Local Trail Highlight: Gay City State Park
Located on the Hebron-Bolton town line, Gay City State Park’s 1,569 acres of parkland offer swimming, picnicking and an almost endless opportunity for exploration.
The name “Gay City” derives from a now-extinct mill town that once occupied the site. Today only some tumbling stone foundations, several grass-filled cellar holes and a few silent tombstones suggest its former existence. Gay City was first settled in 1796 by a religious sect led by Elijah Andrus and later by Rev. Henry P. Sumner. The Gays soon comprised the majority of the 25 or more families who then lived in the community.
The residents kept strictly to themselves, existing as distinctly separate from the neighboring communities. They built a sawmill along the Black Ledge River and erected homes from the lumber. Gay City’s fate changed with the successes and failures of several commercial enterprises. A woolen mill on the site 1/4 mile below the present pond was a successful business until extreme pressures caused by the various blockades during the War of 1812 brought its closing.
Once revived, the mill burned to the ground in 1830, beginning the town’s decline with the exodus of many people to urban factory jobs. Rev. Sumner’s son built a paper mill which again revived the town somewhat until the Civil War, when many of the town’s younger men were killed in battle. Soon after, the mill burned down, triggering the final demise of Gay City and nature’s reclaiming of the land.
From the South/New London area: Follow Route 85 north. Park entrance is 6.7 miles past the intersection with Route 66.
From Glastonbury area: Take Route 85. Park entrance is 2.0 miles past the intersection with Route 94. From the North/Hartford & Massachusetts area: I-384 east to Exit 5. Take Route 85 south for 4.7 miles.
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