J. B. Beers.

History of Middlesex county, Connecticut, with biographical sketches of its prominent men online

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a vessel for many years, and was a volunteer acting
master in the navy during the war of the Rebellion. He
died in 1875. Capt. D.ivid Newell was another who
followed the sea for a lifetime. He was in the harbor



OLD SAYBROOK— SHAD FISHING.



48 r



of Fayal, and witnessed the attack by 400 officers and
men from three British vessels on the privateer brig,
Gen. Armstrong, Capt. Samuel C. Reid, in which the at-
tacking party lost 120 killed and 130 wounded, while
the privateer lost only two killed and seven wounded.
Capt Newell was engaged in the slave trade, and was
killed during a rising of the slaves on board his vessel
at the Island of Bonavista. His son, Capt. William
Newell, sailed to all parts of the world till old age
overtook him. On one occasion, during or after the war
of 1812-15, he, in company with another Yankee captain,
was in a saloon in a port in the Eastern Hemisphere,
when anumberof English captains whowere present began
to revile Americans and America, whereupon Capt. New-
ell, seizing a stool,ldrove them all out of the saloon. He
was a man of powerful frame, and commanding per-
sonal appearance. Capt. Mather also sailed to the West
Indies, and was lost with his ship. Peace and Plenty, in
a gale at Turk's Island. Capt. Richard Wood went to
sea for many years, and died at sea. Capt. Benjamin
Whittlesey and his mate, Mr. Richard Dickinson, both of
Saybrook, sailed on their last voyage for the West In-
dies in a new brig or bark, built expressly for making
fast trips, and were never heard of after leaving port.
They were supposed to have been lost in a storm about
1848. Capt. J. Chauncey Whittlesey was in the West
India trade for many years, sailing mostly from New
Haven, and Capt. Samuel B. Dickinson also sailed to
the West Indies.

Fisheries.

For many years, one of the principal industries of the
town of Saybrook was its shad fisheries. Previous to the
Revolutionary war, shad were not considered of much
value, and it is said that if a family had one on the table,
and saw a neighbor coming in, they would put it out of
sight, being ashamed to be seen eating so common a fish.
The river, the sound coast, and every creek and bay,
teemed with them, as well as with bass, chequit, and
salmon. It is probable that soon after the war, the shad
fisheries began to be profitable. The fishing then was
mostly done with short seines, which were hauled on
shore without the use of capstans. It is said that Capt.
Daniel Ingrahara, who died about 1845, aged about go,
built the first fishing pier on the river. These piers, which
were afterward used by most of the fisheries, were built on
the river flats, near the edge of the channel, of logs and
stone, the tops being out at high water, and on these, two
capstans were placed for hauling in ropes attached to
the two arms of the seine. The one built by Captain
Ingraham, known as "Jamaica pier," was set directly off
the mouth of Ragged Rock Creek, thus preventing any
claim for rent, by the owners of the adjoining land. In
the early years of the present century, shad fishing was
at its height as far as the number of fish caught were
concerned. The largest haul on record was made with a
short seine by Mr. Elias Tully, who caught 3,700 at the
point at the mouth of South Cove, now known as "Folly
Point." Later a haul of 2,200 was made on Dickinson's



pier. The fishery at the mouth of the river, near the
lighthouse, was for many years one of the best. No pier
was needed there, the seine being hauled directly ashore.
The beach was covered with stones, which gave it the
name of " Pavement." One season, either 1835 or 1836,
shad were very abundant. Four thousand were caught
at the "Pavement" in one day, the largest haul be-
ing 1,700. At the last haul they got 400, and one
of the owners suggested that the lead line be
raised, and the shad allowed to escape, as they probably
could not save them, there being a pile of about 5,000
shad caught that day and the day before, on shore, slill
unsalted. The other owners would not agree to that, but
they then stopped fishing, and went to dressing, and
saved them all, with the help of people from the town.
In those days, the shad were all salted instead of being
sold fresh, and the principal fisheries presented a busy
scene in the height of the season. The gangs usually
consisted of eight or nine men, and when large hauls
were made, extra men were employed to dress and salt.
Large sheds were built to contain the salt, and hogsheads
of salt fish, and the stores, with the fishermen, drove a
thriving trade in salt and provisions. When all the fish-
eries that were owned and fished by the people of the
present town of Old Saybrook were in full operation
they must have given employment to 250 or 300 men-
On one occasion, early in the present century, Mr. Asa
Kirtland, with several men, went around to " Plumbank,"
west of Cornfield Point, one night, for the purpose of
fishing. While the party were camping in the plum
bushes, waiting for the tide, he heard a splashing in a
deep hole in Plumbank Creek, which runs through the
salt meadows back of the beach. On going over there,
he found Mr. James Shipman and somebody else, who
had made a haul there, and had caught 300 shad. On the
same night, Mr. James Dibble, with a piece of an old
seine, caught 300 alone near Salmon Rock, on the flats
west of Cornfield Point. In the morning Mr. K. came
around into the river, and as he was passing the " Pave-
ment '' fishery, one of the fishermen, who were mending
their seine on shore, cried out, " Make a haul ! " They
did so, and got 900. The fishermen shipped their net
quickly, and did not invite them to make another haul.
There happening to be a scarcity of salt in the town, an
ox team was dispatched to Stanton's, in Clinton, for a 50
bushel load, to salt them with. This is related to show
how abundant shad were at that time. It is said that
at one time, 500 shad were caught at a haul in Ragged
Rock Creek. The piers on the east side of the river
channel were most of them owned by people on this side,
with the exception of the " Griswold " piers near the
mouth. The first pier on the east side of the river, op-
posite the lighthouse, was " Zoar," then came " Gris-
wold's " two piers, and then " Sodom." This name was
given to it by Mr. Samuel Hart, of the firm of Pratt &
Hart, grocers, on Saybrook Point. Mr. Hart was a noted
wit. After Sodom was abandoned, and a new pier built,
Mr. Hart was applied to for a name. His reply"was,
" Lot fled to Zoar!" and the pier was called "Zoar " ever



482



HISTORY OF MIDDLESEX COUNTY.



after. " Dickinson's " pier was directly opposite the
fort, and the next one above was " Gibraltar," so called
because the fish house stood on a rocky hammock.
" Sanford's" pier came next. It was sometimes called
' Woodiot," on account of the number of logs
that were caught, which tore the seines. " St. John's "
was the last below the ferry, those above on that side of
the river being mostly owned by Lyme parties. On the
west side of the river the "Pavement," near the light-
house, was the first. This was abandoned in 1861. The
fishery next above at the " Folly," was abandoned many
years ago. The first pier was at the mouth of the South
Cove. It was named " Cootesborough,"* because some
Potapaug people owned it. It never was used much.
Another was at Pipestave Point, near where the north
end of Fenwick bridge is now. A pier was_built south-
east of the Point, on which only one attempt at hauling
was ever made. The seine was " set," on the strength
of the tide," and the men were not able to hold the cap-
stan. One let go and the capstan flew around throwing
the men into the water and injuring several. The pier
ever after went by the name of " Knock-'em-stiff." The
"Fort" fishery was next. They formerly hauled the
seine on shore, but later a pier was built, the remains of
which are now under Pease's wharf. It was abandoned
in 1858 or 1859.

The next fishery was known as the " Parsonage," be-
ing located oh the river flats above the mouth of the
North Cove, and opposite the meadow owned by the Con-
gregational society, to which society the rent of the fish-
ery was paid. This was a famous fishery for many years,
but was abandoned soon after the war of the Rebellion.
What were known as the two " Ingham " piers, " Jamai
ca " and "Federal," came next, and then the " Ayer "
piers, " Washington " and " Independence." Independ-
ence, the upper one of the two last named, was so near
the Shore Line Railroad Ferry, that the ferry was in the
way of their sweep. Accordingly, it was sold to the rail-
road company, as was " Rebellion," which is directly
under the railroad bridge. "Skunkhole" came next
above the ferry, then the fishery on Tilly's or Ferry
Point, and lastly, between Tilly's Point, and Mr. Ayers',
on a flat, near the middle of the river, were " Santa
Cruz " and " Newfoundland." Of these numerous piers
and fisheries on the river, all have been abandoned, ex-
cept "Washington" and "Federal;" they have been
fished up to the present time with fair success.

The gill net shad fisheries probably began about the
same time that the seine fisheries did, and with nets
about 20 or 30 rods long, and small round bottom boats
or sharpies. While the hauling seines were set with one
end fast to the pier or shore, and were hauled in at that
point, the gill or " drag nets," as they were called, were
let off the boat at certain "reaches" on the river, and
both boat and net were allowed to drift down with the
tide, the net being taken up whenever the owners saw fit,
or when the tide was setting them upon some obstruc-



•Essex, which was a borou«-h, was sometimes la derision called
' Cootesborough," because Captain Cootes burned the vessels there.



tion. Later on these nets were increased in length, till
they swept nearly the whole channel in some places.
They are usually made at present, from 60 to 80 rods in
length. The boats have also been much improved, and
" Connecticut river drag boats " are now some of the
most able boats in the world. The business is still car-
ried on, but not so extensively and profitably as for-
merly, and by a different class of people. Some of the
most successful drag men have sometimes caught from
3000 to 5000 shad in a season.

The fisheries on the sound began with short hauling
seines, which were increased in length till horses were
used to haul in the shore arm of the seine. In the early
part of the present century, some large hauls were made
on the sound shore, the fish sometimes being driven in
shore in schools by porpoises. 1,400 were once caught
at a haul on the flats. Some Indians once undertook to
haul just as an immense body of shad pursued by por-
poises came in shore. They struck the net with such
force as to take it away from the Indians, and nearly tear
it in pieces. The first fishery west of the lighthouse, was
leased for many years, by a man named L'Hommedieu,
who was called " Governor L'Hommedieu." The next
where the wharf and bathing houses of Fenwick Hall
now stand, was the "Avery place," and the next above,
the " Gardiner place." These three fisheries were on the
farm of William Lynde, judge of Probate, it having de-
scended to him from Simon Lynde who bought it of
Benjamin Batten, and they all paid him rent. He did
not himself live on the farm, but in the village, and on
the election day, which was the first Wednesday in May,
the three gangs of fishermen with " Governor " L'Hom-
medieu at their head, mounted on the horse that turned
the capstan at one of the fisheries, with perhaps a drum
and fife, and the usual accompaniment of boys, and
sticks for muskets, marched to the residence of Judge
Lynde, where, of course, they were treated to a drink
all round. After their return to the fisheries, an im-
mense bowl of toddy was mixed, and the day given up
to wrestling matches, and other amusements. In those
days, the farmer could not mow, the minister preach, nor
the fisherman fish, without toddy. When the Washing-
tonian movement started. Deacon Elisha Sill, who was
a large owner in some of the piers on the river, and
who took a great interest in the movement, decided not
to furnish any liquor to his fishermen, but to give them
cider instead, which was done. As there were two gangs
of men, about 18 in all, in the same house, and many
comers and goers, they drank a large quantity of cider.
One of the owners of a fishery at the mouth of the river,
hearing that they had drank a large quantity, on meet-
ing a simple minded man who had fished there that sea-
son, said to him: " Leonard, I hear that you have drank
sixteen barrels of cider up there this spring." " It isn't
so, Mr. K.," replied Leonard. " We've drinked barely
ten barrels !" There was another fishery above the last,
at Guard House Point, one at Willard's Bay, one at
Gillett's Bay, on the east side of Cornfield Point, and
fisheries all the way to Westbrook, on the west of Corn-



OLD SAYBROOK— SHAD FISHING— QUARRY.



483



field Point. These- fisheries, however, ceased to be
profitable, and were nearly or quite all abandoned pre-
vious to 1850, when a new era in fishing was inaugurated,
by the introduction of pounds. These nets were small,
and very unlike those now in use. They were first used
in Nova Scotia,whence the pattern was brought to Bran-
ford, and a small. one set there. Mr. Frederick Kirt-
land obtained the pattern from that, and set a larger and
improved one, for white fish, in the summer of 1849.
The next spring a company was formed consisting of
Messrs. George H. Chapman, who owned the land at
Oyster River where the fishery was located, his son,
Robert, Frederick Kirtland, David Clark, and Ezra C.
Ingham, and his son, Lucius, who built a larger net, and
set it for shad. Its success led to the introduction of
others, and in a few years every fishery on the coast was
provided with them. Since their introduction, the bulk
of the Connecticut River shad that have been sent to
the Hartford and New York markets, have been caught
in them. Not long before the war of the Rebellion.
Mr. Kirtland and others went to Lake Ontario where
they introduced these nets, and fished several
years, and later they introduced them on Lake Erie,
establishing an industry which a Cleveland newspaper,
in 1884, characterized as one of the most important on
the lake, after alluding to its establishment by Con-
necticut men. In the early days of the country, salmon
were very abundant, and were the fish mostly used by
Saybrook people in their season, shad being considered
too common. A lady who was born in 1783 distinctly
remembered seeing a cart load of salmon, which were
caught at AVillaid's Bay, east of Cornfield Point, tipped
upon a barn floor. As soon as dams began to be built at
the head waters of the river, so that salmon were unable
to reach their spawning grounds, and factories and gas
works begnn to discharge their poisonous refuse into it,
and saw mills their saw dust, salmon began to decrease,
till, after 1830, only a few scattering ones were caught,
and about i860, they were entirely extinct.- Some years
later some salmon, that had been artifically hatched, were
placed in the river, and a few were caught at Saybrook
in 1879, but they did not increase any, and two years
later they were extinct. Bass and chequit were also
abundant, bass weighing from 20 to 50 pounds being not
unfrequently caught in the coves as late as 1830. For
many years the white fishing industry was a very important
one, immense quantities of the fish being used for ferti-
lizing purposes, the farmers depending largely upon them
for their crops, but the introduction of steam vessels
with purse nets, and the great demand for menhaden oil,
has broken up the schools, so that the fisheries are no
longer profitable, and only occasionally a pound is set for
them. There are natural beds of oysters on the Oyster
River, and in the Connecticut River. The oysters on the
natural beds are some of the finest in the world. Under
the recent oyster law of the State, some of the river
flats, and some of the ground off Cornfield Point have
been taken up by practical oyster growers, for the pur-
pose of planting oysters, but as yet nothing has been ac-
complished. I



Building Materials.

In building a new town, the most necessary thing, next
to the wood of which the houses were mostly built, was
a supply of stone for chimneys and foundations. This
was found in a rocky knoll less than half a mile west of
the present main street of the village, and perhaps an
eighth of a mile north of the Oyster River road. It is not
known where the first stone were quarried, but it was
probably in the early history of the town, as stone were
indispensable. The right of the inhabitants of the town
to get stone from the quarrj-, and clay from the low
ground near it, has been reserved from the settlement to
the present time, as appears by the town records. The
clay pits were more valuable in ancient times, than at
present, as the chimneys and cellar walls of most of the
houses built previous to the Revolutionary war were laid
up with clay mortar, instead of lime mortar — lime being
very little used.

At a town meeting held April 21st 1868,

"It was voted & agreed upon that Mr. Chapman, Mr.
Westoll shall renew the bounds betwixt Wm. Lord & Mr.
Nichols by Setting in the Stakes which are reported
for to be pushed down by Wm. Lord or his order.

"At the Same Meeting it was voted and agreed upon
that the land at the Stone Pits should be measured by
Mr. Chapman, Francis Bushnell & Mr. Westoll, and that
he shall have his Eight acres layed out. And the re-
mainder of the land at the Stone Pits which is the town's,
and that the quantity of acres shall be brought into the
town.

January ist 1669. — "At a town meeting it was agreed
& voted that Wm. Lord shall have a fifty pound lot of
Upland at the Stone pits adjoining unto his other land,
only provided that the Stone Hills with a Highway to
them shall Still remain for the town use."

In February 1670, '"the town did grant to Wm. Lord
Senior, that parsill of land Commonly called the Stone
pits. Supposed to be about 4 or 5 acres, that is to say
the said Wm. Lord shall have the use of the said land
for feeding, & liberty to fence it in with his own land,
always provided that the town has full liberty of the
Highway that runs thither for egres & regres, or for the
diging Stone or Clay, Without any Molestation or
disturbance from the said Lord or any of his or any
other."

On the 237th page of Volume I, Town Records, May
1693-4, mention is made of a way to the stone pits from
Oyster River highway, between Goodman Tracy's lot
and John Olmstead's, of two rods wide. In January
1703-4, a committee was appointed " to inspect into the
rights of the lands at the Stone pits now in hesitation
between the Town and Benjamin Lord." In a deed
from William Lord to William Lynde, 1805, this clause
occurs: " Reserving to the Public the privilege of diging
stone as usual on the premises, free of all incumbrance
&c." The same reservation is made in a deed to Samuel
Carter, of same date, of a tract of land south of that, but
of which the northwest corner touched the stone pits.
In a deed from Henry Hart to Richard E. Pratt, August



62



484



HISTORY OF MIDDLESEX COUNTY.



20th 1864, of 13 1-2 acres, including the stone pit lot, is
this reservation: " The people of the Town of Old Say-
Brook have a right to get and cart stone from the Stone
pit lot * * * Free of all incumbrance, except as to
the privilege of working and carting stone." Most of the
cellar wall stone used since the settlement of the town
have been obtained from this qnarry, as were the stone
with which the Episcopal church was built.

Another requisite for building purposes, was sand for
making mortar, and it is probable that the high bank of
sand near the clam flats west of Cornfield Point, which
is covered with plum bushes, was reserved for that pur-
pose. At least that is the tradition, and the people of
the town have always used it. When the salt m'eadow
back of this bank, was granted in five acre tracts to
Abraham Post, John Pratt, Samuel Jones, Thomas Nor-
ton, John Chapman, and John Parker, in 1672, these
tracts were bounded, some of them, " on the plum
banks," and some "on the beach;" none by the high
water mark. The tract nearest the upland was given to
John Parker, and was bounded as follows: " Northwest
with the land of John Chapman, north with the land of
William Southmaid, east with the land of George Fen-
wick, called the 'Cornfield ' & 'hundred acres,' south &
southwest with the beach, and the point of Upland join-
ing to the beach."

The necessity of a road to this beach was manifest,
and in February 1693-4, Nathaniel Lynde, on petition
of the town, granted a highway through his land " to the
Plumbanks and Hammoc."

• "Gents, in answer to your desire and request, I Na-
thaniel Lynde do hereby give and grant unto the pro-
prietors of those lands and meadows at the Plumbanks
and Hammoc and to their heirs and successors forever,
for foot, horse, men and teams, free passage through my
lands unto the sea, at southwest part of my field com-
monly called Cornfield, always reserving power to
myself, my heirs and assigns from time to time, and at
all times forever to make such fences as I or they shall
judge necessary."

Manufacturing.

Manufactories have never flourished in Old Saybrook.
In 1854, a joint stock company of residents of the town
was formed for the manufacture of skates, and a build-
ing was put up near the depot of the Shore Line
Railroad, at the head of the street. After working at it
a year or two, the business was given up, and the build-
ing was sold. After standing idle for several years, it
was bought by the Catholics and converted into a
church. During the present year 1884, the Catholics
have completely renovated their church and added a
steeple and organ loft.

Messrs. Wellman & Gaylord built a shop west of the
burying ground on the Point, and near the South Cove,
a few years ago. It was run by steam power, but it was
burned after a year or two, and what remained of the
business was removed to Deep River.



Stores, Hotels, etc.

When the new Episcopal church was built in 187 1-2,
the old building was sold to Messrs. D. C. Spencer and
J. H. Day, who moved it to the south side of the road
leading toward Oyster River, and a short distance from
Main street, and converted the lower story into stores,
and the upper into a hall. The hall was used for several
years, as a school room, by parties living in the adjoining
house, which was also the property of Spencer & Day.
A grocery store was kept in the lower part, for two or
three years, by W. P. Beach & Company, and later Dud-
ley, Bushnell & Company kept both a grocery and a dry
goods store in the two departments, on the lower floor.
It has been unoccupied for two or three years.

George Pratt and Samuel Hart were merchants on
Saybrook Point, in the early part of the present century,
their store standing below the bank, in front of the
residence of Mrs. John D. Ingraham, near the rail-
road track. It was taken down when the railroad
was built. Mr. Giles Blague also carried on business in
a store that stood between the store of H. Potter & Son
and the brick store, and Captain Daniel Kirtland's was
in the store now owned and occupied by H. Potter &
Son. It is said that the house of Mr. Potter, ad-
joining his store, was built by Captain John Burrows, in
1665. If this is the case, it is probably the oldest house
in the county. Mr. Ezra Kirtland traded for many
years in the next store west of Mr. Daniel Kirtland's,
which is now a dwelling house, and owned by Mr.
Potter. Captain George Dickinson built the " brick
store," and Edward Ingraham, and afterward George D.
Whittelsey, traded there. The store of Captain Elisha
Hart, " up street," after his decease, fell into the hands
of his clerk, Amos SheflSeld, who for many years carried
on business there, and was one of the leading and wealthy
citizens of the town. His wife was the daughter of Rev.
F. W. Hotchkiss. After Mr. Sheffield's death, his son,
Charles A., carried on the business for awhile, and then
sold to Thomas C. Acton jr., who continues the business
in the same building. The next store south is that of
Major Hart, which, after his death, was occu-
pied for a term of years by Sumner and



Online LibraryJ. B. BeersHistory of Middlesex county, Connecticut, with biographical sketches of its prominent men → online text (page 123 of 147)