Dam Tour!

SATURDAY, AUG 15, 2015

2 Tours at 10:00 and 1:00
Free, limited tour Space
Reserve your space by Aug 5th: Call Pat at 860-922-4508 for reservations and directions.
Come join the Army Corps of Engineers on a walking tour of the dam. Find out how they protect and serve our community.

Saturday 3:00 to 6:00 at the New Hartford Town Hall Senior Center
($10 suggested donation (free for members))
Come hang out and learn about the 1955 Flood that changed our community forever. Hear firsthand dramatic accounts and learn about our virtual tour. Come enjoy a beverage, snack, and a good discussion with our Town Historian. Program starts at 3:30 pm

Learn about the impact of the 1955 flood

Find out about our new virtual flood tour

537 Main St.
New Hartford, CT
Wednesdays 7-9

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We Have A Date!

Come have a glass of wine with us!

New Hartford Historical Society’s Eleventh Annual Wine Tasting

September 11th, 2015


Ski Sundown, New Hartford, CT

$25 per person at the door (or in advance)

We always have a wide selection of wines, beers, and local food from our many area restaurants.

Good food, good wine, good music, and great company!

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Did you know?

Most people in the area are familiar with the Satan’s Kingdom launch site on the Farmington River. Owned by the state, this popular site, just upstream of the Route 44 bridge in New Hartford, hosts a booming tubing industry each summer, as well as giving access to countless fishermen and hikers (it is an access point for the Tunxis Blue Blaze Trail).

The parking lot, angling off from Route 44: a long paved stretch that gently angles away from the road, with a sharp, final bend right before the river is entirely unmemorable.

Except….that parking lot? It is actually the old, original road. The road that existed before the 1955 Flood, before the death and destruction which visited that site, where once the Dewdrop Inn stood and where nearly an entire family died in the floodwaters of August, 1955.

Today’s road towers above the old alignment, a concrete statement that the devastating floods of the Upper Farmington valley would not be permitted again.  So much was changed in that summer that locations in the town are not always easily recognized.

We hope that our exhibit, coming in August, will explore these sweeping changes.

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During New Hartford’s first century (1720-1820), the main occupation for most of its citizens was farming. It is likely that some commercial agriculture, as defined as produce grown explicitly for a market beyond the town, took place. However, most of it was probably in the form of rough grazing for livestock: cattle, sheep, and hogs. Timber would have been another source of income, but probably was largely played out by the Revolution.

From 1820, or earlier, New Hartford began to develop a manufacturing base. Dams were built on both the Farmington and Nepaug rivers. The variety of manufacturing was impressive: ranging from textiles to specialty tools. The building of tenement or factory housing in Pine Meadow and the North Village during the mid/late 1800’s testified to the increasing population whose livelihoods depended on industry. The growth of an ‘urban’ population encouraged the growth of other supporting businesses: from livery stable, to coal delivery, to taverns and hotels. In addition, of course, the town supported a number of specialized tradesman: blacksmiths, coopers, cartwrights, and others. Farming also continued; but not quite as extensively. Some of the smaller, subsistence/general farms vanished. By the late 1800’s, farms that could claim to focus on only one major item were more common. While these farms likely grew almost everything that was needed on the farm, they focused on a few primary products for export: dairy, tobacco, and apples were the main exports. These farmers also made use of the tradesmen in the village centers.

By 1920 New Hartford looked quite different. A gradual decline, almost unnoticeable, had begun after the Civil War. The opportunities for farming in the midwest combined with lower labor costs for industry in the south and New Hartford, like many New England towns, slowly lost population. By World War II, many of the big factories had left the region; the days of producing bulk items had passed. Farming, however, had fared worse. It had collapsed completely. The only ‘growth’ industry was in tourism. New Hartford was an ideal retreat from the urban centers: fishing, boating, and hiking all appealed.

The late twentieth century saw another shift. The town’s position as a ‘bedroom’ community: where the majority of the population worked and played elsewhere was established. Specialization continues to occur. The remaining manufacturers produce a few, high value items, often for the aerospace industry; but employ only a handful of people. Relatively little commercial/trade exists, but what does exist tends to be focused and keenly aware of a competitive environment. Gone are the general stores, in their place are stores catering towards fly fishermen, artists, and specialty retailers. Farming has also become more focused: vineyards, orchards, Christmas trees, and a few general farms that concentrate on CSA’s and the local food movement. Most of the land has been given over to houses and is not farmed or managed for timber. Yet, the land’s indirect value is incredibly high. Skiers, hikers, fishermen, all benefit from several major areas: among them Ski Sundown, West Hill Lake, and Nepaug state forest. New Hartford falls within several vital watersheds: safeguarding not only the rivers that are popular with fishermen and boaters, but also a major water supply for the greater Hartford region. Water is a product of New Hartford.

What will be next?

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Current Affairs

Despite the long silence, we are working on things!

Currently in the works: the next issue of the newsletter will look at the Baker(s)ville Methodist Church, a continuation of our exploration of the town’s many churches. (Thank you, Tammy!)

We are also continuing to develop our presentation on the Flood of 1955, with several interviews of survivors already accomplished. (Thank you, Pat!)

Here is an excerpt from a transcribed letter talking about the Flood:

“When I got down stairs it was just beginning to be light. And I looked out the kitchen window and thought ‘what a low lying fog,’ then realized that I was looking at the river, halfway up on my back lawn. I looked out in front and Main Street was a swift river. I watched the water creep up to my back porch, meanwhile getting my mower and car out. Mr. Gates helped me put the mower on the front veranda, and I left the car just north of the dining room. I then got the contents out of the safe and moved a few other things upstairs. I went down to the cellar to try to get some things, but heard a crack and a roar and made a dash for the stairs just as the hatchway started spouting streams of muddy water. ”

What happened next?

As always, if you have any information about New Hartford, we would love to hear about it!

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Stories Wanted!

We are organizing our exhibition on the Flood of 1955, while we have a number of letters and memoirs in our archive; we would love to have more stories. Although we are looking primarily for New Hartford history, if you lived in the general area, the stories would be just as valuable. The Flood was a regional event that changed the landscape of the entire state.

If you want to write us your memories, or the memories of your family; you can email us or send us snail mail at New Hartford Historical Society, P.O. Box 41, 537 Main St, New Hartford Ct, 06057.

If you are in the area and wouldn’t mind being interviewed about the Flood, or about other history, we will be working on setting up interviews with people. We will want to videotape them for the historical society and for posterity! Please contact us.

Local history is always your stories and your contributions, we welcome them all.

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Typing and Tunking

Ice fishing in New Hartford is popular on West Hill Pond in January and February, a century ago ice fishing also occurred on the Farmington and Nepaug Rivers as well as on Greenwoods Pond, which was the dammed section of the Farmington above the town. The rivers were more favorable to ice fishing a century ago because of the number of low power dams that slowed the flow rate considerably; although the rivers still freeze up today, the ice is thinner and rougher.

Tunking required shallow, clear water and abundant slow moving fish. A large hole was cut in the ice and the spiked bar lowered to rest on the bottom of the river. The fish were driven up river by beaters pounding on the ice. Assuming they were swimming slowly enough, as the fish crossed the bar, the people would rapidly raise the bar, spearing the fish. It was not, apparently, a very successful method. It was commonly attempted on shallow river waters where the current slowed the movement of the fish. It is likely that it was used on the Nepaug River and sections of the Farmington below Pine Meadow.

Typing (tipping) is the classic form of ice fishing using bait and a bobber dropped through a hole, with a flag that would be raised if the fish took the hook. It was a very successful form of fishing at West Hill Pond and Greenwoods Pond.

West Hill Pond was always a good fishing spot and still is today. Greenwoods Pond, of course, has returned to its state as a river and still has excellent fishing, but of a different type: trout rather than lake fish. Today, the shallows of the Farmington at Pine Meadow are also ideal for fish and are a favorite spot for trout, but a century ago this was not the case. Pine Meadow was a fishing spot where the art of fishing was happily practiced, but generally without fish involved. It is likely that the combination of the village’s sewers, the outflow from the Greenwoods turbines, and the weir for the Chapin factory made the river inhospitable for fish in the early twentieth century. Today this section of the Farmington boasts some excellent fishing and extremely clean water, some of the best in Connecticut, despite having ever more people on and using the river.

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