Iron, Wood & Water: Essential Elements in the Evolution of Kent
One of the questions that the Kent Historical Society is most frequently asked is “Why is Kent called Kent?” The 2014 exhibit at Seven Hearths revealed details about what we think may be the answer.
1737 was the year that the “hideous howling wilderness” of northwest Connecticut was divided into seven distinct townships by the CT General Assembly to be sold at auction as soon as possible. On March 7, 1738, the town of Kent came into being. Containing about 50,000 acres, it was named after the county of Kent in southeast England, which we’ve recently learned was the epicenter of early English iron industry.
Was this name chosen at random? No evidence of the reason has been found here to date, but we’re thinking that the choice was deliberate, and directly related to the quantity of the valuable mineral iron, known to exist in the southern part of town.
Owners of a small forge in New Milford came scouting northward for new sources of iron ore a decade or so before the town of Kent was founded. They tapped into a vein of high quality ore in South Kent, and quickly negotiated to buy a strip of land from the Housatonic River east to Lake Waramaug. Their new ore mine was in full operation by the time that the names of the new towns were chosen.
Perhaps it seemed auspicious to name this iron-rich town after a part of England that had prospered because of its own wealth of iron. We may never know for sure, but it does seem logical! Iron ore was not the only requisite element in iron production to be found in Kent.
Charcoal, water power and limestone were needed to extract the pure iron from the chunks of rock dug out of the ground. Kent had an abundance of wood and water, and limestone was available in the surrounding area.
So the stage was set for the success of our fledgling town. The first forge was built in East Kent on the outlet of North Spectacle Lake, on the property that has recently been bought by the Kent Land Trust. We are looking forward to collaborating with them in exploring the area for physical evidence of this very important part of the foundation of Kent!
The role that Kent played in the overall industrial success of the early Northwest Corner cannot be understated. Because of the high quality ore in our hills, three huge blast furnaces were able to function in Kent, providing livelihoods for most of the town’s population in one way or another.
It’s no accident that Kent still plays a major role in what is now the artistic and cultural success of the area. The exhibit at Seven Hearths in 2014 looked at the chain of events that led from iron mines to art exhibits.
We also acquainted you with many of the extraordinary people who worked within the iron industry and have left many clues behind for us to delve into.
Those people probably lived or worked on your land, and we tell their stories to help you understand the legacy they left behind for you!