The term ‘town center’ is one of those terms with assumed knowledge. We all ‘know’ where the town center is. Except, of course, when we actually try to define it….
New Hartford’s first town center was the geographic center. This is an unchanging point, in terms of geography, but it has little social weight. New Hartford’s geographic town center, supposedly marked by a stone cairn, is deep in a particularly dense and swampy section of forests up on Yellow Mountain, which is the southern nose and flank of Town Hill.
The first social town center was Town Hill. This point, several thousand yards north of Yellow Mountain, claimed the title between the 1720’s and the 1820’s. Here the first cemetery, the meeting house, the first Congregational Church, a school, parade ground, and a number of houses created a classic rural New England town center.
In the 1820’s the rise of industry created two new villages: Nepaug and North Village. Nepaug, just below Yellow Mountain, claimed the title of ‘town center’ at that point. On several maps from this time period it is labelled as the town center.
However, North Village’s industrial base, which was supported by the water power created by the Greenwoods Dam, outstripped Nepaug in size. In the 1830’s, ahead of Nepaug, it built a church which replaced Town Hill church. At this time, the location of a Congregational Church was a statement of the location’s central importance.
Between the 1830’s and the 1870’s, Nepaug and North Village split the pre-eminent function that usually determines the location of a town center: the location of a town meeting. New Hartford did not have a Town Hall in this period, instead meetings were held on an alternating schedule between the two centers.
In the 1870’s the greater size of North Village won out: the Town Hall was built in it. The maps from this time on no longer label Nepaug as the center. For most people, the North Village is the town center.