My Town: Plainville
August 17, 2017
Medicine Woman Gladys Tantaquidgeon
September 1, 2017

My Town: Woodbury

Woodbury town green, 1920. Connecticut State Library

Where is my town?

Woodbury is in the western part of Connecticut. Six towns were once part of Woodbury.

Woodbury has rivers, many hills, and streams. The center of town is in the Pomperaug River valley. The Pomperaug River starts in Woodbury. It empties into the Housatonic River.

How was it founded?

Native Americans lived in the area. In the early 1670s English settlers moved there. They came from Stratford. They disagreed with the Congregational Church there. They wanted to start their own parish. The settlers acquired the land from the Pootatuck Indians. The settlement was called Pomperaug. The Housatonic River was its southwestern border. The river was important to the town’s growth.

“View of Woodbury from Castle Rock,” c. 1849. Connecticut Historical Society

The Native Americans had cleared fields for agriculture. The land was fertile. The rivers and streams provided waterpower for mills. Mills ground grain for flour. Other mills sawed wood into lumber. Mining of the basalt ridges was an important industry.

The Hurd House is the oldest house in Woodbury. It was built for the town’s first miller. The settlement became the town of Woodbury in 1673.

How do its residents make a living?

The first English settlers were farmers. By the Revolutionary War, Woodbury was the fifth largest town in the Connecticut Colony. It became a market town. People farmed but they did other things, too. There were many fine furniture makers.

After the Revolutionary War, there wasn’t enough land left for new farms. Some people moved west. They moved to find land for farming. They moved to places like Ohio.  Four towns separated from Woodbury. Washington, Roxbury, Bethlehem, and Southbury became their own towns.

Woodbury continued to be a farming town. There were also small mills and factories. The factories could not compete with those in larger towns such as Waterbury. Later, most of Woodbury’s factories closed. In the mid-20th century agriculture declined, too. More and more people made their living outside of town.

How did it grow?

At the time of the Revolutionary War the population of Woodbury was around 5,000 people. In the 1800s the population got smaller. There were two reasons this happened. One reason is that people moved away to find available land. The second reason is that parts of town separated to become new towns. By 1950 Woodbury’s population was about 2,500 people.

In the 1970s interstate highway I-84 was built. It was the first major transportation built near town. I-84 goes through Southbury and Middlebury. In the 1950s and 1960s, farms were purchased to build housing developments. People moved to Woodbury again to live in these new neighborhoods. Today the population is nearly 10,000. Woodbury’s Main Street is on the National Register of Historic Places.

Who are its notable people?

John Marshall’s house, The Glebe House, is a museum and historic site. Connecticut State Library

John Marshall was an Episcopal minister. He led a group of Episcopal ministers in Connecticut. In 1783 they elected the first Episcopal bishop in the colonies. This was the beginning of the American Episcopal church. It was  now separate from the Church of England. Marshall’s house, the Glebe House, is a museum in town.

Kay Sage and Yves Tanguy were well-known artists. They moved to Woodbury in 1941. They were both Surrealist painters. Sage was also a poet. Tanguy was from France. They converted a barn into their art studio.

Map of Woodbury, 1979. Library of Congress

USGS topographical map showing Woodbury’s hills and valleys.

Thanks to Sarah Griswold for assistance with this essay.

The Masonic Temple, Woodbury, c. 1930. Library of Congress