What’s in a Name?

In historical study, place names are invaluable tools that can illuminate waves of settlement, previous languages, or the political, economic and cultural priorities of a time period. New Hartford is hardly immune from the importance of names.
For example, on early maps a place is called Mast Swamp, becomes Greenwoods Pond, becomes nameless. This is the stretch of the Farmington River above town running up almost to the local dump in Barkhamsted. Today, the river winds through a broad, flat, marshy floodplain. There is essentially no human activity in the area, aside from those passing through on the river. But the area’s former names, and indeed its namelessness, reflect Connecticut history.
It was first called Mast Swamp because the broad valley of the river contained numerous pine trees ideally suited for building ship timbers and masts. The need for quality timber spurred British exploration and control of North America in the 1700’s, as the British Navy grew in its arms and trade race against France. Marine grade timber was also a valuable resource for the colonists who relied on coastal vessels for contact with the other colonies along the eastern seaboard, in addition to the growth of their own, independent trans-Atlantic trade networks. The name Mast Swamp not only gives clues to the ecological history of the area, but also that the area was valued primarily for its resource potential when the name was given. It was not Pine Swamp, but Mast Swamp.
It then became Greenwoods Pond. I am uncertain as to whether the company takes the name from the area or whether the company’s name is given to the area. Greenwoods was a major textile company, established in New Hartford. It gave its name to the pond (or lake) that it created. When its factories were built in the 1800’s, water power was the industrial power source. In order to power the textile mill, Greenwoods Company built a dam just above the town center and turned Mast Swamp into Greenwoods Pond. The name, therefore, is closely linked to Connecticut’s history as a manufacturing powerhouse. During which time, every river that could be harnessed for power was, and the great red brick mills in the valleys became as ubiquitous as the small red barns of the older, hilltop farms.
But, in 1901 Greenwoods left, moving south searching for cheaper labour and cheaper, more efficient coal power. The dam, and the name, remained until the flood in 1936. When the dam failed, the reason for the name vanished.
Today, it is seen as a part of the Farmington River, the current emphasis being placed on the river itself, as a both a recreational and economic resource.

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