A HISTORIC DECISION
by Hans DePold, town historian
(Published in the Bolton Community News, April 2000)
We now know that Bolton was a thriving town at the time of the Revolution, strategically located midway between the largest and third-largest towns in Connecticut. There were three inns for travelers but that wasn't all.
The road to Providence, and the fastest road from New York to Boston (the Middle Post Road) both ran through the center of town, past the Rose Farm. Many prominent people came to Bolton, including George Washington as a general and again as president. When the inns were full, the town green and the Rose Farm were the places troops and travelers could camp.
But over the next 100 years Bolton was bypassed and gradually lost more than 75 percent of its population, falling to only 457 people by 1900. The Boston Post Road became the Boston Turnpike and was moved to the Bolton Notch around 1795. The Providence road became the Norwich Turnpike and was slightly moved twice until 1913 when it, too, went through the Notch, leaving Bolton Center isolated. In the 1930s White's Tavern was completely covered in tarpaper.
Poverty preserved Bolton's heritage once. On May 17 voters must decide if we will now permanently protect Bolton's heritage, or forever supplant it with urban sprawl.
The Rose Farm is not just a beautiful centerpiece for Bolton, but a historic vista. As we come down Brandy Road to the Rose Farm we see the same view today that Rochambeau and Washington saw in 1781. On the farm itself we find an original colonial road lined with stone walls leading to a circular stone corral, which was for lost-and-found animals of the community.
The first families of Bolton cleared those fields and cemented the stone walls with their blood, sweat, and hopes for their town. They made a law that said every able-bodied person should work a total of six days on the farm because it was the pastor's property, used by the townsfolk for town activities and by visitors for camping. The farm overlooks the valley that was then called the "Hope River" valley.
Connecticut State Archaeologist Nicholas Bellantoni stated that, "Camp 5 (the Rose Farm) is the best preserved Revolutionary War site on the Rochambeau route in Connecticut." The state discovered 60 artifacts, including buttons from the uniforms of the Continental army and the French army, and artifacts proving that prehistoric Indians visited the site. Those stone walls and that vista will be bulldozed away if we do not protect the Rose Farm now and forever with the help of the state's open space grant.
During the Revolution the church, or "Meeting House," was on the green. The Rose Farm abutted the green and both were available for soldiers to camp. It will take some time to show exactly when some of the patriots visited because we must go through all their diaries, memoirs, letters, reports, and itineraries. Some are roughly recorded and others are precise, even including the weather conditions while they were in Bolton. All these visits involved passing the historic Rose Farm vista or stopping there. For detailed information on who visited and how we know so much about the Rose Farm heritage, visit the web site of the Connecticut Society of the Sons of The American Revolution, Newsletter 29 at www.ctssar.org/connecticut_line.htm. Also visit town hall during May when the Bolton Historical Society will have a display showing that historical information.
The Rose Farm was recently broken into two lots for purchase by the town of Bolton. The open space area of 88 acres received a state grant paying 45 percent of the cost to preserve it forever. The other 12 acres, which was not 100 percent eligible, includes the house and barn and could be used for any number of purposes (the owners have stipulated its use would have to be decided by town vote). Professional engineers estimate that if this land is not preserved, a conventional subdivision could yield 54 homes and clustered housing could yield 75 homes. We built a new $9 million school addition less than 10 years ago and Bolton schools are becoming crowded again. Imagine what 75 big new homes will do to the student population. Please remember this most important fact: The cost to our taxpayers for the required school expansion alone would far exceed the cost of preserving the Rose Farm as a legacy for our children. We need to preserve the heart of Bolton if we don't want to look directly into the ugly face of urban sprawl.
Please remember this as well: If we do not vote to buy the Rose Farm right now, we will lose it forever. There is no second chance. It will go on the market and it will be developed.
I hope enough has been said over the years so that we all understand the importance of the Rose Farm historically, environmentally, and to the rural character and beauty of our town. We will have just this one chance to buy it. We are fortunate that this heritage has been preserved until now when Bolton is wise enough and prosperous enough to protect it...forever.
One thing is certain: Future generations will look back at this historic decision and remember us as either some of the wisest or most foolish people who ever lived in Bolton.