Puddletown

Heading east on Rte. 44 from Pine Meadow one quickly enters what appears, aside from one or two older houses, to be an area dominated by mid-late twentieth century development, from the old Waring Factory (now Collinsville Antiques), to the condominiums of River Run, to the Foothills Plaza. One might be forgiven for assuming that this section of town, pinched as it is between the ledges of Satan’s Kingdom and the Farmington River, had little historic activity prior to the widening of Rte. 44. After all, while the railroads ran on the southwest side of the river, the other side has a wider floodplain was the earliest alignment of the road to Albany, the Farmington River Turnpike, now an almost forgotten dirt road.  However, from the early 1800’s the southwest side became preferred.  This was due partially to the growth of Pine Meadow, which encouraged the southwards extension of the town.  In the early 1800’s, the Wilcox family built a tavern at what would become Puddletown, creating a nucleus for further growth.
Then for a brief period between 1847 and 1863, this section of town was a center for industrial activity, known as the Furnace District or Puddletown.  It boasted an iron foundry, iron-works, charcoal pits, some tenement houses, and the Wilcox tavern.  Its name came from the method of iron production: puddling.  This method created fairly good quality bar iron, low in sulfur and other impurities.   An 1852 map shows the iron works located on the bend in the river where the River Run condominiums and the Water Treatment Plant are now located.
In the mid 1800’s, New Hartford was the ideal location for this sort of industry.  It was a dynamic center of development: Elias Howe, a Massachusetts native, had just invented his sewing machine in New Hartford while working as a mechanic for the developing textile mills, the Chapin company was building high quality carpenter’s tools, and other manufacturing firms were also being established.  Iron ore was readily available from deposits in the Berkshires and the finished product was in high demand.  Puddletown’s location outside of the rest of town took advantage of a flat, undeveloped area, ideal for industrial activity, then as now.

However, when a fire destroyed Puddletown’s iron foundry in 1863, the factory was never rebuilt.  The remnant foundations of the factory remained until the floods of 1936 and 1955, at which time the buildings were almost entirely erased from physical memory.   The road’s alignment remained.  An 1874 map shows almost a dozen houses, a school, and the Wilcox tavern just south of where the foundry was.  However, the map is clear: the iron foundry has vanished.  Only the name remains: Puddletown Road, and this is preserved to this day: appearing on some GIS mapping of the area.
Puddletown was not rebuilt because it was an expensive, labor intensive process of iron refining.  By the 1860’s this method could not compete with the modern methods, in particular the Bessemer and Aston Processes, which not only produced a form of mild steel, but could be scaled up to modern industrial quantities.  A puddling furnace could only produce about 900lbs at a time, the Bessemer Process handled 15 tons.   Additionally, readily accessible iron was mostly played out in the Berkshires.  Improved transportation also meant that shipping bar iron in to supply industry was more than competitive.  In any case, Puddletown vanished from New Hartford, remaining only as a particularly obscure, if vivid, piece of history.

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “Puddletown

  1. Traces of the canal that powered the bellows via the furnace’s water wheel still exist. Just to the right of the water treatment plant, as you face the river, is a slight depression leading to the river. Before the flood of 1955, this depression extended southward behind the Lyn Gas Company and formed a pond. We called it the Frog Pond and used to catch tadpoles in it and sometimes swim in the warm, bacteria-infested slime.

  2. Jack,
    Thanks for the comment. That is an excellent bit of information to have for our files. I’ll have to go poke around on the riverbank down there.
    Anne

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