Monday, September 29, 2014

The Truth About Dudleytown

Every fall, as we get closer to Halloween, the Cornwall Historical Society receives an increased number of requests to visit "Dudleytown." The answer is always NO. Here's why:

First of all, the Society does not have the right to grant permission. The area of Cornwall popularly known as "Dudleytown" is private property. It does not belong to the town, and it certainly does not belong to the Historical Society.

Secondly, the people who live in "Dudleytown" are completely fed up with thrill-seeking, would-be ghost hunters. Imagine if someone wrote that your home was haunted, even though it wasn't, and you suddenly had total strangers wandering around your yard, peering in through your windows, setting fires and leaving litter, invading your privacy on a regular basis. You wouldn't like it very much, and neither does anyone in Cornwall.

Be forewarned that if you should, unfortunately, decide that your curiosity is more important than the privacy and property rights of Cornwall residents, you will be arrested for trespassing.

If you would like to visit the forested ruins of old buildings, or if you would like to visit a stunningly beautiful forest, Mohawk State Forest will satisfy your interests. Cunningham Tower is full of eerie ambiance, if that's what you're looking for.

Gargoyle, Cunningham Tower, Mohawk State Forest

If you would like to pursue the thrills and chills of possible supernatural encounters, book yourself a room at the Yankee Pedlar Inn in nearby Torrington. Even before The Innkeepers was filmed there, it offered a spooky atmosphere for those who looked for it.

Historical Background of Dudleytown

Some of you might be interested in knowing the true story of Dudleytown. Our research has uncovered the following information:

Dudleytown was never an actual town. The name (nickname, really) was given at an unknown date to a portion of Cornwall that included several members of the Dudley family. The area that became known as Dudleytown was settled in the early 1740s by Thomas Griffis, followed by Gideon Dudley and, by 1753, Barzillai Dudley and Abiel Dudley; Martin Dudley joined them a few years later. Other families also settled there.

Chimney stone from a Dudleytown house. Collection of Cornwall Historical Society.

As with every other part of Cornwall, Dudleytown was converted from forest to farm land. Families tilled the land for generations. Located on top of a high, steep hill, Dudleytown was not ideally suited for farming. Access is difficult, and the growing season is shorter than down in the valleys.

When more fertile and spacious land opened up in the mid-West in the late 19th century, and as the local iron industry wound down, Cornwall's population declined. Those residents who remained in Cornwall tended to live close to the train stations or the Town Green, the commercial hubs of the community, or on farms that were better suited for farming than those at Dudleytown.

During the early 20th century, many old farms in Cornwall were sold to New Yorkers seeking a better life in the countryside. Much of the Dudleytown area land was acquired by the Dark Entry Forest Association, which planted thousands of trees. During the 1930s, New York's Skidreiverein Club spent their winter weekends skiing on trails they built in Dudleytown; in the summers, they canoed down the Housatonic River.

What was once farm land has been re-cultivated as forest, part of a vital ecosystem for neotropical migratory birds and other wildlife.

It should be noted that none of 20th century residents or vacationers have ever noticed anything supernatural going on in Dudleytown. Descendents of the original members of the Dark Entry Forest Association still live in Dudleytown today, free from any curses or other supernatural activity.

The Dudleytown Legend

According to popular legend, the area of Cornwall known as Dudleytown is home to supernatural activities ranging from hauntings to untimely deaths. Would-be ghost hunters make frequent trips to Cornwall hoping for a thrilling adventure, much to the consternation of the people who live there.

The Dudleytown area is private property. Because so many of the ghost hunters visiting the area have caused problems ranging from littering to rude behavior to setting fires, residents have no patience for trespassers. Police are notified whenever there are trespassers and arrive promptly to make arrests.

For Cornwall residents, Dudleytown is nothing more than a beautiful forest in the southwestern part of town, one of the many breathtaking forests found here. Dudleytown's residents include families who have lived there for generations without a single supernatural encounter. One resident, in fact, likes to tell the story of when she and her horse were mistaken for ghosts by a large group of trespassing ghost-hunters-the newspaper account the next day declared that she was a spectral figure and that her horse's hoofs never touched the ground.

The "Curse" Begins

The supposed "curse of Dudleytown" appears to have begun with the 1926 publication of Edward C. Starr's History of Cornwall. For reasons that have yet to be explained, Starr wove together a fanciful and inaccurate two-page account of Dudleytown residents over the centuries. No accounts of the supernatural in Dudleytown have been found prior to the publication of his book.

It should be noted that Starr's history of Dudleytown did not allude to anything supernatural. He placed emphasis on anecdotes of misfortune and bad luck, adding a little bit of name dropping to spice things up. Starr's use of the phrase "doom of Dudleytown" was not intended to be supernatural. It was strictly an unfortunate, hyperbolic, literary flourish.

Starr's account has formed the basis of every story published since then about Dudleytown. Sometimes Starr's account is reprinted almost word for word, with an emphasis on anything that sounds even remotely spooky. Other times it is embellished to make it more exciting for new readers. Still other times portions are reworked, changing names and other details. The Dudleytown legend is strictly one of fiction, spun out from repeated retellings of Starr's fanciful account.

The true story of Dark Entry Forest's first few decades was presented in our 2012 exhibition, "Out of the Woods: The Story of Cornwall's Forests." The forest that exists there today was largely planted by the Dark Entry Forest group, and continues to be maintained by them today.

Myth vs. Fact 

Dudleytown enthusiasts should note the following corrections and clarifications to Starr's history and a few of the more popular Dudleytown myths:

  • MYTH: The Dudleys of Cornwall were descended from cursed English royals. 
  • FACT: The Dudley family of Cornwall has no connection to English nobility. 

  • MYTH: Horace Greeley's wife, Mary Cheney, grew up in Dudleytown and later committed suicide because of the Dudleytown curse. 
  • FACT: Mary Cheney Greeley never lived anywhere in Cornwall. She and the rest of the Cheneys lived in Litchfield. Visit the Litchfield Historical Society's website for more information. 

  • MYTH: Abiel Dudley was driven insane by the Dudleytown curse. 
  • FACT: Abiel Dudley did not go insane. His neighbors described him as "distracted" and unable to care for himself beginning around 1756 or earlier. In their 1771 petition to the Connecticut General Assembly for reimbursement for taking care of him, Dudley's neighbors made no mention of anything unusual about him or his mental incapacities. They noted that he never had any wealth, only land that he did not cultivate. Most likely, Dudley suffered from a very ordinary form of senility.

  • MYTH: General Heman Swift was driven insane by the Dudleytown curse. 
  •  FACT: General Heman Swift lived to be 81 years old; if, as Starr suggests, he suffered from dementia in his later years, natural causes seem far more likely than supernatural ones. 

  • MYTH: General Swift's wife was killed by supernatural forces in the form of lightning. 
  • FACT: Swift's wife, Sarah, was indeed killed by lightning in 1804; however, this was not an uncommon occurrence in the 1800s, when many houses were not protected by lightning rods. Newspapers from all over the country, throughout the 19th century, had frequent accounts of dramatic lightning strikes rolling through living rooms and kitchens.

  • MYTH: John Patrick Brophy's wife died under mysterious circumstances, their children mysteriously vanished, and Brophy was driven insane by the curse. 
  •  FACT: In the original version of the story, in Starr's History of Cornwall, an unnamed Irish laborer suffered a series of misfortunes: his wife died of consumption (a common cause of death in the 1800s); his sons left town after they were caught stealing; and his house burned down. None of these events can be attributed as supernatural. In later retellings, the Irish laborer's name is sometimes John Brophy, sometimes Patrick, sometimes other generic Irish names.

  • MYTH: A Polish immigrant named Joseph Matyas was one of the last residents of Dudleytown and was driven insane by the curse. 
  • FACT: Starr referred to an unnamed "solitary Pole" who "failed to make good, lost his farm, and removed." No mention of insanity was included in the original story. A few retellings have assigned the name Joseph Matyas to this man, while others have left him nameless (while embellishing the story with a surprising amount of detail, considering that his identity is unknown). It seems unlikely that Starr was referring to Matyas, as he lived in Cornwall with his wife and children long after Starr's book was published (and was Hungarian, not Polish).

  • MYTH: Dr. William C. Clarke moved to Dudleytown and built a rustic cabin for himself and his wife. One day, Dr. Clarke was called back to New York City for an emergency, leaving his wife alone in Dudleytown. When he returned, he found that his wife had become completely insane and spent the rest of her life in an insane asylum. 
  • FACT: This is perhaps the strangest piece of misinformation in Starr's History of Cornwall, which relates that Dr. William Clarke's wife slowly lost her mind before committing suicide, and that Dr. Clarke left Cornwall forever. However, Dr. Clarke continued to live in Cornwall, as do his descendents. The true story of Dr. Clarke can be found in our history of Dark Entry Forest Inc. We don't know why Starr chose to include a somewhat cruel and very fanciful story about the death of Dr. Clarke's wife. Perhaps he chose to sacrifice truth for the sake of telling a romantic story that might help the sale of his book; or perhaps he simply didn't do enough research.

  • MYTH: The name "Dark Entry Forest" was chosen because the forest is haunted. 
  • FACT: The name "Dark Entry" does not and never was intended to have ominous overtones. It is actually a fairly common name, found in several other town. The name most likely refers to the cool, dark shadows of a dense forest, something that is usually considered a positive thing, especially on a hot summer day.

  • MYTH: There are no birds or other wildlife in Dark Entry Forest (Dudleytown). 
  • FACT: There are just as many birds singing in the Dark Entry Forest as there are in any other forested area of Connecticut. In fact, Cornwall has one of the largest and most diverse populations of breeding birds anywhere in the country.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

New and Improved Museum Shop

Board member Gail Jacobson brought her creative ingenuity to the task of revamping our small museum shop. Here she contributes a description and some photos of what's been done. Be sure to check it out in person! We're open on Saturdays, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and Sundays, 1 to 4 p.m., through the end of October.

There is a welcoming sight at the Cornwall Historical Society: a new museum store. Just before the opening of the Civil War exhibit this summer, three shelving units were joined and placed in the front corner of our former Victorian carriage house to display the various books, notecards, and pamphlets available for sale. The previous blank corner now provides a cheerful and colorful entry to the exhibit. All the society’s publications are individually priced and easily viewed. 

Signed copies of John Demos’ The Heathen School book rest alongside booklets on Dudleytown, the Covered Bridge and a timeline of the history of Cornwall. It is the goal of the Board to expand the museum store offerings in the future. Already there are canvas tote bags embellished with a logo of the iconic Historical Society building and several items from Todd Piker’s Cornwall Bridge Pottery with Cornwall medallions. Each item represents Cornwall and/or the Society. Need a unique gift? Look no farther.

The new museum store.

Todd Piker's honey pot, pitcher, and tea bowl with Cornwall medallions.

Document boxes "retired" from our archives.

Canvas tote bag.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Sedgwick's 1858 Map

At the opening reception for our Civil War exhibit, we were given a map from 1858 owned by Major General John Sedgwick. The map, produced by the War Department Office of Explorations and Surveys, is a sketch of the routes between Fort Laramie and the Great Salt Lake.

At the time, Sedgwick was stationed at Fort Leavenworth in Kansas. Fort Laramie was further west, in Wyoming. The Great Salt Lake area, even further west, was of great interest to the military: from 1857 to 1858, the U.S. army engaged in what they called the "Utah Expedition." It has also been called the Mormon War.

During the 1850s, the U.S. government considered the Mormons to be a lawless group of religion fanatics. In May, 1857, approximately 2,500 U.S. troops assembled at Fort Leavenworth and marched to Salt Lake to subdue the Mormons and reclaim control of the Utah territory. In response, the Mormons called up the Utah militia to defend them. Both sides spent months posturing, trying very hard to avoid actual combat.

The "bloodless war" continued until June, 1858, when Brigham Young accepted President Buchanan's offering of peace.

Sedgwick's map was made in January 1858, during the middle of the conflict between the U.S. military and the Mormon settlers.

Monday, September 15, 2014

William and Newton Cogswell

William H. Cogswell (1837-1864) was a member of the Schaghticoke tribe and was Connecticut’s first Native American to enlist during the war. He originally attempted to enlist at Winsted when the first companies were being formed. After Cogswell enlisted and was sworn into service, his fellow soldiers demanded that he be kicked out, on the grounds that he was not white. Cogswell’s enlistment was canceled and his name was erased from the muster rolls.

William Cogswell (from T.S. Gold's History of Cornwall)

On June 22, 1861, Cogswell once more tried to enlist, this time at Cornwall. Cogswell grew up in Cornwall, where he was well-known as the town’s fastest runner, easily winning any race held at local fairs. He had no difficulty joining a regiment at his hometown, enlisting as a Sergeant with Company I of the 5th Connecticut Volunteer Infantry. During a skirmish at Harrisburg on May 3, 1862, Cogswell was taken prisoner by the Confederates. He was paroled and discharged on May 21, 1862, returning home for two months.

Sheet music sent by William Cogswell in 1862 to his friend, Miner Rogers, in Cornwall.

On July 21, 1862, Cogswell enlisted with Company B of the 19th Infantry (later the 2nd Heavy Artillery). His younger brother, Newton W. Cogswell (1835-1876), joined him in Company B, enlisting on November 21, 1863. The brothers served side-by-side. When Newton was wounded in the arm at the Battle of Cold Harbor on June 1, 1864, William was there to comfort him.

William Cogswell was admired by his fellow soldiers and commanding officers for his endurance and his optimism, despite the racism he encountered when he first attempted to enlist at Winsted. He was promoted to Second Lieutenant on March 5, 1864.

On September 19, 1864, Cogswell was wounded in the leg at the Battle of Winchester. His leg was amputated, and he died from related complications on October 7, 1864. He was given a hero’s burial in the North Cornwall Cemetery.

Cogswell obelisk, North Cornwall Cemetery.

William’s brother Newton survived the war physically, but appears to have suffered from PTSD. After his service ended, Newton returned to Cornwall and to his former life as a day laborer. He married Pauline M. Hoffman in 1867, and for a brief period things went well for him. But in 1875, Cogswell’s wife left him and applied for a divorce.

On December 30, 1875, Newton Cogswell snapped. He went to the Davidson home on Cream Hill, where his wife was staying, and shot at her five times, hitting her twice in the head. Cogswell fled the scene, and was found dead in a barn about a mile from his home in March, having killed himself with poison. His wife eventually recovered from her wounds. Newton was buried next to his brother William in the North Cornwall Cemetery.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Sedgwick Walking Tour

Close to 90 people met up at the Sedgwick Memorial for a walking tour led by David A. Ward of Civil War Tours. As a surprise treat, members of Company F, 14th Connecticut Volunteer Infantry joined the tour. As pointed out by David Ward, their presence was particularly appropriate: the 14th Connecticut was the only Connecticut regiment to serve under Sedgwick during the Civil War.

The tour began at the Sedgwick Memorial. David Ward is addressing the group.

Heading up the hill to Sedgwick's birthplace.

Company F, 14th C.V.I. marching up the hill.

The end of the march--standing in between the house where Sedgwick was born, and the house he planned to retire to.

A glimpse of Sedgwick's longed-for retirement home.

Sedgwick's house in Cornwall Hollow burned down in 1859. Construction of a new house was overseen by his sister Emily, who received instructions from Sedgwick in his letters. By September, 1860, Sedgwick was longing to return home to Cornwall. On September 25, he wrote to Emily about some of his plans for the new house: "I mean to add to the library and a few pictures, as we have the means.... I still think, when we have paid up [our debts], we will furnish the parlor and library handsomely."

The march back down the hill, with hints of what the area looked like when Sedgwick lived here.

The final leg of the tour, in the Cornwall Hollow Cemetery.

Sedgwick's grave marker.

Company F, 14th Connecticut Volunteer Infantry.

Tour participants enjoying refreshments and conversation.