On that date, approximately 136 British marines and sailors under the command of Richard Coote (or Coot) rowed six boats from four British warships anchored in Long Island Sound, six miles up the Connecticut River, past the unmanned fort in Old Saybrook, arriving at the boat launch at the foot of Main Street in Essex close to 4 A.M. The boats were armed with swivel guns loaded with grapeshot, the officers armed with swords and pistols, the marines armed with "Brown Bess" muskets, and the sailors armed with torches and axes; they responded to the single cannon fired by the town's surprised defenders with a massive volley, neither side incurring any casualties. They quickly commandeered the town, eliciting a promise of no resistance from the Essex militia in return for promising not to harm the townspeople or burn their homes, while a messenger rode to Fort Trumbull in New London for help. A dubious local myth states that Coot did not burn the town as a favor to a local merchant who met him with a secret Masonic handshake.
The British marched to the Bushnell Tavern (now the Griswold Inn), then seized the town's stores of rope (each ship of that time requiring eight miles of rope) and, according to the April 19, 1814 Hartford Courant, "$100,000 or upwards" worth of rum (acquired from the East Indies in trade for beef and wood from Connecticut).
Their main targets, however, were the newly constructed privateers in the harbor, ready or nearly ready for sail, which they burned. Within six hours their mission was accomplished, and the British went downstream with two captured ships in tow, including the "Black Prince", a vessel that may well have primarily inspired the raid. Stranded in the river by low tide, they were forced to wait at the extreme range of the shots of the volunteers from the nearby town of Killingworth who lined the riverbanks; two marines were killed and the captured ships had to be destroyed, but the rest of the men escaped safely when the tide turned.
At the time of the raid, Essex (then known as Pettipague) had been a major center of shipping and shipbuilding, but was suffering under a blockade by the British; as a result, the privateers were being constructed. Captain Richard Hayden, a prominent shipbuilder, had advertised his "Black Prince" in a New York City newspaper as "a 315 ton sharp schooner that would make an ideal privateer." This may have caught the attention of the British, who then investigated Essex and launched the successful raid. Perhaps as a consequence of the practical, but somewhat less than heroic, response of the town to the raid, shortly afterwards the name of the town was changed to Essex.
On the second Saturday of each May since 1964, the "Sailing Masters of 1812" of Essex commemorate the "Burning of the Ships" with an ancient fife and drum corps parade down Main Street and ceremony at the steamboat dock, wearing the United States naval uniform of that period; by tradition, this event is unpublicized. The Connecticut River Museum, situated at the site where Coot landed, now hosts an exhibit portraying the raid, featuring a large diorama by Russell Joseph Buckingham, a musket ball believed to have been fired then and a plank from the ship "Osage", burned by the British. Plans are to expand the celebration of "the town's worst day in history" in future years, according to the museum's executive director, Jerry Roberts.
There were a few homes built in Essex Village during the first half of the 18th century. One of the more notable is Pratt House on West Avenue, an "organic" structure built according to the immediate needs of the Pratt family. Shipbuilding dominated between the Revolution and the Civil War. As a result, Essex Village, known as Potapoug Point originally, came to be the focal point of the area. Many homes were erected between 1790 and 1820. By that time, Main Street had much the same make-up as today. The homes were primarily Federal, with one extended family dominating lower Main Street. The first eight homes on the south side of this highway (starting at the waterfront) were either built or lived in by members of the Hayden family. Of these eight structures, only the one on the west side of Novelty Lane and the one on the east corner of Parker Lane were not built by this family. The fact that the well known Hayden Shipyard was directly south of these buildings was the primary reason for this situation. Interestingly, all these homes are different architecturally. The Ebenezer Hayden House (third from the river) was the initial hip-roof house in the lower valley, and the current Episcopal Church Rectory (the Richard Hayden Dwelling) was the first brick house in the lower valley. Pratt Street runs parallel to Main Street, and many houses on that thoroughfare not only were built in the Federal style, but have their roof lines perpendicular to the street, which allows for more homes to be erected on a given highway. In addition, there are two homes on Pratt Street that have Palladian windows in the garret area. Also of note is the 1846 Baptist Church on Prospect Street, one of three Egyptian Revival style churches in the United States. As the construction of wooden sailing ships faded, the growth of the ivory and piano parts industry in the village of Ivoryton changed the focal point of Essex again. The growth of Comstock, Cheney & Co., one of the two largest producers of ivory products in the United States, made Ivoryton literally the center of Essex (and the lower Connecticut River Valley). The houses built here after the Civil war reflect the influence and affluence of that village. East Main Street, entering Ivoryton from Centerbrook is " Victorian Row." All the houses along this way were owned by executives or stockholders of Comstock, Cheney & Co. Contrast this with Essex Village, where there are relatively few Gothic or Victorian style dwellings, two examples of which are the 1855 " Gingerbread House" at the corner of Riverview Street and Maple Avenue, and the Parker House on North Main Street.
Perhaps the most culturally significant homes in town were built in Ivoryton during the 1890 to 1920 era. The factory was in desperate need of low-cost labor, and as a result, many immigrants from Italy and Poland came to work for Comstock, Cheney & Co. around the turn of the 20th century. The firm constructed many factory homesteads for these people. The great majority of these homes remain today, although most have been substantially altered. A journey through Blake, Oak, Walnut, and Chestnut Streets as well as Comstock Avenue is most revealing, as these factory homes give a glimpse into the past.
Essex is fortunate to have so many of these wonderful artifacts from the past. Great houses, such as the Dickinson Mansion on North Main Street in Essex Village, to the mansions of A. W. Comstock (currently the Copper Beech Inn) and R. H. Comstock in Ivoryton, may stand in sharp contrast to the smaller capes in Centerbrook and the factory dwellings in Ivoryton, but they are all equally important in telling us of our past.
In the town the population was spread out with 21.9% under the age of 18, 3.6% from 18 to 24, 27.4% from 25 to 44, 27.7% from 45 to 64, and 19.5% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 43 years. For every 100 females there were 89.6 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 86.9 males.
The median income for a household in the town was $66,746, and the median income for a family was $88,888. Males had a median income of $54,053 versus $38,276 for females. The per capita income for the town was $42,806. About 0.5% of families and 2.8% of the population were below the poverty line, including 1.0% of those under age 18 and 3.5% of those age 65 or over.
|Voter Registration and Party Enrollment as of October 25, 2005|
|Party||Active Voters||Inactive Voters||Total Voters||Percentage||Republican||1,381||52||1,433||30.17%||Democratic||1,156||37||1,193||25.12%||Unaffiliated||2,013||105||2,118||44.60%||Minor Parties||5||0||5||0.11%|
-Essex Fire Engine Co. 1 has two fire houses: the central fire house on the corner of Route 153 and Route 154 and the sub-station in Ivoryton on Summit Street. The Fire Department is the designated PSA holder for first responding to medical emergencies. The annual budget for Essex Fire is noted to be about $250,000 plus donations from the public.
Chief: Paul Fazzino
Deputy Chief: Ronald Senn
Assistant Chief: Andrew Kressley
2nd Assistant Chief: Steven Olsen
Elections for these positions are annual and voted by the department at an annual meeting. The department uses a point system, (i.e. 1 point for each call, or a training) The department is limited by its charter with the town to 60 Members. Members are eligible to receive a tax abatement from the town for earning a minimum of 150 points. The tax abatement is limited to 1 per household, so families with more than one member are not eligible to receive more than one tax abatement. The Fire Department responds to about 1000 calls each year, mostly medical first response calls, and fire alarms.
-Essex Ambulance Association, Inc. is an independent association, receiving town funding for workers' compensation insurance only. The association was founded in 1964, and is composed of 32 volunteers with MRT and EMT certification levels. The association operates two Horton ambulances which respond to over 800 calls for service each year, and provides mutual aide to all surrounding towns. Elections for officers are held annually.
Chief: Judi Reynolds
Deputy Chief: William Tait
Assistant Deputy Chief: Andrew Faust
The association is self-sufficient, funded through billing and donations. The ambulance receives an intercept paramedic for Advanced Life Support when needed through Middlesex Hospital.
There are two major inns in Essex: the Copper Beech Inn in Ivoryton, which has thirteen rooms and two fine-dining restaurants, and the Griswold Inn in downtown Essex, which has thirty rooms and a restaurant.
The Essex Art Association Gallery at 10 North Main St. was founded in 1946 by a group of avante garde artists. It is open 1-5 PM daily during the summer months. It is housed in a historic schoolhouse. Artists are invited to take part in the six shows held each season.
The Essex Steam Train is one of the most famous and popular Essex attractions. The main station is located in Centerbrook, with other stations in Deep River, Chester, and Haddam. The regular train ride goes from Essex to Deep River and then the Becky Thatcher Riverboat takes the passengers up to the Haddam area. The Essex Clipper Dinner Train goes from Essex all the way up to Haddam.
The Ivoryton Playhouse is a regional theater located in Essex's village of Ivoryton. The theater produces 8-12 plays and musicals each year.
The Connecticut River Museum, located at the end of Main Street and right on the Connecticut River, is home to numerous river artifacts and is home to the Connecticut River Eagle Festival each year.