History Revisited: Two Grotons, one community

Newcomers and visitors arriving in Groton often become confused when they hear the names Town of Groton and City of Groton. Immediately the question arises: “Are there two Grotons?”

There is no simple answer to the question, and to understand why the two exist, one must be provided with a short history lesson about Groton.

Groton’s beginning can be traced to 1646 when John Winthrop Jr., the son of the [then] Governor of Massachusetts, settled on the Thames River and established a plantation called New London. This settlement extended to both sides of the river and stretched six miles northward from Fishers Island/Long Island Sound.

As early as the 1670s, fishing and coastal vessels were being built in the village on the east bank, Groton side of the Thames River. The primary means of travel for those wishing to go from one side to the other was by ferry boat, and the first ferry landing was built on the east bank of the river. The shipbuilding trades, in combination with the accessibility to the ferry boat, caused neighborhoods of people and small businesses to spring up along the eastern shore. This area was referred to as “The Bank.”

From the beginning, and continuing for over 58 years, residents of the east side of the river pursued their independence from New London. In 1704, residents on the west side of the river agreed that the inhabitants on the east side should form their own town. In 1705 the Connecticut General Assembly approved and granted a charter to the lands on the east side of the Thames River to become a distinct township, to be called

Groton — after a small parish in Suffolk, England, where Winthrop originated.

As the settled areas of the town grew, they demanded special services. Ultimately, a number of geographical communities, commonly referred to as “fire districts”, were established to provide these services. Although all of the fire districts fall under the purview of the town’s government, several established their own internal governmental structures.

In 1900, the Eastern Shipbuilding Company located in the Groton “Bank” area and began building two mammoth steamships. This created a tremendous boom to the local economy and a dramatic increase in the eastern shoreline’s population of Groton.

The rapid expansion of shipbuilding and the development of a large summer resort hotel (the Griswold) on the eastern shore of the Thames led several business and civic leaders of the “Bank” area to become progressive in their thoughts. They felt if they were going to bring the community forward into the modern age they would have to provide the residents with the same services being provided to the residents of the City of New London, including water, electricity, fire and police protection. The “Bank” district leaders thus developed plans to purchase the privately owned Groton Electric Lighting Company. The profits from this company would help defray the costs of providing the additional desired services.

In December 1900, after purchasing the lighting company, a petition was submitted to the General Assembly of Connecticut seeking to incorporate the “Bank” and eastern shore areas on the Thames River as a “borough” of Groton.

In May 1903, the Legislature granted approval and the Borough of Groton was incorporated as a new political subdivision (district) of the Town of Groton. Boundaries, encompassing approximately seven and one half square miles on the Thames River’s east shore, were established for the Borough which accounted for approximately 16 percent of the Town of Groton’s 45 square miles. Originally the borough was governed by a board of warden and burgesses form of government.

At the time of incorporation, borough residents were required to pay the same amount of taxes to the Town of Groton that the residents of the other districts paid; however, by statute, the town would compensate the borough for the costs of maintaining highways within the borough.

The town initially provided police services to the “Bank”; however, shortly after incorporation, the borough established its own police department. The town has historically contributed one half of the operational costs for the department, excluding the salary of its police chief.

Borough residents pay a separate tax to the borough for the special services they desire, including fire and police protection, a recreational department, trash removal and sewers. A stated amount of profits realized by the Utilities Department is also provided to the borough to offset the cost of these services.

In 1964, the Borough of Groton, with the approval of the State of Connecticut, became the City of Groton and changed over to a mayor and council governmental system.

The 2010 population census reflects there were approximately 40,000 residents in the Town of Groton, with a little over 10,000 living in the City. With the Electric Boat Corporation and Pfizer Inc. on its tax rolls, the City of Groton continues to be an “economic jewel” for the Town of Groton, contributing approximately 32 percent of the tax base for the Town of Groton.

From time to time, internal government disagreements arise between the town and city. Although consolidation of town and city functions are often the center of discussion, no formal action has ever been pursued.

So, to answer the question “Are There Two Grotons,” one must say yes – a “parent,” the Town of Groton, and its “offspring,” the City of Groton. Both co-existing in the same “residence.”

Jim Streeter is Groton Town Historian.

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