by Peter Vermilyea
The Harwinton water trough stands as a memorial to the European settlers of this part of town and to the development of the Burlington Road/Harmony Hill Road Historic District area. Harwinton was originally Hartford and Windsor’s Town, a tribute to the original emigrants who settled it.
Among those first European settlers was Major Abijah Catlin (1715-1778), who was given a land grant here in 1738. While there is considerable debate about whether Abijah ever moved to Harwinton, his family maintained homes and businesses in this area for five generations. His son, Abijah Jr., operated a store and an inn at the crossroads of Route 4 and Harmony Hill Road. Here, in 1780, Catlin served refreshments to George Washington, the Marquis de Lafayette, and General Henry Knox. One of his descendants, George Catlin, was educated at the Litchfield Law School and served in the United States Congress.
Somewhat akin to today’s gas stations, water troughs served as essential stops for those with horses and other animals in need of “refueling.” Early versions made of wood were not an uncommon sight in Harwinton. In the early 20th century, descendants of Abijah Catlin Sr. placed a much grander trough, made of granite, along Burlington Road to commemorate their ancestor and serve the community. It utilized a nearby spring and gravity to provide passing horses and oxen with a source of drinking water. It operated until the automobile’s popularity rendered it obsolete and also prompted the town to move it away from the heavily traveled and winding road for safe keeping. It now resides on Bentley Drive.
Much like the Goshen animal pound, the trough reminds us of the integral role animals played in the lives of those who lived in this area two centuries ago.
Peter Vermilyea, who teaches history at Housatonic Valley Regional High School in Falls Village, Connecticut, and at Western Connecticut State University, maintains the Hidden in Plain Sight blog and is the author of Hidden History of Litchfield County (History Press, 2014).