100th Anniversary of Veterans Memorial Park and Boulevard
Article Series: 1/12
Little did the first settlers know that the land they were using as the lifeblood of a developing community, would eventually become the stately Memorial Boulevard, still later the accompanying Veterans Memorial Monument Park and would also serve as the gateway to the center of Bristol.
Ebenezer Barnes built the first home in this area in 1728 at the junction of what is now Broad and King Streets. Other homes followed quickly. The development of the first rudimentary industries, needed for survival in the vast wilderness of those times, began soon after with the building of a gristmill, sawmill and fulling mill. These were located near the present-day intersection of Downs Street and Riverside Avenue. The sawmill converted logs into lumber and wood products needed for the construction of homes, out buildings, bridges, and other essential structures and implements. A fulling mill was utilized to process raw fibers or rough cloth into fine woolen material used to make clothing.
The most essential of these was the first gristmill constructed in 1741, even before this area became the New Cambridge Ecclesiastical Society of Farmington in 1744. A water source was essential for its operation. Built on the Poland River, now the Pequabuck River, a stone and timber dam was built to create an eight-to-ten-foot drop, with the falling water turning a wooden waterwheel, which in turn provided for the movement of the grindstone. The Pequabuck River was once known as the Mill River due to the number of mills located on its banks.
This mill was essential for the survival of a fledgling community. The early settlers brought corn, oats and other grains to be ground into flour and cornmeal for food preparation, as well as food for their oxen and horses. Without livestock survival was not possible. The miller was so important to the community that he was exempt from military training and the obligation to work on roads.
Because of the perishable nature of grains, the residents had to return frequently for these services. These mills provided this essential service but also became a center for social interactions, a gathering place for the dissemination of news and for the reading of required public notices posted on their doors.
The first mill was probably replaced in 1749 with a larger facility owned by Ephraim and Franklin Downs. Years later, with the advancement of technology, the mill was also utilized to generate city electricity. The mill, having served its historic need, was taken down in 1921. The removal may have been necessary for the boulevard construction.
Mrs. Florence E. Downs Muzzy donated a monumental stone on this site, that can still be visited today, at the eastern entrance to the boulevard. It designates and commemorates the importance of this area to our community’s development. It reads:
“Come Ye to the Waters
Site of 1749 Old Mill 1921
Indeed! Long before, the thought of a majestic boulevard leading to our city’s center, this area at the eastern gateway of the future boulevard was already contributing to its development!