As I drive around town, I can’t help but admire the number of historic homes still found here. We are fortunate to have many of these well-preserved structures standing proudly to remind us of our early history. Wolcott has no restrictions on what you can do with historic buildings like the towns of Litchfield or Woodbury. Those requirements would have to have been established many years ago, but they were not so many of these old structures have been taken down and forgotten.
Over the last six months, I have driven by a “for sale” sign at the house located at 49 Center Street. I also received calls from realtors asking if there were restrictions on this historic home and each time, I had to tell them no. I thought for sure because of its age (1777) and condition it would surely be destroyed and replaced by a new raised ranch, but to my joyful surprise it was not. I congratulate the new owners who are spending the time and money to bring this gem back to life!! So, this month I’d like to share the wonderful history of this home.
This one and one-half story colonial period cape with a central chimney and saltbox wing was built circa 1777. Records indicate that on April 17, 1777, Lt. Josiah Rogers sold 1-¼ acres of land to his son-in-law Josiah Atkins for “eight pounds”. It is believed that the house was included in this sale as a gift from father to daughter; the house became known as the Josiah Atkins House.
Josiah Atkins was born in 1749 in the part of Farmington, which later became Bristol. His family moved to Wolcott (Farmingbury) in 1759 where his father was an important man in the establishment of the Farmingbury parish. In 1770, 1771, and 1772 Josiah taught school in Farmington. Later, he had a blacksmith shop in Wolcott. It was said that Atkins was a remarkably strong, hard-working man who could mow, reap, or chop more in one day more than any man in town. Josiah’s wife Sarah Rogers whom he married in 1777 died in 1778. In 1779 Josiah Atkins married Mary Gillet.
In January of 1781 Josiah Atkins enlisted in the army, but his time serving was cut short; he died in Virginia on October 26 or 27 of that same year, a Revolutionary War hero. During his time serving he kept a journal and recorded some of the battles that eventually led to the end of the war. Josiah Atkins’s original journal is housed in the library of the New Haven Colony Historical Society. The journal is called, “The Journal of Josiah Atkins of Waterbury Farmingbury Society in Ye State of Connecticut N. England 1781” and was printed in 1954 for the Mattatuck Historical Society in Waterbury.
Another well-established family in our town, the Pritchard family, also owned the Josiah Atkins House and property surrounding it for about one hundred years. Roger Pritchard came from England and settled on the Wolcott/Waterbury border where Sharon Road is today. Orcutt states, “He was a very stout, fearless man and was chosen leader to keep the Indians from attacking.” It was his great grandchildren that settled in this section of Wolcott. In 1870 Pritchard’s holdings included the land from Wolcott High School on the west side of Bound Line Road to the Edgewood Cemetery. Pritchard had planted a large apple orchard on this property; hence Orchard Lane was a fitting name for the road just past the high school on Bound Line Road. From the high school down Minor Road all the way to Center Street to Wolcott Road was also owned by Pritchard. In fact, as early as 1751 a Pritchard owned a sawmill at that intersection over the Mad River. Willey Pritchard who was born in 1863 later owned that sawmill which was in existence until April 16, 1944, when it was destroyed by fire. During this time, the Atkins House and property were referred to as Pritchard’s Farm.
In the mid 1950’s Katherine and John Washburne purchased the Josiah Atkins house and property on Center Street, which included two barns and a smoke house. They lived there with their children Jack and Kathy. Mr. and Mrs. Washburne were very active in the Wolcott Historical Society and John authored many articles and booklets about Wolcott history that I reference frequently. Their daughter, Kathy and her late husband, Dave Shea own the property until this year when it was sold.
If walls could talk, I bet we would hear some great stories and adventures about the interesting families that have lived in this quaint, historic home and I am thankful that these stories will continue with the new owners.
(Information for this article was taken from, “The Journal of Josiah Atkins of Waterbury Farmingbury Society in Ye State of Connecticut N. England 1781”, Number 21 printed in 1954, The “175th Anniversary 1796-1971,” by John Washburne, “History of the Town of Wolcott, Connecticut from 1731 to1874” by Samuel Orcutt, and a conversation with Kathy Shea.)
Please remember that you can visit our museums by appointment by calling Flo Goodman at 203-879-9818
Our website is filled with interesting information about the Society and Wolcott history. You can read all our articles that have been published in the Wolcott News and you can also download a membership application there.