LITCHFIELD is a special place-one might even say exceptional. In fact, those of us fortunate to live here are so accustomed to Litchfield being exceptional that when we venture out into the world, we wonder why other towns don't have similarly stunning architecture, tree-lined boulevards, natural beauty, and reverence for history.
We Litchfielders know we're a little different, a little greener, cooler, more educated, and affluent. If this sounds a tad boastful, we're simply following along line of proud residents who called this corner of Connecticut home.
Take, for instance, the earliest people-members of the Wawyachtonoc, a tribe
of the Mahican Confederacy- who delighted in the prime hunting and fishing grounds of our northwest parts. Indeed, even after they sold what early settlers called the Western Lands, the tribesmen reserved an area around
Mt. Tom to continue their livelihoods.
Ironically, Litchfield's exceptionalism derives as much from what it lacks
as for what it possesses. It lacks a swiftly-flowing river to power mills. Without mills, there was no surge of laborers into Litchfield during the Industrial Revolution as there was in valley towns. With neither mills nor population, Litchfield was largely bypassed by a railroad industry that favored lowland routes. And so, in an era when progress was defined by the boom of engines, Litchfield slipped off the grid. A good thing, too--for it was our town's pristine aloofness regarding progress that preserved its colonial-era charm.
Part of that charm owes something to Litchfield's Golden Age, a 50-year period between 1784 and 1834 when Tapping Reeve's Litchfield Law School and Sarah Pierce's Litchfield Female Academy flourished. These institutions were to have an impact beyond mere pedagogy-they attracted to Litchfield some of the best and brightest then living in the freshly liberated republic.
Then, in 1908, a man of remarkable vision and generosity endowed Litchfield with a legacy that truly set it apart. Alain Campbell White saw the depredations of development destroying the natural world around him and determined to stop it in its tracks.
The foundation which he and his sister, May, created comprises the 4,000 acres of woodlands and wetlands now known as the White Memorial Conservation Center. Renowned for its natural beauty and breathtaking views, White Memorial is the cap on Litchfield's lovely gown.
For those early settlers, Litchfield's very remoteness, its cool upland climate, and uncut timberlands must have looked heavenly. Today, we can't imagine it any other way.
Adapted from Litchfield,
by Ralph White, Arcadia
Publishing, July 2011