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A Brief History of Woodbury

   In 1945, the Woodbury League of Women Voters compiled a history of Woodbury. The following is excerpted from that effort, but updated in detailing the town's form of government today.

   Woodbury’s citizens have a rich heritage. The mellow beauty of her old houses and shaded streets bespeaks the slow and orderly growth of this community throughout more than centuries. Modern Woodbury covers 36.8 square miles and is in Litchfield County. It has one voting district for its population, estimated at 9,466.

   Woodbury was first settled in 1672-73. By this time Connecticut had three areas of settlement and government along its shore line and principal rivers. These were the Windsor-Wethersfield-Hartford colony, the Saybrook colony, and the New Haven colony. Since Stratford on the Sound was Woodbury’s parent town, Woodbury is a descendant of the New Haven group. However, by the time it was settled, the Commonwealth of Connecticut had become unified and centralized politically under the Royal Charter of 1662.

   Lawyer William Cothren of Woodbury is the very interesting source for the history of the town. He tells us that the first party of Woodbury settlers were a group who travelled up the rivers from Stratford to find and claim the plantation of Pomperaug from the Indians. They were a minority group in their home church, and, after much controversy, they set out to develop a new town of their own. The Colonial Assembly encouraged them in this move both for the sake of peace and because it was interested in seeing the colony expanded and developed. No account of early Woodbury would be complete without Cothren’s story of the arrival of the first settlers:

   “Early the next spring [1673] fifteen of Mr. Walker’s congregation started with their families for the wilderness of Pomperaug. They were directed to follow the Pootatuck, or Great River, till they came to a large river flowing into it from the north. They were to follow up this stream about eight miles, when they would reach a large open plain on the river, which had been previously under the . . . cultivation of the Indians. They accordingly commenced their journey, and arriving at the Pomperaug, they thought it too small a stream to answer the description, and continued their journey till they came to the Shepaug River. Although this was scarcely larger than the one they had passed, they concluded to ascend it. After they had gone the described distance on this stream, they found themselves near Mine Hill, Roxbury. The country here was mountainous, and did not at all answer the description given them. They perceived, therefore, that they had passed the object of their search, and so journeyed in an easterly course over the hills, till arriving on Good Hill, they perceived the valley of the Pomperaug lying below in solitude and silence. Great was the gratitude of these pioneers of our town on this discovery, and it is related that Deacon John Minor fell on his knees, leading to prayer that little band of hardy adventurers, invoking the blessing of Heaven upon their enterprise, and praying that their posterity might be an upright and godly people to the latest generation.”

   As the only saw-mill was twenty-five miles back in their Stratford home, hand-hewn log cabins were soon built along a main street. Each family was allotted up to twenty-five acres, and these parcels were so arranged that the cabins could be near together for greater protection. “Ancient Woodbury” covered an area which was later subdivided into several neighboring towns (or Ecclesiastical Societies). There was an Indian village of Pomperaug on the site of the town, which became the center of modern Woodbury. On the basis of records examined, Cothren states that the area was purchased on terms satisfactory to all parties concerned. The Commonwealth as a whole had little Indian trouble.

   The political structure of the town began with a set of “Articles of Agreement” which were drawn up and signed by the seventeen original settlers, including Sherman, Judson, Minor, Curtiss, Wheeler, Wyatt, Styles, Hinman, Jenkins, Johnson, Munn, Terrill, Knowles, and Fairchild. Many of these names still belong to neighbors of ours. The town can well be proud of the document, which Mr. Cothren calls a model constitution. In drawing it up, the town was following the pattern of Commonwealth tradition. The colony’s Royal Charter of 1662 was based for the most part on a still older document, the famed Fundamental Orders of 1638-39, drawn up under the inspiration of the liberty-loving scholar, Thomas Hooker of Hartford. The towns of Connecticut were among the earliest self-governing political units on this continent. Some historians have compared their relationship to the Commonwealth to a federation of towns so independent were they under the Charter.

The Town Meeting

   The origin of Woodbury’s Town Meeting must be sought in the history of the colony and in the meetings of the first settlers, members of the Congregational Church or “Standing Order” as the establishment was called. Just when and how Woodbury’s Town Meeting became a purely political governing body is not known.

   As is traditional in small, New England towns, Woodbury has a Board of Selectmen and a town meeting form of government. A three-member Board of Selectmen is elected every two years, one full-time first selectman and two part-time selectmen.

   The town meeting is the legislative body of the town with certain exceptions as provided by the Woodbury charter, which was first adopted in 1975. Two regular town meetings are held each year, on the third Monday in May and the third Monday in November. Special town meetings may be held as needed when called by the Board of Selectmen or petitioned by residents.

   The annual budget, as prepared by the Board of Finance, is approved by a referendum scheduled at the May town meeting. Other actions needing town meeting approval include acceptance of streets as public roads or their discontinuance, the sale or purchase of certain property and financial matters beyond the Board of Finance’s power.

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