Barkhamsted was one of the last Connecticut towns to be occupied by white settlers. Many towns, with excellent coastal locations or with superior farmland or on major rivers, were settled between 1635 and 1700. With none of these advantages, Barkhamsted was not settled until the mid-1700's and was not formally incorporated as a town until 1779.
In 1732 the land making up Barkhamsted was assigned to the town of Windsor, ending a quandary that started almost 50 years earlier. The issue involved not only Barkhamsted but the entire northwest portion of the colony of Connecticut. In 1686 the colony was fearful of losing control of these unoccupied and unassigned lands.
This fear was a real possibility with the creation of the Dominion of New England by King James and the arrival of the new royal governor, Sir Edmund Andross. In an effort to prevent the loss of these lands, the Connecticut General Assembly hastily deeded all the unassigned lands over to the towns of Hartford and Windsor. The crisis was over after a few years, with a new King and with the demise of the Dominion of New England. It was expected that the emergency remedy would be undone, that Hartford and Windsor would not actually retain the large tract of land.
For years, the issue was overlooked until some areas of the northwestern lands began to be settled in the early 1700's. The ownership question had to be resolved. Probably realizing their claim was weak, Hartford and Windsor nonetheless fought for years to retain rights to the land, in the hope of possible compensation. Their hopes were realized. In a compromise adopted in 1726, the General Assembly allowed half the land to stay with Hartford and Windsor. The other half reverted back to the colony.
In 1732 the Hartford and Windsor land was divided up and the boundaries set. Hartford would own Winchester, Hartland, New Hartford and the eastern half of Harwinton. Windsor got Barkhamsted, Colebrook, Torrington and the western half of Harwinton. The settlement stipulated that each taxpayer (called proprietors) would receive land in those towns in proportion to the amount of taxes he paid in 1720. Hence, Windsor needed to allocate the lands of Barkhamsted among the 108 proprietors who paid taxes in 1720. Imagine if you were one of these lucky proprietors! You now had rights to what would be a number of parcels of land in four towns including Barkhamsted.
The land forming Barkhamsted was allocated to the Windsor proprietors in five divisions or lots. The first division included lots running up the center of the town, from south to north, as well as lots running up along the eastern border. Much of the central land in the first division fell between the present Center Hill Road and the East Branch of the Farmington River and therefore lies under the Barkhamsted Reservoir today. Of this division, each proprietor received a lot containing one acre for each pound (sterling) he paid in taxes. Which lot he received was determined by lottery.
Each proprietor was granted one acre of the second division for every ten pounds he paid in taxes, or one-tenth the amount of land he received in the first division. This small division was located in south-central portion of the town, primarily along the West Branch of the Farmington River.
The third, fourth, and fifth divisions consisted of larger lots, which were also distributed by lottery to the Windsor proprietors. The allocation of the final division was reported in June 1787. Because so much time had passed, the lots often transferred to others, either by death or sale.
The town first applied for incorporation in 1774, but was not ultimately incorporated until 1779. Barkhamsted is most likely named for Berkhamsted England, a town in the rolling hills 30 miles northwest of London, from which some of our town's earliest English settlers emigrated. The name is derived from "borough" (also "beohr" or "berg"), which means both mountain or hill as well as fortification, "ham", meaning town (as in hamlet), and "stede," "sted," or "stedt," which simply means place.
In 1764, Barkhamsted, along with Winchester and Colebrook, were still classified as "towns not inhabited" though some people did live in the area.
Settlement in the western part of town accelerated after the Old North Road (earlier called the New Country Road or the Great Road through the Green Woods) was cleared around 1762.
Connecticut's first census, taken in 1756, lists 18 people living in Barkhamsted, including both Caucasians and Native Americans. By 1771, the census shows 20 families, and the 1774 count was 250 inhabitants. In 1778, the petition for a second Ecclesiastical Society lists 50 families living east of the West Branch.
The census of 1800 lists 1,437 residents, showing a great influx of settlers over the latter quarter of the 18th century, the Revolution and post-Revolution periods. The town's population peaked in 1830 with 1,715 residents, before it began to drop off. The population declined steadily for over 100 years, bottoming out around 1930 with fewer than 700 residents. Since then, the population has risen sharply, climbing to the current figure of 3,600 in just seventy years.
Source: Barkhamsted Historical Society