Categories: Cornwall, Folklore, Popular Culture

Eerie Folktales Overshadow Dudleytown’s History

Coltsfoot, Cornwall
Coltsfoot, Cornwall

Dudleytown sits on a rocky plateau in northwest Connecticut. Never an incorporated town of its own, the abandoned community is a section of Cornwall originally known for its poor soil and scarce water resources. After the area’s demise, however, Dudleytown took on new significance as a place of curiosity and mysticism.

Poor Location May Have Doomed Settlement

Like much of Connecticut, the Dudleytown section of Cornwall was settled in the mid-1700s. The earliest records of ownership belonged to a man named Thomas Griffiths, but a significant portion of its early residents were members of the Dudley family—thus providing Dudleytown with its name.

From the start, Dudleytown’s geography posed problems for its residents. Its soil proved to be rocky and unsuitable for planting. Also, most supplies needed to be brought in from nearby towns, but the community’s remote location—surrounded by Bald Mountain, Woodbury Mountain, and the Coltsfoot Triplets—complicated this task. The area did see brief prosperity as a supplier of timber (used to make charcoal for the local iron industry), but the felling of trees only led to the loss of more precious soil and Dudleytown became increasingly uninhabitable.

Whatever the reason for its demise—the poor soil, decline of the local iron industry, or the appearance of new and better settlement opportunities in the American West—Dudleytown’s population steadily declined. The community was all but abandoned by the beginning of the 20th century. It was then, however, that Dudleytown’s reputation took a new and radical turn.

Abandoned Site Captivates the Imagination

Stories began to spread that numerous Dudleytown residents had met untimely ends. Tales of murder, suicide, mental illness, and ghostly encounters during Dudleytown’s existence sparked the imagination of supernatural enthusiasts. Some attributed these events to a centuries-old curse placed on the Dudley family for their role in a plot to overthrow King Henry VIII. Others hypothesized that traces of metals found in the local water supply caused mental illness or that hallucinogens produced by molds from decaying rye were to blame for the origins of many of the more remarkable stories. The tales garnered national attention with their inclusion in books such as 1938’s They Found a Way and Ed and Lorraine Warren’s Ghost Hunter, released in 1989. Publications like these sensationalized the legends and cemented Dudleytown’s reputation as, in the words of Hollywood actor and paranormal enthusiast Dan Aykroyd, “the most haunted place on earth.”

Today, Dudleytown resides on private property owned by the Dark Entry Forest Association (an organization founded in 1924 by one of the area’s last residents, Dr. William Cogswell Clark, who used his home in Dudleytown as a summer retreat). After years of drawing outdoor enthusiasts, curious tourists, thrill-seekers, and paranormal investigators, it has been closed to the public and is off-limits to visitors. Despite its natural beauty, abundant hiking trails, and contributions to the local iron industry, folktales about Dudleytown’s haunted past not only remain its prevailing legacy, they are now a part of its history.

LEARN MORE

Websites

“Dark Entry Forest - Exhibit.” Cornwall Historical Society, 2012. Link.

Books

Cornwall Historical Society, and Paul Chamberlain. Dudleytown. Cornwall, CT: Cornwall Historical Society, 1966.
Dudley, Gary. The Legend of Dudleytown: Solving Legends Through Genealogical and Historical Research. Bowie,  MD: Heritage Books, 2001.
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