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Monroe, CT 06468
by Lori Anne Guerrera
When I first sat down to approach this article, specifically the link between Stratford and Monroe, I was confident research would come easily. I was disheartened to learn that there was little or no information out there on the World Wide Web. Granted, this may not be important "world history," it is an important part nevertheless of Monroe's history. Thankfully, there are countless books to peruse from when researching the history of a town, published by town historians who have spent years going through all the primary resources. There is a wealth of information available to us from various sources, including town halls, the state library, genealogies, cemeteries and through oral interviews, diaries, wills, vital records, and so forth. Every town has a history of how it "came to be" in the first place. So how did Monroe come to be a town called "Monroe"? I will attempt to answer that as best I can.
For this article, I relied mainly upon A Glimpse of Old Monroe by Edward N. Coffey. (Though the book is no longer in print, it is available on loan at the Monroe Public Library as well as through several out-of-print and used book websites.) It is a wealth of information, not only on this particular topic but anything and everything pertaining to Monroe's culture and history. I also relied upon a booklet entitled, Monroe Centre Historic District by Edward Coffey, published in 1978. Without these two documents, this article would not have been possible. Just as importantly, I am indebted to Mr. Coffey for his corrections and contributions to this article.
The very first Monroe settlers came to this area, the northern limits of Old Stratford, in the early eighteenth-century. They were simply running out of farm land. Each successive generation of settlers produced a larger population of farmers with a need for more and more land to clear and farm. Many of these settlers were second and third generation Native Americans. Their founding ancestors had purchased, charted and began to layout roads and clear land in the late seventeenth-century. There are several towns that were established from the "Mother Town" of Stratford, or Cupheag, which was incorporated in 1639. On May 17, 1671, Stratford purchased from the Paugusset Indians the territory which includes Monroe, Bridgeport, Trumbull and Shelton, in what is known as "The White Hills Purchase", and officially annexed it to the Township of Stratford.
As the Town of Stratford grew, "ecclesiastical societies" were established. (An ecclesiastical society typically established a local church and was the forerunner of a particular town.) Ripton Society was established in 1717, as was North Stratford Society in 1744. From these two societies New Stratford was created in 1762. Ripton and New Stratford united to form the Town of Huntington in January 1789. In May 1823, the Society of New Stratford was allowed to separate from the Town of Huntington. From there, the Town of Monroe was incorporated and named after President James Monroe, the fifth President of the United States.
With the establishment of the New Stratford Society in 1762, came the establishment of a Center, or what was better known then as a "Square". In November of that same year, a committee was appointed to establish such a site. According to the Monroe Centre Historic District booklet, what was known then as "Brushy Ring" became the desired location for this Center, as it was "the highest point in the parish" and offered an "excellent view of the countryside and Long Island Sound, and was already a crossroad." Thus, this spot was designated the "Center of New Stratford," today known as Monroe Center. Several influential families had already made "Brushy Ring" their home. Stores and fine homes began to quickly emerge around this Center, many of which still exist today.
As one may read more about in En Avant with our French Allies by Robert A. Selig, Mary M. Donohue, Bruce Clouette and Mary Harper, one of New Stratford's most celebrated events was the encampment of the French Army's Legion at the Center on June 30, 1781. En route from their winter quarters in Lebanon, Connecticut, to Yorktown, Virginia, Rochambeau's troops were split up into separate lines of force so they could not be so easily attacked on their march through Connecticut. According to the Monroe Center Historic District booklet, "Lauzun's forces crossed the Housatonic River at the present town of Oxford, then Derby. They made the ascent on the west side of the river and wound around the hills until reaching New Stratford Center." They eventually made their encampment southeast of the Center. In April of 1784, abutting property owners, Captain Joseph Moss and innkeeper Nehemiah de Forest, donated part of their home lots to the Society of New Stratford, thus formally establishing the Center Green. In 1789, the General Assembly combined the societies of Ripton and New Stratford into a new township called Huntington. To keep both societies happy, each would retain its own town center. By then there was discontent among the settlers of New Stratford, due to the Society's wish to be set off as a separate township. In 1823, the Connecticut General Assembly finally granted township status to Monroe.
As you can see, Monroe is steeped in history. On August 30, 1977, John W. Shannahan, State Historic Preservation Officer, sent a letter to Richard W. Emerick, then Monroe Town Hall Manager, stating: "I have the pleasure of informing you that the Monroe Center Historic District has been enrolled on the National Register of Historic Places effective August 19, 1977."
Though much has occurred since Monroe was first considered New Stratford, the respect for preserving history is very much strong and alive in this town. Many of the original buildings still stand today, not only around the center of town but all over--into Stepney, East Village and so forth. These homes not only stand on their original sites, but are lovingly preserved. I am awed by such attention to detail in the restoration of these historic homes and the fact that while most homes have undergone a transformation and have been "brought up to code" by today's standard of living, there remains still the "original shell," the charm of yesteryear in each historic home. The respect for all things historic is so significant to the Monroe Historical Society and its members that while some cities are clearly lacking in preserving their unique architecture, Monroe is full steam ahead--doing all they possibly can to preserve historic properties whenever possible. These properties are not only our past, they are our future and should be preserved and maintained accordingly.
For those wanting to know more about the history of Monroe, I recommend that you start with Edward Coffey's book, A Glimpse of Old Monroe. As well, you can always contact us at the Monroe Historical Society.