The early settlers of what is now known as Southbury, tended to name areas because of their physical conditions or events that occurred there. As for Poverty Roads - first I must mention that there are different definitions for the word "poverty".; The American Heritage dictionary has an actual listing of "poverty grass" with a definition, "any of several North American grasses that grow in poor or sandy soil". And the Webster dictionary lists under "poverty", a definition of "poverty of the soil". So, I believe that these ground conditions which related to the lack of being able to grow and provide items for the feeding of animals and families caused them to name the area Poverty. And, if you look at Southbury's 1868 map you will see a large area labeled Poverty.
John Dwyer: The Heritage Village Roots in the Wheeler’s Farm at Poverty
No one questions the naming of Heritage Village. It is simply recognized as an evocative concept. Every one seems to question its address; Poverty Road, and its surroundings; Poverty Hollow. Did it refer to a nearby Poor House? No record of such has been found. The quality of the soil? Perhaps…
In 1806 Truman Wheeler inherited from his grandfather Obadiah his farm and 200 acres at Poverty. Truman had lived there since he was a boy; his parents having left for a new life in Vermont.
After Truman, Poverty Hollow saw the first of several notable turns. In 1906 it sold to the famed antiquarian, author, collector and artist Wallace Nutting. He was not so interested in the aspects of farming but rather in the pastoral setting and the Colonial buildings from where he could operate his photographic studio and maintain his renowned collection of antique furniture.
John Holme Ballantine (scion of the famous Brewer) took possession of the grand old house during the 1920’s. A section of the property was donated to the town for a recreational park in memory of his son John, Jr. who fell in the Second World War.
Famed entertainer Victor Borge lived in the Wheeler homestead for about 10 years starting in 1953. He had attempted a Cornish Hen farm here and modified the house somewhat to suit his taste.
Development of the Heritage Village Community took place in the late 1960’s. The town curtailed for one day its zoning requirements in order to allow the passage of this exciting and progressive plan. And fortunately the old house was retained as the centerpiece of the new community so we can appreciate and respect its heritage today.
Clearly, developers have had a bit of impact upon this town during the past few decades. On occasion, tradition may be overlooked or bypassed. Some may attempt to change more than just the landscape. When hubris prevails over heritage, some of the earlier names may be discarded, in place of a re-designation intended to suit a more current sensibility. And for those who go seeking these ancient sites, in attempt to recover heritage, they may encounter mystery and confusion.
Obadiah Wheeler’s 18th century farm had stretched to both sides of the Pomperaug River. On the opposite side he had acreage at White Oak, the Crookhorn Meadows. If, as one source reports, his farm was home also to Wheeler’s before him, then this is meaningful. The grandfather, John Wheeler, was a proprietor and a member of the first party of settlers that came upriver from Stratford. The tale is that the party spent their first night camped under the white oak tree which stood near the crooked brook. That spot is now a public place known as Settler’s Park (rather than by the name of ancient record). What if he, the pioneer Wheeler, had not left that spot, but had stayed there, under crude shelter as he endeavored to improve his condition?
Perhaps this name Poverty was also intended to express a concept; one evocative of the tribulations and adversities of Pilgrims and Pioneers. And perhaps the former Poverty resident Wallace Nutting had such an understanding when he wrote in 1923 that:
“…poverty does not necessarily mean dirt or baldness, (but) that the simple life gains as much as it loses and perhaps many fold more…”