History of Lake Saltonstall

 

History of Lake Saltonstall

Photograph by Mason Foote Smith from the collection of the Branford Historical Society.

The body of water between the towns of Branford and East Haven was known to the Quinnipiac Indians as “Lonotonoquet” or Tear of the Great Spirit. The English settlers who came in 1644 called it the Great Lake. After an Iron Works was established on the shore of the lake it became known as Furnace Pond. After the Iron Works closed in 1679, much of the land along the lake was owned by William Rosewell of Branford, a wealthy ship merchant. His daughter Elizabeth married in 1700 Rev. Gurdon Saltonstall of New London who would become governor of the Connecticut Colony.

Gurdon Saltonstall was born 1666 in Haverhill, Massachusetts and attended Harvard College. He was ordained as a minister in New London in 1691 and soon gained a reputation as a dynamic preacher. After his marriage to Elizabeth Rosewell, he built a mansion along the shore of Furnace Pond which was one of the most elegant homes in the area. The windows were adorned by tapestries woven to depict a hunting scene and were imported from England. The house had a massive oak stairway and brass doorknobs and fixtures. The Saltonstall Mansion stood on the east side of the lake between Branford and East Haven, [see photo below].

Saltonstall made his permanent residence in New London but probably stayed in Branford for short periods of time as business dictated. He was elected governor in 1708 and served until his death in 1724. He was an influential and powerful politician and was most famous during his term of office for the Saybrook Platform which provided for a consociation of the state’s churches and was also the chief proponent of bringing Yale College to New Haven instead of Hartford.

At Saltonstall’s death, the mansion would pass to his son Rosewell Saltonstall of New London and Hartford and was managed for Rosewell by local farmers. The last of the Saltonstalls to own the farm was Rosewell, Jr. who was a recluse and made the Branford mansion his year round home. Rosewell, Jr. died 1788 in Branford at the age of 56 and is buried at Center Cemetery.

The farm was sold by the Saltonstall family and was occupied by several families the last of whom was William Hartley. The house burned to the ground in 1909 but the foundation can still be seen on the east side of the lake named in honor of Governor Gurdon Saltonstall.

by Jane Peterson Bouley