Day Trips: Vernon, a textile city and a rural town that became one

Published on Friday, 9 March 2018 21:16
Written by Marty Podskoch

Originally part of Bolton, Vernon, in Tolland County, contains the smaller villages of Rockville, Talcotville, and Dobsonville.

Vernon’s claim to fame was its mills, the first of which was a cotton spinning mill est. in 1809 and powered by the Tankeroosen River.

The center of industry shifted to the town’s northeast corner where the Rock Mill opened in the 1820s and gave its name to Rockville, later called the “Loom City.” Powered by the Hockanum River’s 254-foot cascade, it was the first of 12 textile mills built along the river. Rockville’s population grew as workers were drawn to the mills which became internationally famous for their fine woolens. Fabric produced here was used in the presidential inauguration suits of Benjamin Harrison, William McKinley, and Theodore Roosevelt.

Abolitionist John Brown was hired by Rockville’s mills to purchase raw wool in the west for which he was given $2,800, but he failed to follow through and still owed the money at the time of his death.

Rockville was incorporated as a city within the town of Vernon in 1889. A decline came in the 1950s when the mills closed and moved south. In 1965 the city ceased to exist when its government was consolidated with the town’s.

The rest of Vernon remained rural until the 1940s and ‘50s when a highway, now I-84, was built through the town and the post-war housing boom began. The majority of the town’s pop. of almost 30,000 now lives in the outlying area, which includes Vernon Center, Dobsonville, and Talcottville. Most residents are employed by companies based in greater Hartford.

Vernon’s famous residents include three graduates of Rockville High School. Still life painter Charles Ethan Porter (c. 1847-1923), one of the few African-American professional artists of the 19th century, grew up in Vernon and studied abroad. After a promising start his career declined and he died in poverty, but fortunately a renewed appreciation of his work occurred late in the 20th century.

Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Gene Pitney (1940-2006), the “Rockville Rocket,” lived in the area all his life. He had 16 Top 40 hits in the United States. An exhibit in Vernon’s town hall (14 Park Place) honors his memory.

Virginia U.S. Senator and former governor of Virginia, Mark Warner (1954- ), a contender for the 2008 presidential nomination, was born in Indiana but moved to Connecticut and attended schools in Vernon.

Interesting places

Fox Hill Tower (1939). The 72-foot Romanesque tower built of Tolland granite is a memorial for the town’s veterans. On Tower Rd. in Henry Park off South St.

New England Civil War Museum. The museum is housed in the original Grand Army of the Republic Hall. Sundays except holidays, noon-3 p.m.14 Park Place. 860-870-3563

Rockville Historic District. On the National Register of Historic Places, the area includes Greek Revival, Late Victorian, and Classical Revival architecture. Bounded by Snipsic St., Davis Ave., West St., and South St.

Rockville Public Library. The original part of the building, dedicated in 1904, was designed by famed New York architect Charles A. Platt. The white marble building is a memorial to mill owner George Maxwell. Mon.-Thurs., 10 am-8 pm., Fri. and Sat., 10 a.m.-1 p.m. (Closed Sat. July and August). 52 Union St. 860-875-5892

Vernon Historical Society. Every Thurs. and 2nd and 4th Sundays, 2-4 pm. 734 Hartford Turnpike. 860-875-4326

Denise J. Stankovics, retired co-director, Rockville Public Library

This is an excerpt from the book, The Connecticut 169 Club: Your Passport & Guide to Exploring CT. It was written by local residents to encourage people to visit the beautiful 169 towns & cities in Connecticut. The 8.5 x 11 hardcover book contains 368 pages and over 180 illustrations, maps, and photos. It was edited by Marty Podskoch, author of eight books including the Conn. Civilian Conservation Corps Camps, Catskill & Adirondack fire towers, Adk CCC Camps, Adk 102 Club, and Adk illustrated stories. The travel book will be available in late summer 2018. One can pre-order a signed book with free shipping by sending $24.95 plus CT sales tax $1.58 to: Podskoch Press, 43 O’Neill Lane, East Hampton, CT 06424 Also available in late summer 2018 at local stores, Amazon, and Barnes & Noble. Information (860)267-2442 or

Posted in New Britain Herald, General News on Friday, 9 March 2018 21:16. Updated: Friday, 9 March 2018 21:18.