My Town: Plainville
Plainville Public Library. photo: Debra Camp
Where is my town?
Plainville is in the center of the state. It was once part of Farmington. Today, Plainville is a small town. It is surrounded by Farmington, Southington, New Britain, and Bristol.
Pinnacle Rock, Plainville. Janusz1993, Wikimedia Commons
Plainville is located between two basalt outcroppings. Bradley Mountain is on the east side of town. It is part of the Metacomet Ridge. The Metacomet Ridge runs from Long Island Sound to the border of Vermont.
Red Stone Hill is to the west. There once was an ancient lake or river in between. This flat area became known as the “Great Plain.” Plainville’s land is sandy with some fertile river bottom soil. There is also marshland.
The Pequabuck River runs through town. “Pequabuck” means “open pond” in the language of the local Tunxis Indians. The river flows north and empties into the Farmington River. The Pequabuck River was important to Plainville’s growth.
The Quinnipiac River also runs through town. It begins in Dead Wood Swamp just over the border in Farmington. “Quinnipiac” means “long water land.” This river flows south. It empties into Long Island Sound in New Haven.
How was Plainville founded?
The Tunxis Indians lived where Plainville is now. English settlers bought the land from Chief Sequasin in 1640. Cronx was the last Tunxis to live on the Great Plain. Cronk Road was named for him.
J. Timothy’s was built in 1789 and has been a stagecoach stop and tavern or restaurant for many years. photo: Debra Camp
John Root was the first English settler in the area. In 1657, he built a house near present-day Hamlin Pond. The population grew slowly. The soil was not good for farming.
Some settlers built mills on the Pequabuck River. Mills sawed logs to make lumber. Other mills ground grain to make flour. In 1830 Plainville got a post office. There were only 30 homes on the Great Plain in 1840. Half of them were on Red Stone Hill.
An African American community called the Birches, Birchville, or Governor’s Island formed in the early 1800s. Lyman Homer was elected an honorary governor of African Americans in the area in 1830.
Plainville was the last town to separate from Farmington. It became a town in 1869. It had 1,433 residents in 1870.
“Birdseye” view of Plainville, 1878. UConn MAGIC
How did it grow?
Early stagecoaches crisscrossed Plainville’s level land. But it was the Farmington Canal that helped Plainville grow. The canal was a man-made waterway. It was built in 1828. It connected New Haven to Northampton, Massachusetts. The canal made it easier for manufacturers to get their products to market. Canal boats arrived at Bristol Basin in the center of town. They loaded up goods made in Plainville to sell in other places.
In 1840 residents were farmers, but they also made many things. They were tinsmiths, ax makers, carpenters, chair makers, broom makers, and blacksmiths. Clocks were made here. Local people painted the clock faces. Plainville Manufacturing Company was founded in 1850. It made knit underwear. Factories made wooden combs, rolling pins, wagons, and carriages.
The Farmington Canal closed after 20 years of use. It was leaky and expensive to maintain. A railroad was built where the canal had been.
Plainville also had rail lines that went east and west. Passenger train service ended in the 1960s but freight trains still pass through town.
As of the 2010 census, 17,716 people lived in Plainville.
How do its residents make a living?
Whiting and West Main streets. photo: Debra Camp
In 1889 brothers Henry and John Trumbull started a company. There was a new technology call electricity. Their company was called Trumbull Electric Company. Later it became part of General Electric. John Trumbull became governor of Connecticut in 1925. He was governor for six years. The company still manufactures circuit control panels in Plainville. Today manufacturing, construction, and service companies make things and provide jobs.
Plainville is still at a crossroads. Interstate 84 intersects with Route 72. You can travel almost anywhere in the state in about one hour.
Who are its notable people?
John Trumbull, shown here c. 1920, later became known as the “Flying Governor.” Hartford Times, Hartford History Center, Hartford Public Library
Lyman Homer (1789 – 1863) was a member of the local African American community in the early 1800s. He was chosen as the community’s honorary leader or governor in 1830. He also worked on building the Farmington Canal.
John H. Trumbull (1873 – 1961) was the governor of Connecticut from 1925 to 1931. The Hartford Courant reported on October 24, 1927 that Governor Trumbull was the “first governor in the nation to qualify for a pilot’s license and makes his first solo flight.” He was known as the “Flying Governor.”
Ruth Hummel (1930 – 2015) was the town historian and a founder of the Plainville Historical Society. She published a book about the Farmington Canal in 2007. She wrote articles about local history for area newspapers. She also hosted a program about town history for Nutmeg TV. She and her husband operated a wildlife rehabilitation center called “Hummelhaus.” They oversaw the Tomasso Nature Park.
Ted and Mike Christopher (1958- ) are twins and racecar drivers. They were born in Plainville in 1958. Ted earned the 2001 NASCAR Whelen All-American Series and 2008 NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour titles. He won 13 track championships and has competed at every level of NASCAR racing.
What are Some of it Notable Places?
West Cemetery is a site on Connecticut’s Freedom Trail. Buried there are five African American soldiers who fought in the Civil War. They fought with the the all-black Connecticut 29th Regiment and the Massachusetts 54th Regiment. Also buried there are John and Harriet Norton. They hid escaping slaves in their house. They were part of the Underground Railroad.
The Plainville Campground
In 1867 a summer camp for adults and families was founded by the Methodist church. It was called Forestville. By 1900 as many as 5,000 people came every summer to the camp. They came to hear famous speakers, concerts, and sermons. Many came by train. The site is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Plainville Stadium held stock car races from 1948 to 1981. The land was sold and a shopping center was built there. Find a video of car racing at the stadium in 1970 on Youtube.
Robertson Airport opened in 1911. The town has owned the airport since 1990. It is an active place today keeping aviation alive in Plainville.
Plainville Fire Department. photo: Debra Camp
Thanks to Debra Camp, Plainville Public Schools, for assistance with this essay.
Resources that students or teachers can access
About Lyman Homer: http://articles.courant.com/2002-09-15/news/0209150110_1_black-communities-black-people-black-governors
Plainville Municipal Center. photo: Debra Camp
West Main Street, Plainville. photo: Debra Camp
Main Street Diner, West Main Street. photo: Debra Camp