Norfolk, And That Neighborhood

Norfolk, And That Neighborhood

"Leave not your native land behind" - Thoreau.

From The Connecticut Quarterly
April, May and June 1895.
Vil 1. No. 2.


While the Berkshire Hills have long been a favorite resort for city folk, the Litchfield Hills, their continuation in Connecticut, have had until recent years comparatively little reputation. Litchfield, however, on its hill-top, long looked up to as one of the most beautiful towns in New England, has in its turn looked down on the world at large from its vantage ground of antiquity and culture. Excepting this town, the lovely rolling hills of Litchfield county have been greeted by no large number of visitors. But now, year by year, these hills are becoming more widely known, and increasing numbers of guests are enjoying the lovely scenery and invigorating air.

Lakeville has of late been on the lips of those interested in education, as the site of the splendidly endowed Hotchkiss School, preparatory to Yale and other universities. Also among these hills lies Washington, loved and admired as the site of the famed old “Gunnery” school, as well as for its picturesque aspect. Many other spots have been the pleasant summer haunts of the few.

In recent years, visitors in increasing numbers have been attracted to Norfolk, whose altitude, about foqrteen hundred feet above tide, ensures pure air and tempers the heat with mountain breezes. It is but a few miles from the Massachusetts line. The engine which puffs arduously up to Norfolk, reaches there the highest railway station in Connecticut. This little town upon its hills, looking off on the blue Berkshires, and made glad by many streams, had doubtless still been dreaming out its sylvan life, were it not so fortunate as to be the residence of two closely connected families long noted for culture and Beneficence.

A beautiful library, planned by George Keller of Hartford, has been built, perfect in every appointment, possessing even a conversation-room — for doubtless the donor of the building saw, as did the architect, the importance of a retreat for at least some of our sisters, where silvern speech might take the place of golden silence. Books may be drawn free of charge by villagers and guests. Nothing could look more charmingly cozy of a cool September or October day than the glow and flame in the open fire-place of the artistic hail; and indeed the entire furnishing of the building is a delight to the aesthetic sense. This may be said also of the fine gymnasium, from designs by H. R. Marshall, built by another member of the same family connection. There are tennis-courts on the grounds and a bowling-alley, as well as the gymnasium proper, equipped perfectly for every possible requirement. Here again, no charge is made for the many advantages. In the parlor of the building there is music, norning and evening during the summer and the dancing in the gymnasium hall several evenings a week, to which all are welcomed. In the winter, a teacher of athletics is provided to make strong the Norfolk touth.

Still another gift is a village fountain, which stands at the end of the village-green. This fountain, an exquisite piece of workmanship in granite and bronze, was designed by Stanford White, the bronze being by St. Gaudens. Facing the same green as the beautiful memorial chapel. of the Congregational church, built by Mrs. Urania Humphrey, in memory of her father and mother. This build designed by Cady, is of granite and consits of a speacious lecture room and an adjoining parlor, which may be thrown together. The west end of the chapel is beautified by a Tiffany window.

Close by stands the old church, a wooden structure of the New England meeting-house type, with a Wren steeple. The first house of worship was taken down and this one erected in 1813. Since then, the interior has been renovated and a fine large organ presented to the church. From the belfry, a chime of bells tells the quarter-hours, ringing out its full tune before the stroke of each hour. The latest gift is a field for athletic sports, for the young men of Norfolk.

There are numerous lakes within a few miles of Norfolk. The regionabounds in springs and is noted for the purity of its water; but to insure a bountiful supply, an aqueduct, bringing water from Lake Wangum, has recently been opened. "The Hillhurst," a home-like hotel, commands a fine prospect. At this house, President Porter of Yale was wont to pass the last summers of his life. Many fine building sites are being occupied, yet the rural simplicity of the place has not been spoiled by showy ornamentation.

Of the old residents of the village, the Battell and Eldridge families are notable, and to them Norfolk owes its adornments. The Rev. Dr. Joseph Eldridge was for forty-two years the beloved and honored pastor of the Norfolk church. Norfolk was indeed favored in keeping all its own a man of such marked ability and wide repute. The doors of his home were opened with large sympathy, and his hearth was sought by many, even from afar, who always found there rest and intellectual stimulus. Among his European visitors was Pere Hyacinthe, who came to this quiet nook, far away from the whirlwind of popular feeling which his sudden departure from the Church of the Madeleine had raised.

The first settled pastor of Norfolk was the Rev. Ammi Ruhamah Robbins, grand-father of Mrs. Eldridge. Mr. Robbins came directly from the theological seminary to Norfolk, where his pastorate of fifty-two years ended only with his death. He came to a very different Norfolk from that of to-day, for the

Two Missing Pages

spot was so wild — the old forests standing closely about the church —that on entering the village from the south, the building could not be seen when only a short distance away. Mr. Robbins during his long pastorate in Norfolk, is said to have prepared more students for college than any other man pf his time in the state. In memory of his educational work, two of his descendants — the Hon. Robbins Battell, whose recent death is so widely lamented, and his sister, the late Miss Anna Battell—established an academy, known as The Robbins School, a picturesque building on a wide lawn, through which a brook makes it's way, singing on through school-hours and through play, is such a picture, with the hills to frame it, as one will recall with pleasure from afar. Here beauty and knowledge have locked hands. A reunion of the school, on the completion of its tenth anniversary, was recently held, when the old birds and the fledglings met together to bless the day when this "Robbins" nest was hung high up among these hills.

One of the most picturesque roads. in Norfolk is the "Willows." On one side a hill rises abruptly, while on the other the venerable trees, from which the road is named, cast a dense shade, their huge trunks and twisted limbs bending devotedly over the gorge where flows their patron stream, the Blackberry river. Just above, the stream has had a fall, and with an angry turbulence is hurrying on, to serve several mills. Attracted to this lovely spot by the water advantages, these workshops stand in the midst of all this greenery, reminding us that the iron hand of civilization grasps every advantage and gives no quarter to primitive nature. The Buttermilk Falls, a series of connected tumbles, is an outflow from the Mill Pond, near by, into the Blackberry River. Here are fascinating bits for the artist. To return to the "Willows," where trees, stream, hill, and road, keep such close company — I well remember a fair September Sunday, with the Sabbath stillness over• all save the restless stream, and the voices of those who like ourselves were on their way to the West Norfolk Sunday-school service, a mile and a half from Norfolk village. These services were started and are conducted during the summer, on Sunday afternoons, by one of the city visitors; On the road thither still stands the old and disused toll-gate, a curious and interesting relic of bygone days.

The westering -sun is sinking fast when we turn our faces homeward, after the service is over, and soon has dropped behind a hill, and we are in shadow. But across the road, on the opposite height, glints of sunlight linger as if loth to depart, and flickering higher and still higher, call forth here and there an answering glow of early autumnal color. Truly a farewell to summer are these lengthening shadows and waning September lights!

Another charming walk is the "Lover's Lane." What place would be complete without one?—and the road so called in Norfolk is well named, if a winding woodland way, with ferns on either side nod approval, and trees to whisper gently to one another, and only an occasional squirrel for t h i r d company, is what a lover's lane should be. We a r e reminded here of Gilder's wood1and thought —

"I care not if the skies are white,
Nor if the fields are gold;
I care not whether 'tis black or bright,
Or winds blow soft or cold;
But 0 the dark, dark wood,
For thee, and me, and love."

Here too, chestnuts are ripening, and late October brings no dreamers, but bright-eyed school-children who vie with the squirrels in laying in their stores.

The many drives among these hills are of great beauty and variety. Within easy driving distance are Lake Wangum, Doolittle Lake, and Campbell's Falls. Lake Wangum, about four miles from Norfolk village, is a beautiful sheet of water, high on Canaan mountain. Here an attractive little lodge has been built, open during the season, for guests who may procure meals there while passing the day in boating and fishing, and where a small party may be accommodated over night. A drive of about six miles from Norfolk, in the opposite direction, brings us to Doolittle Lake. This lake is much larger than Lake Wangum, and nestled among the hills, its indented shores are thickly wooded. At first glance one feels that here the wilderness obtains, but on closer observation one or two camps and a boat-house dispel the illusion. The fishing is said to be excellent, and a variety of the finny tribe make their uncertain home here. A surprisingly beautiful approach to this lake lies through an ancient pine forest. Surmising that this wood-way from the main road around the lake would bring us to its brink, we turned our horse's head thither, into a gloom of almost theatrical effect. The creaking of the horse's trappings emphasized the impressive stillness; voices, sounding hollow, seemed almost to desecrate the perfect quiet, and flecks of sunlight dappled the denser shade, over the soft deep carpeting, until silver glimmerings through the trees told that the lake was near - surely a startlingly charming contrast from dark to light.

The Campbell's Falls, about nine miles from Norfolk, are near the Massachusetts line. A variety of scenery is to be had on this trip by taking the road over Ball Mountain, and returning by way of Canaan valley. Leaving the wagon on the roadside, a steep and wooded path winds down into a ravine, not rugged, but lined with verdure and crested with trees. From the height, at one end of the ravine, the falls, in wonderful curves of beauty, bound from rock to rock, sparkling in emerald lights over mossy rocks, in the more quite nooks that flank its way, until at length they flow into a bubbling brook soon lost to sight among the trees. Nature loves this spot, and has made it glad with her best gifts of fern and moss.

One should not leave Norfolk without visiting the look-out on Haystack Mountain, which stands close guard over the village and invites all to an extended and lovely view. Far to the north, against the horizon, is Greylock, the mountain which presides with such impressiveness over Williamstown, while westward is seen the Taconic range. At our feet is Norfolk, rising and falling on its hills like a billowy sea, the midmost wave crested by the old church, the spire visible from afar. opposite, and nearer the village is Crissy Hill, which affords a somewhat more detailed outlook on the village. The soil is sandy, and malaria loves not Norfolk. So rocky is the region that many years ago when Norfolk lands were first put up at auction in Hartford, scarcely a bid was to be had for the then unhappy spot. To-day the bidders crowd one another.

One of the attractions of Norfolk is that, like Lenox and Stockbridge, it keeps its guests late into the autumn, and those who have seen these New England woodlands in their gorgeous autumnal tints, when a Persian mantle of color has been flung over hill and dale, will not wonder at the charm which holds the city folk long in this garden of nature. But to lovers of the hills each season brings its peculiar charm, and the restful beauty of this region in midsummer verdure led to the writing of the following lines on "Norfolk Hills" *

Green are the hills that are rolling to meet me,
Blue in the distance their stern brethren stand;
Flecked o'er with shadow and sunlight, they greet
me —

Peaceful, majestic, a wonderful band.

Far, far away from the soot of the city,
Into the open, where skies arch serene;
Valley's rejoice at the brooks' tinkling ditty
Of forested hill-tops all fluffy with green.

Away, far away from the heart's weary beating,
Far, far away from ambition's fierce throb,
From cares that corrode, and pleasures too fleeting,
Away from the jostling and self-seeking mob.

Here be my rest and my home for a season,
These be my friends, and kind nature my cheer;
Peace fill the heart and sweet dreams still the
reason —
Dreams that are child-like, and joy without fear.

*Originally published in the Hartford Times.

Return to History Page .... Return to Litchfield County