A Town Shaped by Nature

Nature shaped the settlement and history of Salisbury. Geology and forces of nature provided resources that were the basis of its founding and have sustained the town for over 275 years. It was our natural resources that enabled the town to play a pivotal role in our nation’s history, both during the Revolutionary War and the Great Westward Migrations of the 1800s.

Charter Granted in 1741

Before the arrival of European settlers, the area was at the southeastern corner of the Mohican tribal lands and used mostly as seasonal hunting grounds. In 1720, several Dutch families migrated from the Hudson River Valley and acquired land along the Housatonic River. By 1731, a large deposit of iron ore was discovered and settlement of the area by people of English heritage increased dramatically. The land was surveyed in 1732 and auctioned off by the Hartford Colony in 1737 to a group of purchasers, the town’s Original Proprietors.

The Proprietors organized town affairs, including partitions of land, and set aside parcels to support both a ministry and a school. A town charter was granted in 1741 by the Hartford Colony Assembly, conferring civil and religious privileges to Salisbury that were equal to other towns in the colony. The first town meeting convened on November 9, 1741.

Religion in Early Salisbury

A town wasn’t considered settled until a church was established. Jonathan Lee, a licensed preacher of the Established Church (today’s Congregational Church of Salisbury, a member of the United Church of Christ), was ordained and became Salisbury’s first permanent minister in 1744, serving the town for 45 years. Religious services were held in Reverend Lee’s log home and later in a Meeting House that became the center of political, social, and religious gatherings. The Congregational Church today makes its home in the Meeting House built in 1800.

Other religious groups also came to the area. The first Methodist preacher arrived in 1787. The Rehobeth Methodist Church was built in Lakeville in 1816, and then chapels at Chapinville (now Taconic) in 1832 and Lime Rock in 1845. In 1822, Episcopalians built St. John’s Church in Salisbury and Trinity Church at Lime Rock in 1873.

Roman Catholics established their first mission at Falls Village, erecting a church in 1854. At the time, the parish included several other towns in Litchfield County and, for a period of time, was the only one between Bridgeport (CT) and Pittsfield (MA). In 1875-6, St. Mary’s Church (today, St. Martin of Tours, Church of St. Mary) was erected at Lakeville and formed into a separate parish. By 1883, a convent and parochial school had been built.

Importance of Iron, 1731 to 1946

After rich iron ore deposits were discovered at Ore Hill in 1731, forges were established. In 1762, Cornwall resident Ethan Allen joined in partnership with others and built the first blast furnace in the area, known as the Salisbury Furnace. A settlement grew around the furnace that became known as Furnace Village (now Lakeville). Initially, the furnace produced basic iron goods for early colonists, such as tools, cooking utensils, and stoves. During the struggle for independence, the Salisbury Furnace produced cannon and other armaments of war and became known as the Arsenal of the Revolution.

Arsenal of the Revolution 1775-1783

Within a month of the first shots fired at Lexington and Concord, Ethan Allen, together with Col. Joshua Porter and other locals, planned, financed, and led the attack on Fort Ticonderoga. The capture of the fort was the first offensive victory for the colonists. It also secured a strategic passageway to and from Canada, as well as cannon used by Col. Henry Knox to repel British forces from Boston in 1776.

At the time hostilities broke out, the Salisbury Furnace was owned by an Englishman, Richard Smith. He returned to England in December 1775 and remained there for the duration of the war. Connecticut Governor Jonathan Trumbull directed that the furnace be confiscated and made ready for production of cannon. On May 27, 1776, the first cannon was produced. By war’s end, the Salisbury Furnace had turned out some 850 cannon, estimated to have been three-fourths of all those made in the colonies, as well as ammunition and other armaments.

Manufacturing in the 19th Century

The Industrial Revolution brought changes to Salisbury that impacted its economy. Manufacturing was made possible because of advancements in technology. Products became more readily available to the population and at a lower cost. Inventions led to the development of new modes of transportation and made life easier at home and work. People experienced leisure time, many for the first time in their lives. As a result, markets for some existing and new products expanded, and travel and recreation became accessible to the general public.

The old Salisbury Furnace was replaced with modern Holley Manufacturing Company facilities beginning in 1844. To illustrate the transition away from the furnace, the village name was changed from Furnace Village to Lakeville in 1846. Holley Manufacturing was one of the early producers of pocketknives in the country at a time when everyone needed and carried one. The company’s 1876 pocketknife display, made for the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia, is among the treasures in the Salisbury Association’s Historical Society collections at the Academy Building.


As tracks were laid across our young country and trains began to roll, furnaces in Lime Rock and Amesville turned out iron train wheels that aided the westward migration and expansion of our country. Amesville also produced cannons for the Union Army during the Civil War. After the war, Salisbury became a transportation hub. Trains and then automobiles connected our remote corner of Connecticut with New York City and Boston.

Improvements in transportation opened new markets for local dairy farmers and others. It also enabled city dwellers to escape the sweltering summer heat and enjoy the scenic landscape, recreation, and cooler temperatures of our area. Inns, recreational activities, and other services for tourists followed, setting the stage for a tourist economy that continues today.

20th Century Brings Change

For nearly 200 years, the iron industry dominated Salisbury’s economy. At its, peak, the area had some 43 blast furnaces according to local historian Ed Kirby. Hills were stripped bare of their trees as copious amounts of wood were burned annually to produce charcoal required for the furnaces. However, once higher quality ores were discovered in other regions of the country, antiquated local facilities could no longer compete with newer, more efficient producers, and the industry went into decline. By the early part of the 20th Century, the town’s iron industry was closing down. The last blast furnace in the area ceased operations in the mid 1920s. After its business waned during the 1920s-30s, Holley Manufacturing Company was dissolved in 1946.

Offsetting the impact of the iron industry’s demise were other parts of the local economy that experienced growth. Once again Salisbury’s natural resources – this time, rich agricultural soils and beautiful landscape – helped the economy transition from iron to tourism and education.

Books, 1771 to Present

In 1771, Richard Smith, owner of the Salisbury Furnace, offered to buy 200 books if enough men agreed to help underwrite the effort. Some 39 signed up, and Smith purchased the books. They ultimately were donated to Salisbury and formed the core of the Town’s library. It was an unusually liberal collection for that era and included history, travel, poetry, essays, philosophy, mythology, biographies, many religious works, and two novels. The resulting collection was named in Richard Smith’s honor and today includes 119 of the 200 original titles and 155 original volumes.

A second book collection was donated to the town in 1803 by Caleb Bingham, a native of Salisbury. The Bingham Library for Youth was the nation’s first public collection of books for children. Salisbury still retains 61 of the original 150 titles and 70 of his volumes.

In 1810, when the library was given $100 from town funds to expand its holdings, it became the first tax-supported library in the United States. It was housed in various locations, including Town Hall and the Academy Building. Jonathan Scoville bequeathed funds for construction of a town library when he died in 1891. Other Scoville family members donated funds, and the library was built using native stone quarried nearby.

Owned by the town, the Smith and Bingham Collections are preserved and housed in the History Room in the tower of the Scoville Memorial Library. The Town Historian manages the collections, and the Salisbury Association makes an annual contribution to the library for use of the History Room.

Books about Salisbury and its history can be found in the Scoville Memorial Library and also at the Academy Building, where many are available for sale. In addition, each of the Association’s three committees co-sponsor lectures and programs with the library.

Salisbury Today

Salisbury offers much to many. Whether one is interested in history or historic architecture, conservation, stunning landscapes, pristine lakes and streams, wildlife, recreation, quality education, or cultural pursuits, the town has something for you. It is a community that cares about its citizens, its past, its traditions, and the future. Many nonprofit organizations add immeasurably to the quality of life of those who live here.

And it also has something unique … ski jumping and road racing! Both can been experienced or watched in Salisbury.

Ski Jumping – 95 Years and Counting

Norwegian immigrants settled in Salisbury in the 1920s bringing with them a love of ski jumping and Nordic winter sports. Setting up a makeshift ski jump using a cabin roof on a hillside, John Satre demonstrated the art of ski jumping for some 200 townspeople in 1926. Land was donated, a precursor organization to the Salisbury Winter Sports Association (SWSA) formed, and a ski jump built in time for the town’s first competition in 1927. The Norwegians taught locals to ski jump, and several participated in Olympic games in the 1930s and 1950s. In 2011, the town built a 65-meter tower that is a prerequisite for young ski jumpers before they advance to Olympic size towers. SWSA hosts the Eastern Junior Ski Jumping Championships every February and every fifth year the Junior Nationals. Click here for ski jumping.

Lime Rock Park – Road Racing on a Historic Circuit

“The Road Racing Center of the East,” built in 1956 to showcase state-of-the-art road and highway safety principles, is one of the oldest continuously-operated road racing venues in the country. Its famous 1959 Formula Libre event changed the face of motorsports when pros and amateurs went head to head in a three-heat format for the first time. Lime Rock Park is the most significantly historic road racing circuit in North America. Click here here for road racing.