Quarterly article – 1874 renaming town – Unknown Author – (need this info to source)
Barkhamsted seems like a nice name for our town. It is unique: no other town in the United States is called Barkhamsted. So it was a bit of a surprise to learn that back 139 years ago, Barkhamsted residents tried to rename the town. This option was considered at a town meeting on April 18, 1874. Of course a number of questions immediately come to mind. What new name were they considering? Why did they want to change the name? What happened at the meeting? Unfortunately, details of this name changing effort are sparse. At this point, we don’t know what alternative names they were considering, and we are not exactly sure why they wanted to change the name, but apparently it had something to do with the Barkhamsted Lighthouse.
This whole issue came to our attention from a simple diary entry written on April 18, 1874 by Albert Slade: N West [wind], clear & a very nice pleasant Morning. I am feeling some better today. Elisha gone over to Canton to carry the Tobaco to Mr. Church. Town Meeting today to see about changing the name of the town. Albert Slade was a farmer who lived on Center Hill in Barkhamsted on what is now Park Road. Years after he died, his land became part of Peoples Forest and his old brick farmhouse was torn down in the 1980s. The Historical Society has his diary covering the year 1874. It records the weather, his ailments, and the daily routine of a country farmer growing tobacco, corn, pigs and cows, logging and cutting firewood, shingling roofs and butchering animals for meat. He records visitors to his home (virtually every day) and trips to the store in Barkhamsted Hollow for supplies. You can read the diary at a website set up by Slade descendant Jackie Slade Leach at: http://www.threeharbors.com/barkhamsteddiary/sladediary1874main.html
The first time I read his April 18 diary entry I thought, wait a minute…did he say a town meeting to change the name of the town? Wow! What was that all about? To find out, I checked the records at town hall to see if I could locate an entry for the meeting in April 1874. Sure enough, there was a meeting “call” posted on April 8 and also an entry for the meeting itself on April 18. The notice for the meeting said “the undersigned legal voters of said town respectfully request that many of the voters desire to have the name of the town changed. We therefore pray your Honorable body to call a town meeting as soon as practical to see if the town will instruct their selectmen or some other persons who may be chosen for such purpose to petition the General Assembly next to be holden at New Haven to change the name of said town from Barkhamsted to such name as may be agreed on by the town in said meeting assembled.” The entry said the petition was signed by Hiram C. Brown and others. Hiram C. Brown was the owner of what is now the Riverton Inn. The actual petition is not on file, and the others signing are not listed in the meeting notice. Apparently things moved pretty fast, because a special town meeting was scheduled for a Saturday just ten days later, on Saturday, April 18, 1874 at 2:00 p.m., to consider the name change. When the big day arrived, I can just picture Albert Slade hitching up the horse to his wagon and heading down the road to the Town Hall. He didn’t have far to go, since in 1874 the town hall was located not in Pleasant Valley but in Barkhamsted Center right next to the Congregational Church. Both buildings are still there, although what was then the town hall building is now a residence. I should have caught a ride with Albert, and taken a seat in the town hall and witnessed what may have been a spirited debate. But no…to find out what happened we are stuck with the dry entry in the current town records. With great anticipation, I read the recorded entry for the meeting, but it was short in length and woefully short on information:
“At a meeting of the legal voters of the Town of Barkhamsted held pursuant to the foregoing notice, April 18, 1874. E.J. Youngs was appointed Moderator and Sheldon Merrill was chosen Clerk. On motion, voted not to change the name of the Town. On motion, voted to dissolve this Meeting. Attest Wm. E. Howd, Town Clerk.” So no information on what new names were being considered or why “many of the voters” wanted to change the name of the town. The sparse entry gave no hint of the atmosphere of the meeting. Was the discussion heated, with shouting and tempers flaring on both sides? Did someone propose a new name for the town that was a vast improvement, and of such a quality as to make this whole effort worthwhile? These answers were not to be found in the town record. But wait, there just might be another source of information. Maybe there is a newspaper account that sheds some light on this. Sure enough, the old Winsted Herald comes through. The April 24, 1874 copy of the Herald had an entry from the Riverton correspondent on the town meeting: A Town meeting of the voters of Barkhamsted was held last week to see if the town would vote to petition the Legislature to change the name of the town to some name not specified in the call for the meeting. The movers in the project say that the present name is hard and long to write, and furthermore, that a certain undeserved obloquy* is attached to the old name, which greatly hinders selling even the tobacco raised in the town. This last argument is the clincher. For if the name of the town is as vile and filthy as the weed, then they should be divorced. Probably the traditional old “Lighthouse” is a source and cause of much of the sneering thrown at the good name of the town. But before we change the name we ought to consult the wishes of a certain able and wide awake representative elect of Winsted, who we are informed, was the last appointed “Lighthouse Keeper” by the Legislature. But “what’s in a name”. The true glory of a town is not lodged in the orthography of its name. If we make good roads, take care of the town poor, have good schools, and don’t sell rum or any other liquid that will make men drunken, we need not be troubled about our name. So there it is. Any proposed new name for Barkhamsted is lost to history. But the motivation seems to have been tied to the former Lighthouse community. The original Lighthouse couple, James and Molly Chaugham, and their next generation were respected members of the town. But later generations had their issues it is said. According to William Wallace Lee, a former neighbor of the Lighthouse people, “some of the Chaugham posterity have become civilized enough to try the old game of wrestling with a whiskey bottle, and with the same result- to get thrown…“. Apparently even in 1874, many years after the Lighthouse community no longer existed, the Lighthouse legend was still growing and the references were not all good. Today we look upon the Lighthouse community as a positive aspect of the town’s history, including the “village of outcasts” who lived there. I’m glad they didn’t change the name of Barkhamsted in 1874. * I must admit, I had to look up the word “obloquy”…it means “the condition of one who is discredited, bad repute”.
SATURDAY 18 N West clear & a very nice pleasant Morning I am feeling some better to day Elisha gone over to Canton to carry the Tobaco to Mr Church Town Meeting to day to see about changing the name of the town