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About This City

The European-derived first settlers of the area arrived in 1739 by sea from Eastham, Massachusetts. They traveled up the Connecticut River to Middle Haddam parish between the two adjacent towns of Middletown and Haddam. Led by Isaac Smith, some of these settlers went on to the hills near Lake Pocotopaug, the present-day location of East Hampton. In 1746, the settlers named their community Easthampton parish after their former home of Eastham. In 1767, the community was separated from Middletown incorporated by the Connecticut General Assembly as the township of Chatham, after Chatham, Medway due to the important shipbuilding industries that both places had in common. An iron forge at the outlet of Lake Pocotopaug was one of the earliest in Connecticut. The forge supplied the local needs and the shipbuilding industry on the banks of the Connecticut River. Shipbuilding up the Connecticut River was given a boost during the War of 1812 when the British raided a town at the mouth of the Connecticut River. The knowledge gained in forging and casting iron was later used for creating other items including waffle irons. Bell making continued to grow during the 1800s with firms utilizing the water power of the Pocotopaug Stream. After the Civil War numerous coffin trimming concerns lined the stream. Some firms changed focus over time such as the Watrous Mfg. Co. which started making just bells, later making coffin trimmings, and still later making bell toys.

In the 19th century, East Hampton became the center of the manufacturing of bells. So many bells were made in East Hampton that the town was given the name BellTown. The first factory was constructed in 1808 by William Barton on Bevin Hill later renamed Barton Hill. During the 1800s, thirty firms were said to have built and run shops, or small factories producing bell and bell related products. The most prominent names include William Barton and the numerous Barton companies of his sons, Bevin Brothers Manufacturing Company,[note 1] Starr Bros. Bell Co., The N. N. Hill Brass Co., The East Hampton Bell Co., Watrous Mfg. Co., Veazey and White, and Gong Bell.

The bell companies that dominated the economy of East Hampton by making metal bells continued to flourish until the era of the bells used for horses and buggies gave way to the era of automobilesThe Great Depression. Two firms continued to flourish into the 1950s by changing from making predominantly metal bells with bell toys being a minor part of their production in the 1800s, to primarily making bell toys. These two firms N. N. Hill Brass Co. and Gong Bell Mfg. Co., survived till the 1960s. The last remaining original operating bell shop, operated by Bevin Brothers, was razed by fire on May 27, 2012, but continues in full operation in a new East Hampton location; some other structures shut down while still structurally intact but remained unavailable for adaptive re-use, due to the presence of toxic substances at levels that resist remediation. Other mills, which were remediated or did not contain toxics, have been converted into offices, stores, and other small businesses.

In 1841, the East Middletown parish, which had been a part of Chatham, separated and became a new township called Conway (later renamed to Portland).

Chatham was renamed to East Hampton in 1915, which had long been a second name for the township. The name "East Hampton", however, is confusing, since the town is, in fact, approximately 30 miles (48 km) southwest of Hampton, Connecticut. In addition, there is often confusion between East Hampton and the contiguous town of East Haddam, which was named in 1734.

Capt. Jesse Hurd was a master ship builder in Middle Haddam after the Revolutionary War until his death in 1839. Interest in ship building in Middle Haddam dwindled thereafter. Captain Hurd was also the owner and creator of the New York Screw Dock Company, a "dry dock" facility for ship repairs.

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