The “Way” to Loomis

During the summer of 2008 construction crews transformed the Batchelder Road causeway. This bridge makes it possible for us to enter the Island for our work of teaching and learning, and, at the same time, maintain a connection with the so-called outside world. With a commanding view of the Farmington River’s gentle sweep to the east, the calm waters of the hockey pond to the west and colonial and colonial revival style school buildings straight ahead, this roadway parts the landscape for a gracious entry to campus. It sets us in the right frame of mind to go about our business. One wonders if the causeway figured so prominently before the school’s 1914 opening. Surprisingly, the Island’s story is actually a tale of two causeways. One is newly updated and celebrated. The other, once called a work of “public benefaction,” is now mostly forgotten as the school has grown around it.

The Batchelder Road Causeway

Although the school’s trustees debated in the 1870s how to change existing roads near the Loomis homestead to form the school grounds, it wasn’t until the 1913-1914 construction of the school buildings that a formal entrance to campus was made. A new road, slightly west of an ancient one known as Island Road, connected the school grounds to Windsor center at Broad Street. Elevated in places nearly 15 feet above the previous one and directed under the existing railroad bridge, this road also replaced the Creamery Brook culvert at the Farmington River. A modern concrete bridge with an addition of a concrete dam, sluice-way and gate on its west side created an area for skating, known as the Hockey Pond. The Hartford Courant reported that the goal of the ambitious construction was to provide a way “to get in the Institute grounds dry shod at all times.” The causeway did not disappoint; during the next spring flood, the bridge held off rising waters from the Farmington that would have submerged the previous road.

The “other” causeway

Intent that their school would be on ground higher than the most destructive flood of their lifetime, the founders wrestled with the challenges of obtaining homesteads and farmland, and then designing a plan for grading and filling enough of this land on the Island to rise above the high water mark of 1854. Still, they could not escape the annual spring freshet season that brought a smaller, but still problematic, swelling of the local brooks. The founders had seen Windsor residents forced to resort to boat travel each spring to traverse between island and town.

During their 1879 meetings, The Loomis Institute trustees discussed a causeway, referred to as the lower causeway. H. Sidney Hayden, husband of founder Abigail Loomis Hayden, treasurer of the Loomis Institute and Windsor resident felt that building this lower causeway would “do something to satisfy the frequent question—current in the street—about the life and existence of the Loomis Institute.” He supposed that school funds could be used for this work; Hayden’s brothers-in-law, Osbert and John Mason Loomis fiercely disagreed. They instead hoped that Hayden would use his considerable local status to attract private contributions for the work. This issue dragged on for some time with difficult words passing between family members. Osbert sarcastically called this Sidney’s “pet causeway.”

In the end, Hayden took matters into his own hands. Civil engineer H.G. Loomis noted that he was employed by Hayden and “laid out drives, made plans for an arch stone bridge [and] built a causeway at the southern approach [to the Island]. The causeway was a success as The Courant reported that no longer would Island residents “use boats…during the freshet season.” Other writers remember this earthen structure, best described as a dike supporting a roadway, as one of many projects completed by Hayden for the benefit of local residents, including a modern sewer and a water company.

Two maps, one hand drawn in the late 1870s and the other a formal topographical and road map created in 1912, place Hayden’s causeway beginning just to the south of the present-day Batchelder Road bridge and running to the west of the Loop Road. Sydney’s project continued on to meet the railroad tracks near its crossing with what we know as Island Road. This area is described by the early map as “low ground” surrounding two brooks that once ran into the Farmington River, probably a marshy area even during the drier seasons.

The Loomis brothers did not record their thoughts on the completed “pet causeway.” Later, in the 20th century, trustees advised firms interested in designing the school that “the ‘causeway’ running easterly from the railroad tracks should be preserved, but may be disregarded” for their architectural plans. With the passage of time, Sydney’s causeway has lost its gleam of progress and public service. The “new” causeway basks in that glory now.