Wednesday, July 17, 2013

What’s in a street name? Most likely, a bit of history

As published in the Record Journal Wednesday July 17, 2013

By Eric Vo
Record-Journal staff
(203) 317-2235

WALLINGFORD — Shortly after the town was founded in 1667, only two streets had names: Long Highway and Cross Highway, according to Town Historian Bob Beaumont. Today, Long Highway is known as North Main and South Main streets. Cross Highway is known as Ward Street, which may have been a tribute to the Ward silversmiths.

Cross Highway, or Ward Street, was one of four streets that ran across North Main and South Main streets. The other three are now known as North Street, Christian Street and Center Street. Beaumont said he isn’t sure why those streets didn’t have names during the early days.

Cross Highway was used by the town’s founding fathers for laying out property given to people who helped with the founding of the town, according to Beaumont.

“When the town was founded, the town fathers ended up allocating six-acre house lots to each of the planters involved in the founding of Wallingford,” he said. “Between Ward Street and Center Street, there were a total of five lots over that distance.”

“The surprising thing to me is that you have Center Street, which is the main street today. That’s where the church was, which was a very important place in the community,” he said. “Why that street had no name, I have no clue.”

Beaumont said Cross Highway was where a few well known people owned property. One of them, Nathaniel Merriman was one of the town’s founders and even represented Wallingford in the legislature, according to Jerry Farrell Jr., president of the Wallingford Historic Preservation Trust.

Farrell believes he was the reason that a section of Ward Street between Quinnipiac Street and Route 5 used to be known as Merriman Street.

Merriman owned property on the northwest corner of Cross and Long highways, Beaumont said. In the 1800s, the new owner of Merriman’s property was William Ward, who used the house for his business of making and selling and sold beaver and wool hats, Beaumont said.

But it was William Ward’s sons who would go on to have a more well-known business. From the 1830s to the 1850s, Henry and Smith Ward were silversmiths who made pewter coffeepots and teapots, Beaumont said. Today, some of the Wards’ pots can be found on online auction sites.

“During the 1840s, they were one of the few silver manufacturers in Wallingford and Meriden,” Farrell said. “It was a period of which the silver industry was just getting started.”

“They were making a transition from single handcrafted items of silver to mass manufacture,” he said. “They probably were implementing manufacturing processes even though their own background was in handcrafted items. They weren’t 100 percent hand crafted or 100 percent manufactured, but they were turning out large volumes.”

To power the machines they used, Beaumont said, the brothers “had a horse on a treadmill.”

“The concept is no different than running a mill, which is run by water power,” he said.

Beaumont said he wasn’t sure what happened to the Ward brothers after the 1850s, but their shop was sold and moved out of town. It’s likely their father stayed in Wallingford, he said.

Given the Wards’ significant role in the growth of the silver industry in this area, both Beaumont and Farrell believe it’s likely Ward Street was named after them and their businesses.


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