History of City
A Brief History of Norwich
Norwich was founded in 1659 by settlers from Saybrook led by Major John Mason and Rev. James Fitch. The land was purchased from the local Mohegan tribe, led by their Sachem, Uncas. The early settlement was around the Norwichtown Green. Supplies were brought from a landing near the base of Yantic Falls. By 1684, settlers authorized a new public landing at the head of the Thames River, site of the present downtown.
Improved landing facilities brought larger vessels and stimulated the growth of trade. Products from the interior farms and forests of eastern Connecticut were exchanged in the West Indies for sugar, molasses, rum, and enslaved Africans. By the mid-1700s, the harbor boasted a prosperous colonial seaport known as Chelsea Landing.
At the end of the French and Indian War in 1763, more restrictive British trade policies and the 1764 Stamp Act resulted in widespread protests in the colonies. One response was to replace imported goods from England with locally made ones. Christopher Leffingwell began the manufacture of paper, pottery, chocolate, and stockings at this time.
When resistance to British rule broke into open revolution, Norwich leaders played significant roles as military and political leaders. Jedidiah Huntington served as an aide-de-camp to George Washington. Samuel Huntington, a cousin, served in the Continental Congress and was President of that body when the Articles of Confederation were adopted in 1781. An early hero of the Revolution, Benedict Arnold, born in Norwich, has become infamous as a traitor.
A Growing City
The city of Norwich was incorporated in 1784, one of the first five Connecticut cities. The abundant waterpower available on the Yantic and Shetucket rivers provided the motive power for textile factories, which by the mid-1800s dominated the local economy.
Steamboats brought passengers and freights to Norwich wharves. Goods and passengers were transferred to the Norwich & Worcester railroad, constructed from 1835 to 1840. Raw cotton and wool were shipped to textile mills throughout the region, and finished cloth shipped back. Norwich became the commercial, transportation, and manufacturing hub of the region.
Norwich was rocked by the controversy over slavery prior to the Civil War. David Ruggles, a key figure in the Underground Railroad, was raised in Norwich. Sarah Harris and other members of her family sought educational opportunities and civil rights for blacks. Norwich Free Academy, founded in 1854, continues to provide secondary education for Norwich and surrounding towns. NFA had non-discriminatory practices from its beginnings.
By the Civil War, the Republicans dominated city politics and controlled the state government. Governor William A. Buckingham and Mayor James Lloyd Greene supported the war effort. As in the Revolution, Norwich supplied men, firearms, and ships. The city welcomed the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863. After Lincoln’s assassination, US Senator Lafayette S. Foster served as acting Vice-President. Frances M. Caulkins completed her revised History of Norwich in 1866.
A Thriving City
Rapid industrial growth transformed Norwich into a modern urban center by the early 20th century. Electric trolleys were introduced in 1892. Mohegan Park, started in 1907 with private donations and purchase, is centered around Spaulding Pond. Another important greenspace, Lowthorpe Meadows, was set aside by private philanthropists in the same year.
Immigrants from French Canada, southern and eastern Europe, the Cape Verde islands, and other areas, as well as internal migrants from the American South, reshaped the city in the late 1800s and the 1900s. Their skills and labor went to support the city’s mills and businesses. Settling in various sections of town, the newcomers introduced new churches, cultural organizations, and self-help associations, greatly enriching the diversity of the city. Recent newcomers to Norwich have included Haitians, Spanish-speakers from Central and South America, and Asians, predominantly Chinese.
Civic groups had an important role in city improvements during the 20th century. A progressive city, Norwich moved to take over public utilities in 1904. City government was reorganized as a council/manager form in 1951. In 2001, a charter revision restored the office of Mayor, but retained the city manager.
Today’s Norwich is a thriving city with a stable population, full range of municipal services, a modern industrial park and minor league ball team, its own publicly-owned electric, gas and water utility, and a positive outlook for residential and business growth.