The Growth of Kent from 1756 to 1950

The railroad came through Kent in the early 1840’s bringing a radical change in the iron business. Gone are the long processions of slow ox-carts to Poughkeepsie with the cast iron and returning with the ore. Ore from Salisbury, even from Richmond, Massachusetts was now brought directly to the siding by the Kent Furnace. With the elimination of most of the ox-carts, many of the laborers were perforce laid off, and with their wives and children left Kent to seek a living elsewhere.

The same railroad brought about the end finally, of the whole iron industry in Kent, when it became no longer possible to compete with the better facilities in Pennsylvania. In 1895, the Kent Furnace shut down, and with the blowing up of the dam, the old iron industry in Kent came to an abrupt and dramatic end. Population continued to drop. About that time, too, the smallpox epidemic took its heavy toll.

Then, in 1930, we reach the all time low of 1054 persons.

There are gaps in the above outline that would merit further study. The influence of the railroad is of vast importance. But that does not explain the fact that the downward curve begins some ten or fifteen years earlier. Was there a new wave of “Westward Ho” movement? Did the Gold Rush affect us? The whole tobacco industry flourished during the decline of the 1830-1930 period. Many of us remember those fields of even, healthy and beautiful tobacco plants everywhere, and in the season, not only in the fine well-built barns, but also in every ramshackle shed, if it were well-ventilated, hung the stalks, curing. Many pounds of tobacco were sold from Kent, but the industry seemed to have no effect in checking the decline in populations.

After 1910, and before 1930, we see a slight recovery. We have a small but healthy influx of Europeans, whose second and now third generations have helped swell the population and have brought new blood. The marked increase after 1930 is partly due to the depression, as some of the city’s unemployed found home was a pretty good place to come to. A few years previously, artists and retired professional people began to discover the beauties of Kent, its unspoiled rural character.

The State Road brought its advantages. Fresh fruit and vegetables came from the city markets; Eugene Bull and Fred Chase acquired automobiles, the first in town. Many changes have come in these years but make no mistake, Kent has never lost its essential individuality. The newcomers in its society did not change the community. They had to wait for Kent to assimilate them. It used to be said that it took a thirty year probation period for the newcomer to feel accepted.

Times move a little faster, now, and too perhaps we are changing our Yankee suspicious nature a little. 1930 to 1950 shows a marked increase and there is no doubt but that 1960 will show a striking improvement. All this has meant a steadily increasing demand for services of all sorts. We have excellent doctors, two first rate dentists. (We need an oculist.)

Good hospitals are available. Modern homes are giving more work than they can do to local carpenters, plumbers, electricians, painters and decorators, all of whom do highly professional jobs, and are native sons of Kent, for the most part.

One sees Kent expanding in the natural course of events; more of the same sort of people, building the same sort of homes, creating more and more employment opportunities, in the healthiest way, sharing the good things of life. Except for disaster and misfortune, there need be no poor in Kent.

Ann Eliza Hopson, 1950

This essay is available in our Kent Tales volume Barzillai Slosson’s History of Kent
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