Bethlehem, Connecticut

Growing and Thriving in Colonial America

Bethlehem, Connecticut, was just five years old when Curtis Porter was born there. Bethlehem is on Route 61 in west central Connecticut.

Following our discovery of the cemetery in Bethlehem, Connecticut, I was put in touch with Evelyn Paluskas, the town historian. She turned out to be a gold mine, doing much research for a reasonable fee. She sent dozens of pages of photocopied and hand-copied records on Porters and Fords in the 1700s and 1800s and information about the town itself. One item was a photocopy of a “historical sketch” of Bethlehem, which follows almost verbatim.[1]                                                         


                                                                                       ~~Esther Gross


As early as 1734 settlers moved into the North Purchase, about eight years after the survey of the land, and by 1738 fourteen families were occupying the land. Though not incorporated till 1787, people had lived there for many years.


The population of this new community centered about the road running east and west by Long Meadow Pond [still to be seen on major U.S. atlases], and north and south past Warren Hunt. The town had been laid out with roads about one mile apart running north and south, east and west. On the southwest corner of the intersection, the people had remodeled a barn for their meeting house; west on the same road they started their burial ground [very likely the one where the Grosses found Robert, Betsey, and Lucy].


By 1750, when the plague came, most of the families had acquired enough to build their large homes that we cherish so much today. In the same year, a Doctor Bellamy published “True Religion Delineated,” a work that brought him recognition at home and abroad [and that brought him a doctoral degree from the University of Aberdeen, Scotland].


This marked an influx of students to learn of Bellamy and started the first Theological Seminary in America. [More on Dr. Bellamy in Robert Porter history.]


Bethlehem was a thriving community with wagon shops, grist mills, woolen and flax mills, as well as a tannery, brick kilns, silk makers, and cheese makers. Two inns were There to care for travelers on their way to and from Litchfield, New Haven, Danbury, by stage coach. With the increase came dissatisfaction with the distance to Woodbury center. By 1782 petitions were sent to the Assembly, and in 1787 the parish became a town.


Finer homes meant a finer church. It was built on the green in 1768 on the agreement that it should face south. The Sabbath-day house and horse shed faced east on Munger Lane. By 1833, having outgrown that church building, they bought the present land and erected in 1836 the present church, chapel, and building.


By 1807 the Episcopal people were so represented that they began meeting together, and in 1829 they erected their church building of locally made brick.[2]


From a beginning of fourteen families, the town grew till in about 1850 there almost 1200 people in the community. The people made all the things needed, grew all the food consumed, and worshipped when the church bell called.


Bethlehem has a very interesting website with more town history which is worthwhile having a look at. See especially their pages on Early History, Old Bethlehem Historical Society, and the Old Bethlehem Cemetary.


[1] Wouldn’t it be nice if we had sketches like this of others of our ancestral towns, such as Hamilton, Madison Co., New York, when Curtis and George Porter hailed from?

[2] We know from Mary Ann Porter’s 1923 history that Curtis Porter was from Episcopal background, so it is very possible that Robert was one of those spoken of in this paragraph.