Seymour Historical Society
A Brief History of Seymour
Seymour celebrated its sesquicentennial or 150th birthday on June 24, 2000, but Seymour's historical journey actually began in 1642, when land from the town of Derby extended into what, today, is Seymour.
The center of activity was where the Naugatuck and the Housatonic Rivers met in Derby. John Wakeman was the first European to purchase land from the Indians that lived throughout this area. He established a trading post at the Derby port where, eventually, tall sailing ships from many far-off ports came to trade. Within 13 years, several more settlers came to the area and the New Haven court granted permission for a village to be established on land purchased from the Indians.
Derby was to become the first inland settlement on the Naugatuck River. From this destination, settlers continued to explore, following the rivers further north to what is today Seymour. Concurrently, a Pequot Indian named Gideon Mauwehu, who lived in the Derby area, and his son, Joseph acquired a parcel of land on the Naugatuck River near the great falls. This land was settled by a number of Pequot Indians who established their homes and named Joseph their chief.
As the European settlers moved "up river" into the area of the falls, they and the Indians worked and lived together as friends. The area began to grow with more and more settlers moving into the hills of Great Hill on the west side of the river, the Skokorat area on the east side of the river and over onto the "Promised Land" area (Maple and Pearl Streets and Washington Avenue).
The fertile, green land and dense forest now was spotted with clearings, housing farms and grazing cattle. Dirt roads criss-crossed fields to connect outlying settlers with the town and the port of Derby. This small settlement, although still part of Derby, now needed a name. To honor Chief Joseph Mauwehu, who had been given the nickname of "Chuce," the settlers called the area Chusetown.
Joseph, wanting to be a good neighbor of the new settlers, moved his family from the settlement at the falls to a house located at the corner of what is now Pearl and South Main Streets. He soon realized the area was becoming too populated for the traditional Indian way of life and he and his fellow tribesmen left the area to move to Kent, where a large Pequot settlement was located.
As the population grew, small industries began to make an appearance, especially along the banks of the town's valuable natural resource, the Naugatuck River. Its falls and numerous brooks and tributaries provided much-desired power for grist mills, corn mills, paper mills and blacksmith shops.
Did You Know?
The Town of Seymour was originally named Chusetown. It was then renamed Humphreysville. In 1850 the townspeople wanted to change the name to Richmond, but then agreed to honor Governor Thomas Seymour by naming the town Seymour.
By the mid 1700s, the people of Chusetown, in the Colony of Connecticut, and the colonists of the other 12 colonies were becoming upset with England's "taxation without representation." When the Revolutionary War began, the people of Chusetown were proud to enlist and more than 100 soldiers hailed from this small village.
Although no battles were fought in this area, General David Humphreys became an important figure in Seymour history from the Revolutionary War period. David Humphreys was born in Derby in 1752. During the war, he joined the Continental Army and became an aide-de-camp to General George Washington. Following the war, Humphreys and Washington remained close friends. When Washington became the U.S. President, he appointed Humphreys minister to Spain and Portugal. While Humphreys was there, he discovered the Merino breed of sheep. The Merino sheep had dark wool when spun and gave a superior quality cloth. In 1802, Humphreys shipped the first Merino sheep to the U.S. and upon arrival at the Port of Derby, they were taken to graze on the hillsides of Chusetown.
Humphreys had always been interested in manufacturing and during his visits to England and France, studied their industrial systems carefully. In 1803, he purchased a large piece of property located at the falls on the Naugatuck River near many other little mills. Here he built one of the finest woolen mills in the country.
In 1804, the name of the area was changed from Chusetown to Humphreysville, in honor of the General. The village of Humphreysville prospered and attracted other manufacturing concerns. Items such as cotton cloth, paper, furniture and tools such as augers and bits were now produced here.
Churches moved their congregations from meeting houses into larger structures, more one-room schoolhouses were built and, in 1849, not only did the railroad enter into the village, but the Humphreysville Academy, the area's first opportunity for higher education opened.
In 1850, Humphreysville was still a part of Derby, but people in this bustling and prosperous village felt a need to establish their own community. Leman Chatfield, who unofficially spoke for the people of the village, and several other Humphreysville residents journeyed to Hartford to petition for separation. Although it is not clear why, the people's petition requested that the town be named "Richmond." A bill was written carrying that name. However, it was said that if the name of the town were changed from Richmond to something honoring the Governor of Connecticut, the bill would meet immediate acceptance. Consequently, the people chose to honor Governor Thomas H. Seymour, and the petition changed the town's name. Seymour officially became incorporated as a town in the state of Connecticut during the May 1850 session of the General Assembly.
The first town meeting was held on June 24, 1850; Leman Chatfield, Daniel Holbrook and Thomas Cochran were elected as selectmen. The population at the time was 1,677 people. With this new town came many exciting possibilities for the area to grow and for the people to prosper. The railroad, both passenger and freight trains now came through the town, provided factories with an easy and inexpensive means of transporting their merchandise to other parts of the country. New industries began to open factories throughout the area and the name of Seymour was becoming known worldwide. Austin Goodyear Day started an industry that produced a type of telegraph cable that could be placed under the ocean so that clear communications from one continent to another was possible. Today, this company is still in business on Day Street and is known as the Kerite Company.
H.P.&E. Day Company had its beginnings producing hardened rubber fountain pens and pencils and hard rubber pen holders. A number of years later, this company became known as the Waterman Pen Company and eventually the Bic Pen Company.
The New Haven Copper Company actually set up its factory two years before Seymour became a town. Thomas James, brought from Wales to work here, was responsible for the invention of polished copper, the copper we know today.
In the paper mill industry, Seymour's mills were the first in Connecticut to use inexpensive straw to make paper. Brass, copper wire for telephones and telegraphs, and German silver for table silverware and other uses were also produced in Seymour. These were the products of the Seymour Manufacturing Company which was organized in 1878.
Before the end of the century, industries in Seymour were producing everything from bottled spring water and ginger ale to car springs. As the town's industries reached out to customers around the world, the people were also making the town a better place to live. Social, church and fraternal organizations came into existence. Enterprising merchants began to locate in the heart of what would become downtown Seymour. These enterprising and enthusiastic businessmen helped the residents of Seymour with their daily needs and brought the world of ever-growing inventions to the area.
In 1882, the town organized its first fire department. The name, Ocean Fire Company, was decided upon and equipment purchased. Two years later the group reorganized and changed its name to Citizens Engine Company, No.2. The town now had an organized volunteer fire department and a "modern," powerful steam fire engine.
In 1884, Seymour built its first public high school on Bank Street. It was considered to be one of the best high schools in the state. It boasted cold, fresh running water. Later it was used as an elementary school and became known as Center School.
Seymour's first free public library was established in 1890 on the second floor of a town building. It had 2,911 books on its shelves and 560 registered people to borrow books.
Shortly after the century turned, Seymour saw its first trolley enter town, saw the establishment of a town court; and the beginning of the Seymour Police Department.
The next decades brought growth in population, business and manufacturing. One-room schoolhouses were replaced by larger, multiroom buildings; more schools were built, and transportation and communication systems greatly improved.
The onset of Seymour's next phase of development was decidedly unplanned. Friday, August 19, 1955, a rainy windy day, has been written into the history books as "Black Friday." This day marked the moment in history when the geography of Seymour's land, its industries and its history changed forever. During the first 17 days of August, 1955 rain fell steadily in the western part of the state. The effects of the rainfall and Hurricane Connie left an average of six inches on the ground. The land could no longer hold the water and became soggy. The streams that flow into the Naugatuck River filled to the top of their banks and the Naugatuck River began to rise. By Thursday, August 18, 1955, the tail winds of Hurricane Diane hit the area, bringing strong winds and extremely heavy downpours of rain. Early on the morning of Friday, August 19, just north of Seymour, the Naugatuck River burst from its banks. The brawny, aggressively moving water cascaded through the towns of Torrington, Thomaston, Waterbury, Naugatuck, Beacon Falls and eventually into Seymour. Everything which stood in its way was destroyed - bridges, buildings, trains, trees, cars, cows and people. The heaviest damage in Seymour occurred in the areas of Derby Avenue, Broad Street, the area near what is today the Walgreen Plaza and all of the downtown industrial factories.
The river crested quickly and poured into yards and cellars. By mid-morning, water completely covered the downtown area. Residents lined the hills on both sides of town and watched as the swift water pushed, pulled and pounded against the foundations and sides of buildings in the Broad Street area. Late that Friday afternoon, the rain stopped, the sun made an appearance. The rampaging Naugatuck River began to calm. Its water slowly receded. But the town of Seymour would never be the same.
The high school, now the Seymour Middle School, had received major foundation damage and had to be closed for one year while repairs were made. The W.L. Ward Funeral Home, on land close to the river, now hung over the river's edge and had to be destroyed. The Congregational Church, in spite of the loss of a great deal of its foundation, still stood in place. The Seymour Public Library, with all its books and many of the town's historical documents and artifacts, crumbled, brick by brick, until the entire structure collapsed. The two bridges that crossed the Naugatuck River in Seymour stood unsupported by soil because the land leading to the bridges had washed away. The Broad Street Bridge, a short iron bridge, was eventually destroyed and replaced with the current concrete bridge. The Bank Street concrete bridge, damaged by the crushing floodwaters and debris, was repaired. Many homes were completely washed away. Many homes, many piece of homes would never be located. Homeowners fortunate enough to have walls and roofs and front steps either found their homes in states near collapse or spent weeks shoveling thick black mud, removing debris and cleaning, cleaning, cleaning. Town residents worked together to re-build the downtown area. It took many years and the effects of the flood can still be seen today in Seymour.