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Essex Town

Essex Town Hall is located at 29 West Avenue, Essex CT 06426; phone: 860-767-4340.

ca. 1855
Photo: Circa 1855 "Gingerbread House" at the corner of Riverview Street and Maple Avenue, Essex, photographed 2008 by user Gregoryj77, en.wikipedia.org, accessed February, 2012.

Beginnings [1]

Originally call Potopaug by local Indians, Essex was named after England's Essex County, whence some of its early settlers had come. As a part of Saybrook colony, the Essex area was first settled in 1648 by John Lay, William Pratt, and William Hide. Essex was incorporated in 1852, having been long a part of Saybrook Township (see Town of Old Saybrook). The village became involved in West Indies trade in the latter 1600s. The first wharf for this trade was built in 1656 on the site of the present Steamboat Dock building; south of the dock, a warehouse was erected in 1773. Essex thus became the main port of Saybrook and remained so until 1871. Shipbuilding began in 1733; the Hayden shipyard, among others, became one of the most important in New England. This yard built Connecticut's first warship, the Oliver Cromwell, in 1775. Many other yards made Essex a major shipbuilding center where packet ships, the first American transatlantic lines, were launched. Men from the Essex area became captains and seamen in large numbers and sailed all over the world on voyages lasting many months. During the War of 1812 the British raided Essex in 1814, burning twenty-eight vessels at anchor and under construction before retiring. Since the total loss amounted to $160,000 the newspapers of the rime called this raid the worst disaster to befall the new country since the war began, nearly two years earlier. The steamboat era opened in 1823 with small boats running between Hartford and Saybrook, later with larger vessels between Hartford and New York. The Steamboat Dock building, the third landing place since 1656 that has been in use at the site, was built in 1878. Centerbrook and Ivoryton became part of Essex in 1859. The meetinghouse of the Second Ecclesiastical Society (1722) still stands in Centerbrook, and ivory piano keys, a long time product of Ivoryton, continue to be made today.

  1. The Town of Essex and the Essex Historic Society, Connecticut State Historic Plaque, erected 1983.
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