A Place That Time Forgot?
by Hans DePold, town historian
(Published in the Bolton Community News, June 1999)
The recent state documentation of the Revolutionary Road and campsite in Bolton has uncovered a map, never before published, which shows Bolton's main roads several years before the Revolutionary War. It clearly shows the road from Hartford continued through the center of town down to near the present Route 6, where it branched to the north for Boston and to the south for Lebanon and Providence.
The map indicates that no major road existed through the notch at that time. Revolutionary War maps drawn by French engineers show that by 1781 Toomey Road had become the road to Boston. That means all the patriots going between Hartford and Boston on the northern route went to the center of Bolton and passed by what today we know as Camp Johnson on the now-abandoned portion of Toomey Road. Those patriots included President George Washington, who on November 9, 1789, traveled south through Bolton on his New England presidential trip. By 1795 the Boston Turnpike was created, bypassing the center of town and going directly through the notch. The first map we have showing the new route is dated 1811.
After the Revolution a darkness descended on the economy of southern Bolton. As people began to move to Ohio and bridges were built across the rivers in southern Connecticut, the routes through Bolton to Boston and Providence became obsolete. The northern portion of Bolton was ushered into the Industrial Revolution with its rich sources of water power. By 1808 the affluent northern portion of Bolton, now known as Vernon, delcared itself an independent town and Bolton sank further into hard times. Layer upon layer of Bolton's history was buried by time.
The Avery family bought land in 1833 on what is now Johnson Road. The Josiah B. Avery furniture shop had a turning lathe powered by a water wheel with a water drop of about 10 feet. The Averys produced a wide variety of Hitchcock-type spindleback chairs, bedsteads, tables, and cabinets in mahogany, oak, cherry, and walnut. The U.S. census of 1850 indicated that Avery was the largest employer in Bolton (14 workers) and he housed eight of them in his own home. The railroad of 1851 provided a convenient way for some to go to school, but it further isolated Bolton by moving commerce through without having to stop in the town. The Avery shop failed that year. The ruins of the foundations, dams, and mill race still remain.
Camp Johnson is the 62-acre nucleus of one of Bolton's largest state-designated unfragmented wildlife habitats, a block of about 209 acres. On May 10, 1948, Mr. and Mrs. Edward A. Johnson donated the property for a Boy Scout camp. It was used for a while for the Bolton community swimming program and has been used by Girl Scouts as well. It just celebrated its 50th anniversary, and camp trustee Milton Shaw has provided the town with a fine history of the camp. We can feel proud to know that scouts still come to Bolton to enjoy one of our wildlife habitats. The huge tract crosses the greenway and borders the 100-acre Rose Farm. A wide variety of wildlife, including wild turkeys and large cats, has been reported to have returned to our town.
So time has not forgotten Bolton after all; time has delivered up much of our long-lost history. There are not many towns that were visited by George Washington as a general and again as our first president, or visited by Rochambeau twice, and Lafayette five times. Not many small towns can boast that they fielded 63 men in the Lexington Alert, the encounter made famous by the ride of Paul Revere.
Camp Johnson is bounded by both the pre-Revolutionary Boston road (Johnson Road), and the Revolutionary Boston road (the abandoned portion of Toomey Road). Perhaps time has saved Bolton for us because we at long last appreciate our town enough to preserve its historic sites and wildlife habitats as open space.