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West Street, circa 1870, Showing Mansion House, Newspaper Office, Shops, and Courthouse, black-and white photograph. Courtesy of the Litchfield Historical Society, Litchfield, Connecticut.

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Mansion House, Corner of South and West Streets, circa 1855. Courtesy of the Litchfield Historical Society, Litchfield, Connecticut.

 

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T

he present-day East and West streets bordering the long sides of the green follow the rudimentary lanes that formed along the common -- which by all accounts remained a surprisingly unkempt trash heap until well into the nineteenth century. As late as 1803, the Litchfield Monitor newspaper reported that the Litchfield Green was strewn with fragments of old fences, boards, woodpiles, sleds turned "bottom upward," broken carts, and empty casks. Hogs wandered at will. Market stalls, woodpiles, and animal pens were scattered throughout. Poor drainage and wetland conditions caused an overgrowth of alder and whortleberry bushes, a good hiding place, it was said, for truants and other miscreants.

  Litchfield was named the seat of Litchfield County in 1751. Prominent native sons such as Oliver Wolcott, Sr., (1726-97), member of the Continental Congress and a signer of the Declaration of Independence, and Revolutionary War patriot Ethan Allen (1738-89) helped raise the village's profile.

  Tapping Reeve Law School (1784) was founded here as the first private law school in America. By the early 1800s Litchfield was considered the cultural hub of Connecticut's northwestern hills. But the community's fortunes declined after the law school closed in 1833 and manufacturing opportunities were lost to towns that, unlike Litchfield, were situated on new rail lines.

  The first improvements to the Litchfield Green coincided with the town's rebirth as a summer resort in the mid-1800s. Tree planting began in 1835, and in 1858 the common was redesigned as a picturesque Victorian park with a circular lawn set between two landscaped ovals.

 
 
 
 

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