting house were held by different denominations.
After struggling for existence a few years the organization was given up and the meeting house sold, to be removed to Ansonia, where it was reconstructed into a tenement house. Most of the families who were interested in that organization have either left the place or are identified with the First church.
In the north part of the parish within a few years a chapel has been built, which is supplied by ministers from different denominations, and where a Sabbath school is maintained.
The first pastor of the Amity church was Reverend Benjamin Woodbridge, who held the office 48 years, and until his death. He had a settlement of £500, and an annual salary after the fourth year of his settlement of £200. A minister in those days was settled for life, and a certain amount was given for his settlement, which was independent of his salary. His long pastorate seems to have been successful and harmonious. He was suspected of being a tory in revolutionary times, and the church appointed a committee to wait on him respecting his political views and loyalty to the cause of the colonies. His reply was that when the United Colonies had gained their independence he would take the ” oath of fidelity.” The success of the colonies led him, however, to take the oath as a loyal citizen. At the formation of the town it was named after him, for which honor he gave them a copy of ” Whitley’s Annotations on the Epistles,” which is still preserved in the library at the parsonage in Woodbridge; also a copy of ” Annotations by several eminent Dutch Divines,” which was given to the Congregational society of Bethany. He died December 4th, 1785. His remains were deposited in the cemetery near the center of the town. His wife sleeps beside him, and his daughter, Mary, lies near them. The society erected a monument over his grave, with the following inscription: “The Rev. Benj. Woodbridge, 1st minister of the town of Woodbridge, died on the 24th of Dec, 1785, in the 75th year of his age, and 44th of his Ministry. This Gentn was of a fine constitution. Little elated or depressed with various fortunes, of excellent mental powers, he had a public education, was a good scholar, an able divine, a wise counsellor, he was plain and unaffected in his manners and dress. His conversation was free and instructive and unreserved, as the words of his mouth were the sentiments of his heart (his friendship was void of dissimulation, his learning of pedantry, his charity of ostentation, and his religion of superstition and bigotry, his life was a portrait of Christian virtues). With serenity and filial obedience he submitted to his summons and welcomed death as the messenger to introduce him to a better world.”
Immediately under this inscription is the following of his wife: ” Mrs. Mary Woodbridge, the Virtuous and Agreeable Consort of Rev. Benj. Woodbridge, deceased, who died on the 19th day of Dec. 1786, in the 72d year of her age. Her friends and acquaintances who have experienced her charity and known her worth will long remember her with pleasure.”
The second pastor of the church was Reverend Eliphalet Ball, who was settled as colleague with Mr. Woodbridge some two years before his death. Mr. Ball’s pastorate lasted only about five years. His reasons for resigning were his advanced age, some disaffection in the parish, the desire of his children to have him with them, and ” The thought of eating tin- bread of those who are unwilling to give it is very disagreeable and mortifying.” He soon removed to Ballston, N. Y., which it is said was named after him.
The Reverend David Lewis Beebe, having supplied the church for some time previous, received a call to settle on a salary of £100 per annum. He was installed February 22d, 1791. Mr. Beebe was the son of Reverend James Beebe, pastor of the Congregational church at Trumbull, and who served in the French and Canadian war as chap- lain. David was born in Trumbull, and graduated at Yale College in 1785. His pastorate with the Woodbridge church continued for nine years, when his health failed and he was obliged to resign. The evidences of his faithful and zealous efforts for the good of his people were manifest on every hand. The council dissolving the pastoral relation commended him for his “orthodox zeal and fidelity in the work of the evangelical ministry.”
After the failure of his health he went into the mercantile business, and had a store at Northford and then at Wallingford. At the time of his death he was in business at Catskill, N. Y., where he died in 1S03. Mrs. Beebe was the daughter of Mr. Caleb Atwater. She was born in Wallingford, and died in 1845, aged 76. She was a model minister’s wife, and after her removal from the parish it was a sufficient condemnation of any mode of operations in the parish to say ” Mrs. Beebe didn’t do it so.” Among the descendants of Mr. and Mrs. Beebe are Brigadier-General H. B. Carrington, of the United States army, and Mrs. Gilbert, the wife of Reverend E. R. Gilbert, so long pastor of the Congregational church at Wallingford.
The fourth pastor of the church was Reverend Claudius Herrick, who was settled on a salary of ” 140 pounds, lawful money.” His pastorate was eminentlv successful, but owing to a failure of health it lasted but little more than four years. After his dismission he re- moved to New Haven, where he established a young ladies’ seminary, one of the first in the city. He died May 26th, 1831. Mr. Herrick was largely successful, both as pastor and teacher. Mild, pleasant and cheerful, yet ever sober and earnest, his influence, both in the parish and the school, impressed others with the worth and beauty of the Christian life. He was a man of culture and refinement. He was the father of the late Edward Herrick, for so many years librarian and treasurer of Yale College, and of Reverend Henry Herrick, of Wood- stock, this state, both of whom were born in this town.
The fifth pastor of the church was Reverend Jason Allen, who was ordained April 11th, 1810. The society was not unanimous in his call. When the vote was taken it was challenged and the house was divided; 71 voted yea, and 14 no. He accepted the call, and at his in- stallation Doctor Dwight was overheard to say to Mr. Allen, ” This church is one of the best in the Union.” His pastorate, however, was af ended with opposition and embarrassments. The opposition in- creased. Political feuds were rife, and the elements of discord with- drew from the parish, formed a union society and attempted to get the whole or a part of the bank fund without success. In all the op- position Mr. Allen bore himself with dignity and Christian urbanity, and in spite of the opposition maintained his pastorate for 16 years. The council which sat at his dismission say: ” They are happy to find that nothing has been alleged against the Reverend Jason Allen, and that they are able to bear their decided testimony to his Christian and ministerial character, as having through a series of years proved himself a sound, faithful, active and prudent preacher and laborer in the vineyard of our common Lord.” Mr. Allen soon removed to the state of New York.
Reverend Prince Hawes was ordained the 2d of December, 1828- Two years had now passed since the dismissal of Mr. Allen, and the clouds which at that time threatened the peace of this Israel had passed away, and the day spring from on high was shining in his brightness and power. During Mr. Hawes’ pastorate the new meeting house was built, and the old proverb seems to have been fulfilled in his case: ” The minister who builds a house of worship never preaches in it.” His pastorate, commencing so auspiciously, lasted but five years and four months. He was dismissed by the Consociation April 21st, 1824, and died suddenly December 17th or 18th, 184S, in Brooklyn, N. Y.
After the dismissal of Mr. Hawes, the church was without a settled pastor for some nine years, during which time they were sup- plied by different ministers, among whom were the Reverend Asa B. Smith, whose labors were greatly blessed, and Reverend Walter R. Long, who labored with them three years, received a call and endeared himself to the parish, but declined to settle with them. The year 1843 is memorable in the parish for the installation of Reverend Samuel H. Elliot. After supplying the church two years, he was ordained its seventh pastor, on the 9th of November. The church grew under Mr. Elliot’s ministrations, and in addition to his pastoral labors he wrote the ” Memoirs of Emily Perkins,” also ” Parish Side,” ” Rolling Ridge,” and the sequel to ” Rolling Ridge.” He was dismissed December 3d, 1849, ministering to the church in all eight years and three months. He was afterward settled in Westville, where he established a boarding school. From Westville he removed to New Haven, where he died, September 15th, 1869, aged 60 years.
He married Marian L. Harvey, of New York city, by whom he had three sons and a daughter. Two of his sons, Charles and Henry, were born in Woodbridge, and graduated at Yale College, traveled in Europe and settled in New York city. The daughter married and lives in Cooperstown, N. Y.
After the dismissal of Mr. Elliot, the church depended upon stated supplies for about nine years. Reverends Owen Street, Alfred .C. Raymond, Jesse Guernsey and David Peck occupied different intervals of this time, and ministered with success and acceptance to the people.
Reverend A. D. Stowel, the eighth pastor, was ordained November l?th, 1S5S, and dismissed April 3d, 1860. Mr. Stowel removed to Massachusetts, and from there to Elmira, N. Y. Reverend D. M. El- wood supplied the church from 1862 to 1864.
Reverend S. P. Marvin, the ninth pastor, was settled over the church February 22d, 1865. The 25th anniversary of his settlement was observed in 1890. Reverend Hiram Eddy, D.D., who preached his installation sermon, was present on the occasion. The pastor preached a 25th anniversary sermon, which was printed. During his ministry the park around the church has been enclosed with a neat fence, trees have been set out, a new lecture room and ladies’ parlor have been built, and a new pipe organ has been presented to the church by Mrs. Mary A. Clark Treat, as a memorial of her father’s family, Mr. Treat Clark. During the 25 years Professor C. T. Walker has been choir leader and organist.