Early 18th century residents of Old Saybrook, Conn., wanted Yale University to be located in their town — so much that in 1716 they barricaded a bridge and bludgeoned sheriffs to halt the oxen that were transporting the young college’s library to New Haven.
Today’s inhabitants of Old Saybrook are still attached to Yale, though less violently. The college was located there until 1716, and the town would like its historical link with the University to be recognized in this year’s tercentennial celebrations. Some townspeople were upset this week that they had not been included in the festivities, but Yale’s Tercentennial Office said an event in the town is in the works.
“We certainly do have plans to have an event to celebrate the history of Yale and Saybrook,” Tercentennial Director Janet Lindner said.
Lindner said a letter was sent Wednesday to the first selectman of Old Saybrook discussing possibilities for an event. She said it would likely take place in the fall of 2001.
The Collegiate School, which would later become Yale College, was founded in 1701. It began in the home of Abraham Pierson, but then moved to a building in Old Saybrook in 1707. A rock in the town with a plaque that reads “The First Site of Yale College, Founded 1701, Removed 1716” marks the location of the school’s first property.
After rifts within the school’s administration, some students and faculty left for Wethersfield, Conn., but the rest headed for New Haven in 1716. Old Saybrook citizens were upset that they lost the bid for the school and took to the streets to protest the relocation of the college.
Historians and residents of Old Saybrook say all this history should be celebrated as Yale remembers its first 300 years.
“I would think Yale would like as a part of the commemoration to have a little ceremony at the spot where [the] college was founded,” said Brian Ramirez, president of the Old Saybrook Historical Society.
Lindner said Yale would like exactly such an event, and that it would involve current students.
“I’m sure people from Saybrook would be pleased to participate,” Ramirez said.
Others shared Ramirez’s enthusiasm.
“If one is going to celebrate one’s history, and Yale is obviously doing that, Old Saybrook is part of that history,” said Michael Pace, first selectman of Old Saybrook. “Everyone respects Yale, and we are part of that history. There is a real pride [in town].”
Elaine Staplins, Old Saybrook’s municipal historian, said the town’s connection to the University is still strong today.
“We feel a tie to even modern-day Yale,” Staplins said.
Evidence of the town’s link to the University is clear — Saybrook College not only shares its name with the town, its seal is the town’s crest.