What today is often known as Cornwall Village is one of the few flat places in the town of Cornwall. It was originally known as Cornwall Valley and covered with pines five or six feet in diameter and 100 feet tall. The huge trees made it the last area in Cornwall to be settled and it remained little more than a crossroads until about 1800. In the wake of the schism in Cornwall’s Congregational church, the First Church relocated to what came to be known as South Cornwall, then Cornwall Plain, Cornwall Plains, or simply The Plain, launching it on its career as a civic center.
A private academy opened in 1797, but lasted only about a year. The building, known as the Academy, shortly reopened as a district school. In 1817 it became the school house of the Foreign Mission School and a new district schoolhouse was built. A building constructed in 1848 held a series of private schools known as the Alger Institute, the Housatonic Valley Institute, the Foster School, the Cornwall School, and Rumsey Hall. Another briefly housed a law school and then a girls’ school. The Village acquired a liberty pole, a post office in 1850, and eventually became the site of the town hall, the Cornwall Free Library, and many homes.
Cornwall Plains mural painted by Clarence Meier in 1958
(on view at the Cornwall post office).
A nostalgic article, published in 1969 by former resident Ralph E. Corban, Sr., reminisced about Cornwall Village at the beginning of the 20th century. C.E. Wilcox & Son, the General Store and post office, was a large, two-story building, Corban recalled, whose “long, wide porch with… many chairs in varying stages of disrepair furnished seats for the daily assembly of men awaiting the arrival of the mail. This veranda, with its views of the village… [made][ an ideal spot for the ‘mail waiters’ to sit, smoke their corn-cob pipes, chew their favorite ‘plug,’ talk or snooze….”
This settlement continued to house Cornwall’s town office, town hall, principal library, and one or another private school. But by the start of the 20th century, it, too, was showing the impact of demographic change. Corban referred to it as “Old Maids Manor.”
“Back at the turn of the century,” Corban wrote, “the ‘Plains’ population had almost a majority of spinsters or old maids, if you prefer.” He listed more than a dozen right in the settlement and many more nearby. And, he observed half-a-century later, “the harvest of the grim reaper has left no descendent generation. Only a few nieces and nephews of the ‘summer’ people, mostly far away from the Plain.”