Dudleytown, also known as Owlsbury and Dudleytown Hill, is an extinct settlement/Ghost Town in Litchfield County, Connecticut. A remote extension to the town of Cornwall, it is best known for its "haunted" forest. Dudleytown was incorporated in 1740. It is located between three mountains,the Coltsfoot Triplets, Bald Mountain, and Woodbury Mountain
For a hundred years Dudleytown struggled, despite the hard work and versatile skills of the families who lived there. During the later part of the 18th century, few prospered from the booming iron industry centered around the "great furnace" on nearby Mt. Riga having stripped the mountainside of most every tree which further eroded the already taxed land. By 1800, Dudleytown had developed sufficiently to possess its own town hall and meeting house.
Improved access followed, by way of Dudleytown and Dark Entry Roads, to accommodate the heavy traffic of horses and riders into the town proper of Cornwall Bridge where the church, local cemetery and general store were located at the bottom of the mountainside. Even with these improved roads, the low birthrate of the families and the arrival of many different epidemics (like small pox and yellow fever) in the tiny Dudleytown settlement never raised the population in excess of one hundred people (not exceeding twenty-six families at the populous-peak).
During the American Civil War, almost every Dudleytown family augmented its farming pursuits by cutting and burning wood for charcoal to stoke the numerous furnaces in the area. Some families even operated their own backyard smelters, fed by locally mined ore, heated with local "wood-coal".
Eventually, the community declined due to a number of factors. Once the trees were gone, the spring and summer rains and the run-off from winter snow soon washed away much of Dudleytown’s soil making crop growth poor to non-existent there was a general reduction in local industry (mostly timber and iron based) due to the advent of modern techniques like the Bessemer process for making steel in the late 19th century. The opening of great expanses of farmland in the American West, combined with improved means of transport to distant markets, enticed farmers to seek locations with better prospects. By the time the "chestnut blight" hit Connecticut in the early 20th century, there were few if any permanent residents in Dudleytown. Frank Rogers, treasurer of the State of Connecticut still had a home in Dudleytown in the 20th century.
Letters from other states written by the adult children of Dudleytown residents are evident as they implored their parents to move away from the settlement which offered no viable prospects for a good lifestyle
With no new families moving in to occupy the abandoned homesteads, the houses that had stood for a hundred years crumbled. Their massive hand-cut beams collapsed and decayed beneath protective blankets of wild tiger lilies. Brush and vine now reduced Dark Entry and Dudleytown Roads to little more than tangled trails shrouded in a permanent gloom.
In addition to the economic factors in its decline, Dudleytown developed a reputation as a haunted place. Tales of several suicides, mass hysteria, ghost sightings, and demonic contacts have been attributed to the small settlement of Dudleytown, leading to many modern-day rumors.
In a 1993 interview in Playboy Magazine, comedian Dan Aykroyd claimed that Dudleytown, "Massachusetts" was "the scariest place on Earth". Dudleytown is actually located in Connecticut. While it has been speculated that the fear generated by such legends contributed greatly to the decline of Dudleytown, the town's ultimate demise more likely occurred due to poor choices of location by its original founders. The settlement, in addition to being sequestered from the town proper in a difficult-to-reach area, and having very poor soil for crop-growth, lay in the shadows of three mountain peaks which minimized its exposure to sunlight, hence the name of its largest avenue, Dark Entry Forest Road.
The "Curse of Dudleytown" is said to have been begun in the 1940s, but in actuality has its origins in 1938 with the publication of a book by Iveagh Hunt Sterry and William Garrigus entitled "They Found A Way: Connecticut's Restless People". The book's authors allude to the Dudleytown curse and refer to many of these myths and legends as historical fact.
It is full of legend and long-exposed myths put out as though they were true. One would do much better with Peals, Lee, or Roth." The curse was revived in a 1970s National Enquirer article whose headline proclaimed, "Deadly Curse Turned New England Village Into A Ghost Town!".
The uncredited article caught the attention of The Warrens of Connecticut, who proceeded to shoot a Halloween special on the paranormal at the site of the former settlement. After proclaiming that Dudleytown was "demonically possessed", paranormal groups and amateur ghost hunters from all over the world began to descend on the small Connecticut town of Cornwall.
The "curse" allegedly had its beginnings in England where the court of King George II took action against the Barons Dudley for supposed malfeasance against the crown. Their father was supposedly descended from these Dudleys who had fled England in the 18th century to escape accusations of high treason. The Dudley family was said to be cursed for its political opposition to the king. As for the ghostly sightings and demonic activity, no town records of such occurrences exist to support such claims.
Due to its "haunted" reputation, the area has attracted many ghost hunters. In the late 1990s, accusations of vandals visiting the area committing arson were made, which supposedly resulted in a large forest fire that threatened many of the private residences on the property. More likely the frequent lightning strikes and the dry conditions caused the fire. Following this episode, the Dark Entry Forest Association (which owns the property that includes the site of the former settlement) closed the area down to unauthorized visitors to protect the assets of the community. Not one instance of vandalism has been proven and while the area is a gorgeous place to hike the public owned blue trail, the DEF still continues to keep the area off limits to visitors.
The Legend of Dudley Town
There are two versions of the original legend of Dudley town, They start off with genealogies of the families, which are supposed to be cursed.
It is historically noted that in 1510 Edmund Dudley was beheaded for planning to overthrow King Henry VII of England. It is said that for this reason he had a curse placed on him, his living family, and any of his descendants. Edmund Dudley’s son, John Dudley was the Duke of Northumberland and now having a severe disliking for Royalty, he also plotted to overthrow the king by getting his son (Lord Guilford Dudley) to marry Lady Jane Grey. The plan was unsuccessful and all three were beheaded. Soon after another of his sons traveled to France and returned with the plague killing thousands, including himself. The final of the three sons Robert the Earl of Leicester wanted to escape the curse and moved out of England. This third son had a child named William Dudley; William came to America in 1630 and settling in Guilford CT fathered the boys who came to Cornwall after the French and Indian wars. The story begins from here . . . Cornwall with the Dudleys in the mid 1700's.
Thomas Dudley, a man from Massachusetts, is related to the Edmund Dudley from the previous version he is Uncle to. Brothers settle the Dudley town area. The brothers' names are Abijah, Bavzillai, Gideon, and Abviel. They founded Dudley town in 1632. The uncle becomes a governor and is supposed to be a horrible man, killing everyone who is not a Puritan. One of the people he kills places a curse on the man and the Dudley town land. Thomas Dudley (in this legend) meets a horrible fate; people found him hacked to death in the area that would in the future be Dudley town. The story starts here . . .
In 1747 Thomas Griffis (sometimes referred to in town records as Griffin) was one of the first to settle the land two years before the first road was built in Dudley Town. Other families soon moved in nearby. That there were Dudleys in Cornwall before 1747 there can be no doubt as Abile appears on a tax list of 1744, and by 1748 Gideon Dudley had been recognized as a tax payer. According to the author the exact relationship of these men is not known but it is presumed that they were brothers. He also states that there was an Abijah and a Martin Dudley as well.
Due to the sheer numbers of Dudleys on the mountain the name of the town was so given. Dudleytown was incorporated in 1740. The farmers grew flax, wheat, corn and other foods. Its small streams were dammed to supply power for at least three mills ( the ruins of some are still visible). The town being so isolated had its spiritual needs supplied by the Congregational Church in Cornwall Plain and to a lesser extent Warren. When death came to a Dudleytown family they couldn't bury their dead until an ox cart could carry the departed down the mountain to the Cornwall cemeteries. There was never a church or a graveyard in Dudleytown. The first recorded death occurred in 1792, when during a barn raising, Gersham Hollister fell from the structure and died.
Another odd thing that happened was Nathaniel Carter, the man who bought Abiel’s house felt something was wrong with the town so he moved his family away and somehow one of his sons was left behind. Nathan the son who was left became the only lucky member of the family when in October 1764 mother, baby, and father were killed by Indians and the three remaining children taken captive. His brother and his family then died of a cholera epidemic.
In 1804, General Swift's third wife, Sarah Faye, was killed by lightening during an April thunderstorm,
Horace Greeley married Mary Cheney, a Dudley town resident. The following was strongly emphasized by bold type and is underscored by the author; She WAS born in Dudleytown, and DID die a violent death. Mary Cheney Greeley hung herself just one week before her husband lost his bid for the presidency of these United States! She did this by placing a noose around her neck and stepping off a chair.
An interesting and little known fact is that Horace Greeley and his wife Mary were very good friends with the famous “Fox Sisters” who became world renown for speaking with the dead. The following is from the book “Spooks Deluxe” by Danton Walker c.1956
From the time the Fox sisters “discovered” spiritualism in 1847 in the little town of Hydesville, near Rochester, until they recanted forty years later (for quite a sum of money), the subject was a matter of intense worldwide investigation, argument and even violent controversy. Horace Greeley, editor of the New York Herald, was intensely interested in it and was one of the staunchest defenders of the Fox sisters, all three of them- Leah, Margaretta and Kate- even permitting them to occupy his town house when he was away in the country with his ailing wife.
Did the Fox Sisters ever visit them in Dudleytown? What was ailing Mary? Was she too hearing the voices of the dead? Something in Dudleytown drove her to hang herself. We just can’t be sure in knowing if the curse is real.
What is sure is that Dudleytown drew in people of note from far flung places, touched their lives in dark and mysterious ways and it continues to do so to this day.
After the Greeleys the curse struck again when a family named Carter settled in Dudleytown from Killingworth. They built a small cabin only to have it ransacked by Indians who then killed his wife and infant child. Two older girls and a Son were taken by them and brought to Canada. The girls were later rescued by the Redcoats but the boy having adopted the ways of the Cherokees decided to never return to civilization.
Crops started failing, many more people died and farm animals went missing and it seems that everyone left.
John Brophy moved to the area in 1892 and started to notice strange things. First his two children went missing and then his sheep and his wife died suddenly. In 1901 he came into a nearby town muttering about hoofed things and demons, his clothing tattered and torn; that night he disappeared forever.
Dudleytown sat vacant for a number of years, when Dr. William Clarke, a cancer specialist from New York City, came upon the site at the beginning of the 20th century. Clarke, a nature lover, fell in love with its serenity and seclusion and purchased one hundred acres or so to build a summer cottage. Some years after the cottage was built, Dr. Clark was away on an emergency call in New York City and returned several days later to find that his wife, Harriet, had gone completely insane, allegedly following an attack of something terrifying that came out of the forest. Harriet was never the same afterwards and she eventually took her own life.
The Truth Behind the Deaths and Madness
The first madness that is mentioned in the legend is that of Abiel. According to Cornwall vital records, Abiel was 90 when he died. Senility wasn’t understood as a part of old age and madness was sometimes considered supernatural in origin. William Tanner, the man who in one legend was accused of murder, lived to the age of 104 and his “madness" may be attributed to extreme old age as well.
Gershon Hollister, the man whom Tanner supposedly murdered, actually fell to his death from an unfinished barn. Nathaniel Carter and his family moved into Indian Territory and were killed by Indians. The children who were taken captive were later ransomed back to the British.
There were two plagues that swept through the entirety of Cornwall as well as many other places. Dudleytown was not, therefore, somehow singled out by mysterious forces for special treatment.
As for the woman who was killed by lightning, she did not live in Dudley Town proper but in the surrounding area instead. That region is filled with tall trees, and lightning strikes are not an unusual occurrence.
John Brophy was the next person in the legend. His two children who "disappeared" were being charged with robbery, and it is possible that they were merely trying to escape the law. But then, in an especially cruel twist of the karmic knife, his wife died of tuberculosis and his house burnt down. Although nobody knows what happened to John, it seems understandable that he might have wanted to move on after what he had been through.
Dr. Clarke, the final person in the story, remarried after the death of his first wife. He, his second wife and a few colleagues founded the Dark Entry Forest Association (DEF) which owns Dudley Town. The book "The Legend of Dudleytown" by Rev. Gary P. Dudley has a website that refers to town records which verify that Dr. Clarke died in Cornwall, CT and that Mrs Clarke died in Sharon, CT. Current residents of DEF continue to enjoy the peaceful section of the woods that remain relatively cool during the heat of summer.
The following is the text of a press release by the current owners, Dark Entry Forest, Inc., of Cornwall Bridge, CT:
Please release this on October 15, 22 & 29, 2001. Dark Entry Forest, Inc. is privately owned land, which is posted thoroughly with “No Trespassing” and “No Parking” signs on all roadways leading into the area known as Dudleytown. Dudleytown is not on state property, nor is it in a state forest; therefore this property is not open to the public. The Connecticut State Police and Department of Environmental Protection Officers will continue to patrol and strictly enforce all trespassing and illegal parking laws and regulations. The owners of Dark Entry Forest, Inc. will seek the arrest and prosecution of all trespassers to the full extent of the law. Additionally, parking is prohibited on the roads leading into Dark Entry Forest and owners will be ticketed and vehicles will be towed should they be blocking vehicular traffic and/or driveways. This year Law Enforcement Officers have been summoned 79 times to the Dark Entry Forest area, resulting in arrests for criminal trespass, disorderly conduct, illegal parking and littering. We will also assist the police by obtaining vehicle registration numbers and photographing them for evidence in citizen complaints. Dark Entry Forest, Inc. regrets having to take these measures, but we are dedicated to the preservation of our fragile woodlands, as well as our own peace and tranquility.