The town of Farmington was settled as "the plantation of Tunxis" in 1640 by a number of men from Hartford, Windsor, and Wethersfield who were desirous of possessing more land or, as their court petition phrased it, "some inlargment of accomodation." The land was purchased from the Tunxis Indians, a sub-tribe of the Saukiogs. Formerly known as "Tunxis Sepus" (at the bend of the little river), the territory extended north to Simsbury, south to Wallingford, northwest to the Mohawk country and east to Windsor, Hartford and Wethersfield and comprised some 165 square miles. In 1645 the town was named Farmington by an act of the Connecticut General Assembly. In 1650, a deed was executed confirming the original sale and in it reserved land on the east bank of the river near "Indian Neck" for the Tunxis Indians.
As the town grew and prospered, the Congregational Church was organized in 1652, a school was established about 1685, and a sawmill and grist mill were built about 1650. By 1700 the prosperity of the farmers enabled them to support several craftsmen such as coopers, weavers, shoemakers, tailors and blacksmiths. Farmington could claim to have the third largest grand list in Connecticut, exceeding that of Hartford or Middletown, and earned her designation as the "mother of towns" when several parishes began to organize as separate communities; Southington incorporated in 1779, followed by Berlin and Bristol in 1785, Burlington in 1806, Avon in 1830, New Britain in 1850, and Plainville in 1869.
In 1822 the Farmington Canal Company was chartered to build an inland waterway from New Haven to Northampton, Mass. By 1828 the first boat was launched. The Canal continued to operate until 1848 when a railroad line was completed to Plainville. Although short-lived, the Canal was instrumental in bringing industrial development to the village of Unionville, the western section of Farmington.
By 1850, using a system of feeder dams and water power canals, twelve shops and factories were operating with water-driven machinery. In the following years wooden screws, clocks, cutlery, and nuts and bolts were made in Unionville factories. Platner & Porter’s paper mill and the Upson Nut Co. were the largest industrial plants in Unionville by the Civil War era.
In the summer of 1839, newspapers were filled with reports of a "ghost ship" wandering the high seas off the American coast. In August, a government vessel came upon the tattered ship and took into custody the Africans aboard her while they attempted to get fresh water on Long Island. They were taken into New London and imprisoned. The ship was La Amistad, and the case of the Amistad Slave Revolt became one of the most celebrated legal actions of the day. Finally after 18 months, John Quincy Adams, arguing before the Supreme Court, secured the release of the captives. Local abolitionists brought the freed Africans to Farmington to live and work while money was raised to return them to Africa.
By mid 19th century the town experienced an influx of immigrants; first, Irish and English to work in the mills, alter Italians, Slovaks, and others increased the town’s population, particularly in Unionville, where paper, cutlery and felt factories provided work well into the 20th century. The disastrous flood of August 1955 wiped out much of
Unionville center and downstream neighborhoods. In the late 1960s a redevelopment project changed the industrial character of Unionville from mill village to suburban center. Now, at the beginning of the 21st century, new ideas for the appearance of Unionville are being considered.
Farmington boasts an excellent school system, with one high school, a 6-8 middle school, four k-4 elementary schools and a new (Sept. 2002) 5-6 school called West Woods, for a school of the Revolutionary War period that was attended by Indian and "English" students. Miss Porter’s School is a private day and boarding college preparatory school for young women. Tunxis Community/Technical College awards two-year degrees in a variety of academic and vocational students in medicine, dentistry and graduate biomedical sciences. Its affiliated John Dempsey Hospital offers basic and specialized care to Farmington and nearby towns.
The Farmington Public Library is now in the process of expansion and will open its enlarged facility at Monteith Drive in the summer of 2003. The library serves the town with a wide variety of reading, recreational and developmental resources for all, from new babies to their grandparents. The town is also rich in museums, with the late 18th century Stanley-Whitman House on High Street, the Hill-Stead Museum of French Impressionism housed at the estate of Theodate Pope Riddle, the Lewis Walpole Collection of 18th century British materials, the Day Museum of Farmington Indian artifacts and the Unionville Museum, which creates exhibits twice yearly to highlight the industrial history and culture of Unionville, the west end of town.
Route I-84, bordering Farmington on the east, has brought many businesses and an industrial park to the town, and has provided a favorable tax base for good town services, making Farmington a desirable place to live. Now, with a current population of about 23,600, the town is well on its way to becoming a small city, with some typical problems, heavy traffic through town being one. The town is now in the process of planning for future development and growth – how much or how little, and Unionville is seeking a new revitalized design for its center.
Current growth and development is countered by open space owned and managed by the Farmington Land Trust, now with 258 acres protected, and 350 acres in the Winding Trails Recreation area that provides swimming, hiking, and skiing opportunities. The Farmington Valley Greenway trails, and Tunxis Mead, the town’s sports field complex offer sports, hiking, biking and roller skating. There are still working farms, and a large community garden project. Although one of the oldest towns in the state, Farmington is moving into the 21st century with hopes to preserve the best of the past with the needs and desires of the future.
In the summer of 2003 the library opened is newly expanded building on Monteith Drive after being in temporary quarters for 1-1/2 years. The new library boasts more meeting rooms, expanded parking, an expanded Farmington Room, increased activity areas for children’s programs. Adult services now offers 20 public computers, a leisure reading area, and a computer lab for classes.
Ann J. Arcari, Farmington Library