Gay City, Hebron

December, 2011 by Ray Bendici
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All images by Ray Bendici

The Damned Story: Near the center of Connecticut in the unassuming town of Hebron sits Gay City State Park, offering streams, a scenic pond and over 1,500 acres of  woodland teeming with hiking trails, recreational opportunities and . . . ghosts, according to some.

Gay City was a once-thriving 18th-century village that was primarily inhabited by the Gay family; the park is particularly named after John Gay, one of the settlement's founding fathers. Remnants from the former town, including the remains of abandoned mills, stone foundations and other structures, can still be found here. It's these ruins that have helped to foster the creepy vibe that some people attribute to the park.

The town was originally settled in 1796, when Elijah Andrus led a group of persecuted Methodists out of Hartford to a quieter space along the Blackledge River where they hoped they would be left alone by the regional Congregationalists to live and worship as they pleased. Under the guidance of Rev. Henry Sumner, the faithful—including many members of the Gay family—attended services twice a week, which included imbibing generous amounts of "spirits" in the hope of finding higher spirits. Apparently, such dedicated alcohol consumption caused a host of social issues, but the settlement continued to thrive.

In 1811, a textile mill was built, and soon other mills, shops, homes and even a distillery followed. The town was soon known as Factory Hollow, and had its ups and downs over the next few decades—the main mill burned down twice, the second time in 1885, and the town never really recovered.

According to one story from the Bolton Historical Society, it was claimed that the water in the settlement "ran uphill" from the pond to the mill, which spooked a few residents.

Factory Hollow also suffered other problems, including two alleged murders, both of which pre-date the Civil War. According to David Philips' Legendary Connecticut, the first one involved a jewelry peddler, who may have been robbed and murdered by the village charcoal-burner, although the actual perpetrator was never brought to justice; the unfortunate merchant's skeleton was discovered in a charcoal pit near the edge of town, damning evidence for some. The second untimely death involved a blacksmith's apprentice—the story goes that the young lad showed up late to ye olde shoppe one day and ye olde blacksmithee took extreme exception, stabbing the tardy assistant to death, and then beheading him. (What would've happened if the apprentice had played sick for an entire day?!) As with the other murder, no records exist of the crime, no was anyone apparently ever arrested for it.

Grisly stories aside, like what happens to many towns when the main employer burns to the ground and is no longer viable, the residents of Factory Hollow started leaving. By the end of the 19th century, the town was essentially abandoned, and then was slowly swallowed up by the surrounding countryside. Finally, the land was sold by Emma Foster (one of the last descendants of those who lived there) to the state in 1943, with the stipulation that the area be renamed Gay City. A year later, Gay City officially became a state park.

Despite the decades of neglect, a few of the original structures still stand and can be explored, including house foundations, stone cellars and the walls of an old paper mill. Gay City is now more like Ghost City, which is just fine for those who love to explore such locations.

For years, visitors supposedly saw the spirits of the murdered victims wandering around the forests that have now grown up through the village. Up until recently, the story was also told that someone long ago had drowned in the pond at the park, although there hadn't been any documentation of the event. Tragically, in May 2010, a New Britain teenage did drown in the pond while swimming, so that event can now be considered true.

What is not confirmed are the dozens of stories, rumors and reports alluding to the supernatural activities in Gay City. Like many purportedly haunted locales, the abandoned town is  home to all sorts of otherworldly phenomena. As mentioned, there have been alleged sightings of specters and spirits—one is allegedly the blacksmith's apprentice, running through the woods with his head in his hands! In addition to other disembodied voices (including one that murmurs "The hollow") and mysterious footsteps, spirit mists and other odd manifestations have been supposedly observed. Paranormal teams who have investigated her claim to have recorded EVPs and taken orb photos as well as having had other unusual experiences.

Gay City may have been abandoned, but it doesn't mean that its story is over.

Our Damned Experience: We visited Gay City in Summer 2014 and explored a bit of the park.

The remains of the old mill and town are easy to find as the trail to all of it is marked clearly at the southern end of the main picnic area, at the far end of the pond's beach area (in the direction of the spillway). It's a fairly short walk to the mill site, maybe a few hundred yards at most. It's on your left just as you reach a small wooden bridge.

As you can see, there isn't much left to the mill than the stone foundations.

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If you continue along the main path, you can see some of the remains of the stone foundations of the other buildings that were here.

The foundations are only a few yards off the main path, although they're not marked. You just have to be looking for them.

We explored the foundations a bit and although they were interesting, we really didn't notice anything particularly unusual about the rest of the area—just your standard forest with plenty of trees, plants, scurrying woodland creatures and birds. There are also plenty of stone walls meandering through the woods, a reminder that a century or so ago all this land used to be cleared fields.

Lots of stone walls, actually, which helped us maintain our bearings when we wandered from the main path.

So there was plenty of flora, fauna and such, and it was all pretty uneventful until we went off the main path a bit in search of more foundations and sort of stumbled upon this.

 

Okay, we've heard stories about hikers wandering in the woods and coming across "fairy rings"—and then ending up at bad ends courteous of ill-willed wee fairy folk!  Granted, this was more of a random circular patch of grass than what people might consider to be a true fairy ring, but it still struck us as pretty odd just having grown like that out in the middle of nowhere. The image really doesn't do justice as to how the circle, which was about 30 feet across, stands apart from the rest of the landscape.

Tempting "fate," we walked around the circle, went into it and even danced around in it a bit. Apparently our fairy-summoning skills weren't up to par as nothing happened and no otherworldly folk appeared. It wasn't any different from the rest of the area aside from the grass—no cold spots, weird vibes or absence of woodland noises.

The rest of our visit was pretty uneventful—no unusual experiences or supernatural sights, but it was the middle of a sunny day. No doubt if we return under the cover of night, it may be a different experience ...

Not that there's anything wrong with it.

(Additional photos in the gallery below.)

If You Go: Like most state parks, Gay City State Park is open year-round, daily from 8 a.m. to sunset, although the official parking lot is only available from April through Columbus Day. (Winter parking is available.) In addition to hiking and exploring the abandoned ruins, visitors can also bike, fish and swim, among other recreational activities. The area around the pond makes for a nice little picnic area, so feel free to pack a lunch when you visit!

The park entrance is located on Route 85 in Hebron.

 

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Comments

Submitted by JM (not verified) on
I havent spent to much time there but I do know many friends have and they wont go there at dust. During the day it appears ok, but I have heard stories about see shadows crossing the main paths...

I, as well as my group's co-founder hiked through Gay City State Park back in March. This place is not too eerie during the day. I did here someone walking behind us but no one was there and there was a section of woods where there was no sound at all, no birds chirping, no water running even tho there was a stream nearby. We walked a little further and we started to hear all those sounds again. We took many pictures of the old ruins and just random pictures here and there to see if we could capture anything. Our photographs didn't reveal anything otherworldly though. I would like to get back out at least one more time to see if there really is something there or not.

Since the blue moon August 31, 2012 I have been doing some research and have come across some very interesting information in addition to the existing information, yesterday I toured the witches black forest, did not know it was there, oh, my...the more I discover, the my I seem to uncover, a very strong spiritual presence is present, I haven't found any of this other than when the vortex is wide open, I have been pic'ng the place apart, I have posted them to my fb dwight taylor east hartford, more to follow, as much more is making so much more sense, we have something here, be careful, do not go looking for ghosts, they will find you.

Submitted by Kat P (not verified) on
Are you people for real???

Submitted by Archie Angel (not verified) on
Well said, Kat P. Well said.

Submitted by Hunter (not verified) on
Dwight, wheres this witches black forest you mention in your post? Never heard of it before

The Witches Black Forest is to the left, close to the camping area, think I am crazy, doesn't really matter, if you are here there must be some interest, I have not seen to my knowledge any ghosts or heard, I have been told they are here, only 6 most of the time, I did see a naked form running through one night, it was at a distance, could have been a couple having fun, I am learning more, I like information verified, I have seen things after dark, interesting in the early am, whirls of movement, I would not go to the park if you fear, really nothing can hurt you but fear itself. Anyone whom knows what the "gatekeeper" means, please let me know. Would like a small group whom does not get scared to explore, let me know.

Submitted by Hunter (not verified) on
I would be very interested in exploring this area and could get a couple more people involved as well.

Submitted by Amanda (not verified) on
I moved to CT a few weeks ago and have been researching abandoned sites to explore. I started with the Seaside Sanatorium and am planning a trip to check out Gay City. It would be great to go with someone who knows a lot about the place. Dwight, I'll hit you up on FB and maybe we can check it out!

Submitted by Andrew (not verified) on
Hey Amanda. What did you think of Seaside? I was just there in March.

Been there twice so far once in the summer time long ago, swan in the pond with my then boyfriend. Not scary at all, lots of families with kids swimming, camping, hikes, grilling etc. Gorgeous bright sunny summer afternoon what would you expect? Second time I went in the fall, with some friends. It had rained recently and there was a chill in the air. We drove in and parked the car in the right shoulder not to far from the main road, letting the main drive-way be free and clear for others if they were there. We got out, and walked around going over the low crumbling stone wall, up the steep grade of a hill covered with dead leaves. The leaves proved hard to sink ourr feet into as we climbed up, quickly we abandoned that idea and came down. As we spread out on level ground to see more stuff, and went in different directions. I started noticing solid black silhouettes of a tall man in baggy clothing and smaller forms like kids out of the corner of my eyes following me off in the distance of the trees. Each time I caught a glimpse of them from the corners of my eyes, I'd move my head fast to see if I could get a good look at them, but it didn't work. Each time I saw them I felt as if I was being watched by something in the woods, it really unnerved me. I told my friends about it, to see if they were having anything wierd happen to them, they all said they weren't seeing them. But we all heard loud cracks like large branchs being broken, off in the distance every now and than. About a hour after that one of the other girls who is very guible got really freaked out about what I said I saw and insisted we leave. So we did, I know what I saw, and heard. I feel the place is haunted. Even if it was only for a few seconds every now and then, it creeped me out enough to never go back. Still thinking about it after all this time, makes me have chills run down my spine.

Aye, so you met the kids, there are six of them, they are extremely friendly and harmless, after all this time (centuries) they are harmless, the old guy he is ok, too. Was up a couple times last week, this ll' freak you out, I had walked in to the meeting area and back out, as I reached the gate a really huge cloud kinda slept through from the southside across 85 and slowily moved on, I was practicing, did my piece (vocal) and left. Next night I was in with the camera and caught foxes in the boy scout camp area having a party, they got quite loud, so know I know what the fox says.

Submitted by V. L. G. (not verified) on
I live in the town and have heard a lot of stories, seen a lot of stuff but Gay city is not even close to as haunted as some of the other properties in Hebron. I have 19 acres in Hebron, want to see some haunted woods come and see mine. Crazy stuff out there.

Submitted by Adam (not verified) on
Hey, V.L.G., I also live in town. What are the more haunted places you speak of? I haven't been to Gay City in the dark, but I go there in the day all the time. It can get eerie. I'm sure it's more eerie at night.

Submitted by Ariel (not verified) on
I just visited Gay City we started on the red trail and moved to yellow because we were low on time, at one point I heard someone moaning, kind of singing but more of a moan. I was with my boyfriend so I turned back to look for him, he was exploring ruins nearby... the moaning stopped, and when I turned back it continued. Then I called him over and the noise completely stopped.. I didnt see anyone around but there could of been someone.. not sure. Just thought id share.

Submitted by Mandy (not verified) on
I grew up within walking distance from this place. The only thing that ever appeared haunted to me is the water in the lake. It's so dirty that it's always off-limits to swimmers...

Submitted by Tori (not verified) on
There's a tiny old burial ground in the park, too-- I remember there were some children's graves and things like that, although most of the epitaphs have worn away. That's creepy, you all should go back and explore that.

Submitted by India Reiss (not verified) on
I have always been unexpectedly drawn to this park. Sometimes when i go to the mill site I find antique handmade glass buttons (still intact) after all these years pushing out of the ground. Upon one of my trips, I went off trail near the mill site to collect trash and broken glass to remove. I saw an old tree and decided to dig at the base. I found buttons, boot eyelets, and many strange little things. I also found a large amount of rotting leather, so old it crumbled to dirt in my hands. What appeared to have been a large leather glove (which also crumbled into nothing when exposed to the air). Intrigued i kept digging a few respectable inches and found unmistakable human bones. Several complete fingers and chunks of femur along with much debris. It was a strange moment. I was surprised, scared and excited, I called the police who directed me to the park sheriff. I gave the bones to him to investigate. I have not heard back, i found these bones last fall, there has been no investigation since and i am desperately reaching out to anyone who may have information on my find. These were not in a burial site or graveyard. They are visibly old bones, very dark and lightweight, I am fairly certain they are male from the size of the thumb-tip and width of the fingers themselves. My name is India Reiss please contact me on Facebook or email with any information. I greatly appreciate it. I feel very protective of the remains, and only want a proper investigation and treatment of the person who died. There could be an interesting story here, or a piece of history that could be shared.

Submitted by Anita Clare (not verified) on
This article states "Up until recently, the story was also told that someone long ago had drowned in the pond at the park, although there hadn't been any documentation of the event." This did happen in the early 70's, although I'm not sure of the year. I used to swim there regularly when I was a kid. One day, the lifeguards called everyone out of the pond bedause a young girl had been found drowned. It was a horrible thing that I will never forget. Everyone was badly shaken. They closed the park and told everyone to leave that day. As we were walking back to the parking lot, I heard an angry boy say "What did she have to go and drown for? Now we can't go swimming!" I was shocked that someone could be so incredibly selfish and insensitive. I never forgot it.

Submitted by Rebecca on
Hi Anita, I am the sister of the girl who drowned at Gay City in 1970. I've been doing research to piece together the events of that day. You are the first person I've found outside of my family who was there and witnessed what happened. Would you be willing to talk to me about it? My email is [email protected] I'd really appreciate it, even if you remember very little, it would be helpful. Thank you, Rebecca - See more at: http://www.damnedct.com/gay-city-hebron#comment-80944

Donna Waite's picture
Submitted by Donna Waite on
I am glad to hear that other people had weird experiences at Gay City. When I first met my husband in the late 80s, we spent every weekend hiking or exploring some wooded corner of Connecticut, both being avid nature lovers. We never experienced anything weird, any where else, but at Gay City. We always hiked during the Spring and Fall when the park had few visitors. One day we were almost at the end of our hike when I suddenly felt my hair standup under my hat, like some kind of static. Puzzled, I looked up to see if a branch touched my hat, seeing nothing that would cause this weird sensation on my head, I suddenly felt very frightened but before I could even tell my husband, he excitedly said, Did you feel that?!? His eyes wide with amazement, while I just took off into a run in acknowledgement, I was so afraid! He remained at the spot, calling me to come back to see his compass spinning around. I returned for a moment, saw the compass spinning, then pleaded and dragged my husband away from the spot and back to the car. We never went back. That Christmas we got a hiking book from my parents as a gift which told about the history of the park. It didn't surprise us that some horrible stuff must have happened there. We never went back after that.

Donna Waite's picture
Submitted by Donna Waite on
I am glad to hear that other people had weird experiences at Gay City. When I first met my husband in the late 80s, we spent every weekend hiking or exploring some wooded corner of Connecticut, both being avid nature lovers. We never experienced anything weird, any where else, but at Gay City. We always hiked during the Spring and Fall when the park had few visitors. One day we were almost at the end of our hike when I suddenly felt my hair standup under my hat, like some kind of static. Puzzled, I looked up to see if a branch touched my hat, seeing nothing that would cause this weird sensation on my head, I suddenly felt very frightened but before I could even tell my husband, he excitedly said, Did you feel that?!? His eyes wide with amazement, while I just took off into a run in acknowledgement, I was so afraid! He remained at the spot, calling me to come back to see his compass spinning around. I returned for a moment, saw the compass spinning, then pleaded and dragged my husband away from the spot and back to the car. We never went back. That Christmas we got a hiking book from my parents as a gift which told about the history of the park. It didn't surprise us that some horrible stuff must have happened there. We never went back after that.

Donna Waite's picture
Submitted by Donna Waite on
I am glad to hear that other people had weird experiences at Gay City. When I first met my husband in the late 80s, we spent every weekend hiking or exploring some wooded corner of Connecticut, both being avid nature lovers. We never experienced anything weird, any where else, but at Gay City. We always hiked during the Spring and Fall when the park had few visitors. One day we were almost at the end of our hike when I suddenly felt my hair standup under my hat, like some kind of static. Puzzled, I looked up to see if a branch touched my hat, seeing nothing that would cause this weird sensation on my head, I suddenly felt very frightened but before I could even tell my husband, he excitedly said, Did you feel that?!? His eyes wide with amazement, while I just took off into a run in acknowledgement, I was so afraid! He remained at the spot, calling me to come back to see his compass spinning around. I returned for a moment, saw the compass spinning, then pleaded and dragged my husband away from the spot and back to the car. We never went back. That Christmas we got a hiking book from my parents as a gift which told about the history of the park. It didn't surprise us that some horrible stuff must have happened there. We never went back after that.

Submitted by Rebecca on
Hi Anita, I am the sister of the girl who drowned at Gay City in 1970. I've been doing research to piece together the events of that day. You are the first person I've found outside of my family who was there and witnessed what happened. Would you be willing to talk to me about it? My email is [email protected] I'd really appreciate it, even if you remember very little, it would be helpful. Thank you, Rebecca