Overview: Lebanon Town History
Lebanon, CT is located in east central Connecticut in northern New London County, although historically the town was also affiliated with Windham County. From its incorporation in 1700, Lebanon was part of New London County. In 1724 it became part of the newly created Windham County where it remained until 1826 when it was reassigned to New London County.
The town encompasses 55.2 square miles of which 1.1 square miles are water. The highest point of land, 499 feet is also the highest point of land in the county.
In 2005 the town’s population was 7,334. Lebanon’s population previously peaked at 4,166 in 1790 and then gradually declined until the late 1960s, when the community began to attract suburban home builders and owners.
The earliest inhabitants in what became Lebanon arrived about 10,000 years ago and left archaeological evidence of their presence at a camp site near Williams Lake. The archaeological record is not clear whether Native Americans lived in this region continuously, but by the time of European settlement in the late 1600s, the land was occupied by the Mohegan Indians. The Mohegans, an Algonquin-speaking people, inhabited the upper Thames River Valley near Norwich and used Lebanon primarily for hunting.
Mohegan sachem Uncas began selling parts of what would become Lebanon to settlers from Norwich in 1663. By 1692, most of modern-day Lebanon had been transferred to English settlers including members of the Mason and Fitch families. The General Assembly of the Colony of Connecticut incorporated the town on October 10, 1700. Tradition suggests that the town was named because early settlers compared the “height of the land and a large cedar forest” to the Biblical description of Lebanon.
A prosperous farming community during the colonial period, Lebanon reached its greatest importance during the American Revolution. Governor Jonathan Trumbull, a resident, used a store house on his property for meetings of the Council of Safety. This council organized Connecticut’s defense and participation in the War. After the arrival of allied French troops in Newport in 1780, the French light cavalry set up winter quarters in Lebanon. The French commander, the duc de Lauzun, commented that “Siberia alone can furnish any idea of Lebanon, which consists of a few huts scattered among vast forests.”
In the years following the Revolution, other eastern Connecticut towns thrived as mills and factories were built to take advantage of abundant water power. In Lebanon the economic focus remained agricultural and the town became something of a backwater although four additional Connecticut governors (Jonathan Trumbull, Jr. 1797-1809, Clark Bissell 1847-1849, Joseph Trumbull 1849-1850, and William Buckingham 1858-1866 and the first governor of Wisconsin (Nelson Dewey 1848-1852) were born there. By the end of the 19th century, Lebanon’s agricultural nature attracted immigrants from Italy and parts of Eastern Europe. The center of town retained the original mile long green, common land used for grazing while the business center moved north to Liberty Hill.
The town remains largely agricultural. While family farms are slowly disappearing, large commercial egg farms and whole nursery plant growers remain. The growing numbers of suburban residents have caused the expansion of the school system, one of the community’s largest employers. Lacking a commercial district, community life centers around the mile long Green where three of the town’s six churches, the town hall, town library, historical society museum, and revolutionary War historic sites and museums are located.