On Saturday, Oct. 5 guided bus tours rolled through Plainville, stopping at historical sites around town; some which still stand, and others which have been lost to time.
“This town’s got so much history people don’t know about,” said Nancy Eberhardt, president of the Plainville Historical Society, before one of the tour buses left the Town Hall parking.
Alternating between a trolley-style bus Dattco donated for the day and the Senior Center’s shuttle, the hour-long tours made more than a dozen stops in town. The unique event drew some 100 participants.
The first stop, just down the road at 109 East Main St., was the home of the parents of Charles Norton, the inventor for whom the local park is named.
As the bus eased to the side of the road, Eberhardt spoke about how Norton’s parents are believed to have maintained a stop on the Underground Railroad for African Americans escaping slavery.
The impact the African American community had on Plainville could be seen at Governor’s Island. The triangular plot of land between Whiting Street, East Street and South Avenue was once home to Lyman Homer, one of the state’s black governors, leaders elected by the local African American community.
One prominent site that does remain today is Cook’s Tavern, though it now operates under the name J. Timothy's Taverne.
Built in 1789, Cook’s provided respite for stagecoach travelers making the arduous journey from New Haven north to Hartford or Farmington. That comfort was limited though. If you weren’t one of the lucky few guests to check in early enough, you would lose out on having a spot in the communal beds and would instead have to make do on the floor.
As symbolized by the cogs on the town seal, Plainville’s roots are in the bustling industrial boom initially fueled by the Farmington Canal and then the railroads to follow. The small village had two stops along the canal; Whiting Basin near where CVS now stands on New Britain Avenue, and Bristol basin, located approximately where D'Marie's Pizza is on Whiting Street.
The latter was built by Bristol Clockworks after the canal’s completion in order to ship parts, and is now better known as the spot where Africans taken captive aboard the Amistad slave ship disembarked from the canal on their way to Hartford to stand trial for revolting against their kidnappers.
“The thing that really turned Plainville on its ear was the Plainville Manufacturing Company,” Eberhardt said.
The 5-story industrial complex was built in the mid-19th century and spanned from the canal near Whiting Street to Pierce Street. The factory was one of the first places in the state where women — and children as young as 8-years-old — could hold a job on their own, laboring behind textile machines.
“For the first time a single woman could work someplace other than her home,” Eberhardt said.
Bill Garrety, who went on one of the tours after visiting the Historic Center on Pierce Street, said hearing the history of the women who worked in poor conditions at the factory was one of the most revealing parts of the tour for him.
Machines were built without safety in mind and could send parts flying at workers at high speed. Also, being just a few minutes late to work could mean the loss of a day’s wages.
Garrety lamented that the town has lost so many of its historic landmarks. “In 150 years a lot of things can change and not having the buildings and stuff to see is tough,” he said. “You’ve got to know where you were before you know where to go.”
The tours were originally intended to be part of the town’s 150th anniversary celebration in July, but were rescheduled to Oct. 5 due to extreme heat.