In the summer of 1778, Gen. Israel Putnam was seeking a place in which to encamp his division of the Continental Army for the winter. At the suggestion of Colonel Aaron Burr, Putnam scouted a tract of land in Redding.
Putnam approved of the site, and at his order, Revolutionary troops began constructing three separate camps on Redding’s northern border. His army moved into the encampment in the early winter, by which time the harsh weather conditions and brutal experiences of battle had demoralized Putnam’s Continentals.
The Connecticut troops were in particularly poor condition that winter, owing to the fact they had been ill-supplied and were being paid in depreciated currency. The situation was so grave that news of it reached the commander of the Continental Army himself, who then felt it his personal responsibility to rectify the matter.
“It has been represented to me that the troops of Connecticut are in great want of Shirts, Stockings, and Shoes,” Gen. George Washington wrote to Gen. George Measam on Jan. 8, 1779. “If the Connecticut Troops have not been furnished…you will on receiving proper Returns for that purpose supply them in conformity to this Rule.”
The troops endured the harsh winter at Camp Reading, now known as Putnam Park in Bethel, but not without great difficulty. The site of the winter encampment was eventually turned into Putnam Memorial Park in 1887, and since then, it has served as a window into the Revolutionary War experience in Connecticut, and a valuable resource for historians and archaeologists who study that period.
Many artifacts have been uncovered at the park during several excavations and archaeological digs over the years. The first of which took place when the park was originally laid out in the 1880s and 1890s.
Archaeologists Dan Cruson, Newtown's town historian, and Kathleen von Jena have done the most recent digs at the park. The park’s museum houses many items that were uncovered in the various digs, including pipe stems, musket balls, buckshot, ceramic pots, and hand tools, which all provide valuable insight into what life was like that winter.
Nicole Williams, a college student from Monroe, is working at the park this summer as an interpretive guide. Those who visit the park are welcome to take her tours during which she conveys a sense of the encampment experience based on her indepth research of the period.
“Something happened here, and there are a hundred different ways that someone can tell the story,” Williams says. “We’re never going to know every exact detail of where things were and what exactly people did...but the public can rely on me to give them an accurate representation of that event.”
Williams also is working on integrating the unique environmental aspects of the park into her tour as a supplement to the historical material. One environmental feature, for instance, is the fact that one of the rocks holding up a monument contains a schist comprised of many rare minerals.
Williams also says she’s proud to work at a park that is as beautiful and serene as Putnam. This owes in large part to many renovations that have taken place over the last few years.
“A lot of people say it’s so nice to see the place up and running and renovated,” Williams says. “This is a park that many people have been coming to for their entire lives...and they have seen a marked improvement in the way it looks.”
Steve and Judy Spiro, of Danbury, are two regular visitors who enjoy strolling along the park’s expansive graveled walkways and taking in the rich scenery.
“It’s really beautiful here, and the paths are maintained so well,” Judy Spiro says. “We love the lush landscape, and it’s just so easy to get to.”