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HomeNews100 Years Ago/History"Haddam Rocks" Tour Draws a Crowd

“Haddam Rocks” Tour Draws a Crowd

By Philip Devlin
(May 12, 2024) — On Saturday, May 11, 2024, Haddam Historical Society Executive Director Lisa Malloy and retired local high school teacher, Phil Devlin, organized a tour of three of Higganum’s most notable rocks, each with its own distinctive and interesting history: Shopboard Rock, Flag Rock, and Bible Rock. About 12 people came on the tour. Geologist Harold “Fritz” Moritz also accompanied the group and offered invaluable details about each rock.

The first stop was Shopboard Rock, located on Route 154 just several hundred yards north of Jasper’s gas station on the right hand side. (Boulder Dell Road in Higganum gets its name from this rock formation.) It is only fleetingly visible to drivers heading north on 154 when there is no foliage. It is enormous, being at least 65 feet high and about 75 feet long. Long thought to be one of the largest free-standing boulders in Southern New England, geologist Moritz indicated that this huge piece of granite is probably not free-standing but is anchored in the ground. He mentioned that it has a typical “whale back” erosional feature caused by a glacier that passed through the area about 12,000 years ago.

Lisa Malloy explained that the first mention of Shopboard Rock appears to have been in 1808 by Levi Clark. According to legend, it got its name from an incident involving a Connecticut governor who needed a new suit for a formal function; however, his tailor was at the Connecticut shore, so they met halfway in Higganum at the rock, which in those days was located on a main stagecoach route. There, apparently, he cut the suit out of cloth and pressed it on the rock. Whether this tale is true or not, we will never know, but the story persisted long enough to give this interesting geological feature its name. In addition, Ruth Hayden once mentioned that Malcolm “Sandy” Stearns thought that the enormous rock served as a kind of early billboard for travelers, as advertising and graffiti regularly appeared on it!

Our next stop was what locals understandably call “Flag Rock” on Candlewood Hill Road. Originally, for more than 150 years, this glacial erratic made of granite was called “Pulpit Rock” by locals. Phil explained that an itinerant preacher named Lorenzo Dow used to speak to hundreds at a time by climbing atop this rock beginning in the early 1790’s. Born in Coventry, Connecticut in 1777, Dow was a well known preacher who took eccentricity to a new level.

Possessed of a booming voice and a flair for the dramatic, Dow attracted up to 10,000 people at a time as he travelled to all of the 17 states as well as at least four foreign countries. After his death in 1834, one obituary said, “Who will forget his orangutan features, his outlandish clothes, the beard that swept his aged breast, or the piping treble voice in which he preached the Gospel?”

Dow earned the nickname “Crazy Dow,” which he willingly accepted. Dow wrote a retrospective account of his life in The Dealings of God, Man, and the Devil. In this book he gave to the English language the saying, “Damned if you do, and damned if you don’t.” One member of our group suggested that a sign be affixed to the rock with that familiar saying!

The “Flag Rock” designation came about following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. The Neff family living across the street from the rock painted the American flag with 48 stars on the rock in a tribute to the more than 2,000 Americans killed at Pearl Harbor on that infamous day. Thus, the name endures. In 1976, the current flag with 13 stars was painted in honor of the nation’s bicentennial.

Our final stop was Bible Rock. There the group observed an interesting rock formation that looks like an open book lying on its spine. Since the most common book found in households during colonial times was the Bible, it got its name accordingly. The “leaves” of the book are about 18 to 20 feet tall. Technically, Bible Rock is located in Middletown, according to Lisa. Colonel Clarence Wadsworth of Middletown purchased the site to preserve it from being developed. The storage area now across the street from Bible Rock used to be the site of a rather infamous inn called the Bible Rock Inn, which apparently at one time had mob connections!
Photos by Philip Devlin

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