Sam Woodruff could never have imagined what he laid claim to in 1698 would be the town of Southington more than 310 years later.
Reported to be an excellent fisherman, hunter and outdoorsman, Woodruff is credited as Southington’s original pioneer, the Davy Crockett, Daniel Boone of this new region south of Farmington.
Woodruff has not received much public recognition except for a street named in his honor that stretches from Berlin Avenue to a section of town where the town’s first settlers constructed a small fort.
We can only fantasize what this area looked like to Woodruff. This tall, strong and powerful man left his native Farmington for a new mecca, a place where there were fewer settlers and more wild game. In this fertile region he found moose, deer, rabbits, raccoon, minx, otter, beaver, turkeys, geese and wild duck. It is said that wild pigeon flocks often darkened the sky.
When Woodruff moved his family of a wife and six children to South Farmington (the original name of this area), he built his cabin on “Pudding Hill” near the Pleasant Street area. Although there is no official record of how Woodruff, or anyone else for that matter, decided on where the center of town would be located, it is rumored that he often wandered into the lower valley where downtown sits.
Although his powerful physique, his prowess with weapons and his fearlessness won the respect and sometimes the fear of his Indian neighbors, his generosity and kindness engendered a feeling of friendship. His wife was ever ready to aid her neighbors who spent much time in the vicinity.
On one side of the Quinnipiac River, wild game was plentiful but many animals were dangerous. However, it is stated that Woodruff was not afraid of snakes, animals or the Tunxis Indians who inhabited the western portion. The Indians were said to be respectful of Woodruff.
In the book, “Tales of Southington,” it is stated that it didn’t take long for settlers to begin arriving in this region. They came from Farmington, some from Waterbury and some from Wallingford. Soon the name of Woodruff would be joined by the family names of Southington’s first settlers - Andrews, Hart, Gridley, Newell, Lewis, Langdon, Root, Barnes and Clark.
Southington in the early 1700s was a mix of many homes separated by miles of wooded areas. Yet, families would often congregate to enjoy shooting matches after a feast of freshly killed game. It wasn’t until 1722 that settlers tired of traveling north to Farmington to attend church and visit old friends. The bad winters made traveling a true hardship. A petition was forwarded to the Farmington Society (founders of that area) requesting a preacher in their new area, at the time called Panthorne.
Those of us who have researched, read and marveled over Southington’s early history can attest to the fact that this region attracted many intellectual people. As the country began to beckon immigrants and Yankee settlers, Southington would have a town center and a place where people brought their garbage, everything from old furniture, clothes and trash to a location known as “Piglet Park,” known today as the Town Green.
Southington today may have forgotten its true history. Our homes and roads place shadows on old graveyards and asphalt smothers the soil where covered wagons criss-crossed from Mt. Vernon Road to Flanders. The serene setting of Plantsville and downtown do little today to authenticate the numerous shops and factories that would give Southington its early economic strength. Yet, our official Town Seal reveals the small building that was the country’s first carriage bolt factory.
It is a tribute to Woodruff that one building stands today as a monument to our history. And, without the tireless efforts of the Southington Historical Society, that one building would not be today’s mausoleum of artifacts, photos and legends of the past.
Today and in the coming months, if you have decided that this is the town you respect and admire, you owe it to yourself and your family, to visit the Historical Museum at the corner of Main and Meriden Avenue.
Sam Woodruff would be proud.
(Credit: “Some Tales of Southington, 1979.”)