The NHHS archives have many interesting pictures in them. This photograph of a cream delivery wagon was taken in Nepaug around 1900. The church in the background gives us the location, but it is startling to think of Route 202 as such a small, narrow road. The horses look like they were probably a fast team, which would make sense for a dairy delivery.
It is a reminder of a different world, with door to door delivery of a highly perishable agricultural product, one which probably came from a local farm.
As a gardener, descriptions of old gardens always catch my eye:
Here in Sarah Jones’ book is the description of a house and garden in the West Hill area built by one John Blakesly in 1842:
“Mr. Blakesly was an industrious, honest man, and although he had but an acre and a half of land, he always found enough to do upon it, and his place, for neatness and high culture, could not be excelled in Litchfield County. It was by many considered a treat to look his little place over, so nicely was everything kept. He raised celery, garden vegetables and some tobacco, and from his own exclusive production made very good cigars.”
Tobacco was a cash crop and luxury item for many farmers in the area. One of the largest tobacco farms in the region was the Case Farm in Barkhamsted Hollow. Commercial production of tobacco was a primary focus on several other farms on the Farmington River above Satan’s Kingdom. It was an ideal export crop, for it stored well, was easily transported, and even small amounts could always be sold in Hartford for cash. Most people relied on barter for goods and services, but cash was always welcome. And, as the above passage suggests, many farmers grew tobacco for their own personal use.
The Town Hill Church, now a Memorial Park with organized around the church foundation and bell, had only four ministers.
Reverend Jonathan Marsh: 1739-1795
Reverend Edward D. Griffin: 1795-1801
Reverend Amasa Jerome: 1802-1813
Reverend Cyrus Yale: 1814-1854
The first church building was raised in the 1740’s; it was replaced in 1829 with another church, also in a classic New England Congregational Style. Following the decision to establish churches in Nepaug and the North Village, (both of which had larger populations due to the manufacturing interests in those villages) the church was disbanded. The farming population had also moved away for the most part, much of the pasturage of Town Hill was being used for charcoal or pasturage. The building stood vacant from 1854, aside from the rare memorial or anniversary service, until 1929. It earned notoriety in 1911, when the steeple toppled: it flipped backwards and came through the roof, intact. The church then became known as the “Church that Stabbed Itself.” In 1929, the church was taken down. In the 1930’s the land was turned into a Memorial Park, owned by the town.
Tobacco was a major crop in the Central Connecticut Valley, and to a lesser extent in the Housatonic Valley. Although in early years it was general purpose, it was later renowned in the cigar trade. Because tobacco was a very high value crop, it was natural for farmers elsewhere to at least attempt to grow it. In New Hartford, tobacco was not a common crop, because the heavy soil of the hills was not favourable. It was, however, grown in the Farmington River Valley in Pine Meadow and just above Satan’s Kingdom. These areas had the type of soil, and the slightly milder climate, which was required for tobacco. It was not, however, a large enough crop to require the construction of the purpose built drying barns which once were the landmarks of the Connecticut River Valley.
In 1873, one of the main growers in town was Mr. Gilman. His farm was located in the area where the Pine Meadow school now stands. His primary business was dairy farming, and with 30 cows he was a major dairy product supplier for the neighbouring factory houses. However, he also grew hay, corn, and tobacco on a 30 acre meadow. This meadow was, in fact, the floodplain of the Farmington River. Today, this meadow’s tendency to flood has been reduced due to the construction of a dyke following the 1955 Flood. But at the time, the nature of this flood-plain meant that the field was rich soil. Consequently, the quality of Gilman’s tobacco was considered to rival the Connecticut River valley product and commanded the highest prices of all the growers in the town.
“Raising teasels was the means of bringing wealth to the owners of the farm. Fifty years ago (c.1880), Mr. Watson happening to meet the late Elisha Marsh in Winsted, declared that he believed a man could still make money raising teasels as no machine then had been invented that would do the work so well. Few people know living remember how the sloping fields north of the state highway in the long hill section used to look when the lavender teasel plants were in full bloom.”
These fields were located in section between Ramstein Road and Cotton Hill. This area, now trees was, in the 1800’s, open fields. Once dried, the plants were used at the Bakerville fulling mill belonged to Daniel Lyman. It may have been located at the Cedar Lane bridge over the Nepaug. Another fulling mill that used the teasel raised in New Hartford was located in the Poverty Hollow section of Harwinton.
Teasel had been used for millenia as a way to clean and align the nap on wool once it had been fulled. This process created a finer, smoother cloth. However, in the 1800’s steel carding brushes came into use. In addition to greater uniformity, the metal did not wear out as quickly. Teasel, once a common plant, faded into obscurity. However, Mr. Watson was not entirely wrong. Some handweavers, especially those working with very fine wools, still use teasel, because the plant will break before the wool if there is a hard object caught in the fibers.
We hope you will join us Friday, September 14th, at our wine-tasting fundraiser at Ski Sundown from 6-9pm.
There is no known record of any pre-twentieth century wineries in New Hartford. However, it was probably a well established home business and wine may well have been sold or used as barter. Wild grapes grow well in the hills as do domestic grapes. New Hartford did have several large cider mills in the nineteenth century, which would have made hard cider. Wines made from grapes, pears (perry), berries, dandelions, and other plants were all commonly made by farmers in New England. Even in urban areas, home brewing flourished; especially in the Italian immigrant neighbourhoods where the art of raising grapes in tiny backyards was perfected. Wines and other spirits were as, or more, common than beer.
Today there are two commercial vineyards in New Hartford, Connecticut, both established in the last few decades.
For an excellent introduction to the history of wine making throughout Connecticut, see the Connecticut Historical Society’s article: http://connecticuthistory.org/raise-a-glass-to-winemaking-in-connecticut/
A few weeks ago I discussed the New Hartford Barn Survey, done as part of the Connecticut Trust for Historic Preservation’s statewide survey. In general most of the barns in New Hartford fall into the general-purpose barn category. However, the barn type that people generally think of is the dairy barn; perhaps because these were often some of the largest buildings in a town, eclipsed only by the big mills. Generally they were built on two levels: a large open-span hay loft and a stanchion/tie stall floor below for the cows. In addition to the main barn, the complex also contained a small milk house, often the only stone or cinder-block building on the property, along with silos and semi-open sheds used for housing the calves. Early dairy barns usually would take advantage of natural topography: by combining a ramp with a natural slope access to the hay loft by wagon was possible. By the early twentieth century developments in hay-elevators meant that hay lofts no longer had to be reached by wagon or by manually pitching the hay, giving more flexibility in site planning.
Dairy barns milking forty to a hundred head were common across Connecticut, but their heyday was relatively short: the late 1800’s to post WWII. Prior to the 1870’s large dairy farms were unheard of, except for a few cheese-making farms. This was due to the simple fact that without more efficient transportation and refrigeration there was simply no market for milk produced in large quantities at any distance from a city center. However, the combination of three factors: the growth of industrial/urban centers; improved transportation links, namely the railroad; and technological advances in the storage and shipping of milk; all meant that dairy farming became a major business in the late nineteenth century.
New Hartford still has several large dairy barns visible from the public road: the Ramstein farm at the corner of Ramstein Rd and Rte. 202; the Weingart’s farm on Gillette Rd; the big barn at the Jerram winery which was built in 1906; the Barden’s farm (although that was rebuilt after a fire in the 1960’s); the old white barn on Burdick Road; and the old South View farm on Niles Road (an example of the smaller type). There are also others in town, but these are easily viewed from the road. While several of these barns are vacant if not abandoned, they, for the time, still stand as proud monuments to a part of New Hartford’s agricultural history.