Alexis de Tocqueville maintained that in New England it is the township that “forms the common center of interests and affections of citizens.” If so, then East Cornwall, located where the corners of Cornwall, Goshen, Litchfield, and Warren come together, is the exception that proves the rule. For, as East Cornwall historians Harriet Clark and Andrew Pikosky explain, “East Cornwall was socially sufficient unto itself.” Voters lived seven or eight miles from their polling places and were too few to be important. Residents in East Cornwall “depended very little on the rest of Cornwall as they marketed in West Goshen, Milton, and Litchfield, where larger stores were located, and where cheese, butter, eggs, pork, and berries could be bartered.” At one time East Cornwall had more than 60 homes.
Until 1855, East Cornwall was part of the Milton School Society, which received students from the residents of Cornwall, Litchfield, Goshen, and Warren. But in 1855, the Connecticut General Assembly passed an act requiring that a school district be entirely located within one town; only then did the East Cornwall community that was actually in Cornwall come under the supervision of the Cornwall Board of Education. For many years East Cornwall had two district schools.
East Cornwall was always principally a farming community. As general farming gave way to specialization for the market, cheese became a major product. In 1866, a farm wife wrote her daughter, “Father carried away cheese yesterday. Cheese weighed 702 lbs.” In 1900, 20 farms produced milk, butter, eggs, veal, pork, beef, apples, potatoes, cream, and butter.
East Cornwall participated fully in the region’s small-scale manufacturing. At various times it supported a cider mill, a nail factory, several sawmills, a cabinet shop, a clothing works, a grist mill, a coffin factory, several blacksmith shops, a weaver, charcoal burning, and stone cutting. The Hart Mill made fiddle cases, butter tubs, and rake, hoe, scythe, and ax handles. Eli and Rufus Bunker, who were Indians, wove and sold baskets.
A unique local ritual, known as Fennell Sunday, revolved around the beloved Baptist minister Reverend William Fennell, a child of English immigrants who had grown up in the East Cornwall Baptist Church. He became a nationally known religious educator, but–wrote Clark and Pikosky–“for thirty years he returned to his little home church in East Cornwall and preached there annually and the people always gathered in crowds to hear him.”