History of Woodbury

In 1945, the Woodbury League of Women Voters compiled a history of Woodbury. The following is excerpted from that effort

Woodbury's citizens have a rich heritage. The mellow beauty of her old houses and shaded streets bespeaks the slow and orderly growth of this community throughout more than two and half centuries. Modern Woodbury has an area of twenty-one thousand eight hundred and sixty-seven acres and a population slightly over twenty-one hundred. One thousand one hundred and forty active voters continue to carry on the tradition of democratic self-government on which the town was founded. New voters are added each year and it's the purpose of the booklet, and of the supplements to be added from time to time, to acquaint them with the most important historical and political facts about the town and it government.

Woodbury was first settled in 1672-73. By this time Connecticut had three areas of settlement and government along its shore line and principal rivers. These were the Windsor-Wethersfield-Hartford colony, the Saybrook colony and the New Haven colony. Since Stratford on the Sound was Woodbury's parent town, Woodbury is a descendant of the New Haven group. However, by the time it was settled, the Commonwealth of Connecticut had become unified and centralized politically under the Royal Charter of 1662.

Lawyer William Cothren of Woodbury is the very interesting source for the history of the town. He tells us that the first party of Woodbury settlers were a group who traveled up the rivers from Stratford to find and claim the plantation of Pomperaug from the Indians. They were a minority group in their home church, and, after much controversy, they set out to develop a new town of their own. The Colonial Assembly encouraged them in this move both for the sake of peace and because it was interested in seeing the colony expanded and developed. No account of early Woodbury would be complete without Cothren's story of the arrival of the first settlers

" Early the next spring (1673) fifteen of Mr. Walker's congregation started with their families for the wilderness of Pomperaug. They were directed to follow the Pootatuck, or Great River, till they came to a large river flowing into it from the north. They were to follow up this stream about eight miles, when they would reach a large open plain on the river, which had been previously under the crude cultivation of the Indians. They accordingly commenced their journey, and arriving at the Pomperaug, they thought it too small a stream to answer the description, and continued their journey till they came to the Shepaug River. Although this was scarcely larger than the one they had passed, they concluded to ascend it. After they had gone the described distance in this stream, they found themselves near Mine Hill, Roxbury. The country here was mountainous, and did not at all answer the description given them. They perceived, therefore, that they had passed the object of their search, and so journeyed in an easterly course over the hills, till arriving on Good Hill, they perceived the valley of the Pomperaug lying below in solitude and silence. Great was the gratitude of these pioneers of our town on the discovery, and it is related that Deacon John Minor fell on his knees, leading to prayer that little band of hardy adventurers, invoking the blessing of Heaven upon their enterprises, and praying that their posterity might be an upright and godly people to the latest generations. "

As the only saw-mill was twenty-five miles back in their Stratford home, hand-hewn log cabins were soon built along a main street. Each family was allotted up to twenty-five acres, and these parcels were so arranged that the cabins could be near together for greater protection. "Ancient Woodbury " covered an area which was later subdivided into several neighboring towns (or Ecclesiastical Societies). There was an Indian village of Pomperaug on the site of the town, which became the center of modern Woodbury. On the basis of records examined, Cothren states that the area was purchased on terms satisfactory to all parties concerned. The Commonwealth as a whole had little Indian trouble.

By the end of the eighteenth century Woodbury had developed as a thriving center of agricultural trade because of it's proximity to the Housatonic River, which provided a major navigational route to the coast. A measure of Woodbury's wealth was the large number of artisans and tradesmen such as millers, blacksmiths, wheelwrights and clothiers as well as tinsmiths, tanners, joiners and goldsmiths.

In the early nineteenth century population remained relatively stable. However, by the mid-century, industrial growth led to a building boom of Greek Revival-style houses, a reflection of the town's continuing prosperity, especially in the factory villages off Pomperaug, Hotchkissville and Minortown. Woodbury remained an agricultural community throughout the nineteenth century. Even during the industrial boom, only 15 percent of the population worked at the mills and not more than 5 percent were involved in commerce.

During the late 19th century Main Street became fully developed from South Pomperaug Avenue north to Quassuk Road, and the Victorian mansions and cottages interspersed the earlier colonial house. The south end of Main Street became the civic center but remained more residential, while the upper end, north of Washington Road, becoming known as North Main Street, was the location of new commercial and residential growth. In addition, neighborhoods were developed on the periphery of Main Street, such as on Washington Road, Park Road, Mountain Road, and on Spring and Pleasant Streets, from the mid 1870's to the 1920's.

The early 1900's saw the Americanization movement, which idealized colonial life and transformed the center of Woodbury. The multi-hued houses were painted white, and St Paul's Episcopal Church lost its Victorian embellishments and returned to its colonial form.

During the latter half of the 20th century Woodbury gradually changed from a rural community to a suburban community. This change began slowly in the 1950's but accelerated thereafter until the community became as it is today.

The political structure of the town began with a set of "Articles of Agreement" which were drawn up and signed by the seventeen original settlers, including Sherman, Judson, Minor, Curtiss, Wheeler, Wyatt, Styles, Hinman, Jenkins, Johnson, Munn, Terrill, Knowles and Fairchild. Many of these names still belong to neighbors of ours. The town can well be proud of the document, which Mr. Cothren calls a model constitution. In drawing it up, the town was following the pattern of Commonwealth tradition. The colony's Royal Charter of 1662 was based for the most part on a still older document, the famed Fundamental Orders of 1638-39, drawn up under the inspiration of the liberty-loving scholar, Thomas Hooker of Hartford. The towns of Connecticut were among the earliest self-governing political units on this continent. Some historians have compared their relationship to the Commonwealth to a federation of towns so independent were they under the Charter.

The Town Meeting 

The origin of Woodbury's Town Meeting must be sought in the history of the colony and in the meetings of the first settlers, members of the Congregational Church or " Standing Order " as the establishment was called. Just when and how Woodbury's Town Meeting became a purely political governing body is not known. The Town Meeting today is an assembly of the legal voters of the town for the purpose of transacting the business of the town. It is a form of pure democracy. The Annual Town Meeting is held in the Town Hall on the first Monday of October, at which time the budget is presented by the Board of Selectmen. The polls are also open for the election of town officers. The Annual Town Meeting is adjourned to the second Monday in March, and at this meeting the budget is voted, and a tax is laid on the grand list. Any other relevant business may be presented at these meetings. Special town meetings may be called by the selectmen, or upon the application of twenty qualified voters, but the business of these meetings must be stated in the call. Notices of town meetings must be published in a newspaper in circulation in the town and are posted on the public sign post on front of the Town Hall at least five days before the meeting. The town clerk is by law, clerk of the Town Meeting. The moderator is chosen from the last corrected voting list.

Besides conduction its own affairs, the town, through its officers and agents, performs some duties for the state, such as collecting certain state taxes and enforcing state criminal laws It also administers health and school regulations.

The town is a complete self-governing unit, whose authority and powers are delegated by the state. Since the state legislative body, the General Assembly, is simply the assembled representatives of the towns, the people of the towns are delegating to themselves their own powers.