Cheshire 325th Commemorative Magazine
RJ Media Group, Record-Journal, The Cheshire Herald and The Cheshire Citizen
Cheshire’s Founding Fathers
The story of America is one of movement.
From England to Denmark to the shores of the Atlantic, all the way to the Pacific Ocean, Americans have always been looking over the horizon wondering, “What else is out there?”
That of course is how the story of Cheshire begins as well.
At some point in the 1690s, residents of Wallingford began to get restless. Though their own town was just a tick older than 20 years, it was already growing too fast for some.
They wanted a quieter place to call home.
How it all started is lost to the ages, but in 1895, E.R. Brown offered his own version of from whence Cheshire came, when he wrote in his book “Old Historic Homes of Cheshire” a vivid account of what may have transpired to bring the first settlers to the area.
In Brown’s telling, it began with Joseph Ives, a Wallingford native who lived with his parents on their plantation. Restless as he entered manhood, Ives wanted to branch out on his own, so he would spend his days walking westward from his family homestead, gun in hand and wanderlust in his heart.
“During one of those journeys, he became interested in a section of land within the (Wallingford) colony … right where, in 1694, he located his future home by building a log cabin,” Brown explains. “It is probable that John Hotchkiss, an intimate friend, accompanied young Ives on these prospective tours, for it is evident that he settled the same year in those locality.”
Ives’ cabin was built near the current Fenn Road, while Hotchkiss erected his cabin off of Wallingford Road, near Talmadge Drive. Legend has it that, on the first night Hotchkiss stayed in his new Cheshire home he brought along his two trusted dogs for company and security.
In the wee hours, Hotchkiss heard the dogs barking and growling, followed by the distinct sounds of a savage fight. When the sun rose on the new day, Hotchkiss stepped outside his cabin to find one of his dogs severely injured and the other dead, lying next to the corpse of a bloodied wolf.
“As Town Historian Jeanne Chesanow explains, there is evidence to suggest that Brown’s story is, at least in part, made up. However, it provides a rather exciting first paragraph to the history of Cheshire.
People like heroes and Brown provides a couple of brave young men settling in a wilderness where no one has ever lived before,
Chesanow says. "Brown gives the heroes weapons to defend themselves, and tells of a horrifying first night at the Hotchkiss cabin. This is a memorable story, a story of bravery, a story of triumph over danger."
In other words, it’s the perfect opening for the story of this community.
Whether Ives did search days upon end for the right land on which to settle, or Hotchkiss did, with the help of courageous canines, survive a frightening first night in Cheshire, will never be known. What we do know is that over time, little by little, inhabitants of Wallingford, seeking new opportunities and fertile soil to tend, made their way to what over the years would be known as “west farm,” and then “Ye Fresh Meadows,” until finally adopting the name Cheshire, given to it by Thomas Brooks in 1723.
By 1694, settlements had been formed. To the south, the Ives, Doolittle, and Hitchcock families had set up farms, while the Hull and Curtiss families settled on Quinnipiac farms. Along the Ten Mile River, up against the “Blew Hills” to the northwest, John Moss and his family planted roots.
The settlers worked their lands during the week and then returned to Wallingford for the weekend, or at least for Sunday services. But before long, a community had been formed and the “west farmers” wanted something of their own. By the early 1700s, they were petitioning to begin their own schools, then their own church, and eventually the right to be their own village.
By 1780, nearly a century after the first settlers set foot on new land, and after decades of slowly but surely establishing a distinct identity, Cheshire was recognized as a town.
Since then, a lot has changed. Small dirt roads suitable only for horses or stage coaches have been replaced by busy paved streets that connect Cheshire to so many neighboring communities. While many thriving farms still exist, the town now fuels its economy largely through commercial and industrial developments, with the majority of Cheshire residents setting off each morning to work in an office rather than a field.
Generations have come and gone, yet the names of those original settlers can still be found sprinkled across the Cheshire landscape - on road signs, the sides of buildings, or attached to old homes that have stood the test of time. They speak to all those who call the current community home - reminding each what it took to make Cheshire a reality, and how the new inhabitants of “west farms” adds to the town’s legacy.
This 325th anniversary asks that we take the time to stroll leisurely down memory lane, but it’s also offers a moment to pause and recognize that a community is only as good as the people in it. The settlers of 1694 started something. It’s up to everyone living in Cheshire to keep that “something” going.
The Town of Cheshire has a rich history of civic engagement and volunteerism, and we are proud to be a part of this long tradition. We are pleased to celebrate the 325th anniversary of the settlement of Cheshire with our citizens and businesses.