NEWTOWN, Conn. -- The Newtown Historical Society, in conjunction with Booth Library, will present Town Historian Dan Cruson in a program that will explain why Newtown remained rural rather than urban.
The event will be held on Monday, Jan. 9, at 7:30 p.m. in the community room of the Booth Library.
Newtown remained a rural farming town during the Industrial Revolution, while towns like Derby and Waterbury became manufacturing centers. The colonial residents of Newtown earned their living by subsistence farming, producing almost everything they needed. They also developed support industries such as grist mills, saw mills, and fulling mills. These were low-production family businesses which ran seasonally, spring and fall, as they were tied to rivers with a decent flow of water for power. Excess products from both farm and cottage industry were taken to markets and bartered for non-local products.
As the 19th century began, other small shops and mills developed, often using farming byproducts. Horns and hooves were turned into combs and buttons in quantities greater than needed by a single farm family. This surplus was sent to nearby towns where they were marketed for cash, beginning a period of cash economy rather than barter on which most farmers had previously relied.
Following the Civil War, the process of production changed as small cottage industries were consolidated into factories producing large amounts. These factories demanded expensive machinery which required sufficient capital and prospects of an expanding market. This is referred to by economists as the Industrial Revolution.
Many of Newtown’s surrounding towns, such as Bethel, Danbury, Shelton and Bridgeport, successfully entered this economic revolution and grew into cities. Newtown on the other hand, did not. Instead, its economic base evolved into dairy farming which lasted into the mid 20th century.
Cruson will show why the Industrial Revolution never developed here even though Newtown had two factories, the rubber mills of the Glen and the paper box factory of Berkshire, which showed signs of making the transition. Showing what early industry was like, Cruson will demonstrate the factors which retarded local economic growth and thus maintained the rural community that catered to summer resort traffic seeking relief from the stifling atmosphere of larger cities.
All Newtown Historical Society programs are free and open to the public. For further information call the Society at 203-426-5937, or visit the website at www.newtownhistory.org.