Glastonbury is a town in Hartford County, Connecticut, United States, founded in 1693. The population was 34,427 at the 2010 census. The town was named after Glastonbury in Somerset, England. Glastonbury is located on the banks of the Connecticut River, southeast of Hartford. The town center is defined by the U.S. Census Bureau as a census-designated place (CDP).
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 of trading cloth. In 1672, Wethersfield and Hartford were granted permission by the General Court to extend the boundary line of Pyaug 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 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 Revolution, Glassenbury was home to George Stocking's gunpowder factory. In 1785 the town residents renamed Glassenbury to Glastenbury. In the 18th and early 19th centuries, Glastenbury was a shipbuilding town, located between the Connecticut River, oak forests, and reliable waterpower. The shipyards' needs were filled by sawmills, charcoal kilns, and foundries.
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. Remaining parts of the complex are currently the Soap Factory Condominiums and the Glastonbury Board of Education office. J. B. Williams Park, on Neipsic Street, is named for James B. Williams.
In 1870 the name of the town changed from Glastenbury to Glastonbury, matching 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 home to feldspar mills, cotton mills, paper mills, a maker of silver plate, and a builder of airplanes, to name a few.
Also an agricultural town, J.H. Hale Orchards began in Glastonbury. John Howard Hale was known as the Peach King. He developed a peach that could withstand New England winters and was disease resistant. He also had land in Georgia and was the first Glastonbury industry to establish a branch outside the state. He was a marketing pioneer, shipping peaches all over the country. The orchard that started with in 1866 grew to more than by 1900.
John Hale never went beyond grade school, but he was responsible for 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, was once used as a restaurant and is currently offices.
In 1948, the Saglio Brothers formed Arbor Acres and produced a chicken that A&P Food Stores awarded the title "Chicken of Tomorrow". Glastonbury was also a major grower of broad leaf tobacco. Her agricultural tradition is carried on by the orchards and berry farms in her hills.
Glastonbury has been progressive, freeing her slaves in the 1780s, sixty years before slavery became illegal in the state of Connecticut. Her first library was founded in 1803. Her first hospital was formed 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 Revolutionary War, several homes embraced classes from Yale University. Noah Webster was both a student in these classes, and taught classes in one of Glastonbury's one-room schoolhouses.
(With the exception of a minor addition, this history is derived from text provided by the Historical Society of Glastonbury.)