December 13, 2020 – Redding, Connecticut
Max elevation: 780 ft.
Free Web Map: Putnam Memorial State Park Trail Map (DEEP)
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Trailhead parking: 73-79 Putnam Park Rd, Redding, CT 06896
Putnam Memorial State Park is a history-oriented public recreation area in the town of Redding, Connecticut. The state park preserves the site that Major General Israel Putnam chose as the winter encampment for his men in the winter of 1778-1779 during the American Revolutionary War. Putnam Memorial State Park, sometimes referred to as “Connecticut’s Valley Forge” in view of the fact that the conditions that winter were more severe than the previous Winter at Valley Forge. It is Connecticut’s oldest state park, created in 1887 at the instigation of Redding town residents. The park was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1970.
In addition to the remains of the encampment, reconstructed log buildings, and a museum, the park’s 183 acres include facilities for hiking, picnic tables, charcoal grills, pond fishing, and winter sports. The park is located at the intersection of Route 107 and Route 58 and is managed by the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection. The park is open from 8am to sunset. Visitors Center and Museum is open daily 10am – 5pm.
History Of The Park:
The movement to preserve and memorialize the site of the winter quarters of 1778-1779 in Redding began in the late 19th century. Although the details of this movement are not recorded, it is likely that the initial efforts were made by local citizens of Redding, especially Charles B. Todd, the local historian, and Aaron Treadwell, the landowner who donated the first tract of land that would become the Israel Putnam Memorial Camp Ground.
From the beginning, the purpose of preserving the site of the encampment was to commemorate the winter quarters, not to create an area for recreation. Charles B. Todd explained, It is not proposed to erect a pleasure park, but a memorial. The men it is designed to commemorate were strong, rugged, simple. Its leading features, therefore, should be of similar character and of such an historical and antiquarian cast as to direct the thought to the men and times it commemorates. The rugged natural features in which the proposed site abounds should be retained.
As early as the turn of the century, the park commission had determined to acquire the grounds of the “Old Put Club” on the east side of the main encampment. The possession of “Old Put Lake” is in every way desirable for the camp grounds, it is one of the most beautiful sheets of water in Western Connecticut, lying just over the eastern boundary line of the park and for quite a distance is less than one hundred feet from it. The park commissioners envisioned a fundamental separation of the park into two areas: one, on the west side, preserving the historical remains of the encampment, and the other, on the east side, offering recreational and scenic resources. This functional division of the park has remained to the present.
The trails at Putnam Memorial State Park are mostly gravel roads which served as the camp roads during the encampment. These roads are an Interpretive Trail, with signs posted at all of the points of interest with historical information. There are unmarked footpaths, as shown on the map, which can be walked as well.
The area around Philips Cave provides a short trail over and around jumbled rocks. On the east side of Putnam Park Pond, there are more trails as well.
Near the northern end of the park, just south of the Officers Quarters/Magazine, is a white/blazed trail that leads to the 36-acre Joan Plishner Wildlife Preserve. This Double loop, 1.3 miles long trail through mostly open woods, provides hikers the opportunity to tack on additional mileage if so desired.
Points of Interest:
- Visitor Center – this building was originally built in 1893 as the park pavilion. It was used as a shelter during inclement weather, for dances and picnics, and for town events. The upstairs was used as the original park museum. The building was dismantled board by board in 2005, and reconstructed into a 4-season climate controlled visitor center where visitors can get a park orientation prior to entering the historic encampment.
- Camp Guardhouse – A log hut which was reconstructed about 1890 on the remains of a hut from 1778. The actual purpose of the original structure is in question, although local lore said it was the Guard House. The construction and size of the hut gives the visitor an approximation of one of the 116 enlisted men’s soldiers huts. Each hut contained 12 soldiers.
- Putnam’s Escape at Horseneck Bronze Statue – is on the front lawn of the Visitor Center. It was sculpted by renowned local artist Anna Hyatt Huntington at her estate just a few miles from the park. Ms. Huntington was 94 when she completed the statue for its 1969 dedication at the park. The bronze depicts General Israel Putnam’s legendary ride down the stone steps in Greenwich, then called” Horseneck,” where he narrowly escaped from the British dragoons.
- Main Entrance Area – Civil War cannons and miniature blockhouses flank the road. Blockhouses were used in frontier areas during the French and Indian War where Israel Putnam achieved fame for his courageous exploits. There are several other Civil War cannons inside the park. These weapons were surplus arms from the Civil War which ended only a few years prior to the park’s commissioning. The gateway view focuses on the Monument.
- Memorial Monument – Constructed in 1888, one year after the commissioning of the memorial park, this monument honors the men of the three different camps in Redding during that winter of 1778-79. The monument was the very first structure erected at the park. The visitor can read the names of the different brigade generals who commanded the camps under Major General Israel Putnam’s command.
The 44-ft. tall granite obelisk was built in the summer of 1888 under the supervision of a committee appointed by the governor.
- Collapsed Chimney Remains (Firebacks) and Company Street – The enlisted men’s encampment consisted of 116 log huts set in a double row for almost a quarter mile down the company street. The only above ground remains of those huts today are the piles of collapsed stone chimneys. Each stone pile, or fireback, marks the location of a 1778 hut. The men camped in this location belonged to Brig. Gen. Enoch Poor’s New Hampshire Brigade and the 2nd Canadian Regiment under Col. Moses Hazen. The fireplaces and chimneys were made of local fieldstone. The huts had dimensions of 16 x 12 feet. Each hut held the 12 soldiers who built their own hut. The troops lived in tents until their huts were completed in late December. Ongoing archaeological field work has told us much about the huts and their occupants.
- Museum – This building contains exhibits and historical materials including artifacts unearthed at the campsite during archaeological excavations. The museum was built in 1921 by long time Redding Town Historian Margaret Wixted’s father. This building replaced the original museum housed on the second floor of the old 1893 Pavilion. Park Guides are present to tell visitors about the park and answer questions. Hours are posted at the park gates or at the Visitor Center.
- Officers Quarters – The chimney remains mark the site of a company officer’s hut. The hut was an 1890 replica built on the original site. The hut was destroyed by fire years ago. The company-level officer’s huts were located behind the enlisted hut line. There are several other firebacks of these junior officer hut remains in the woods behind the enlisted hut line.
- Philips Cave – Local legend says a shallow cave in this rock outcrop was used by one Mr. Philips. Philips was a soldier who returned after the war to live in this cave. He led the life of a hermit, including liberating an occasional chicken or produce from local farmers. He was evicted by the community. Another version said he was “permanently removed.”
There are several cave-like openings throughout this area.
- Officers Quarters/Magazine – This structure was reconstructed on the original foundations that are cut into the hillside. Long thought to be an officer’s barracks, recent information is now leading archaeologists to believe it was actually the camp magazine which held the kegs of gunpowder. The location far away from troop quarters and being semi-enclosed in the earthen bank support this theory. More research will be done on this site.
- Cemetery/Command Officer’s Quarters – Another bit of hand-me-down lore at the time the park was created in the 1880’s was that the two mounds of stones, inside the square formed by the granite posts, were thought to be the camp cemetery. Accordingly, a memorial monument was erected to mark the site circa 1890. Archaeology work from the 2002-04 seasons has proven the site actually to be a double-ended (two chimneys) Field Officers quarters. Further research has pointed to the distinct probability that the hut belonged to Lt. Col. Henry Dearborn who was the ranking officer living at the camp (Some senior officers were quartered at area homes).
- Lake McDougall – The stone damn which creates this pond was installed at the time of the park’s creation. But the stream was very much in in existence during the 1778-79 army encampment. It is one of two main streams, one at each end of the camp, which provided water for the troops. Gen. Alexander McDougall’s name is listed on the memorial monument as one of the commanders at the Reading camps. Actually, McDougall had been the commander of Putnam’s Division prior to going into winter quarters. Gen. Washington placed the division under Israel Putnam and kept Gen. McDougall in command of the Hudson Highlands which included the all important fortress West Point.
- The Recreational Section – provides access to Putnam Park Pond, picnic tables and charcoal grills as well as more walking trails.
A truly beautiful park that is well laid out and loaded with history. One can spend quite some time here walking around capturing images of the historical features as well as the landscape. Well worth a visit anytime of year to get a hands-on history lesson of the American Revolution and the hardships that those soldiers endured during their winter encampment from 1778 – 1779.
Historical site, scenic landscape, well maintained park.
The park is bisected by Connecticut Route 58, some road noise can be heard throughout the park.