Welcome to Colchester, where a rich and vibrant history has helped shape one of Connecticut’s most coveted towns.
The town of Colchester was founded in 1698 on land purchased by Nathaniel Foote from the Mohegan Indians. Foote’s grandfather, having emigrated from Colchester, England, was part of a group of settlers who had big dreams for what was at one time a large tract of virgin wilderness.
Like many New England towns, Colchester’s early history centered around the church parish. In 1703, the General Court of the Colony of Connecticut ruled that the settlement could organize a church body here known as Colchester. Within a few years, the first street was laid out and called Town Street, which is now the southern end of Old Hebron Road. By 1756 Colchester was one of the thriving rural towns in the Colony as it’s population continued to climb.
Settlers were mostly self-sufficient, and the industrial expansion that was sweeping the colonies was evident in Colchester by the 19th Century. One of the first textile mills in America began operation in 1780 in Westchester. Other early industries were iron works, clothier shops, potash works and brick kilns. During this industrial heyday, the Hayward Rubber Company was established in 1847. Nathaniel Hayward along with Charles Goodyear had discovered the process of vulcanized rubber. From their factory in Colchester, rubber products, boots and shoes were shipped all over the country.
By 1900 farming had diminished and the rubber mill had closed, but this was a time for another new beginning for Colchester. The Hirsch Foundation of New York had discovered that Colchester was an excellent place for the settlement of European Jewish immigrants. Since farming was no longer prosperous, many began to supplement their livelihoods in the summer by taking on boarders from nearby cities and New York. Within the span of a few years, Colchester became known as the 20th Century’s “Catskills of Connecticut.” At least seven major hotels thrived, and the tourist industry boomed throughout the 1930s.
Postwar growth in neighboring towns led to another new era for Colchester. A new generation of suburban dwellers found Colchester to be an excellent “bedroom” community due to an improved highway system and its proximity to Hartford, Middletown and the Norwich/New London areas.
The Route 2 by-pass of the town was completed in the 1960s. But for those who did not just pass through, Colchester’s dedication to the public school system, its acceptance of all peoples and its quality of life increased its population to 7,761 by 1980. Today, over 300 years after the settling of Colchester, the population has grown to over 14,000.