When Plainfield was incorporated as the town of “Quinebaug” in 1699, some 30 families lived in the area which included present-day Canterbury.  The Governor re-named the town “Plainfield” in 1700.  Canterbury became a separate town in 1703.

Agriculture was the basis of economic life in Plainfield throughout the 18th century.  Farms were small (40-50 acres) and industry was confined to saw, grist and fulling mills.
Shortly before the War of 1812, small cotton mills were built along the Moosup River in present-day Moosup and Central Village, beginning a process of industrialization which redirected life in Plainfield.  In the mid 1850s, Wauregan Mills was built on the Quinebaug River.  Manufacturing villages grew up alongside the mills, bringing population growth and commercial development to these villages.
In 1839, the Norwich to Worcester railroad was completed and in 1854, the Hartford to Providence, the lines intersecting at Plainfield Junction.  By 1880, commercial activities were centered near the railroad crossings in Central Village, Moosup and Plainfield.
In the 1880-1920 era, textile mills were enlarged, new mills were built and an entire new mill and village were established by Harold Lawton in Plainfield.
Both the mill companies and private interests built new housing for the influx of workers, the majority of whom were French-Canadian.  New schools, including the first high school, new churches, an expansion of governmental services and a trolley system that connected the villages made the decades of 1880-1920 a prosperous period in Plainfield history.

Between 1930 and 1945, Plainfield, along with the rest of the nation, underwent the trauma of the Great Depression and challenge of another world war.  The period brought about a prolonged crisis and significant change.  With textile employers closing their factories, Plainfield began its struggle to develop a diversified economy.


Incorporated 1699

The history of Plainfield officially began with its incorporation by an act of the General Court of Connecticut in May 1699.  In the year it was accepted by the legislature as a township and in the five decades preceding it, the area where Plainfield is located was known to European settlers as the Quinebaug country, an English transcription of the Indian name for the tribe or band of Native Americans inhabiting the area, and for the river which flows through eastern Connecticut before joining the Shetucket river at Norwich.

Migrants to the lands along the Quinebaug River, whether Native American or European, were attracted by the same physical features and natural resources – fertile land consisting of meadows and upland, and abundant water from the area’s springs, streams and rivers.

The very name Plainfield, bestowed by Governor Fitz-John Winthrop in 1700, testifies to the importance placed on those fertile open fields along the Quinebaug which yielded heavy crops of Indian corn to the Quinebaug Indians as well as abundant harvests of wheat and rye to European farmers who first came to work the land in the late 1680s and 1690s.

The settlement of Connecticut was in some measure a consequence of the Great Migration that took place in the 1630s when some 20,000 English Puritans fled Old England for New England.  The need to provide farms for children and grandchildren led to expansion beyond the original river towns to the frontier, including Plainfield.


According to historian Benjamin Trumbull, “there were a small number of families on the lands” in 1653 when the Winthrop family purchased the land that would become Plainfield, “but the planters were few until 1689.”

Both the Winthrops and James Fitch, Jr., who also claimed the land, recruited settlers willing to relocate in the frontier conditions of eastern Connecticut.  Those drawn by the Winthrops planted themselves on the east band of the Quinebaug; those attracted by Fitch settled on the west side, and would, four years after the incorporation of Plainfield, establish their own town of Canterbury.

Efforts by settlers to form a new town began in 1693, but it was not until 1699 that a petition was seriously considered by the General Court.  By that time Fitz-John Winthrop was Governor and he drew up his own self-serving request.  In May 1699, the powers and privileges of a township were granted, provided they did not prejudice any particular person’s property, i.e. the Winthrop family’s claim to Quinebaug Country.  A committee was named to establish town boundaries, but not to lay out the lands and end the Fitch-Winthrop conflict over ownership.

When the 1701 meeting did nothing to settle the feud between the Winthrops and Fitch, the settlers took charge of their affairs.


Plainfield Academy was founded in 1770, just prior to the Revolutionary War. It’s purpose: “to provide improved facilities for the more complete education of the youth of the vicinity.” The founders, the Plainfield Academy Association, built a brick schoolhouse and organized a course of study “in the common English branches.”

The early academies in New England bore no denominational name; there was no need for such designation, for there was just one church – the Congregational – in the early towns. That denomination controlled the government of town and state. Often the pastor was the prime mover in establishing an academy. It was quite natural the trustees should be from that church, and since they elected their own successors, they remained largely of that church.

In 1784, Plainfield Academy was incorporated and added a Classical Department, preparing boys for college, usually Yale University. In that era, boys often graduated from Yale at 15 or 16 years of age; the age requirement for entrance to academies was usually 10 years.

In 1825, an impressive stone building to house the academy was erected on what became Academy Hill overlooking the Congregational Church and present-day State Route 12.

After 1840, the Academy ran into difficulties because of “the multiplication of literary institutions around,” and by the 1850s, girls were admitted as students in the English Department. Due to the growth of secondary education and a shortage of teachers following the Civil War, Plainfield Academy closed in 1890.

“The Proprietors”
Thirty-four men petitioned the General Court in 1783 to incorporate the Plainfield Academy. The incorporators, called “proprietors,” were not looking for a money investment, as academies didn’t pay. In fact, the shareholders often had to meet deficits.

The directors/trustees of the academy included:
Hon. Samuel Huntington of Norwich (one of the four Connecticut signers of the Declaration of Independence)
Hon. Eliphalet Dyer of Windham
Rev. Levi Hart of Preston
Rev. Joseph Huntington of Coventry
And Plainfield residents General John Douglas, Major Andrew Backus, Dr. Elisha Perkins, William Robertson, Samuel Fox, Captain Joseph Dunlap, Ebenezer Eaton and Hezekiah Spaulding