Four Centuries of American History in One City
From Norwich in the Gilded Age: The Rose City's Millionaires' Triangle
During the Civil War, Norwich was a center of activity as center for the manufacture of firearms and the textiles for military uniforms. It was
a political center as well, as home to Connecticut’s governor and the U.S. Senator destined to become Vice-President of the United States after the Lincoln assassination.
Their homes are among the city’s remarkable collection of 19th century architecture. Many of these stately homes belonged to the millionaires who were nationally prominent as industrialistsand philanthropists. “There are a hundred homes in Norwich every one of which might be the befitting suburban residence of the most regal prince or duke of Europe,” wrote one 1872 visitorto Norwich, which is known as The Rose of New England.
A large number of the original houses remain and provide a historical study of Victorianarchitectural styles. The mansions along the Millionaires’ Triangle are considered to be among the best examples of their type in Connecticut and include Gothic Revival, Italianate, and Second Empire with its mansard roof.
The millionaires were responsible for establishing a pair of remarkable cultural landmarks. In 1853, they founded Norwich Free Academy a private preparatoryschool which serves as a high school for Norwich and seven surrounding town. Recently, theschool expanded its enrollment to include international students from China and other countries,who attend classes on the beautiful 40-acre campus that more closely resembles a college thana high school.
One jewel of the campus is the Slater Memorial Museum, considered by some to be a miniature of London’s Victoria and Albert. The Slater’s galleries arefilled not only with American fine and decorative art and artifacts, but an outstanding collectionof casts of the major ancient sculpture.Just down the street, recent restoration of Cathedral of Saint Patrick to its Victorian splendormakes it a must-see for lovers of art and architecture as well as a religious shrine.
As one of the oldest cities in Connecticut, Norwich is loaded with history and actually is a microcosm of national and regional history. From its origins as a small farming settlement, Norwich became a seaport, then an important manufacturing center. Norwich, Connecticut packs 350 years of American history into its borders.
Without leaving her borders, it’s possible to visit a Revolutionary-era town Green, an intactoriginal mill village of the Industrial Revolution years and view the homes of Gilded Age millionaires. The city’s Native American heritage is well evident in monuments and
the IndianBurial Grounds that houses the last resting place of Uncas, the great Mohegan chief.
Visitors can trace the course of American history, starting with a visit to the 350-year-old Leffingwell House Museum the nearby Norwichtown Green, ringed with Colonialand Revolutionary-era homes and a traditional New England meeting house. Walking tours with local guides introduce visitors to many aspects of the city’s history and culture.
Its location halfway between New York and Boston put Norwich in the thick of the American independence effort. The city was home to both Samuel Huntington, signer of the Declaration of Independence and president of the Continental Congress that governed the nation during the Articles of Confederation and also to, the brilliant general who was the hero of the Battle of Saratoga and later turned traitor.
Just downriver from Leffingwell House are early manufacturing sites located adjacent to the Norwich Falls in the earliest stages of the Industrial Revolution. As production increased, largermill facilities were constructed in other sections of towns. The Ponemah Mill in the city’s Taftville section, was hailed as the largest cotton manufacturing operationunder one roof in the world. At 978 ft. long and five stories high – with each floor covering anacre and a quarter – they claimed it was the largest cotton mill under one roof in the world. One hundred and fifty years later, the mill building stands and the company houses onceoccupied by the factory workers are still active residences.
By Patricia F. Staley, author of Norwich in the Gilded Age
It’s the best-kept secret in New England.
History isn’t the only thing the Norwich area has to offer. The two largest casinos
in the Western hemisphere, located just a few miles away, offer world-class entertainment and a widerange of dining and shopping options.
Norwich boasts a lively arts scene, highlighted by First Friday activities at
downtown galleries. Its Spirit of Broadway Theatre produces a year-round program
of “innovative, bold, challenging and engaging new musicals that define the future
of American Musical Theater” in an intimate setting.
Sports enthusiasts will find everything from minor league baseball and an
international community soccer league to the annual Harvard-Yale Regatta a
short distance down the Thames River. The city boasts a golf course, public clay
tennis courts and a recreation complex that includes the 400-acre Mohegan Park
and its famed Rose Garden.
Norwich is a great headquarters for taking in all of the delights of a New England autumn. Apple picking and visits to the pumpkin patch are just a few minutes away on farms just outside the city. Some of the best views of fall foliage can be had with
a ride on the nearby Essex Steam Train and boat tours. For the wine connoisseur, a half-dozen vineyards offering tours andtastings are within easy driving distance.
Guided walking tours through the city’s historic areas are scheduled throughout October as part of the regional heritage corridor calendar of events. A highlight of the city’s October calendar is the book sale at Otis Library, where book lovers can find everything from best-sellers to historical works at greatly-reduced prices.
Norwich is centrally located to a host of other attractions – to the south is Connecticut’s shoreline with its beaches and a world-class aquarium and a recreated seaport village in nearby Mystic. Other shoreline attractions include the U.S.S. Nautilus Memorial in Groton and the U.S. Coast Guard Academy, just across the river in New London.
Within an hours’ drive are the seaside mansions of Newport, R.I. and hallowed halls of Yale University in New Haven as well as Connecticut’s capitol city of Hartford where visitors can explore the Victorian homes of famed humorist Mark Twain, author of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn and Harriet Beecher Stowe, author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin.
New York City and Boston, Massachusetts, as well as all of the other New England statescan be reached by auto or rail in about two hours, making any destination an easy day trip fromNorwich.
History, central location, arts and architecture make Norwich the ideal base for the traveler who wants to experience New England at its best!