Afraid of Dutch encroachment on English colonies, colonial leaders Daniel Patrick and Roger Ludlow began buying land along the coast of Long Island Sound. While Patrick purchased land that would become South Norwalk, Rowayton and West Norwalk on April 20, 1640, Roger Ludlow bought land from a local sachem, Mahachemo, on February 26, 1641, which resulted in the establishment of a fort along the east bank of the Norwalk River. Within 10 years, Ludlow sold this land to men from Hartford, Weathersfield and Windsor, who also bought land on the opposite bank of the river, and thus the settlement at Norwalk began. By the mid-18th century, Norwalk had grown substantially; it was no longer a small community of 31 homesteads, but now an important shipping hub for agricultural products.
In 1779, British General William Tryon along with 2,600 British, German, and Loyalist troops attacked and burned Norwalk’s port and town center. It took some years for Norwalk to recover, but soon the maritime industry was reestablished and Norwalk was once again an important hub for shipping and commerce.
The first commercial wharves were located near Wall Street and the Head of Navigation. In the early 1800s, this area was the hub of the City where one of the most successful local enterprises, E. Lockwood and Sons, was located. Near the Great Bridge which spanned the Norwalk River, the once little country store expanded into a mini-conglomerate with ships bringing goods from Europe and the West Indies and local artisans reconciling their accounts with locally produced goods such as textiles and leather.
By the late 1800s, Norwalk’s maritime industry was booming and the city boasted the largest fleet of steam-powered oystering ships in the world. However, this part of Norwalk, known as Norwalk Borough, while a successful port, could only accommodate light drought ships and, consequently, was soon surpassed as the principal port by South Norwalk which was established at a deeper part of the river. Steamboat landings accommodated a growing industry and larger ships allowed the three potteries, six hat factories, carriage manufactory, smithy, stone cutting shops and various warehouses to move their goods far and wide.
The early 20th century brought a change to Norwalk’s commercial interests when its social and economic growth was fueled by the local establishment of hat, lock and pottery factories rather than maritime activities. Because of the resulting political divide between the prosperous industrial areas (South Norwalk and harbor areas) and the rest of the town, the State granted a charter to South Norwalk allowing it to operate as a city within a city. It soon became clear that this governance did not help; in 1913, the two governments were consolidated into the City of Norwalk. The city retained its prosperous industries throughout World War II, but in 1955 a flood devastated the city destroying many buildings on Main and Wall Streets and killing three people. After the flood, the industrial atmosphere changed – more commuters settled in the area and more corporations founded their offices. Norwalk continues to be a city that reinvents itself.
Norwalk is now home to a diverse and growing population of over 86,000 residents. New downtown residents make our urban core neighborhoods dynamic and bolster Norwalk’s already highly skilled workforce with experienced professionals, university graduates, and budding members of the creative class.
~ Courtesy of the Norwalk Historical Society