Glastonbury is a town in Hartford County, Connecticut, United States, formally founded in 1693 and first settled in 1636. The town was named after Glastonbury in Somerset, England. Glastonbury is located on the banks of the Connecticut River, 7 miles (11 km) southeast of Hartford. The town center is defined by the U.S. Census Bureau as a census-designated place (CDP). The population was 34,427 at the 2010 census.
In 1636, thirty families were settled in Pyaug, a tract of land belonging to Wethersfield on the eastern bank of the Connecticut River, bought from the Native American chief Sowheag for 12 yards (11 m) of trading cloth. In 1672, Wethersfield and Hartford were granted permission by the General Court to extend the boundary line of Pyaug 5 miles (8 km) to the east. By 1690, residents of Pyaug had gained permission from Wethersfield to become a separate town and, in 1693, the town of Glassenbury was created.
The ties have not been completely broken: the oldest continuously operating ferry in the United States still runs between South Glastonbury and Rocky Hill, also then part of Wethersfield, as it did as far back as 1655. One result of being split off from Wethersfield was that the town was built along a main road, rather than around the large green that anchors most New England towns. After part of New London Turnpike was realigned to eliminate the rotary in the middle of town during the mid-20th century, a small green was established there.
During the American Revolutionary War, several homes were used to hold classes from Yale University. Noah Webster was a student in these classes; later he taught at one of Glastonbury’s one-room schoolhouses.
Glastonbury freed its slaves in the 1780s, sixty years before Connecticut formally abolished slavery. The town organized its first library in 1803. It organized the first hospital shortly after the Revolution to combat and treat smallpox. By the end of the Revolution, there were ten schools, formed one by one during the 18th century.
During the American Revolution, George Stocking’s gunpowder factory operated in the town. In 1785 the town residents renamed Glassenbury to Glastenbury. In the 18th and early 19th centuries, Glastenbury was a shipbuilding town. Located on the Connecticut River, it had reliable waterpower and nearby hardwood forests of oak. Sawmills, charcoal kilns, and foundries developed around the shipyards to process timber and other goods for their needs.
As shipbuilding was ending, the early industrial beginning continued. The J.B. Williams Soap Factory started in 1840 in James B. Williams’ drugstore in Manchester, where he experimented with chemical formulas for shaving soap. When he had produced a formula that satisfied him, he moved his business to Glastonbury. Two years later, he was joined by his brother, William Stuart Williams. They formed what is believed to be the first commercial soap manufacturing business in the world. Although shaving soap was their first product, they also made ink and shoe blacking. Products made by the J.B. Williams Company included Williams ‘Lectric Shave and Aqua Velva. Over time, J.B. Williams expanded to Montreal (around 1922), England, and Argentina. When the business was sold in 1957, ten former employees organized Glastonbury Toiletries and continued operation into the 1970s. J. B. Williams Park, on Neipsic Road, is named for James B. Williams.
Remaining parts of the industrial complex have been adapted for use as the Soap Factory Condominiums. Another portion was occupied by the Glastonbury Board of Education office and is now occupied by a translation company.
In 1870, the name of the town was changed from Glastenbury to Glastonbury, with a spelling to match Glastonbury, England. During the World Wars, Glastonbury factories supplied leather and woolen goods to the military of Belgium, France, Great Britain, Italy, and the United States. In addition, Glastonbury has been a center for feldspar mills, cotton mills, paper mills, and silver plate factories. It also had an airplane building industry.
J.H. Hale Orchards began operations in 1866 in Glastonbury. John Howard Hale became known as the Peach King for developing a peach that could withstand New England winters and was disease resistant, as well as for the large, national scale of his operations. He also had land in Georgia and was the first Glastonbury industry to establish a branch outside the state. A marketing pioneer, Hale shipped peaches to markets all over the country. The orchard that started with 1-acre (4,000 m2) in 1866 grew to more than 1,200 acres (5 km2) by 1900.
John Hale never went beyond grade school, but he initiated the founding of Storrs Agricultural College, now the University of Connecticut. He helped to organize the Glastonbury Grange and the State Grange. His home, at the intersection of Main Street and Route 17, has been adapted in the 20th century for use first as a restaurant and, more recently, for business offices.
Henry Saglio began a pioneering effort to breed a white chicken, because black pinfeathers were difficult to pluck from a bird headed for the dinner table. In 1948, the Saglio Brothers formed Arbor Acres and produced a broiler chicken that A&P Food Stores awarded the title “Chicken of Tomorrow”. By 1958, Arbor Acres was selling globally. Today the brand is owned by Aviagen. In 1977, Henry Saglio was inducted into the Poultry Hall of Fame.
Glastonbury was also a major grower of broad-leaf tobacco. This agricultural tradition is carried on by the orchards and berry farms on its hills.
In 1993, Billy Joel filmed part of his music video for his song “The River of Dreams” in a barn in South Glastonbury. The music video also has a scene with the Rocky Hill-Glastonbury Ferry.
Glastonbury is the town with the second-highest number of genuine colonial houses in the United States. The town has 154 houses built before 1800; only Marblehead, Massachusetts, has more, with over 200. Newport, Rhode Island, has over 300, but it is a city, not a town. Four houses in Glastonbury are from the 1600s.
The town’s oldest house, the John Hollister House, was built around 1675. It is one of the five oldest houses in Connecticut, and is also one of the oldest houses in the United States.
As of the census of 2000, the racial makeup of the town was 93.10% White, 1.53% African American, 0.15% Native American, 3.40% Asian, 0.01% Pacific Islander, 0.91% from other races, and 0.89% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 2.51% of the population. There were 31,876 people, 12,257 households, and 8,984 families residing in the town. The population density was 620.5 people per square mile (239.6/km2). There were 12,614 housing units at an average density of 245.5 per square mile (94.8/km2).
There were 12,257 households, out of which 1% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 63.7% were married couples living together, 7.5% had a female householder with no husband present, and 26.7% were non-families. 22.6% of all households were made up of individuals, and 8.8% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.57 and the average family size was 3.06.
In the town, the population was spread out, with 26.8% under the age of 18, 4.1% from 18 to 24, 29.0% from 25 to 44, 27.4% from 45 to 64, and 12.7% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 40 years. For every 100 females, there were 90.1 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 86.5 males.
The median income for a household in the town was $80,660, and the median income for a family was $94,978. Males had a median income of $68,083 versus $43,810 for females. The per capita income for the town was $40,820. About 1.5% of families and 2.1% of the population were below the poverty line, including 1.8% of those under age 18 and 4.6% of those age 65 or over.
Top employers in Glastonbury according to the town’s 2019 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report