Gay City State Park, haunted ghost town – Part 1
By Thomas D’Agostino
Here is another two-part account of one of New England’s most haunted ghost towns. It is difficult to imagine that Gay City State Park in Hebron, Connecticut was once a fully populated community of twenty-five families, a woolen mill, a satinet mill, two gristmills, charcoal pits, a church, a general store and other such necessary mercantilism found in the small hamlets that dotted the early New England landscape.
Other than stone walls and foundations, there is not much evidence left to show that people once called the place home. There are also the ghosts that occasionally remind explorers of the old town that not only were they once residents in the flesh, but they are eternally tenanted there in spirit.
A small burial ground near the entrance of the park contains a few members of founding families. The stones are placed on either side of the burying yard facing each other. This lends credence to what history tells us about the two prominent families of Gay City, The Gays and the Sumners, and the animosity they had toward one another.
The original name for the village was Factory Hollow. A preacher named Elijah Andrus steered his congregation toward the wooded hollow in 1796 only to leave four years later due to disagreements and quarrels within the congregation. This left Reverend Henry P. Sumner as the new spiritual leader. His grave is among the scant stones in the burying ground near the entrance of the park. Also in 1800 John Gay was chosen to head the town’s affairs.
Reverend Sumner held church services twice a week, which to some was a bit too taxing on their time. To augment the attendance, rum was served during the meetings, but the libations would prove to be the downfall of the sermons. Arguments and even fistfights became common during the lectures, so much so that many of the families began migrating away from the town, including several of the founding families.
Reverend Sumner’s son, Charles, founded a mill for the production of rag paper. Residents, along with laborers from nearby towns, began the arduous task of transporting stones for the foundation, dam and beautiful stonework canal. Unfortunately, the powers of the dark did not wait very long to taint the massive undertaking.
During the construction of the dam and canal, one worker studied the angle of the duct and concluded that the water was supernaturally flowing uphill toward the factory. He is reported to have dropped his tools and quit on the spot, calling the phenomenon the work of the devil. Others would follow in his wake, bringing the construction of the venture to a temporary halt.
When the mill opened, and Factory Hollow saw a slight incline in prosperity. Many of the town’s young men later enlisted in the Civil War. Most of them never returned from battle, leaving a number of homes in Factory Hollow unoccupied and crumbling until a time when the elements of nature reclaimed the land. The paper mill burned in 1879, leaving the last vestige of the hamlet to the elements. Before long, trees and brush sprouted from the decaying cellar holes and foundations.
For the most part, Factory Hollow was now a true ghost town. Stories abound of ghostly encounters and unseen forces that wander among the living who visit the haunted hamlet.
Just before the Civil War, a jewelry peddler came rolling into town on his usual route. Peddlers were common in those days and sold everything from tin to top hats. The salesman suddenly disappeared without a trace. Shortly after his disappearance, a human skeleton was discovered in one of the charcoal pits at the edge of town. Evidently the purveyor of goods had a healthy sum of money on him that attracted the attention of some unsavory kind. No clues as to who was responsible for the crime ever turned up, and to this day, the murder remains unsolved.