Litchfield After the Revolutionary War
Clockwise from top: A sign for B. Tallmadge's store;
West Street before the fire of 1886; pottery by Hervey Brooks;
a handbill for the Hartford and Litchfield Mail Stage c. 1880
In addition to becoming a commercial center, during these years Litchfield grew to be an important intellectual hub of Federalist New England. The community hired well-known Congregational minister Lyman Beecher to lead its religious life, and it became known for its educational institutions, including the country’s first law school. In 1784, a young lawyer named Tapping Reeve offered daily law lectures to students enrolled in his Litchfield Law School. While the study of law was open to men only, young women also had unusual education opportunities in Litchfield. In 1792 Sarah Pierce founded the Litchfield Female Academy, providing a rigorous academic education to young woman. Subjects more traditional in early women’s education, including painting, dancing, needlework and music, were taught as a means of reinforcing the academic lessons.
Clockwise from top: Actors portray students
at the Law School and the Female Academy;
the Litchfield Academy; view from Chestnut Hill; Tapping Reeve
The presence of the two schools ensured a stimulating intellectual environment in the town, along with an active social calendar. Author Harriet Beecher Stowe, who was born in the town during her father's 16 year ministry, described the town as a lively and stimulating rural village in her semi-autobiographical novel Poganuc People. Law student William Ennis described the social atmosphere to his friend Horace Mann in 1821, writing, “There are ladies in abundance who are monopolized by the students . . . In short no man can regret the fate which renders him an inhabitant of Litchfield.” Mann began his studies in Litchfield the next year.
Much of Litchfield’s prosperity during this era came from the town’s two schools. When both the Litchfield Female Academy and the Litchfield Law School closed in the 1830s, Litchfield entered a period of gradual decline.