Cornwall Hollow

The prominent early settlers of Cornwall Hollow were the families of Benjamin Sedgwick and Jonathan Hurlburt, who bought land totaling over one thousand acres in the Hollow in the late 1740s. The Sedgwick property at one point reached “full two and a half miles eastward into the towns of Goshen and Norfolk.” Theodore Sedgwick, who grew up in the Hollow, graduated from Yale College in 1765, became a member of Congress from Massachusetts, and served as Speaker of the House. Major General John Sedgwick, one of Cornwall’s most famous local sons, played important roles in the Civil War battles of Antietam, Gettysburg, and the Wilderness; he died in 1864 at Spottsylvania. A monument in the Hollow memorializes John Sedgwick.

The birthplace of Major General John Sedgwick housed several generations of Sedgwicks. The house was photographed in 1928.

Cornwall Hollow was on the highway from Canaan to Goshen and Litchfield. In an 1865 speech, General Charles F. Sedgwick recalled, “I have heard my mother speak of the passage of a part of Rochambeau’s French army through the Hollow in 1781, on its way from Rhode Island to Virginia, to assist in the capture of Cornwallis.”

Early enterprises in the Hollow included a shop-joiner who made ox-yokes and bows; a part-time dentist; a blacksmith; a barrel-maker; and a tavern-keeper. One precocious Yankee inventor ran a spinning wheel by waterpower with “a female drawing off the threads from a distaff of flax with both hands, at a very rapid rate.”
Cornwall Hollow had its own social life. The blacksmith shop, Charles F. Sedgwick recalled in 1865, “was a great place of resort for the men of the neighborhood on rainy days, and all the common topics of the day, public and private, received ample discussion and appropriate criticism.” In the house of a tavern-keeper “all the dancing parties were held which I ever knew of in the Hollow, and they were not infrequent in my early days.”

As late as 1865, Sedgwick observed “the permanence of family names” in the Hollow: “The Harrisons, Hurlburts, Bradfords, Wilcoxes, Merwins, Fords, and Sedgwicks, descendants of old families, still remain here, or in the near neighborhood,” and still occupied most of the territory of the Hollow.

Few locations better illustrate the depopulation of Cornwall over the late 19th and early 20th centuries than the heart of Cornwall Hollow. By the mid-1920s, that area had an unused Baptist Church, a functioning school house, three cemeteries, and the Sedgwick monument.