History of New London
Founded by John Winthrop, Jr. in 1646, New London has a long history as a maritime center. From early ship building and a highly profitable trade with the West Indies; the wide and deep Thames River has been the cities life-blood. With its quick access to Long Island Sound and the Atlantic Ocean, and the arrival of railroads in the 1850s, transportation has always been a critical factor in the economy of New London.
The Parade: A Conspicuous Feature
[From The Day, Celebration Edition, Half Century Anniversary, 1881 – 1931 courtesy of Kip Bochain]
The Parade was crowded with memories of the past. It was the site at different periods of a fort, military parade ground, a city jail, a church building and other conspicuous features. All evidence of these adjuncts had long disappeared in 1881, but it was still the city’s public square.
It contained a huge liberty pole in the center, the base of which was surrounded in a hexagon by wooden feed trough for oxen and horses. Here the farmers who came to town to deliver their produce left their animals to munch hay or oats, while they went about and attended to their business. The liberty pole also served to hold the city’s public sign post, whereon, by ancient law, public documents of a certain kind had to be attached in order to make complete legal procedure. This post, the useless law still unchanged, is now located back of the Municipal building on Masonic Street.
A large public scale was located on the east end of the Parade, where loads of hay or coal or other material could be weighed. To the left of the liberty pole was placed a circular iron water basin for accommodation of horses and cattle. A street light stood beside it. The center of the Parade was used as a standing place for public hacks and express or delivery wagons. People seeking these conveyances had to call there and hire one. No telephones were in general use in 1881.
The Parade was used by itinerant vendors, mountebanks, Punch and Judy shows and sellers of alleged cures for many human ills, shoe blacking, cheap jewelry, soap, novelties, etc. It was utilized almost nightly by one of these street fakers and some of them were decidedly entertaining as singers or sleight-of-hand men, and they had the art of coaxing dimes and quarters out of unwilling pockets finely developed. Orators harangued the crowds here in political campaigns, and evangelists exhorted lustily on many occasions. The peddlers had to pay a fee to the city for the privilege of plying their trade, and the Parade was one of the few sources of city revenue in those days that wasn’t derived from direct taxation on property.
Space on the Parade as time went on became too valuable to be given up to the old purposes. The feed troughs were used till the adoption of motor cars for transportation, when they gradually disappeared.
About 30 years ago Sebastian Lawrence presented the city with a handsome granite monument to commemorate the soldiers and sailors who had perished defending the nation in the Civil war, and with befitting ceremony this was located near the center of the square. This replaced the flagpole, the watering trough for animals and the big scales; so no incumbrances remained.
To make the place more attractive an oblong curbed park was laid out back of the monument 25 years ago, but the flowers planted there couldn’t survive the blasting heat of automobile exhausts when cars backed up to the curb for parking. Then the parklet was obliterated and the space given over to parking cars.
At a point at the right and left of the Parade was the Groton ferry slip where the little old steam ferry Mohegan effected a landing on the half hourly trips. At the left of the ferry slip were stone steps to the water, affording a landing place for small boats. At the left was a roadway leading to the Bishop & Co. lumber yard. The Mohegan ran only up to 9 o’clock at night and not at all on Sundays. When a Grontonite was left on the New London side of the river by being tardy on his departure for home, he could take passage across the river at various times at night on one of the railroad ferry boats, which made connection with the railroad, located at a slip just south and behind the dingy New London Northern railroad depot. It was nothing unusual for some residents of Groton, using a row boat to make the crossing of the river at night, and even in the daytime.
. . . The old railroad station had been destroyed by fire in 1883 and the two local railroads combined to purchase a site and erect a union station. They succeeded in acquiring the foot of the Parade, and erected the present structure, leaving a narrow passageway at the southern end to permit approach to the ferry across the railroad tracks. The price paid was $15,000, a sum decidedly small, but the citizens no doubt were willing to accept any amount providing the new station would be erected that would be an improvement over the old one.