History of the Area: Peoples State Forest is located in the Pleasant Valley section of Barkhamsted. The forest was established in 1924 through the efforts of the Connecticut Forest and Park Association which coordinated subscriptions for donations. The donations came from citizens groups such as the Daughters of the American Revolution, the Connecticut Federation of Women’s Clubs and many other groups and individuals who purchased land and donated it to the people of Connecticut for approximately $8.00 an acre. The West Branch of the Farmington River, designated as a Wild and Scenic River by the National Park Service, is the center point of river-based recreational activities including trout fishing, canoeing, kayaking and tubing. Other attractions include the 200 year old white pine picnic groves in the Matthies Grove and Whittemore Recreation Areas, over 11 miles of hiking trails, the Barkhamsted Lighthouse and other cultural and historic sites. See American Legion State Forest for nearby camping opportunities. Jessie Gerard Trail (Yellow): Starts at East River Road near the old Indian Settlement known as Barkhamsted Lighthouse. The right trail fork goes through the lighthouse site and continues northerly to the Chaugham Lookouts. The left trail fork climbs more directly to the overlooks by 299 stone steps. The views from this area are some of the best in the state. Continuing north, the trail passes between the Veeder Boulders to the picnic area on Greenwoods Road. Distance – 1.3 miles. www,stateparks.com/peoples.html
FROM THE CONNECTICUT WALK BOOK, 1978 – Barkhamsted Lighthouse – “The Jessie Gerand Trail (yellow), starts from the old Indian Settlement, 3 m. from Pleasant Valley, known as Barkhamsted Lighthouse. The nucleus of this settlement was the high-spirited Molly Barber of Wethersfield, who, when crossed by her father in a love affair, eloped with the Indian Chaugham. Stage drivers, pointing to the light from the Chaugham cabin, would shot to their passengers: “There’s Barkhamsted Lighthouse; only five more miles to New Hartford.” BARKHAMSTED Lighthouse Archaeological Site, People’s State Forest, East River Road – At this site was a village made up of Native Americans, African Americans, and whites who in their time were considered outcasts. The village was established ca. 1740 by Molly Barber, a white woman from Wethersfield, Connecticut, and her husband, James Chaugham, a Narragansett Indian from Block Island in Long Island Sound. They moved to the northwestern Connecticut wilderness to escape the wrath of Molly Barber’s father. The community was abandoned around 1860 after nearly 120 years of occupation. Today, as an archaeological site inside People’s State Forest, it commemorates people who lived on the margins of society. They were ordinary individuals who created an extraordinary multicultural community. The site is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. http://www.ctfreedomtrail.ct.gov/site/concept.html
A Cornucopia of Classic Countryside: Proceed on Rte. 318 west and Rte. 181 south for one mile. Take the right just before the metal bridge and follow East River Rd., once the main thoroughfare to Hartford, to the charming village of Riverton. This narrow serpentine road follows the west branch of the Farmington River, a designated National Wild and Scenic River. Your drive takes you through Peoples State Forest where you can visit two museums, picnic in a 200-year old pine grove, camp, fish, and hike on many well – marked trails. The American Legion State Forest whose rugged terrain with rocky hillsides typifies the landscape is located on the opposite bank of the Farmington River and offers camping, picnicking, hiking and fishing. Along the way you will pass Squire’s Tavern (just before the entrance to Peoples State Forest) built between 1795 and 1801 and operated by the Barkhamsted Historical Society. The house was on a stagecoach route and has an interesting and varied history as a tavern that picked up customers from the wagon traffic hauling iron products from the Colebrook forge going to Hartford as well as chairs from Lambert Hitchcock‘s chair factory. In later years, it became a prosperous farm until the 1920’s when it became part of the State Forest. Today visitors to the house will see how the Society is restoring this historic gem. To visit The Stone Museum, drive into People’s State Forest, the museum is on the left. Built in 1934 by the Civilian Conservation Corps of local fieldstone taken from old stonewalls and American chestnut which was salvaged from the trees killed by the chestnut blight, the museum exhibits mounted taxidermy specimens of many mammals and birds that are common in the forest in addition to a wide range of Indian artifacts, including soapstone and Indian pottery bowls, arrowheads and other weapons, tools and decorative art. Flora and fauna identification is easy and fun with samples of twigs, bark and wood of local trees on display, and electric games to match animal tracks, trees and birds with their pictures. Dioramas show events in the history of Peoples Forest including Camp White, Barkhamsted Lighthouse and Soapstone Quarry. Trail maps and forest information is displayed on a board in front of the museum when it is closed. Continue your drive to Riverton. http://www.litchfieldhills.com/app/attractions/attraction.jsp?catname=touring&subcatname=drivingtours&assetId=13607
THE PEOPLES STATE FOREST – Typical of the Second Growth Forests of Connecticut By: AUSTIN Foster HAWES, – State Forester LOCAL HISTORY Pg 5-7 “The Barkhamsted lighthouse” far from navigable water is said to derive its name from the fact that the stage driver of early days, when settlements were far apart, would cheer his passengers by pointing to the light from these cabins and facetiously calling it the lighthouse. The remains of the old road may still be seen just above the present road, Closely associated with this settlement is the well known story of Molly Barber. She was brought up in Wethersfield, but after being thwarted in love by her father, made the boast that she would marry the first man who proposed whether he were white, red or black. This spirit of independence apparently appealed to the Indian Chaugham, for they eloped and founded this settlement in what was then a remote region. For many years it was a well known and perhaps rather notorious place, but the cabins fell to pieces long ago and , trees are now growing in the cellar holes. Of this settlement now contained in this forest and properly marked the historian Barber says : “A little more than a mile south of this place (Hitchcockville now Riverton) a few of the last remnants of the Narragansett Indians have a location, they came here about the year 1779 and purchased about 200 or more acres of land. Their houses or rather cabins are along side of the road, there are about 20 souls that make their constant residence here, though at times they number as many as 30 persons.” : The cellar holes and beds of lilies, and nearby graves may still be seen. At the time of the pageant dedicating this forest in 1924 a woman of the neighborhood and her two children attended, who showed plainly the Indian features inherited from these Narragansetts. http://ia341210.us.archive.org/2/items/peoplesstatefore00haweuoft/peoplesstatefore00haweuoft.pdf
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