The Town of Southville
“Southville Exists No Longer…” was the headline on page nineteen of The Danbury News Times on Wednesday, February 9, 1955. Talk was about a wood-framed house engulfed in flames – the old Barnum Homestead – that was built one hundred thirty years earlier by Herman Woods for relatives of the famed P.T. Barnum. It was the last existing structure of the once thriving community of Southville – a prosperous village at the southern tip of Bridgewater.
The village of Southville was settled in the early days of New Milford to eventually contain several farms, a post office, church, one-room red schoolhouse, two stores, a button factory, blacksmith shops, grist and cotton mills and two saw mills, including the Red Mill on Route 133. There was a tannery that used Hemlock bark from local farmers and sumac in the tanning process. The small textile factory ran on waterpower and manufactured braid, ribbon and light cloth, but was destroyed by fire and never rebuilt.
In 1849, Bridgewater and Brookfield incorporated the Toll Bridge Company and it operated the toll bridge spanning the Housatonic River at Southville. For many years, Hannah Bristol was posted at the tollhouse and served as the local information center. Legend has it that a bit of gossip was satisfactory as the toll for getting across the bridge. This bridge crossing was in operation until the building of the Shepaug Dam, the creation of Lake Lillinonah and the construction of the new bridge we have today.
Starting around 1880, the community lacked adequate transportation to market their goods, which started the village’s decline. Businesses began to close and families started leaving while several river bottom farms remained along with a park for picnics and swimming. By the 1920’s, CL&P began buying riverside properties for a lake. In 1954, the last house, the old Northrop place, was moved 1000 feet up the hillside to what is now Cooper Road. The public was allowed to remove anything they wanted from the village - topsoil, gravel, stonewalls, foundations etc. The top of the last iron bridge that spanned the river was salvaged and now stands next to Captain Burnham’s home in the town center. The three remaining houses were burned, including the Barnum house, and every last building and tree was removed from the lake bottom before the floodgates were opened and Lake Lillinonah created. On January 15, 1955 the “new” bridge opened with great fanfare. As you cross the bridge or boat on the Lake today, remember the old village of Southville that once thrived beneath the waves.
Memorabilia from Southville including store account books, genealogy records, household items and photos are part of the collection maintained by the Bridgewater Historical Society. To discover more about this lost village, don’t hesitate to contact us or visit us in the spring when we will have open houses and other events.