History-Town of Berlin
Berlin, Connecticut, the home of "The Yankee Peddler", is located at the geographic center of the state. The area was originally know as PAGONCHAWNISCHAGE (the great white oak place), by the Mattabasset Indians.
In 1659, Sergeant Richard Beckley purchased 300 acres from Chief Tarramuggus, built a home for his family and became the first settler in what was to become Berlin. Other families slowly followed, and in 1686, Captain Richard Seymour led a group of families from Farmington to begin the first settlement on Christian Lane.
By 1705, the first ecclesiastical society was recognized and the area renamed the Great Swamp Society. The first meetinghouse and cemetery were established a few years later, and the first school house built in 1717.
1722 Brought reorganization to the Society. Parts of the towns of Farmington, Wethersfield and Middletown were added to increase the land area, and the name changed to Kensington. In 1772, the Society was divided into an eastern half, called Worthington, and the western section, which retained the name of Kensington. 1785 brought incorporation of the town, which was then called Berlin. New Britain remained a part of Berlin until 1850.
In the middle of the 18th century, Edward and William Pattison, two sisters and one brother, emigrated from Ireland. They set up the first tinware business in the colonies. Wares in baskets were pedaled from house to house, then as surplus accumulated, by mule and wagon, traveling all over America and to Canada. This was the birth of "The Yankee Peddler".
During the years from 1700-1750, farms,mills, and blacksmiths sprang up though the Great Swamp. Most residents of this area were skilled in one or more of these trades, which were recognized and allowed by the British government. A blacksmith was crucial for daily living needs such as nails, tools, hinges, latches, hooks, cranes, cooking utensils, and parts for wagons, wheels and sleds. Small ironworks sprang up near local waterpower.
In addition to tinware, ammunition was made from the local lead mines during the Revolutionary War. East Berlin Milling Co. produced cotton and woolen yarn which was spun into clothing and blankets. Simeon North, manufacturer of pistols, became the first official pistol maker for the United State Government when he developed a system of interchangeable parts for pistols. In the 1800's, business of all sorts thrived in Berlin. Makers of wagons, tableware, hats, clocks, books, combs, woolen clothes and blankets, cabinet and coffin makers, sleighs, muffs, and suits, were all local industries. Berlin was on the direct route from New Haven to Hartford, with taverns and inns, which were regular stagecoach stops for fresh horses, meals and sleeping accommodations.
Two meetinghouses had been built, one in Kensington Parish, still in use today as the Kensington Congregational Church. The Worthington Meetinghouse was in continuous use as a church, town hall, school and town offices until 1974.
Berlin was proud to have one of the 75 official post offices designated by Benjamin Franklin, first Postmaster General. An historic marker showing that the next post office was in Hartford, 11 miles away, is still located on Worthington Ridge.
By the late 1700's, a village library had been started, and the town boasted of five school districts. Mid 1800's, the Worthington Academy was built, which ultimately housed 125 students from neighboring states. The Berlin Railroad Depot opened as a way station on the New York, New Haven and Hartford line. This station is one of the last places in the country where you can still buy a ticket to anywhere in the United States or Canada.
The mid 1800's brought competition from mass produced products, forcing the peddlers out of business. It also brought the establishment of the brick making industry locally, which eventually produced 90,000 bricks daily until the 1960's.
In 1886, the State Legislature granted a charter for the Harvest Festival, which eventually grew into the Berlin Fair, held annually the first weekend in October.
Berlin's government from colonial days functioned under the Selectment-Town Meeting style. In 1973, it renamed its top official mayor and the other two selectmen as deputy mayors. A new town hall complex was erected shortly thereafter, bringing all the town offices, the Police Department, the Board of Education, and the Visiting Nurses under on roof. In 1995-96, a charter revision was made, and a Town Council-Town Manager form of government was instituted.
The population of the town is now over 18,000. Churches other than Congregational were slow in appearing, but after the Civil War, ecclesiastical diversity came to Berlin and remains today. The town presently houses three public elementary schools, one middle school, one high school, and several private-parochial schools. There are two private libraries and a public Town library. Timberlin Park provides an 18 hole golf course, tennis courts, picnic areas, hiking trails, restaurant and pro shop. In the 1930's, a Police Department was formed, and a system of four Volunteer Fire Departments was organized. Well over, 1000 acres of open space have been dedicated to parks.
A number of large and small industries and businesses were established throughout the years, and are still operating today, due to accessibility of the railroad and major highways for transportation of goods.
All the advantages of a modern community are found here. There is an excellent school system; many parks offering varied activities; theaters, the golf course, a shopping center, banks and libraries. A healthy spirit of ecumenism and brotherhood exists among the members of the religious denominations, whose houses of worship, from colonial to modem architecture, are located in town.
revised Sept. 1999