Washington is one of Connecticut's most scenic small towns, tucked into the foothills of Connecticut's Berkshire Mountains and accented by the natural beauty of Lake Waramaug, the Shepaug River, and the Bantam River.
The town of Washington covers 38.7 square miles of Litchfield County, a section of the state known for its rolling hills, open space, and cultural pursuits.
Within the town are five villages: Marbledale, New Preston, Woodville, Washington and Washington Depot. Washington's 4,000 residents access the villages using 90 miles of public roadway.
Yankee tradition is alive and well in Washington. Local residents elect a first selectman and a Board of Selectmen every two years, who preside over a town meeting form of government.
The town meeting appoints residents and landowners as the legislative body of the town; that body approves the annual budget, elects school board members and votes on new town ordinances, changes to existing town properties and bond authorizations, among other things.
The first selectman serves as the chief elected official of the town and, along with the Board of Selectmen, handles all of the town's administrative matters.
The first selectman is an ex-oficio member of all town boards, commissions and committees, and acts as the police commissioner, the fire commissioner and the tree warden. The first selectman is a full-time, paid employee of the town.
The Board of Selectmen propose an annual operating budget to the Board of Finance; finance board members are elected, unpaid town officials.
The Board of Finance adopts a budget to take to the town's legislative body. The board traditionally holds a public hearing on the proposed budget the first Thursday in May; a final vote by the town's legislative body comes during the Annual Budget Town Meeting, traditionally scheduled for the third Thursday in May.
The town government budget for fiscal year 2002-03 is $3,063,892, with another $445,990 earmarked for capital expenditures.
In addition to town government expenditures, Washington taxpayers contribute to the Regional School District 12 education budget.
The budget is drafted by district officials, adopted by the local Board of Education and finalized by voters during a public referendum.
In the coming fiscal year (2002-03), the town of Washington will contribute $7.2 million to Region 12 (45.78 percent of the $15.8 million spending plan), bringing gross general fund expenses for local taxpayers to $10.7 million.
Once local voters approve a town government spending plan in May, town officials prepare for the fiscal year, which runs from July 1 to June 30.
The Board of Finance sets a mil rate for the fiscal year based on the budget approved by voters and income projections.
The town is served by a Resident State Trooper, two full-time town police officers and several part-time officers. The police department is located in the basement of Bryan Memorial Town Hall, Bryan Plaza, Washington Depot.
The town is also serviced by the Washington Volunteer Fire Department, with firehouses on Bee Brook Road in Washington Depot and on Route 202 in New Preston.
The Washington Ambulance Association, a volunteer organization, is also housed in the Bee Brook facility.
Birth of a Town
Washington is a town with a rich and colorful history. It was 1734 when Washington's first settler, Joseph Hurlbut came to what is now Washington.
Mr. Hurlbut settled in the eastern section, an area known the North Purchase of Woodbury. It was incorpo- rated by the General Assem- bly in 1742, and named "Judea."
The western section, part of the New Milford North Purchase, was first settled in 1741. In 1753, the General Assembly of the Colony of Connecticut granted a petition to establish that section as the Ecclesiastical Society of New Preston.
By April of 1778, there were 270 families living in the area. Those families petitioned the General Assembly to be incorporated as a town.
In January of 1779, the General Assembly did just that, incorporating the parishes of Judea and New Preston and taking from the towns of Woodhury, Litchfield, Kent and New Milford.
As the first town to be incorporated in Connecticut after the Declaration of Independence was signed, Washington bears the name of the Revolutionary War General who passed through the area on three separate occasions, George Washington.
In incorporating the town, the General Assembly decreed that local residents should gather in February of 1779 to "choose officers."
As Justice of the Peace, Major William Cogswell called the meeting on February 11, 1779, where he was elected the town's first selectman.
Major Cogswell was not just a soldier and politician, but also the owner of a fabled tavern along the "turnpike." General Washington, himself, dined at "Squire Cogswell's" tavern in May of 1781.
The Growth of Business and Industry
For many years, Washington was principally a farming community. In 1746, William Cogswell's father, Edward, secured the right to mine iron ore in the New Milford North Purchase.
The Iron Works was established along the Aspetuck River, near the foot of the road leading to New Preston hill. The Iron Works was the first industry in the North Purchase.
During the first half of the 19th century, a variety of new industries began to spring up and flourish in the town of Washington. A coopers' shop prospered in Marbledale, while grist, cider, flax and saw mills churned.
Factories producing everything from twine, hats and cheese boxes to ax handles, shoes and harnesses were able to thrive in the growing community.
Turnpikes were built to connect Washington to neighboring communities, and by 1872 the area's first railroad -- The Shepaug Railroad -- was expanding the small town's reach. (The Shepaug Railroad ran a freight line until 1948.)
By the start of the 20th century, Washington was a prosperous, and prestigious community.
With business and industry well-established, residents developed a yearning for more cultural services. The Gunn Memorial Library, named for abolitionist and Gunnery School founder Frederick William and his wife, Abigail Brinsmade Gunn, was dedicated in 1908.
In 1925, Ehrick Rossiter gave the town its first "open space" preserve, the Steep Rock Reservation. In 1929, Pavilion Hall was erected in New Preston as a cultural club.
The Connecticut Almanac notes that "the town has long attracted artists, writers, musicians and public spirited citizens who have given their time, talent, and money." While that has not changed, other things have.
In August of 1955, a flood swept through Washington Depot and other low-lying parts of town. Homes and businesses were destroyed.
Under the leadership of Henry B. Van Sinderen, Washington became the first town in the state to complete an urban renewal program for flood disaster. A new commercial center evolved as businesses were moved out of the flood plain.
Today there are only a handful of farms operating in Washington and the factories are gone; cultural activities abound.
Washington is largely a residential community (a weekend retreat for some) that supports a number of small businesses offering a variety of goods and services.
Many people say that the major industry in Washington today is education. With two public schools and five private schools within the town's borders, it is easy to see why.
The Historic Districts
It has been said that Washington is one of the best preserved, most attractive towns in all of Connecticut; that hasn't happened by chance.
Washington is marked by three historic districts. Those districts were established by a vote of the town's legislative body for the purpose of preserving the town's history by preserving its historical buildings and architecture and are protected by the town's Historic District Commission.
By the terms of a local ordinance, the Historic District Commission protects and preserves "the significant historic and architectural elements which contribute to the visual character" of the three districts.
State law prohibits the erection alteration or demolition of any of those elements without a "certificate of appropriateness" from the commission.
The Sunny Ridge Historic District encompasses Nettleton Hollow Road, Old Litchfield Road, Romford Road and Sunny Ridge Road. The smallest of the three districts, it is home to beautiful and historic properties in the eastern section of town.
Perhaps the best known of the three historic districts is the Washington Green. This section of town encompasses "Judea," Joseph Hurlbut's original parish on the land that would later become the town of Washington.
Homes on the Green housed the roots of the Gunn Memorial Library and Museum, The Gunnery school and some of Washington's best known and first families.
The Washington Green Historic District includes properties along Barnes Road, Ferry Bridge Road, Green Hill Road, Kirby Road, Parsonage Lane, Rossiter Road, Roxbury Road, Wykeham Road and Woodbury Road.
The third historic district in Washington encompasses the greatest amount of land. The Calhoun Street/Ives Road Historic District loops off of Baldwin Hill Road, north and west of Washington Depot.
Here historic properties, including farms, accent Baldwin Hill Road, Calhoun Street, Ives Road, Kielwasser Road and Kinney Hill Road.