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Newtown Offers Plenty Of Wintry Sites, Waiting To Be Discovered On Foot

Photo: Kendra Bobowick

Those with a taste for the outdoors can step across the Pootatuck River at an old bridge meant years ago for foot traffic between Glen Road and Dayton Street. The bridge is just a few steps away from the entrance to Rocky Glen State Park. The location is one of many that offers the opportunity to walk through a scenic part of Newtown’s history.

Offering more than 60 square miles of a winter wonderland for those who like the outdoors, Newtown holds a diversity of scenery and history.

Noting sites including the flagpole and “quaint Main Street and Edmond Town Hall,” Town Historian Daniel Cruson says there are hidden gems everywhere. In addition to historic scenery and old homes and architecture, which are mentioned in Mary Mitchell and Albert Goodrich’s book, Touring Newtown’s Past, Newtown offers an abundance of hiking trails.

The Upper and Lower Paugussett State Forests are the largest swaths of open land in town, and are discussed briefly in Newtown Trails Book 2000, also by Ms Mitchell and Mr Goodrich. The upper portion covers more than 800 acres and the lower is more than 1,000 acres. The upper tract “with some three miles of unbroken lake front is a major recreation source,” the book states. The acres, once up for development before their purchase and preservation, include trails overlooking Lake Lillinonah, with “ravines and attractive song birds,” canoeing, views of the Shepaug Dam, and more.

The book includes history behind the land acquisition, and trail maps. The lower forest acres are also detailed, including descriptions of the blue trails off of Great Quarter Road. A roughly 6.5-mile loop includes Prydden Brook, “a major seasonal watercourse running east to end at the waterfall by Lake Zoar,” according to the authors.

Mr Cruson mentioned other recreational spots of interest, including places such as the unnamed park at 3 Glen Road, for “a nice pleasant stroll in Sandy Hook,” where visitors can walk along the Pootatuck River. “You can walk and contemplate,” he said.

The area, which is often referred to as Porco’s Park in reference to property owner Mike Porco, Sr, is a parking area leading to a lawn, walkway along the river, a water fountain, and is often used for community events. “The Pootatuck, adding its running water below, once fed the rubber industry’s buildings a short distance away, providing abundant water power,” said Mr Cruson.

The Glen area was “the seat of the rubber industry, and the mill ponds [along Glen Road] that make it so picturesque were created to fuel rubber factories,” said the town historian. The mill ponds — essentially sections of damned-up river — were used to power the mills.

(“By the way, Charles Goodyear did not live in town and invent rubber here, but his niece lived in town and married Josiah Tomlinson and took some of Goodyear’s patents to build the rubber factories,” Mr Cruson pointed out.)

Sandy Hook also is home to Rocky Glen State Park, at the end of Dayton Street, where the 1890s Costello Opera House once stood. The opera house was meant to bring culture to Sandy Hook. Some old foundation stones (“you really have to hunt to find them,” said the historian) still exist, Mr Cruson said. Clearer are foundations for stables in the back.

“Wander to the left and read the plaque to help locate those things,” Mr Cruson said. Park trails will continue to an overlook, with a view of the factories.

“It’s spectacular,” he said. Those trails lead to Black Bridge Road and a former goldmine, now filled in.

“Apparently some gold and other minerals were recovered in town, but was never commercially viable,” Mr Cruson said. Various plaques at the trail off Dayton Street offer bits of history and explanation for the trail’s establishment.

 

Additional Discoveries

Other industrial remnants are visible at Orchard Hill Nature Center, on Huntingtown Road, the location of an old satinette factory (a type of fabric of wool and linen threads).

“The dam there, the masonry is just stunning, and to see it from down below, it is even nicer to look up at it,” Mr Cruson said. Paths lead hikers across trails to a narrow foot bridge above the stone work, which is not immediately visible.

According to information found at the Town of Newtown website (Newtown-ct.gov), Orchard Hill combines “unusual historic and natural assets. Its historical assets include two mills and dams, which date back to the early part of the 19th century. Its natural assets include rare beauty, and a remarkable diversity of habitats which provide home to an unusually large number of species of plants and animals. There are several trails on which to hike and ample parking.”

Mr Cruson also mentions Taunton Pond with its rustic boat launch that sits near an early 19th Century cemetery when asked about scenic local sites. The pond had served as a reservoir “for a long time,” he said, was a primary water source, “and a great spot for Indian camps going back to even 10,000 years ago.”

Dodgingtown also has an old burial ground, Flat Swamp Cemetery, on Cemetery Road. Located behind Tambascio’s Italian Grill, its dead are said to haunt the establishment’s basement.

Hattertown Green near Hi Barlow Road is also a scenic setting.

“The little green and arrangement of houses in the historic district is pristine, one of the best streetscapes in town of early 19th Century houses,” Mr Cruson said.

The lot at 3 High Barlow is an old hat factory that now serves as a garage, and there is an old schoolhouse still there, Mr Cruson said. Trickling through the small green is Lewis Brook. Touring Newtown’s Past, another collaborative effort by friends Mary Mitchell and Al Goodrich, includes photos and brief comments about the area.

Of the Hattertown Historic District, the book states, “It has the tranquil air of a greeting card village.” Years earlier the cluster of historic homes was “not so serene. Machines rattled and a stench peculiar to hatting factories hung in the air.”

Visit the town’s website or C.H. Booth Library, at 25 Main Street, to find any of the books mentioned in this article, to use as guides for scenic and historic tours through town.

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