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The History of Avon

 

 

 

From Pangaea to the Present - A Brief History of Avon, Connecticut

Two hundred million years ago, dinosaurs walked here: Coelophysis, Anchisaurus, and Eubrontes. Four hundred million years ago, a shallow sea covered Connecticut, and then, much later, mountains as grand as the Himalayas rose up. Then rifting the mountains denuded away bit by bit, and rivers carried their pieces to the Farmington Valley, located low and central. Over eons this sediment hardened into sandstone and shale. Then came fiery lava and eastward titling which gave rise to the steep cliffs of Talcott Mountain.

For the last two million years, glaciers came and went. Thick ice buried Avon at least four times, rubbing the rocks raw and leaving boulders from Vermont, New Hampshire and Massachusetts. It was enough to make a river go crazy.  The Farmington River, which one flowed southeast was blocked by sendiment, forcing it to burst into the Connecticut River at Tariffville Gorge. And then, that part of the show was over.  About 12,000 years ago, well after the ice left about 17,000 years ago, mastodons moved in. One thousand years ago, the Tunxis people of the Algonquian family of tribes settled the area, and in 1640 they sold their land to the English. The thirty-one families of Avon, then known as the Northington Parish of Farmington, built their first meetinghouse in 1754, at the end of what is today Reverknolls Road.

In 1828, the Farmington Canal opened with freight and passenger service between New Haven and Simsbury. This thirty-six-foot wide highway of water, soon expanded and linked the Northampton and points south with Long Island Sound and New York City. The canal operated for almost twenty years, ceasing in 1847 with the incorporation of the Farmington Canal Railroad. The railroad on the same route opened three years later. Passenger service in Avon ended in the 1940s, and freight service in 1991.

On May 5, 1830, the Connecticut General Assembly incorporated Northington into the town of Avon, taking the name from the River Avon in England. The new town had 192 families, 1,025 residents, four school districts, two Congregational meetinghouses, the Baptist Church, the Farmington Canal and its warehouse, and several inns. Avon was at a busy crossroads, with the 1799 Talcott Mountain Turnpike (Route 44) linking the town with Boston, Hartford, and Albany (NY), and with the canal traffic. Town meetings were held alternately at the West Avon Congregational Church (1818) and the Avon Congregational Church (1819), until the first town hall was built in 1891.

Avonís families worked their dairy, poultry and tobacco farms. Men and women from Italy, Ireland, Eastern Europe, and Germany came to work on the farms as well as in the Climax Fuse factory (incorporated 1884), which became the Ensign-Bickford Fuse Factory

The Avon Free Public Library, which traces its roots to the 1790s, operates the Marian M. Hunter History Roomís collection of maps, deeds, photographs, scrapbooks, cemetery records, Civil War letters, genealogy, historical files (on houses and families, events, schools, and organizations) and more. In the collection are the journals (1763-1812) of Rev. Rufus Hawley, the journals and notebooks (1845-1942) of Frank Hadsell, and the photographs (1889-1919) of his brother Clinton Hadsell. Other records are in the Farmington Town Clerkís Office (before 1830), and the Avon Town Clerkís Office (after 1830).

In Avonís landscape of 22.6 square miles are visible reminders of Avonís past. The 1778 First Company Horse Guards still operates. The former Ensign-Bickford buildings are offices for the Town Hall and others. The 1832 Joseph North Blacksmith is now the Avon Old Farms Innís Forge Room.

The Avon Historical Society operates the Pine Grove Schoolhouse (1865-1949), the School House #3 (in an 1823 schoolhouse) and the Derrin Farmhouse. The historic Heublein Tower overlooks Avon. The Avon Old Farms School for boys opened in 1927, designed by architect Theodate Pope Riddle.

The Avon Volunteer Fire Department was incorporated in 1943, and Avon had its first police chief in 1953. In 1972 the National Register of Historic Places recognized the Pine Grove Historic District, with the schoolhouse and five homes built before 1865.

The Town Charter of 1981 provided for a Town Manager, Town Council, Board of Finance and Town Meeting. The Farmington Valley Trails Council, founded in 1992, has worked to convert the rails to trails, and when completed the Farmington Valley Greenway will stretch eighty-seven miles from New Haven, through Avon, to Northampton. In 1996, the Town and the Gildo T. Consolini Post 3272, Veterans of Foreign Wars, dedicated the Avon Veterans Memorial on the Town Green.

Today, Avonís population is about 17,600. Every year, the Avon Chapter of UNICO recognizes one of these residents as the Citizen of the Year. The 2009 recipient was William (Bill) Goralski, author of stories about the Avon he remembers. His books, along with Avon, by Mary-Frances MacKie, can be found in the Avon Free Public Library.

By Nora Oakes Howard, Nov. 4, 2009

 

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