Chapter of Accidents — Yesterday was quite a day of casualties among the carriages.
“A horse and wagon, driven by Mr. Henry Austin, architect, in descending the hill leading to the Mountain House, East Rock, was upset, and the wagon broken to pieces. The unfortunate animal also broke one of his fore legs, and was knocked in the head and killed to put him out of pain.”
-Excerpt courtesy of the Library of Congress, Chronicling America, The Hartford Daily Courant, Friday, July 30, 1842
“In the early 1840s, Elizur Hubbell constructed a tourist retreat at the rock’s summit. He named the stone edifice the Mountain House and offered food, drink and majestic views as well as a ten-pin alley for recreation. Hubbell’s tourist venture lasted a mere five years, from 1843 to 1848. But the supernatural growls of a rolling ball and crashing ectoplasmic pins would continue to mingle with the dark forest laughter of wild-eyed hermits.”
-Excerpt courtesy of Google Books, Arcadia Publishing, “Wicked New Haven,” by Michael J. Bielawa, 2013
“A gentleman from Yale College lately ascended East Rock taking a barometer to ascertain its height. Accidentally dropping the barometer, it was broken, and the mercury flowed down among the rocks. A day or two after, a farmer discovered the deposit, scooped up some in a vial, and started for New Haven in great excitement over his discovery of a quicksilver mine.”
-Excerpt courtesy of the Library of Congress, Chronicling America, The Brooklyn Union, Thursday, August 15, 1867
“The New Haven common council have appropriated $6,000 for a public park at East Rock.”
-Excerpt courtesy of The Hartford Daily Courant, Wednesday, December 10, 1879
A Glance at Its Natural Beauty and Grandeur, and the Magnificent View from Farnam Drive
“It is not at all wide of the mark to state that 50,000 people have visited East Rock Park within the past two months. Not farther back than twenty years ago it is doubtful if 5,000 persons visited the Rock in a twelvemonth. The public are becoming alive to the extent and grandeur of the Park, a result greatly attributable to the Farnam drive, which will to a far distant day commemorate the liberality of the late Henry Farnam. The city is awakening to the fact that at its own doors it has a ‘thing of beauty and a joy forever,’ and a conspicuous and commanding object of this poetic description. In fact, New Haveners when they find that people from all parts of the Union who visit here are enthusiastic to a high degree over the magnificent views afforded from East Rock and Indian Head and over the Park begin to realize more distinctly its value. While on this subject a little sketch in the guide to East Rock Park and vicinity recently published by A. L. Hyde and William D. Johnson is very appropriate:
‘Suppose we take a ride along the delightful road. Leaving the Orange street bridge we turn to the left and pass along the bank of Mill river. At our left flow the quiet waters of the river, while on our right towers a rocky wall over 300 feet high. As we turn a point in the road a most charming view lies before us; huge masses of the rock weighing several tons line the way; across the stream a beautiful wooded knoll, while on the stream itself winds like a silver thread through the green expanse of meadow. In the distance are seen the buildings of the Whitney Arms company and a crown of hills terminates the picture. A little further on we come upon a ferry — not a handsome or expensive affair (run by Mr. Good, of Whitneyville), but still one which servers to convey persons from the foot of Rock Lane to Farnam drive. It is a great benefit to those who wish to reach the Park by means of the Whitney avenue railroad. Leaving the ferry we enter the drive proper, twenty feet in width, hard as a floor and rising at an easy grade as it winds along the edge of the Rock. Soon we have passed the northern ridge and as we wind around Whitney Peak a magnificent stretch of country is opened up. At our feet the land slopes gradually to the Quinnipiac meadows, which stretch away for miles, cut through by the waters of the Quinnipiac river, and dotted with thousands of stacks of hay. To the north may be seen the towns of North Haven and Montowee; beyond these to the left lies Mount Carmel and the Sleeping Giant; to the right, the summit of Peter’s Rock; while between these in the hazy distance lie the hanging hills of Meriden. Proceeding a short distance along the road we find ourselves surrounded by a thick forest growth. Here the smooth winding road, the ragged ledges, the rocky gorges, the stately trees, so dense as to almost shut out the blue sky beyond, and pervading the whole scene that solemn stillness peculiar to a forest; all these combine to produce a drive whose pleasures are perhaps often imagined but rarely realized. A little way beyond this view of Farnam drive near the Hemlock grove we come to one of the Gamewell police signal stations. At this point a new road has been commenced connecting Farnam drive with Indian Head. The new road when completed will cross the old Stewart road at a point near the quarry sites, and the public can then drive direct from Indian Head to the base of the Rock. Let us return to the drive, however, and proceed on our way until we come to a point where the grade is somewhat steeper than any we have yet passed. Here we get quite an extensive and pretty view. Directly below us flows the Mill river, to the right is Lake Whitney, a favorite resort of New Haveners for boating in summer and skating in winter. This lake supplies water to the city and power to Whitney Arms Co. To the left of the lake lies Whitneyville, while above the latter is situated the reservoir. The Catholic orphan asylum occupies a position almost directly in front of us. Passing by many charming bits of scenery, we soon come in sight of the Summit House. As we have now reached the top let us stop and learn something concerning the history of the Rock, for it has a history strange and romantic enough to satisfy the most romantic.’
‘In the early part of the present century there lived on the Rock a hermit, Elias Turner; like most other hermits, his condition was said to be due to an unfortunate love affair. There he lived year after year in a wretched little hut, attired in rags, avoiding human society and rarely speaking to anyone. At length one wintry morning his familiar form was missed from the hill and on the 2d of November, 1823, his lifeless body was found frozen in his hut. A man named Hubbell then squatted on East Rock. He kept sheep and goats and he and his goat team were long familiar objects in the streets of New Haven. He was finally bought out by a man named Smith. Mr. Smith and his wife were a quiet, peaceable old couple, highly respected by the citizens. They lived in a little wooden house on the site of the present stone house and earned a little money by furnishing various articles to visitors. One day in the year 1848 their lifeless bodies were found dragged from the house and fearfully mangled, while within the table and stove were left as if in preparation of dinner, but nearly the whole floor of the building was torn up. Nearly a week had elapsed from the time of the murder to the finding of the bodies and the greatest excitement was caused by the news. The murderer, McCaffry, was captured, tried and sentenced to be hanged. His sentence was executed in 1850, he confessing to have murdered them for their money, which, however, he did not get.’
‘Three or four years later the top of the Rock was purchased by Milton J. Stewart, who built the large stone house (the old Stewart house) and the several other buildings which adorn or rather disfigure the Rock at the present time.’
‘We pass from the remains of the ill-fated steamer and wind around the mansion beneath a little grove of hemlocks, when lo! we stand on the very edge of the Rock, while before us lies a scene beside which the previous magnificent views pale into insignificance. Below lies the city, spread like a panorama before us; to the left is the pretty suburb of Fair Haven; beyond this to the south along the East Haven shore is Fort Hale, Morris Cove and the old light house, while far to the left may be seen the blue waters of Long Island Sound. To the west lies West Rock and the wooded hills of Orange. Straight before us we look south across the city, beyond its wharves and shipping, toward the borough of West Haven, and the numerous points of interest along the shore. There is Sandy Point, where in 1779 the British landed in the invasion of New Haven. Beyond this can be seen the buildings of our fine and popular summer resort, Savin Rock. At the mouth of the harbor is New Haven light, and thence we look across the waters of Long Island Sound, dotted with sail and dancing and stretching beneath the rays of the sun to the low hills of Long Island, which skirt the horizon in a long, narrow band twenty-five miles away. Such is a very imperfect outline of the grand scene from the top of East Rock. It is a scene to which no person can do justice and there are few, if any, scenes in Connecticut equal to it. No person should visit the City of Elms without seeing this magnificent view.’
‘Turning from the view and passing back about half way over the Farnam drive, a sign post bearing the words, ‘To the covered bridge,’ stands before us. Following its directions we drive down the hill and turning to the left we proceed along the road, over the covered bridge, and soon come to the two boat houses, where about every style of rowboat may be hired. Leaving there and descending another small hill we come to a place just beyond the car stables where the most picturesque view of the Rock is obtained. It is almost impossible to adequately describe this scene and it must be seen to be enjoyed. The drive from this point along Whitney avenue to the city is a very pleasant one.’
Following the above reference is made to Indian Head and Snake Rock, for which we have not space. The article aptly concludes: ‘As the people become more acquainted with the rocks and cliffs, the rocks and recesses, and the many splendid views in the unique pleasure ground, it will be seen that New Haven has a national park, more magnificent, more romantic and in every way better fitted for a public park than all the grand artificial parks which adorn so many of our American cities.”
-Excerpt courtesy of the Library of Congress, Chronicling America, New Haven Daily Morning Journal and Courier, Tuesday, July 8, 1884
THROUGH A TRAP-DOOR — Into a Passageway Under the Kitchen Floor. — The Way New Haven Counterfeiters Took to Get Into Their Secret Vault. — Discoveries Made While Tearing Down on Old Stone House.
“The East Rock Park commissioners recently decided to remove all encumbrances from East Rock, and allow no buildings thereon except the pavilion and accessories. Accordingly workmen were set to work to tear down the old stone house of Milton J. Stewart on top of the rock. In taking down the central part of the old stone building secrets have been discovered that expose the workings of a gang of counterfeiters who used to operate from the house.
The mansion never had a good reputation. There was a murder committed there once, and various people of bad repute lived there off and on. Besides, the rock itself was not a safe nor pleasant place before Mr. Farnam and the park commissioners took charge of it. But of the many beer drinking parties who were accustomed to carry one or two kegs out there on a Sunday afternoon, none if any suspected that there was a regular labyrinth catacombed under the old house and that a fraudulent dilution of the standard coinage was carried on there.
When the kitchen floor was raised this week a passage was found starting from the sink in the northeast corner. In the eastern side of the kitchen was a sink closet. The sink was separable and lifted up. On lifting it up a secret trapdoor was discovered opening into a passageway under the kitchen floor. This passageway ran diagonally southwest. It is forty feet long, five high and three wide. This subterranean passageway brought up against a stone wall, where an opening had evidently been cemented. Looking south and facing the sound on the first floor is the pantry corresponding to the kitchen in the rear. When the pantry floor was torn up an explanation of the reason of the blind passage and movable sink and trap-door was found. Inside of the foundation walls was an empty space of a foot, and then another wall going down into the ground and strongly cemented. It was sealed entirely, and the entrance was had through the top when the pantry floor was torn up. The vault was ten feet square and about seven feet high. It was compact and comparatively clean. Remnants of metal and a broken die were found. There were also signs of fire and marks which showed where the smelting apparatus and other machinery had been.
Counterfeiters had been at work there. In the dust and mould of the secret vault were found a couple of old counterfeit quarters, and it is said that one workman had picked up several half-dollars. From their appearance it is thought they are made of lead, tin and some other heavier metal to make the specific gravity all right. There had been two openings in the wall of the vault, as the difference in the mortar and appearance of the stone showed. One of them was to a sort of storage vault between the foundation and the real wall. The other was the entrance from the passageway through the accumulated rubbish under the kitchen.
Evidently it was a long time since the kettles with their alloys had been over the fire in the close vault. Neither Stewart nor any of the people about the place could tell about the vault or the men who worked in it.”
-Excerpt courtesy of the Library of Congress, Chronicling America, The Boston Daily Globe, Saturday, October 11, 1884
“Milton J. Stewart, who formerly owned East Rock and refused to vacate until he was legally obliged, built twelve houses on the flat at the foot of Mill Rock after being dispossessed of the top of the rock. When they were built the city raised the grade of the street in front, so that instead of going up to the houses people had to go down. Now Stewart wants $10,000 damages.”
-Excerpt courtesy of The Hartford Daily Courant, Saturday Morning, November 20, 1886
An Oyster Craft. — Mr. Stewart’s Shipbuilding on Top of East Rock — The Sad and Ignominious Fate of the Fenian Ram.
“Said a gentleman yesterday: Out of the many hundreds of people who saw Milton Stewart’s boat lying on top of East Rock, where it was built by him, probably nine-tenths concluded that the boat would never be worth anything except for kindling wood and fully that proportion thought it would get smashed to pieces in being taken down the rock to the water. Hundreds speculated as to how Stewart would ever get it down the rocky descent to tide water, and some even went so far as to imagine that he would have to let it down with ropes — down the precipitous perpendicular side of the rock’s face. But the boat is now lying near Neck bridge, back of Stewart’s houses, or was a day or two ago, and is water tight and fit for service and is only waiting to receive a five or six horse-power boiler in it before being used or sold for oystering purposes. Well, a good many will wonder how Stewart got the boat down the rock; well, it was as simple as rolling off a log. All there was to it was this: He waited until there was a good fall of snow and then loaded the little ship on to an ox-sled, put bolsters under it to keep it from being damaged during the jolting, and with a pair of horses drew the vessel down the old Rock road, which is as bad as ‘the rocky road to Dublin,’ and down to the water’s edge near Neck bridge.
And that reminds me that Stewart built a boat equally as large as this, if not larger, on top of East Rock, twenty years ago. That boat was ‘toted’ down the rock in the same way, and was sold by Stewart to a Bridgeport business firm, who have used it in the oyster business ever since, and I think the boat is still doing good service in Bridgeport waters. A small steam boiler was put in it before it was put into service, and that is the history of the two eight or ten ton oyster boats built by Mr. Stewart on top of East Rock.
Also only a short distance from Neck bridge lies the mysterious Fenian ram, which excited much wonderment three or four years ago, and so much awe among the small boys. The ram is of iron, about thirty feet long, and lies high and dry in a shed in the back yard of a house built by Captain L. O’Brien next to the city bath house. The ram is still a formidable looking object, but alas, its glory is departed, for it is now used as a chicken coop and is nightly inhabited by many fowls that seem thoroughly contented with their habitation. This may be owing to the fact that though the ram is not fenced in and is easily approached either by land or water, such is the awe still inspired by it, and the fear that dynamite is kept in it, that the fowls remain there perfectly safe from all predators.”
-Excerpt courtesy of the Library of Congress, Chronicling America, New Haven Daily Morning Journal and Courier, Tuesday, February 22, 1887
The Settler’s Eccentricities
“Old Milton J. Stewart had taken much comfort up there on the top of East Rock. He had two or three dogs and nearly a dozen cats. He had a black horse, which could put its foot through the dashboard of an old buggy or business wagon two or three seconds quicker than the best mule in the country. He had two or three cows, which could send a milk pail flying if the wrong person undertook to milk.
Stewart attended to his own business pretty strictly. Several years ago he began the construction of a schooner. It was about 35 feet in length, 7 or 8 feet beam and 4 feet deep. One might as well attempt to launch a vessel from the backyard of the Tip Top House, on the summit of Mount Washington, almost. To the ridicule of the inhabitants Milton J. replied that he knew his business, and, if 18 or 20 yoke of oxen and a large granite truck, under his guidance, could not get the schooner to tide-water, he would ask no assistance from his neighbors. The old man finally discovered that it could not be done, and the vessel was soon after pulled apart and used for firewood.
The old dwelling yet stands there. The roof is off and the bare walls remain. All the interior wood work is taken out and the only building that stands is an old wagon shed. The old rail fences and stone walls are nearly all torn away and the orchard is moss grown. Rank weeds cover the place.
Old Milton J. no longer resides on East Rock, but is compelled to take up his abode in the city. Not more than 100 feet from his former homestead stands an almost imperishable memorial of the gratitude of New Haven to the brave soldiers of the four great wars.”
-Excerpt courtesy of the Library of Congress, Chronicling America, The Boston Sunday Globe, Sunday, June 12, 1887
THE PROPHET OF EAST ROCK, CONN. — Milton Stewart Predicted That Long Island Sound Would Flood Connecticut. — HUNDREDS BELIEVED HIM. — He Constructed a Boat to Save Some of the People.
“The recent prediction of an alleged fortune teller and prier into the future that disaster would overtake an excursion steamer leaving New Haven on July 27, for New York, which prediction caused the society giving the excursion a loss of over $1,000 because of the frightened people who failed to go on the excursion, recalls one of the biggest fake predictions made in the State of Connecticut in many many years. That hundreds of people should believe that an excursion steamer would founder simply because a hall-room seeress of the seen and unseen said that she had foreseen such an accident, is surprising, but it is even more surprising to look back and consider the great flood fake which spread over Connecticut fifteen years or more ago, says the Washing ‘Post.’
A mile or so to the eastward of New Haven is a large rocky hill, rising abruptly from the ground, known as East Rock. It is famous all over the State, on account of its sharp, sudden ascent, and the splendid view to be obtained from its summit. It is now a park, maintained and owned by the city of New Haven. Prior to its purchase by the city it was owned by an old sailor, Milton Stewart, who lived on the top of the rock in a little lean-to shack which he had erected himself. It had been many years since he followed the sea, and he lived by himself on the top of East Rock, in a place inaccessible during a storm, and well-nigh impregnable during most of the winter, as only an uneven footpath led to its summit, over 200 feet above the city of New Haven. He seldom received visitors, and hardly ever came down into the city.
Whether he ever became insane, or was only slightly demented as the result of solitude and religious fervor, appears to be still in doubt. But one morning he startled New Haven by walking through the streets of the city in the spring time, stopping on corners and warning the people that the city of New Haven had been cursed by God, and that the waters of Long Island Sound would overflow the State of Connecticut. There was only one refuge left to the people, he said. They must profess their faith in God and then get unto the top of East Rock, to wait there until the waters subsided. The flood which was to wipe the sins of Connecticut from the face of the earth would not, said old Milton Stewart, reach the summit of East Rock. To those who were willing to accept God and renounce their evil lives, he said, he would offer shelter on his rock until the waters of the sound had receded.
Stewart’s wild prediction traveled over the State of Connecticut at a pretty rapid rate. Like the recent prediction of disaster, there were hundreds of people who firmly believed Stewart’s dire prediction. Some of these came to New Haven to talk with him in person, and receive advice as to the best method of preserving worldly goods from the threatened flood of waters. To these, his only advice was, to sell everything, and bring the money to the top of East Rock, there to wait until the flood had passed away. Others, who were only half-hearted in their professions of belief, were told to read of Noah and the ark, and if they then lacked faith, to go to the devil, or rather, to wait patiently at their homes until the devil or the deep sea came to them. In either case, said Prophet Stewart, death and damnation awaited those who failed to flee to the rock.
No definite time was predicted by Stewart when the waters would commence to rise. He made his prediction in the spring, and said then that the catastrophe would occur during the summer. There were hints at that time that Stewart was not so wild as he appeared to be, but that his prediction was merely a shrewd advertisement to draw attention to East Rock as a cool summer resort. Nevertheless there was a great deal of excitement, especially among the less intelligent class of people.
In June, Stewart announced, during one of his periodical visits to New Haven, which always renewed interest in his prophecy, that he was building on the top of East Rock a big boat, which would be used for convenience during the flood. Though not so pretentious as the ark of his distinguished Biblical predecessor. Stewart said that the boat would be large enough to comfortably carry a dozen men, and that during the period of the inundation of the State he would use this boat to rescue any one who might have failed to reach East Rock in time to be saved.
Sure enough, when a delegation of the now thoroughly excited lower population of the city visited him on his heights, he was found busily engaged in constructing a rough boat, about thirty feet long, shaped something like the lifeboat of a whaler. He worked industriously on this for about three weeks, and at the end of that time had it nearly completed. Then he said that he was ready for the flood to come.
In the mean time, it is said that he had been also busily engaged in laying in a big food supply on the top of East Rock. Guesses as to its extent are probably wide of the mark, for Stewart was comparatively a very poor man.
In August Stewart said that the flood would occur during the first week of September. He declared that the waters of Long Island Sound would then rise and inundate the whole State of Connecticut. No prediction was made for Long Island, New York City, or other places. He said his boat was ready, his provisions were on hand, and he appealed once more to the believers to come with him to the top of the rock.
About eight people responded to his invitation. The first week of September found them living quietly on top of the rock, looking down from the cliffs in fear and trembling upon the city of New Haven, half a mile away.
Some of those who were on top reported afterward that each morning, at dawn, Stewart would rise and go to the edge of the cliff with a field glass, looking out over the waters of New Haven harbor, watching to see if the waters were rising.
This performance was repeated for over a week, and then the stragglers began to desert. Stewart tried to induce them to remain with him, but, gathering strength as rapidly as the prediction itself had, the report that Stewart was a fakir spread abroad and was industriously circulated.
Much derision was heaped upon the few adherents of the false prophet, who made no reply. After his guests on the top of the rock had abandoned their hopes of incarnation in a new Bible telling of a modern Noah, Stewart ceased almost entirely his visits to New Haven, where he was treated as a man with a bug in his ear, or in latter day vernacular, with trolley wheels buzzing where they ought not to buzz.
For four years Stewart continued to live on the top of his wild East Rock. Then the city bought the rock.
It is now over nine years since East Rock was bought for a city park. The price paid Stewart was about $40,000. Stewart at first refused to sell at any price. He said he owned East Rock, and wanted to live up on the top until he died. After a year or so of dispute, condemnation proceedings were instituted, and this magnificent natural wonder, a chunk of solid rock, 200 feet high and half a mile long, was acquired by the city, about $40,000 being paid to Stewart as an inducement to him to vacate.
Now the rock is New Haven’s greatest pride, next to Yale University. A drive-way has been cut in the solid rock around the base, and by driving about five miles one can, with patience, reach the top of this rock. It is a magnificent park on top, finely laid out, and on its very summit has been erected a memorial to the soldiers and sailors of New Haven who fell in the civil war. This monument is visible for miles around.
Milton Stewart, who was probably half demented, invested his $40,000 in a row of fifteen houses in a desolate, malaria-stricken suburb of New Haven. The whole bunch of them now would hardly bring $5,000. They were soon mortgaged, and when he died, about five years ago, Stewart was a pauper. The story of the latter part of his life was unusually sad.”
-Except courtesy of The Daily Standard Union, Brooklyn, Monday, September 4, 1899. (top) Image courtesy of Yale University Library, Manuscripts and Archives Digital Library, “Looking toward East Rock Park from Orange Street,” circa 1850