Throughout the summer, The Cheshire Herald has been running a series focused on Cheshire history. In this final installment, learn the tales of Kye-Witch, the “mounting stone” in front of Town Hall, and an unusual apple tree.
History is set.
We cannot go back and change it, nor can we preserve it once lost. We can only hope to remember.
Cheshire, to its credit, is a community committed to remembering. Its old houses, historic landmarks, and dedicated citizens make sure that the town keeps at least a few toes in its past at all times. The further away from 1694 we get, the more important that becomes.
But no matter how committed one is to preserving history, time remains a formidable opponent. Generations are born and die. Community needs change. Economies expand and contract. And sometimes Mother Nature just simply clears the board, forcing everyone to start fresh.
That’s a lot with which history, and those committed to it, must contend, and though Cheshire has done better than most, some things have simply, unavoidably, been lost to posterity over the years.
Take the story of the Kye-Witch.
In the late 18th century, you could be certain that every person who called Cheshire home, from the youngest child to the oldest man and woman, knew about Cheshire’s witch and the house all made sure to avoid.
According to the Reverend E. C. Baldwin, as recounted in “Home World,” published in 1886, perhaps the most notorious encounter with the witch occurred shortly after the American Revolution when, one evening, Nathaniel Ives and his wife decided to venture up to the old home that stood near the top of Cook Hill.
There lived the widow Kye, alone, poor, and without any known friends or relatives. The house, people claimed, was haunted, but that didn’t stop the Ives from traveling on this fateful night to extend some New England hospitality.
In the darkness, the two approached the home, frightened already by what they might find. But to their astonishment, the old widow’s abode was brimming with life.
Light shone brightly from the home’s second floor as candles illuminated what appeared to be a joyful gathering. The Ives could hear laughing, talking, and dancing along with the sounds of a violin playing a favorite tune of the day.
Nathaniel Ives was taken aback. “Not a God-fearing people I suspect,” he said to his wife, while reportedly adding that the two would have been better served staying home by the fire rather than “coming out on an errand like this.”
“It’s risky business, I tell you, calling on folks that are suspect of having the ‘old nick’ in them,” he continued, referring to the rumor that the old lady was a witch.
His wife, however, was more sympathetic, and chided her husband for being so judgmental. “’Tain’t for us to say who dealt with Satan. There’s more than this Kye-Witch that do it, heaven knows,” she insisted.
With Nathaniel convinced — or shamed — to continue on, the couple eventually found themselves at the front door, the boisterous noise of the party even more pronounced. According to the legend, as Nathaniel knocked loudly on the front door, the raucity immediately ceased. The lights went out. The music stopped. All was dead silent.
Suddenly, no one appeared to be home.
Their fear renewed, Nathaniel and his wife reportedly pushed open the front door, left what they had brought, and then hurriedly returned home without ever looking back.
That story was passed down from one generation of Cheshirites to the next and resonated with so many that, for years, farmers would hurry by the old home, as would children on their way to school. A rumor circulated that a child had been murdered inside the house and buried beneath bushes. Old townsfolk insisted that one could hear the ghost of that baby crying in the branches of a nearby pine tree whenever the wind blew.
The home of the old Kye-Witch has long-since been torn down, and the story of the Ives’ encounter with a devilish gathering is all but forgotten. One wonders, though, whether the faint sounds of cries can still be heard in that part of town when the wind blows.
If one is interested in a relic a little less supernatural in nature, however, the old horse block outside of Town Hall should do the trick.
To the average passerby on Route 10, the stone likely looks rather ordinary, aside from the plaque fixed to its side. But the story behind it is far from ordinary.
In the 18th and 19th centuries, transportation was rather straightforward. You either walked or you rode your horse to and from your destination. And when Sunday services were held or town meetings organized, it meant quite a few horses to account for.
Most homes had what was known as a “mounting stone,” allowing the rider to ascend a small stone to make mounting the horse less cumbersome.
However, in front of the community’s meeting house where most functions/services were held, no such stone existed.
One day, a few young men from Cheshire decided to change that. The group set out in search of a stone and, before long, they found what they were looking for.
The problem? Columbia Parish in Prospect also had their sights set on it.
Refusing to be left empty-handed, the Cheshire men formed a plan. In the dead of night, they set out with a sled and oxen, found the stone, lashed it to the sled and, using the brute strength of the oxen, transported the stone to the Cheshire green.
This left bad blood between the people of Prospect and the Cheshire community, with Prospect accusing the Cheshire boys of outright “theft.” Some threatened to steal the stone away from Cheshire at some opportune moment, and the Columbia Parish minister reportedly referred to Cheshire as the “town with a rock on its heart,” but to this day the stone remains exactly where those industrious young lads deposited it.
While it might have been easy to dismiss, or miss outright, the old horse block in front of Town Hall, it would have been impossible to pass by Cheshire’s historic apple tree off Marion Road without stopping to admire its prodigious size.
The tree dated back to 1728 — a remnant of Samuel Royce’s orchard. It reportedly grew to be over 60 feet high, had a spread of 104 feet, and was over 4 feet in diameter. It was so impressive, in fact, agriculturalists from across the nation took time to examine it.
The tree’s size was matched only by its yearly output of apples. On average, the tree produced approximately 65 bushels, but those numbers differed year to year.
The reason? Of the tree’s nine main branches, five produced apples on even years and the other four produced apples during the odd years. The five branches averaged 85 bushels of apples, with the remaining four averaging 35 to 50. One year — an even year — the tree produced an astonishing 110 bushels.
Perhaps even more curious, in 1880, for the first time ever, all nine branches produced apples. It just so happened to be the centennial anniversary of Cheshire officially becoming a town. Was the tree in a celebratory mood?
In 1893, a powerful hurricane swept through Connecticut and knocked down the historic apple tree. One resident, Miss A. Ruth Hale, was able to rescue an apple from the final bushel and preserve it by using cloves. Years later, the fruit remained on display and Hale reportedly took great pleasure in commenting to guests that, “It’s in pretty good condition for an octogenarian.”
We can’t visit the old “witch” house on Cook Hill any longer, or pick an apple from Cheshire’s most famous apple tree. But we can remember.
That in the end is all that history demands. Though we can’t preserve everything, we can keep the memory of what has come before alive for future generations.