NAUGATUCK — Borough author Len Yannielli’s most recent book is a tale of two Gunntowns.
The book, “Hurry Down Gunntown,” ties together two important chapters in the history of Gunntown Passive Park and Nature Preserve, the 40-acre open space parcel off of Gunntown Road.
The first narrative follows events that took place more than 200 years ago during the American Revolution when a gang of robbers took the young Chauncey Judd hostage. The events during the five-day kidnapping earned Gunntown a spot on the Connecticut Freedom Trail.
The second touches on a more recent chapter in Gunntown’s history when residents of Naugatuck worked to ensure a piece of land off of Gunntown Road bought by the borough remained a nature preserve. They ultimately succeeded in creating what is now known as the Gunntown Passive Park and Nature Preserve.
“Why are these disparate narratives in one book? Because distilled to their essence, three critical points emerge. The land, civil strife and fights for justice,” Yannielli, 70, wrote in the book’s introduction.
Yannielli said he wanted to write this book, in part, to show that the history of the land had an impact on saving it for the future.
“The first story is about the rebel trackers who set out and ultimately saved the stolen boy. That story helped saved the land where those crucial events played out,” Yannielli said.
While Yannielli was only able to read about Gunntown’s early history, he played a large role in its recent chapter.
Yannielli became involved with Gunntown in 1995, shortly after the borough purchased the land.
“I blame everything on my wife. She told me they were trying to plow and pave this beautiful part of Naugatuck. … We saw the value of this land and in preserving it,” Yannielli said.
Yannielli knew immediately that he wanted to help preserve the land, which included wooded areas and wetlands.
“We realized right away people wanted this conserved and preserved as passive open space,” Yannielli said.
The key to saving the land came when Yannielli’s wife, Christine, found a book from 1874 detailing the story of Chauncey Judd. The more Yannielli looked into the story, the more historically significant he found it.
The story goes that in the spring of 1780 a gang of thieves loyal to the British crown robbed a house in Bethany and then abducted Judd, who lived in what is now the borough, and was then called Judd’s Meadow. The group reached a bend in Long Meadow Brook, near the Gunn family barn, when Capt. Daniel Graham concluded Judd had become a burden and decided to shoot him, tie stones to his body and throw him into the brook. Henry and David Wooster, young cousins who were in the Tory gang but had grown up with Judd, threw themselves in front of Graham’s gun to prevent him from firing.
As the kidnapping dragged on, other members of the community prevented Graham from killing Judd, including a slave named Tobiah, who worked at the Oxford Inn.
Yannielli said the parallels of the fight to save a young boy and the fight to save the land fit very well together.
“It has a lot to do with the role young people played in saving Chauncey Judd,” Yannielli said. “In 20th century it was young people, led by Girl Scouts, that led the charge, especially downtown, to save the land.”