Our Shared History: Industry
A collaborative exhibit with the
East Windsor & South Windsor Historical Societies
in celebration of the 250th Anniversary of the
Town of East Windsor
In the early days of the colonies, the town of Windsor encompassed both the east and west sides of the Connecticut River. Then 250 years ago in 1768, East Windsor broke off and formed its own municipality and in 1786 Ellington followed suit. Finally, the town of South Windsor was incorporated in 1845. Our Shared History: Industry focuses on the geographical area that was East Windsor 250 years ago and some of the industries common to this region.
It begins with the Bissell Ferry, established by John Bissell in 1641. During the 17th century several Windsor families regularly crossed the Connecticut River to maintain farms or graze cattle while keeping their homes on the west side, making the Bissell Ferry intracule to the agricultural industry of the time and the eventual founding of the town of East Windsor.
“Generations of South Windsor families have grown tobacco on their lands: planting in the spring, harvesting in the fall, and hanging leaves in tobacco sheds with vented sides until the tobacco is fully cured. The varieties of tobacco grown here have changed through time. Native Americans smoked a type of wild tobacco native to this area, while white settlers brought up a variety from Virginia to use as pipe tobacco. As early as the beginning of the 19th century, farmers were planting a type of tobacco called Shoestring that was used for cigar binders and wrappers—the outer two layers of a cigar. By the late 19th century, this had been mostly replaced by Broadleaf, which farmers still grow in town today. In the early 20th century, some farms also introduced Connecticut Shade Tobacco, which was modified from a Sumatran plant. Shade tobacco is grown under netting, which both shades the plant and creates a hotter, more humid microclimate.” Lobdell, C. (2017). Image of America: South Windsor. Charleston, SC: Arcadia Publishing.
“In 1835 Epaphras and Bethual Phelps…using native red sandstone mined from a quarry under Main Street bridge in the center of the village (Broad Brook) constructed the first mill building along the brook. …It was first known as the Phelps Manufacturing Company, producing wool cloth. The Phelps mill went bankrupt in 1849 and the Broad Brook Company came into existence. It was noted for high-grade cashmere and woolens. During the Civil and World Wars I and II, wool blankets and military cloth were manufactured, and later the mill made upholstery for General Motors automobiles.” “Like many mill towns in America, the village grew around the mill, which became paternalistic to its employees. For the next 113 years, the mill was the main economic entity of the village and gave employment to hundreds of people until closing in December 1953” Donahue, C., and Bottomley, J. (2017). Images of America: East Windsor. Charleston, SC: Arcadia Publishing.
In 1895, trolley tracks were laid down Main Street, connecting the town with Hartford and allowing people to travel to the city for work. Even so, the area remained overwhelmingly agricultural and rural with a scattering of small mills and businesses until around World War II, when the population began rapidly expanding. During the 1950s and 1960s, many new residents, moved to the area to work in the aerospace industry.
“The Pratt and Whitney Aircraft Fuel Cell Operation (later renamed UTC Power) played a crucial role in manned space flight from 1966-2011. In a facility on Governor’s Highway, employees designed the fuel cells that powered the Apollo missions, starting in 1966 and all the Space Shuttle missions, starting in 1973. They also made fuel cells for commercial and public uses, including one installed at South Windsor High School in 2002.” Lobdell, C. (2017). Image of America: South Windsor. Charleston, SC: Arcadia Publishing.