The Growth of Kent from 1756 to 1950
The period from 1756 to 1774 marking the rise in population of Kent to a figure of 1996, nearly the highest point ever attained, was one of hardship. Following the opening up of the “Western Wilderness” of Connecticut, settlers had been pouring in for twenty-five or thirty years from all sides from the towns of Norwalk, Stratford, Tolland, Canterbury, Hebron, Lebanon, Stonington, Colchester and others, although some did not come in until a little after that date.
There were covered wagons over forest trails by day, and campfires by night to keep the wild beasts at bay. Lonely graves were left along the way, and husky new infants came through triumphantly.
Roads were gradually being developed, lines of inter-town communication improved. In time tales of growing oppression of the British inflame the restless ambitions of the young men of the second generation, who were perhaps becoming less enamoured of the back-breaking and endless rocks of the beloved “rocks and rills” of their fathers. They could not share the gratified sense of achievement of their parents.
The declaration of war offered them their opportunity. Many young men left Kent and some of them did not come back. A few were left on the battlefield probably and some, after hasty farewells to their families, pushed on to the west – Pennsylvania, New York State, Ohio, the new wilderness.
Philetus and John, sons of John and Mary Ransom Swift, went to the Revolutionary War, and then, after fighting the Pennamite Wars, went on into New York State, founding Palmyra, New York. Mrs. Hugh Tyler is descended from Rhoda Payne, the first white child born in Kent (Warren). Rhoda married a Strong, and her son (perhaps it was) “went west.” There must have been others. In 1787, Kent severed its political connection with East Greenwich, as well as a part of Washington, and in so doing suffered considerable drop in populations.
Miss Agnes Strong, writing the history of Warren, says “it has been somewhat accurately ascertained that 2837 have emigrated from among us in that time.” She is referring to the 50 years previous to 1822. Kent figures enter into this before 1787, and probably with the general restlessness of the post-war period, the trend of emigration continued for some years. In 1826 the Kent Furnace was built just above the village, enlarged several times and finally in 1884.
In 1826, too, the furnace was built at Bulls Bridge. The authority quoted here, Mrs. Laura Newton, makes no mention of the early furnace of Jacob Bull, nor of others, smaller and earlier. At one time some two hundred men were employed in Bulls Bridge with sixty-one children in school. It was a common sight to see 21 ox teams in a procession as they plodded their way through the covered bridge into New York State.
The story of iron in Kent is much more interesting and detailed. This sketch only attempts to picture the vast numbers of men connected with it as affecting the population.
Where did they live, these 2001? There are still signs of habitation scattered around the town, communities long since abandoned. Woodinville, on Ore Hill was wiped out in the smallpox epidemic of the 1890’s. Alder City on the west bank, at the foot of the old Skiff Mt. road, has one good house where once lived Benny Budnick and Matt Wean, of rattlesnake fame.
Some seventeen children were ferried across to Flanders School daily, at one time. Now, except for Benny’s house, there are only a few overgrown cellar holes. Occasionally in an open field anywhere in the spring you see a flourishing and beautiful lilac bush, a mute sentinel guarding the spot where once lived a happy family with laughing children.