Note from the Connecticut State Police: Those who go, or attempt to go to Dudleytown will be arrested for trespassing and/or parking. The fines start at $75.00 per person and rapidly increase.
In northwestern Connecticut within the town of Cornwall, in the shadow of three mountains, lies the remains of Dudleytown. The small hamlet holds accounts of ghostly tales, demons, unexplained events, and curses coupled with over 400 years of British and American history — including ties to King Henry VIII, Horace Greeley, General Heman Swift, and General George Washington.
Today, only the cellar holes and a few foundations remain. The roads have become forest trails that hikers and ghost hunters still traverse, regardless of warnings of evils spirits, and many claim the woods become strangely silent — the birds and bugs that sing and call during a hike up to Dudleytown don’t follow into the hamlet.
Dudleytown was founded by Thomas Griffis, who was the first to settle in the area, but it was three Dudley brothers who moved there a few years later for whom the land would be named. It was these brothers who also allegedly brought over a curse from England that has plagued the land ever since.
All Dudleys can trace their heritage back to a Saxon named Dudd, who was titled Duke of Mercia and died in 725 A.D. It was Dudd’s land that would eventually become the site of the Dudley castle.
An old English word for land was “leigh,” so the area was called Dudd’s leigh. Many centuries later, when the taking of a surname became necessary, some people took a name based on their occupation (such as Smith or Baker) and others took their surname based on the land they came from, i.e., Dudley.
The story and curse of Dudleytown actually begins in England in the year 1510. Edmund Dudley was beheaded for plotting to overthrow King Henry VIII. At the time of the beheading, a curse was allegedly placed on the Dudleys for their treason.
The curse states all Dudleys from Edmund Dudley’s lineage would find themselves surrounded by horrors. Edmund Dudley’s son, John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland, followed in his father’s footsteps and also tried to overthrow the crown by marrying his son, Guilford Dudley, to Lady Jane Grey (the original “queen for a day”).
John Dudley’s third son, Robert, Earl of Leicester, left England to avoid losing his own head.
The Dudleys who would eventually settle in Dudleytown can trace their roots to William Dudley, who was born in Richmond, Surrey, England on September 11, 1608. His son, also named William, was born aboard a ship headed for America on June 8, 1639. William II’s son, Joseph, was born in Saybrook, Connecticut on September 14, 1674.
Joseph Dudley of Saybrook had 12 children, three of which would eventually settle in Dudleytown: Gideon (born 1706), Abiel (born 1710), and Barzillai (born 1725).
Dudleytown is Born
In October of 1737, the Connecticut General Assembly ordered the Act for the Ordering and Directing the Sale and Settlement of all the Townships in the Western Lands. The Act stated that 50 private parcels of land from many western Connecticut towns would be divided and auctioned off. The Cornwall auction began at 50 pounds per parcel.
In February of 1745, Thomas Griffis bought half a parcel of Cornwall land from Eleazer Whittlesey of Wethersfield, Connecticut. Today, Dudleytown looks much like it did when Thomas Griffis first walked into the land some 250 years ago. A very thick forest, incredibly rocky terrain, and in the shadow of three mountains: Bald Mountain, Woodbury Mountain, and The Coltsfoot Triplets. Because of the location and the dense, tall woods, the forest was given the ominous name of “Dark Entry Forest.” Lying in the shadow of three mountains also meant the town received little sunlight. During winters there are times when snow will be falling on Dudleytown and nothing will touch the ground just 1000 feet lower in the valley of Cornwall. The land was hard, and living there was even harder.
In 1748 Gideon Dudley moved from Saybrook, Connecticut and bought some land from Griffis to start a small farm. By 1753 Gideon’s two brothers, Barzillai and Abiel Dudley, from Guilford, Connecticut, also purchased land nearby as the area was starting to blossom into a hollow. A few years later, a Martin Dudley from Massachusetts also joined the clan.
Contrary to what some believe, Dudleytown was never actually a town. It was always part of Cornwall township. Dudleytown used the Cornwall church, town hall, and cemetery to conduct its spiritual and business affairs. The area was called Dudleytown because of the number of Dudleys who came to live in the area.
Cornwall township was a hard area to farm in. Isaac Stiles, who was an early resident of the area eloquently put it best: “Nature out of her boundless Store, Threw Rocks together and did no more.” To make fields suitable for farming, early Dudleytown pioneers had to contend with the rocky soil. Each stone had to be picked up and moved. The stone walls that were created by clearing the woods and fields are still standing in Dudleytown today.
The Troubles Begin
Living in Dudleytown was never easy. Many things went wrong for the people and for the land. Were all of the events unexplainable? Was there a high lead content in the drinking water? Did Native Americans sneak into the hollow and wreak havoc? Or did the Dudleys carry a centuries-old curse into the village?
The rocks in and around Dudleytown do contain a high level of iron and other metals. It is possible there was some lead in the drinking water on the hillside. This theory could explain some of the dementia that area residents experienced, but continued lead poisoning is always fatal and for more than a century people lived in Dudleytown. If the water was bad, residents would have moved away sooner.
It is also true that there were many Native American tribes who lived in the general vicinity of Dudleytown, including the Mohawk nation. Some battles of the French Indian War (1755 – 1763) also took place within 100 miles of Dudleytown. There was fallout from the Native Americans for several years after the war, and one set of Dudleytown residents met their fate at the hands of angered Indians.
In August of 1774, an unidentified epidemic struck the Adoniram Carter household in Dudleytown and killed the entire family. A second Dudleytown Carter family, The Nathaniel Carters, distraught from the loss, moved near Binghamton, New York where Indians took the life of Nathaniel, his wife, and their infant by tomahawk. The Carters’ other three children were kidnapped to Canada where two daughters were ransomed. The son, David Carter, remained with his captors, married an Indian girl, and eventually returned to the United States for formal education. David escaped the curse of Dudleytown and eventually went on to become a Supreme Court judge.
One of the more bizarre tragedies occurred to one of Cornwall’s more famous residents, General Heman Swift. General Swift served in the Revolutionary War under General George Washington. In April of 1804 his wife, Sarah Faye, was struck by lightning on their front porch and killed instantly. Shortly after his wife’s death, General Swift was reported to have gone “slightly demented.”
Horace Greeley, editor and founder of the New York Tribune and most famous for his quote, “Go West, young man,” married Mary Cheney, who was born in Dudleytown. The two met in a vegetarian boarding house, and their union ended when Mary Cheney took her own life in 1872, one week before Horace Greeley lost his bid for the presidency of the United States.
The next tragedy occurred near the very end of the 1800s to one of Dudleytown’s last residents, John Patrick Brophy. John Brophy’s wife died of consumption, and shortly after his two children mysteriously disappeared in the woods. The children vanishing could have been attributed to the fact that they were accused of stealing sleigh robes and wanted to run from the law. After losing his entire family, the Brophy home burned to the ground. Some have speculated that it was John Brophy who set the blaze. Regardless of how the fire started, John Brophy walked away from Dudleytown never to be seen again.
By 1899 Dudleytown was completely deserted. Children who grew up there married and moved away. The forest began to reclaim the land.
Dudleytown is Reborn
In 1920 Dr. William Clark, a cancer specialist from New York City, came to Cornwall for the quiet that the woods could provide. Dr. Clark fell in love with the surroundings and built a summer house there. In 1924, together with some of his friends and colleagues, Dr. Clark formed the Dark Entry Forest Association (DEF). “The Dark Entry Forest Association was formed as a nature preserve,” explains Dr. John F. Leich, former president and current shareholder of the DEF. “Dr. Clark wanted a place where he could bring his children and grandchildren in the summers.” The original charter stated the land would remain “forever wild,” a nature preserve for its members to enjoy.
During a summer in the mid-1920s, Dr. William Clark was called away to an emergency in New York City. His wife stayed behind and when he returned a few days later, she was alleged to have gone mad. Sources said something from the forest attacked her and left her completely insane. She lived out the remainder of her days in a mental hospital.
Theories Behind the Curse
Dr. John F. Leich, a resident of the Dark Entry Forest since 1952, claims that in his almost 50 years of experience in and around Dudleytown, there is absolutely nothing odd or paranormal about the place. “My wife and I have been spending summers here since 1952,” Dr. Leich said. “There are approximately 50 shareholders in the Dark Entry Forest Association and about 20 houses, and none of us have seen anything strange or supernatural.”
Reverend Gary Dudley, a Dudley family genealogist, believes there is no family connection between Joseph Dudley of Saybrook, Connecticut, and the cursed Edmund Dudley. “Edmund Dudley’s son, Robert, Earl of Leicester had two sons, and one was illegitimate,” Rev. Dudley said. “The legitimate son of Robert died too young to marry, and the other moved to Italy where he and his three children remained—there is no lineage between Robert and the Dudleys who eventually settled in Cornwall.”
Rev. Dudley believes Dudleytown’s “ghosts” may have been the work of human error: “The town produced a little flax and some rye, which is interesting because if rye is left to decay, the resulting mold is a hallucinogen. This makes me wonder if the ‘demons’ were the result of bad bread as opposed to actually being the devil’s work.” “Dudleytown became a town that was just trying to survive as opposed to grow and thrive,” Rev. Dudley concluded.
Ed Warren, noted demonologist and ghost hunter, believes Dudleytown was definitely cursed. “The Dudleys had an ancestor in England who was a judge and condemned many people to death for witchcraft,” Mr. Warren said. “The curse in Dudleytown started after the village became a thriving town. People went mad and reported seeing monstrosities in the forest—things that were unnatural.”
“Curse? What is a curse? Dudleytown is cursed in that it is a tract of land with an aura of disaster. Everyone left the town,” Ed Warren concluded.
Nancy Zeigler, co-author of the forthcoming book, Deadleytown, said, “The people living in the Dark Entry Forest have a vested interest in saying there is nothing up there. Well, if there’s nothing up there, then why do we get strange things on our photographs? I’ve been slapped across the face and scratched with no one standing there.”
The legends of the ghost stories seem to have started in the late 1940s. American men were returning from World War II, and everyone was doing pretty well financially. One theory is the legends were made up by young men who wanted to drive up Dark Entry Road with their girlfriends in the car and tell them a scary story.
Shannon from Manchester, CT (Last name withheld upon request):
“My boyfriend’s family moved to Sharon, CT in early 1998. His mother’s fiancé has lived in that area all his life and they had been telling me a little something about Dudleytown. I was kind of skeptical so I decided to check into it.
“Ever since I was little I have had this ‘feeling’ if you will. Many people don’t believe this but I can tell if someplace is ‘haunted’. There is a house in Manchester, CT where I live, that is supposedly haunted by the spirit of a little girl. She was tortured and handcuffed in a crawl space of the house and left there for dead. And I walked into the house and instantly got cold chills and my whole body temperature dropped. I could feel her there. She was following me around in the house.
“So when my boyfriend’s family told me about Dudleytown, I had a natural curiosity to find out if it was true or not. So the next time I went out to Sharon I asked them to show me where it was. They had told me stories about Dark Entry Road. My boyfriend’s mother, like myself, can feel the presence of a spirit. So she and I drove to the beginning of Dark Entry Road and got out of the car to see if we could feel anything. Sure enough the second I stepped out of the car I got the coldest chill and my body temp. just dropped. I could definitely feel something.
“There have been quite a few people I have talked to out in that area that have told me that the town doesn’t like you to get to familiar with it. And that if you do it will change on you. I have heard several people tell me a story about how they were driving through or walking through there, having made it a daily route to or from work, and they have seen this ‘mass’, this black-as-black-can-be mass that just follows you.”
Sarah, Connecticut resident (last name withheld upon request):
“I have had some strange experiences there. In July of 1998 my fiancé and I, as well as two other friends went up there to check out the so-called ‘curse’.
“Problems started as we pulled up Bald Mountain Road–we all felt this feeling — it was different for all of us. My friend, Jenn, felt stabbing pains in her stomach and my back got really tense, and the two others got a creepy feeling.
“Around 11:30 PM we parked our car next to the entrance to one of the trails leading into Dudleytown. We all got out of the car, grabbed the flashlights and cameras and started walking down the trail. We heard nothing. Dead silence. No wind, no animals…nothing.
“We walked only a few feet and we heard this noise. The sound is difficult to describe, but it sounded like a huge metal dumpster dragging against asphalt. At this point we were freaking out, but we kept going.
“When we got to the entrance, Jenn started reading the sign and all of a sudden I took the flashlight and shined it at the ground where we just walked and we saw the words in huge letters ‘NEVER RETURN…SATAN’.
“What really freaked us out was that, first off, the writing was fresh, like it was done about two minutes before we got there. Secondly, we drove over that spot but there were no tire tracks, and when we walked over it there were no footprints.
“We’re like, okay, this isn’t good, let’s go…so we left. There is definitely something there.”
The Dark Entry Forest Association still owns most of the land that Dudleytown once stood on. There is a group of homes on Bald Mountain Road that are very secluded from main roads and the rest of civilization.
Regardless of whether there was ever a curse or not, Satanists and black witches are performing rituals in the area that was Dudleytown. Robin “Boston” Barron, a ghost hunter and Dudleytown historian, said, “I once saw the bloody spine of a cow lying in one of the cellar holes in Dudleytown. It was definitely part of some ritual.” Some rocks lying along the trails have been painted or carved with symbols, and several people have been arrested for lighting fires or trespassing in the area.
Recently, this past October, the DEF announced they would no longer allow hikers to go onto their land. The area that was Dudleytown is quiet again for the third time in its historic and colorful life.
The Cornwall Historical Society’s Website claims the following:
Myth vs. Fact
Dudleytown enthusiasts should note the following corrections and clarifications to Starr’s history and a few of the more popular Dudleytown myths (more corrections will be added as research continues):
MYTH: The Dudleys of Cornwall were descended from cursed English royals.
FACT: The Dudley family of Cornwall has no connection to English nobility.
MYTH: Horace Greeley’s wife, Mary Cheney, grew up in Dudleytown and later committed suicide because of the Dudleytown curse.
FACT: Mary Cheney Greeley never lived anywhere in Cornwall. She and the rest of the Cheneys lived in Litchfield. Visit the Litchfield Historical Society’s website for more information.
MYTH: Abiel Dudley was driven insane by the Dudleytown curse.
FACT: Abiel Dudley did not go insane. His neighbors described him as “distracted” and unable to care for himself beginning around 1756 or earlier. In their 1771 petition to the Connecticut General Assembly for reimbursement for taking care of him, Dudley’s neighbors made no mention of anything unusual about him or his mental incapacities. They noted that he never had any wealth, only land that he did not cultivate.
MYTH: General Heman Swift was driven insane by the Dudleytown curse.
FACT: General Heman Swift lived to be 81 years old; if, as Starr suggests, he suffered from dementia in his later years, natural causes seem far more likely than supernatural ones.
MYTH: General Swift’s wife was killed by supernatural forces in the form of lightning.
FACT: Swift’s wife, Sarah, was indeed killed by lightning in 1804; however, this was not an uncommon occurrence in the 1800s, when many houses were not protected by lightning rods. Newspapers from all over the country, throughout the 19th century, had frequent accounts of dramatic lightning strikes rolling through living rooms and kitchens.
MYTH: John Patrick Brophy’s wife died under mysterious circumstances, their children mysteriously vanished, and Brophy was driven insane by the curse.
FACT: In the original version of the story, in Starr’s History of Cornwall, an unnamed Irish laborer suffered a series of misfortunes: his wife died of consumption (a common cause of death in the 1800s); his sons left town after they were caught stealing; and his house burned down. None of these events can be attributed as supernatural. In later retellings, the Irish laborer’s name is sometimes John Brophy, sometimes Patrick, sometimes other generic Irish names.
MYTH: A Polish immigrant named Joseph Matyas was one of the last residents of Dudleytown and was driven insane by the curse.
FACT: Starr referred to an unnamed “solitary Pole” who “failed to make good, lost his farm, and removed.” No mention of insanity was included in the original story. A few retellings have assigned the name Joseph Matyas to this man, while others have left him nameless (while embellishing the story with a surprising amount of detail, considering that his identity is unknown). It seems unlikely that Starr was referring to Matyas, as he lived in Cornwall with his wife and children long after Starr’s book was published (and was Hungarian, not Polish).
MYTH: Dr. William C. Clarke moved to Dudleytown and built a rustic cabin for himself and his wife. One day, Dr. Clarke was called back to New York City for an emergency, leaving his wife alone in Dudleytown. When he returned, he found that his wife had become completely insane and spent the rest of her life in an insane asylum.
FACT: This is perhaps the strangest piece of misinformation in Starr’s History of Cornwall, which relates that Dr. William Clarke’s wife slowly lost her mind before committing suicide, and that Dr. Clarke left Cornwall forever. However, Dr. Clarke continued to live in Cornwall, as do his descendents. The true story of Dr. Clarke can be found in our history of Dark Entry Forest Inc. We don’t know why Starr chose to include a somewhat cruel and very fanciful story about the death of Dr. Clarke’s wife. Perhaps he chose to sacrifice truth for the sake of telling a romantic story that might help the sale of his book; or perhaps he simply didn’t do enough research.
MYTH: The name “Dark Entry Forest” was chosen because the forest is haunted.
FACT: The name “Dark Entry” does not and never was intended to have ominous overtones. It is actually a fairly common name, found in several other towns.
MYTH: There are no birds or other wildlife in Dark Entry Forest (Dudleytown).
FACT: There are just as many birds singing in the Dark Entry Forest as there are in any other forested area of Connecticut. In fact, Cornwall has one of the largest and most diverse populations of breeding birds anywhere in the country.
Photos by: Jeff Belinger
Dudleytown CT: The Story of a New England Ghost Town; (Jeff Belinger; http://www.ghostvillage.com/legends/dudleytown.shtml; 01/17/2008)