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Indian Burial Mounds? (Mid-1920s)

Welcome back, Monroe history lovers. Did I read that right? Did he say Indian burial mounds? Yep, he did. Stay with me here. This week’s history takes us to Lower Stepney along the length of Judd Road that runs from Main Street (Route 25), west to the Monroe-Easton town border at the Mill River. Today, it’s somewhat of a lonely and desolate road, with very few houses standing; the kind of sparsely inhabited road between two neighboring towns that inspires such local lore as the famous Melonheads of Velvet Street. Today we’re going to learn some history about the area, and what we’ll learn can also be applied to other similar sites around town, such as on Main Street, Lower Pepper Street and East Village Road.

Every so often it happens, and usually during the fall and winter months of the year when the trees are bare of foliage. It is then that a history loving resident contacts the society with reports that they’ve seen what they believe to be numerous Indian burial mounds on their commute along Judd Road, usually near its intersection with Velvet Street. Of course, such reports demand formal investigation. Native tribes, including Pequots, Mohegans, Paugussetts, and Schaghticokes have lived in Connecticut for over 12,000 years, and burial mounds are known around the globe in myriad cultures. Let’s have a closer look.

Today’s first supporting image is taken from the 1934 Fairchild Aerial Survey. We can see Judd Road running east-west across the width of the image and Hiram Hill Road running north-south in the middle of the image. Got your bearings? The black ribbon closely following most of Judd Road is the Stepney Canal. The Stepney Canal is a man-made waterway built in the mid-1920’s by the Bridgeport Hydraulic Company, its sole purpose is to divert a portion of the natural flow of the Western Branch of the Pequonnock River to the Easton Reservoir.

Building the Easton Reservoir, the Stepney Dam, and the Stepney Canal, were major hydraulic projects in the area and we’ll learn more about how these affected Stepney in future posts. The canal works its way from the Stepney Dam down the west side of Main Street and beneath Judd Road, where it then takes a 90-degree bend and flows west to its confluence with the Mill River. The combined flow of the Mill River and the canal then flow beneath Judd Road at the town border and southward into the Easton Reservoir.

As you’ll recall from your school days in science class, water always takes the path of least resistance, and that’s downhill. The Bridgeport Hydraulic Company surveyed the lands throughout the area to take the fullest advantage of the natural terrain, but sometimes nature needs a little help, and that’s where high explosives and earth moving equipment come into play. With any offending obstructions blocking their planned path now blown up, the excavators were brought in to carve out the final downhill grade of the canal to the Mill River and beyond, the cut being particularly deep where the canal flows beneath Hiram Hill Road.

Picture the scene in the mid-1920s as numerous excavators toiled away the whole day through. And where do you suppose all that excavated material ended up? They simply dumped it beside the canal as they progressed, and it’s still there today where they left it nearly a century ago. So, in this case, these mysterious earthen features along the canal are not Indian burial mounds at all, but that makes them no less interesting or historic. Our second supporting image is the current LIDAR representation of the same area. I’ve highlighted the mounds beside the canal in green for your convenience. It all makes sense now doesn’t it?

I hope you enjoy this week’s spotlight on the history of the Stepney Canal and its mysterious earthen mounds. Most of the canal is obscured by nature today, but when it was completed in 1927, it was a convenient and popular recreation spot. Along eastern Judd Road today you can still see the half-sunken remains of a small wooden rowboat within the canal at its bank, a testament to the good times once enjoyed there by our residents. Please share this post with your family and friends, or anyone who may have an interest in Monroe’s unique hydraulic history, and as always, thank you for your continued support and interest. Until next time. Fancy a picnic and some rowboating along the Stepney Canal? I’ll see you there.


Kevin Daly
Historian, Monroe Historical Society
Our Past is Always Present

1 - Aerial Survey 1934.JPG
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