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Norfolk, originally part of the "Western Lands," was laid out nine miles long from north to south and four and one-half miles wide east to west. It was further divided into 53 "rights of land" each containing 400 acres. In 1732 it was offered for sale and several times thereafter. But it was not until 1754 that 49 of the shares were sold in an auction in Middletown. The following year, 24 families are reported to have settled. The town of Norfolk was incorporated in 1758.

In January the following year, the town voted to construct a meetinghouse and to send three men to "prefix a place" and "set a stake." However, there were differences of opinion and it was not until December that someone was paid "for finding the center of town" and it was voted to build a meetinghouse on it. But the location was still in question by a distance of 15 rods according to town records for June 1760. It was soon resolved, however, because construction began that year on an elevated site set back from the northwest corner of the green, which is the site of the present Congregational Church (1813).

Thus, the Norfolk green was set aside in the 18th century development of the town (an exact date has not been determined but most likely it was associated with the establishment of the meetinghouse). It was established as the geographic center of town and still serves today as the town center (although the commercial center is just north of the green). All primary roads through town pass the green; the religious and civic institutions have always been located adjacent to the green; and town events, as well as momentous national events, have always been celebrated on the green.

Events and history associated with the green are numerous. Norfolk men left from the green in 1775 to respond to the Lexington Alarm and soon after to fight in the Revolutionary War. In the next century, Norfolk men left from the green to serve in the Civil War. In 1858, a grand celebration was held on the green to commemorate the laying of the Atlantic cable between England and America. In 1882, Mrs. Robbins Babbit hosted concerts on the green, the first in a long line of musical events associated with the green culminating in use of the former Stoeckel estate, located on the west side of the green, as the summer home of the Yale School of Music and Art.

Perhaps the most important action associated with the green itself happened in 1870 when Dr. Joseph Eldridge, minister of the Congregational Church for over 42 years, launched a successful one-man campaign to stop the plan to bring the railroad through the Norfolk Green which certainly would have signaled its demise.

The buildings around the green are institutions and private homes and date primarily from the nineteenth century. One of the earliest is the Pettibone Tavern at the northwest corner, a stop on the Hartford-Albany stage coach line and built in 1794. Two other early houses located at opposite ends of the green, one built in the late 19th and the other in the early 20th century, are associated with Joseph Battell.

Battell, a wealthy Norfolk merchant and land speculator, married the daughter of Reverend Ammi Ruhama Robbins, minister of the Norfolk Church from 1761 to 1813. The descendant of this family shaped the cultured rural appearance of Norfolk in the 19th and 20th centuries. Their influence is highly evident in the buildings around the green.

The Congregational Church was built in 1813 on the site of the original meetinghouse. The church was built by David Hoadley, one of the very few qualified architects practicing in Connecticut at the time and is associated with the Battell descendants. The same is true for Battell Chapel, a masonry educational building for the Church of Christ, erected in 1888 in the Romanesque style on the west side of the green. It was designed by J. Cleveland Cady, a respected New York architect well-known in Connecticut. Another is the library, constructed in 1888 on the north side facing the green and designed by George Keller of Hartford who designed other fine libraries in Connecticut and Massachusetts. The most visible evidence of their role is the 78 acre Battell Ancestral estate adjacent to the northwest corner of the green. It has not been the summer home of the Yale School of Music and Art for several decades.

The Norfolk Green maintains its eighteenth century integrity in its location and basic form and its proximity to civic institutions. At the same time, it reflects 19th and 20th century development of the town in the surrounding streetscape, the monuments and the well-kept, park-like appearance. It has remained the visual focus of the community and the civic, religious and institutional center of the town since it was established.

 

 
 

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