By Brenda Milkofsky (written 10/1999)
The area known today as the Broad Street Green bordered to the west the meadow land cleared by the Native Americans for their habitations and fields of maize. This extensive area of meadow supported a large, industrious village of some 200-400 people for 400 years before the arrival of the Europeans. English settlers who came in 1634 laid out their original “long lots” on this cleared land (Pyquag) above the “Great River”.
What became known as the “Green” was one of the three or perhaps five Commons that were designated for particular purposes by the magistrates during the disposition of the land. Broad Street Common was first used to pasture animals “in common” and originally extended all the way to the ferry road or Marsh Street. In an effort to duplicate the compact villages from which they had emigrated from England and due to the shortage of labor for herdsmen, the Common was the practical solution to keeping the animals in sight. The number each family was allowed to graze on the Common was related to the size of their land grant. The Town sold off building lots to the north over the years.
In 1639, the General Court ordered the establishment of a Train Band of forty men who were to “train” as soldiers and who might provide Wethersfield settlers with some protection from raid by natives such as the one in 1637 that killed nine people. There is tradition that this Train Band drilled on the Broad Street Common, however it is more likely that they drilled on the Meeting House Green, that accounts for our large crosswords near First Church, where they were not pasturing animals. We do know that by 1821, Broad Street was used to drill militia troops of the Sixth Regiment, for by this time there was a lot more activity and building on the Common near the cove and on the Common near the Meetinghouse.
Market Day fairs were likely held on the Common near the Cove because that was where the imported goods were stored and where merchants had their country stores.
Because the important roads into Town ran along the Broad Street Green, namely the road from Middletown (and hence New Haven) and the road to Hartford, several taverns were located along the Green and tradition has it that it was outside Crane’s tavern (NW corner of Garden Street) that Jared Ingersoll, the Stamp Master was met by protesters during the Revolution. Here too was placed the sign designating it the location where Washington’s Dragoons drilled their horses.
In 1772, a two-story brick school brick schoolhouse was erected in the middle of the Green opposite 95 Broad Street, (L.W. Adams). That building burned in 1866 and the new schoolhouse was built alongside the west side of Broad Street, SW corner of Garden Street.
During the late 18th and 19th centuries, the tanneries were located just off the south end of the Green and tradition indicates that saltpetre was made on the Green during the Rev. War.
The Broad Street Green appears on 19th century maps as it does today but with the Town Almshouse at the NE end, the Town Clerk’s office and home on the east side. There is tradition that Civil war troops were drilled here but that is unlikely since all the local regiments were based in Hartford.
The Great Elm stood on the east side of the Green opposite number 96. The 120 foot high tree had a spread of 150 feet and was finally removed in 1953 following years of hunger and disease.
By 1900 the extreme south end of the Green was a sunken swamp, but in 1908 the Foote family Association reclaimed this area, near Nathaniel Foote’s home lot to plant their monument. A drainage ditch continued to run the length of the Green and the Town ordered that the grass be mowed three times during the summer to keep it at a uniform height.
Efforts to create the Broad Street “Green” that we know today was part of the Colonial Revival movement in Wethersfield. What galvanized the Town into preserving the Green was the plan to extend a “Wethersfield Avenue” down Main Street, across Garden and right through Broad Street. This road would carry increased traffic to the shore. In 1926 local firemen raised $625 at their annual Field Day. The amount was turned over the Wethersfield Women’s Association for their project to beautify and landscape the Green. They were soon joined by the Wethersfield Businessmen’s Association and private subscription which raised some $5,000 for the project. The proposed highway was rerouted across Wells property to become the Silas Deane.
Over on Broad Street, the ditch was tiled and filled, the land graded and seeded, trees were planted and amosite paths (since removed) were laid in place of former mud paths. To the casual observer the Broad Street Green appears as if it has always looked that way.
It is interesting to note that in 1965, Village Improvement Association and Parks & Rec asked the Town Council to officially name it the “Wethersfield Green. “
Citation: “A Brief History of the Broad Street Green From Existing Sources,” by B. Milkofsky 10-1999, Vertical File, History/Landmarks, Geography: Weth. – Broad St. Green, Wethersfield Historical Society Old Academy Library, Wethersfield Historical Society.