As published in the Record Journal, Sunday, July 14, 2013
By Andrew Ragali
WALLINGFORD — Lying beside the Quinnipiac River and incorporated in 1670, Wallingford, Conn., is a town steeped in history. Among the prominent names associated with the community is Moses Y. Beach, who was born in town and went on to found the Associated Press. It was also the birthplace of Lyman Hall, who signed the Declaration of Independence. George Washington rode through the town on two occasions in the late 1700s.
But there is another Wallingford, and it contains a significantly richer history. It also sits next to a river — the Thames — in the English county of Oxfordshire. It was established over a thousand years ago. Local history shows that John Moss, one of the founders of Wallingford, Conn., gave the town its name because “it’s thought that he came from Wallingford, England,” said Jerry Farrell Jr., president of the Wallingford (Conn.) Historic Preservation Trust.
The United Kingdom version of Wallingford is one of the best preserved Anglo-Saxon towns in England, said Mayor Bernard Stone. There are traces of earlier Roman occupation, but it’s the Anglo-Saxons who built the town, he said.
“Our Wallingford is a small but very historic town on the banks of the River Thames which dates back to Saxon times in about 800 A.D.,” Stone said.
The name of the town is derived from the term “ford,” Stone said, referring to a naturally shallow area in rivers and streams that is often used for crossing. In the early history of the region, Stone said, the town was known as ‘Waellingford,’ because Welsh people lived in the area. Over time, the name developed into Wallingford.
According to the local museum, in the 9th century King Alfred, the Saxon king of Wessex, defended residents of the area from a Viking attack. To defend his kingdom against further attacks he built many fortified towns. Wallingford was the biggest of the towns built by Alfred. It had three walls, with the river acting as the fourth defense. The layout of the town’s roads has remained largely unchanged.
“That does present some problems because the Saxons didn’t have enough foresight to design their roads to cater for 21st-century traffic,” Stone said.
In 1066, during the Norman conquest of England, William the Conqueror visited the town seeking a place to cross the Thames with his army. Lord Wigod of Wallingford was a Norman sympathizer and welcomed William’s army. One of the conqueror’s knights married the lord’s daughter, and with the marriage William instructed the Normans to build a massive castle in Wallingford in 1067. For the next 600 years, the castle dominated the town’s history. When William conquered England, he imposed a curfew of 8 p.m., but because the people of Wallingford cooperated with the Normans — who went on to take London — they were given an extra hour. Stone said the curfew bell still rings at 9 every night.
Between the castle’s completion in the following years, and the 16th century, it was considered one of the grandest castles in England. Several royals, including kings and queens, stayed at the castle. In 1652, the castle was demolished due to several factors, including the decreasing need for large castles in a more settled time. After the demolition, Wallingford took on the role of a market town, and it continues in the same tradition today.
Stone said the town is quaint and residential, with about 7,500 residents. Its historical buildings are what he appreciates most. Wallingford, Conn., is well-represented, he said. The two towns had often participated in an exchange program, but the program has dwindled, he said. Most recently, Stone said, a few residents of Wallingford, Conn., visited the town three years ago. Visitors have left mementos that are displayed in the town hall. Every year, on July 4, the town flies the Wallingford, Conn., flag. Every Christmas, Stone said, cards are sent to all of the other Wallingfords across the world.
“It is very interesting,” Wallingford, Conn., Mayor William W. Dickinson Jr. said of the connection with England. “When people came here, they obviously had memories and ties with people in England, and now there continues to be sharing.”
“It’s really a nice look at human relations,” said Dickinson, who has a watercolor painting of Wallingford, England, in his office.
“We don’t forget Wallingford in Connecticut,” Stone said.
While Wallingford, Conn., takes its name from the original in England, another Wallingford, in Vermont, was established by a group of travelers from Connecticut.
“Many of our original grantees came from Wallingford, Conn.,” said Joyce Barbieri, the town clerk in Wallingford, Vt.
According to the “History of Wallingford, Vermont” by Walter Thorpe, Isaac Hall was one of the town’s original proprietors. His son, Mosley Hall, was born in Wallingford, Conn., in 1772 and went on to open a tavern in Wallingford, Vt. Lent Ives was also one of the town’s original settlers, according to Thorpe. The Ives name is well known in Wallingford, Conn., as well. Lent Ives was born in Wallingford, Conn., in 1735.
Wallingford, Vt., was settled in 1761 when Isaac Hall and 63 of his associates were granted roughly six square miles of land from the governor of New Hampshire, Thorpe wrote.
It’s not unusual to see groups of travelers settling communities during this time period, said Farrell. At the time, Wallingford, Conn., was strictly an agricultural community. “The whole issue with any agricultural community is that over time, the available agricultural land gets maxed out. It can only support so many people at once.”
Many Wallingford, Conn., families also migrated to Ohio and upstate New York during the same period, Farrell said. Those who were not in line to inherit land were often forced to push off with a small group to find a life of their own, he said.
Wallingford, Vt., is a town of about 2,100 residents, Barbieri said. It consists of three villages: South Wallingford, East Wallingford and Wallingford.
Many of the town’s residents work in nearby Rutland. There is one major industry in the town, Barbieri said, making handles for pitchforks and garden tools. The company used to make the entire tool, and dates back 200 years, but over time work was phased out. There is only one main road in the town — Route 7.
“It goes right through the town,” Barbieri said.
There are only two restaurants, three stores and a bed and- breakfast, she said. But the town is located only a short drive from several popular ski resorts. Of note in the town is a statue named “The Boy with the Leaking Boot,” Barbieri said. The statue shows a young boy holding up a boot that is leaking water. It was donated by local residents in 1898. Similar statues exist throughout the world, she said.
In the 1980s, Barbieri said, she visited Wallingford, England. “It’s beautiful there,” she said, “and it’s only like 20 minutes from London on a train.”
In terms of population, Wallingford, Conn., is the largest of the Wallingfords, with about 45,000 people. The smallest Wallingford is likely a neighborhood in Seattle, Wash., but population figures were not available. Officials with knowledge of the neighborhood weren’t available. This Wallingford differs because, according to the neighborhood’s website, it is named after John Wallingford, not Wallingford, England. John Wallingford, who died in 1913, dealt in real estate, and once owned the land which is now the Wallingford neighborhood of Seattle.
But Wallingford, Pa., was named in the same vein as Wallingford, Conn. In 2007, Money Magazine named that Wallingford, the largest community in Pennsylvania’s Nether Providence Township, the ninth best place to live in the nation.
The Pennsylvania town features 17 parks and affordable housing, and is only about 20 minutes outside Philadelphia, making it a desirable location, according to the magazine article. The 4.6-square-mile town is filled with “lush green hills, old stone houses and expansive parks ...” the article states.
Farrell said he recalls hearing about the town while attending Villanova University just outside of Philadelphia. It was founded in 1687 and established in 1776, and is also named after Wallingford, England. The town is home to about 14,000 residents. It is mostly residential and, like Wallingford, Conn., has a historic train station. The station was designed by well-known Victorian architect Frank Furness.
The township “has just completed a sidewalk to the Wallingford train station and is now in the process of designing and building a new sidewalk on Wallingford Avenue to lead students to Wallingford Elementary, which is part of the Wallingford-Swarthmore School District,” said Assistant Township Manager Dennis Sheehan.
Sheehan said he often travels to Boston and notices the sign for Wallingford, Conn., on his way through Connecticut.
“... I pass the Wallingford sign on the parkway and think to myself ‘Home? Not quite yet,’” he said.
Photo Courtesy of www.wallingford.co.uk as published in the Record Journal
Photo by David Zajac, courtesy of the Record Journal