Smart Growth for Vernon, CT
Book makes history of Rockville more accessible

By Richard Tambling
Journal Inquirer
April 7, 2006

VERNON — In a new soft-cover book published early this year by the Vernon Historical Society, S. Ardis Abbott and Jean Luddy have done a wonderful job of making a primary history on the Rockville section of Vernon much more accessible and relevant to those with a casual interest in history.

The two have annotated "History of Rockville from 1823 to 1871," (Minuteman Press, 72 pages) by William Cogswell, adding notes, maps, and illustrations from the local history collections of the Vernon Historical Society.

The book first was printed in 1872. It was a collection of detailed reminiscences that had originally been published in installments in the Rockville Journal, a precursor of the Journal Inquirer, beginning in January, 1870.

Cogswell is buried in Rockville's Grove Hill Cemetery, not far from the Hockanum River, which gave birth to Rockville thanks to the industry that sprang up to feed off the power generated by its cascades.

By the time he wrote his pieces recalling the 50 years of Rockville history that he'd observed firsthand, Cogswell was a respected elder in town.

Born in 1803 in Tolland, as a young man he came to work in the Rock Mill on the Hockanum when only a cluster of buildings surrounded it and much of what we know as Rockville was wild and desolate.

That changed as the decades passed. An adept carpenter, Cogswell helped build mills and houses as the village grew and prospered.

History of Rockville from 1823 to 1871 by William T. Cogswell

In his written account, he thoroughly describes many of the mills, stores, and houses that went up and who lived in them, as well as mentioning many of the prominent individuals whose inventiveness and labor helped make the textile industry so successful in Rockville. From Cogswell, who served as a sheriff and justice of the peace and helped plan and build the town's first schoolhouse, we get a real feel for what it was like to see this little village become a real community with not one, but two, churches, and a tavern where travelers could stay. We also get a taste of some of the issues as times changed, like the temperance movement, and we learn things like why there's a Brooklyn Street (this undeveloped area was across the river from the established part of Rockville and some people thought it looked like Brooklyn Heights did from New York.)

But Cogswell needs some explaining to a modern day audience, and Abbott, the municipal historian, and Luddy, a librarian, replace the question marks with answers.

They provide concise biographical sketches of many of the early Rockville citizens that Cogswell mentions, maps of the areas he describes, and definitions of the textile manufacturing processes he speaks about.

In addition, historic photos of Rockville, along with photographs of some of the houses Cogswell built are included.

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