I am afraid to say I have, at times in my tenure in New Milford, taken the Housatonic River for granted. Lately my thoughts have been consumed with the fact that today is the last day I have to drive over the bridge to get to my office. Suddenly it dawned on me that I won’t be driving over the river every day to get my office!
The Housatonic River begins its trek from the heart of the Berkshire Mountains in Massachusetts in two places. From Muddy Pond in Hinsdale, Ma and Pontoosuc Lake, located in Lanesborough and Pittsfield, MA. In my little neck of the woods the Housatonic River is fed by the East and West Aspetuck River (the East Aspetuck headway is Lake Waramaug). Candlewood Lake is fed by the Housatonic River at the Rocky River Power Plant on Route 7. A giant penstock carries the water up the hill and into Candlewood Lake. Driving by the penstock I do often wonder who thought to do that in the first place?!?
Our area in New Milford was settled by the Weantinocks, a branch of the Paugussett Indian Nation, and the Pooatuck’s who left their mark forever with their lore of their mighty Chief Waramaug and his daugher Lillinonah. It is said they lived high above the gorge at Lovers Leap. And like any good native folk lore, his daughter plummeted to her death with her English lover. (really the story can’t be true, but it is a great one). It is said they summered at Lake Waramaug (hence the name). I guess they understood the beauty of the river and lake way back when as we still do. It is also said that Chief Waramaug had the biggest long house in New England built on the river, interesting. It was 100X20 feet, and was decorated by many famous native artists from tribes all over. Magnificent indeed! It was called Waramaug’s Palace. Some things just don’t change! Lake Waramaug is still a favorite summer destination with some magnificent homes dotting the landscape around the lake.
The native’s were mostly farmers and fishermen that lived on the Housatonic River. In a history book by Samual Orcutt it is said the natives here were peaceful and helped the colonists as they moved here. The natives called the river “usi-a-di-en-uk” which means “beyond the mountain place”. Over time the river has changed. Dams were added, Candlewood Lake was built, but the river remains a large part of our history. Much of southern New Milford along the riverbed was comprised of tobacco and dairy farms which gained their richness of soil from the Housatonic River.
These days the river is used by many for recreation. We see a resurgence of canoes and kayaks, I understand further north of New Milford there are some great white water rapids that many enjoy. There are plenty of hiking trails, even the Appalachian Trail runs along the Housatonic River in Kent at Bulls Bridge. (In my younger years I always wanted to hike the entire trail… dreams of youth I suppose. Although I have walked it just enough to say I was “on it” at Bulls Bridge.)
A drive from New Milford north up Route 7 is fantastic any time of year. The river is your companion along much of the trip, you can see fishermen, people riding bicycles,…..canoes and kayaks, there are wonderful shops and restaurants, and of course the covered bridges at Bulls Bridge and Cornwall Bridge. The trip is beautiful any time of year.
Today there are a variety of homes up and down the Housatonic River of all prices and sizes. Those that live on the Housatonic River get a daily dose of its beauty. The railroad does also follow the river, I hope someday they will bring the passenger railroad back, what a trip that would be! I know they are working on it.
Take a moment to enjoy the beauty of the Housatonic River. In Southern New Milford at the head of Lake Lillinonah you can hike through Lovers Leap State Park, I have gotten some fantastic photos of the river at the old mill on the river. It is said that Chief Waramaug is buried there in the hills above the gorge at Lovers Leap. (Sounds like a hike is in my future.) Perhaps the old Boardman Bridge will spark your imagination. There has been talk over the years of restoring this beautiful old bridge and I hope they will. You are no longer allowed on the bridge, but there is plenty of parking around to get out and enjoy the river views from the bridge area. Many times I stop at Addis Park on Grove Street, just to look at the Housatonic as it flows downstream to Lovers Leap.
What sparked my story of the Housatonic River? An email from an 86 year old woman who summered on one of the few islands of the Housatonic River asking me for more information about her beloved island. She shared a few precious memories of her time here, it was wonderful. I hope to get her some pictures soon and hear more of her stories. I do love history, sometimes we forget that our own local history can be just as exciting as the history of far away places.
The Housatonic River, a Litchfield County treasure!