Friday, July 24, 2015

Intern Update: Early Trips to NYC

By intern Ryan Bachman.

Theodore Sedgwick Gold manuscript.
(Collection of Cornwall Historical Society)

Among Theodore Sedgwick Gold’s papers in the archive are several stories about Cornwall residents that he took down during his lifetime. Some of these vignettes appeared in his History of Cornwall, while others remain less-known. Two tales recorded by Gold deal with the early days of Cornwall’s connection to New York City, a connection that still exists today, even without the presence of passenger rail service in the community.

After the completion of the Housatonic Railroad in the early 1840s, Cornwall, along with the rest of the Housatonic River Valley, became linked to coastal cities like Bridgeport and New York. Originally, trains took passengers as far as Bridgeport, where they embarked to New York on board steamships. Prentice Emmons, son of Cornwall farmer Luther Emmons, was one of the young people who removed to New York during this period in search of work. Five years after Prentice left home, Luther decided to drop in on him in the city for a surprise visit. Rather than ask Prentice for directions to his home ahead of time, Luther determined that he would simply ask around the city for Prentice’s address when he arrived in New York. After the ship landed, Luther was shocked at the sheer number of people walking the city streets—but still asked everyone he saw if they knew Prentice. To his disappointment, Luther later remembered, his questions were uniformly met with “blind stares,” and he returned home to Cornwall without finding anyone in New York that knew his son.

 In the early 1840s, Gold recorded that an elderly Cornwall couple (whose identities he never specified) planned a sight-seeing trip to New York. Together, the couple rode the train down to Bridgeport and boarded the steamship for the journey across Long Island Sound. As the ship docked, the wife became overwhelmed at the sight of the crowds mulling about the pier. Rather than disembark, she chose to remain on the ship overnight and return to Bridgeport when the ship traveled that way the next morning. Her husband, on the other hand, strolled off of the ship and disappeared into the crowd. After the wife returned to Cornwall, alone, the next day, her husband remained missing for several days. Finally, about a week after the couple began their trek, the elderly gentleman arrived at the West Cornwall train station. The husband was in excellent spirits after his adventure, yet remained evasive about the details of what he had done during his weeklong adventure for the rest of his days.

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