We don’t tend to associate communal barn raising with New Hartford, not ‘rural’ enough…or something. Yet, such events did happe, as evidenced by this description of a barn raising which occurred in North End village, the most industrial of the town’s sections (as described by Sarah Jones). The barn in question was raised circa 1820, on Main Street, well north of the Town Hall on the river side. It is long gone.
“One day while this kiln-dry was being tended by Timothy Wadsworth, a brother of Tertius, it took fire, and its contents, as well as the barn was entirely destroyed. The neighbors from far and near turned out, drew timber and lumber, and rebuilt the barn. In one week from the fire, another frame was up, occupying he ground upon which the former barn stood.
The raising of this barn was mare a great occasion…..A good supper was spread in the log cabin, which was heartily enjoyed by the raisers, when the frame was up and the ridge pole made fast to the rafters. This was the only form of insurance in ‘Old Times’. Neighbor helped neighbor in a time of need, and a community was a closely allied brotherhood.”
From a 1947 newspaper clipping comes this report of activities on West Hill Lake (or Pond) in the early twentieth century:
“Cottage dances, too, were often held, the orchestral instruments consisting of mandolin, harmonica, paper and combs, jews harps, and a ‘real tin kettle’ drum. Later on a small portable ‘pianner’ that could be taken by hand or boat from cottage to cottage was procured and the acme of perfection was reached in all things musical. Water pageants also were frequently held with gayly (sic) decorated boats moving silently and gracefully over the lake waters, with the improvised orchestra and double quartet of ‘mixed’ voices serenading various shore groups.”
The catch, of course, was that many of the people in these theatricals and musical performances were involved, some of them professionally, in the performing arts; so, despite the dubious orchestral instruments, the quality of both the music and the singing was probably quite good. Lit by bonfires and kerosene lamps in the cabins, these nights have a story-book sense, almost too strong to be real.
For at least a few years during World War One, New Hartford had an English Literature Club. Although the name would suggest that they concentrated on literature; the programs indicate the members interests were far more wide ranging.
“Australia: The Original Inhabitants”
“Knowing One’s Community”
“Electricity: Talking by Wire and Wireless”
Robert Louis Stevenson: Life and Works”
“Reading: the Suppression of Important News from “Changing America”
“Evolution of Home-Making and Home-Keeping”
and so forth, every week between October and April.
If one looks hard enough, one usually can find any number of remarkable individuals in a town’s history; the entirely unsung people who are the backbone which keeps the town running.
One such individual in Bakersville around the turn of the last century was Edgar Clarke. Here is a short biography of him taken from ‘Where Walk the Souls of Heroes’ written by Neal E. Yates:
“Edgar was eight years old in 1867 when scarlet fever deprived him of the ability to walk for the rest of his life. He got about by a two-wheeled seat and a small sled….
A remarkable man, ‘Eddie’ Clarke was a watchmaker and school teacher, taught organ and violin, and conducted a 16-piece orchestra in 1896. He was the librarian, registrar of voters, and state representative from the 2nd District. He also served as Bakersville’s postmaster; the post office was in his home from 1893 to 1906 and hosted Bakersville’s first pay telephone. …He died in 1934 at age 77.”
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.
Subdivisions are a well entrenched part of American life, whatever one’s opinions of them are.
The first planned subdivision in New Hartford occurred in 1947. It is still in existence, largely unchanged, and is now called Litchfield Lane off of Town Hill. It was originally called Town Hill Acres.
The newspaper description of this subdivision is clearly reveals the attitudes of the time. The newspaper comments that they are negotiating with the town over road maintenance for the new roads being created, an entirely new problem for that era. They also note that all of the houses will be attached to the public utilities, again something we take for granted. The houses were also purported to be ‘interesting innovations in the Town Hill landscape”: they were ranch houses, the first of their kind in the town. The houses were to be neither excessive ‘edifices’ nor ’embarrassingly’ small. They were designed to appeal to the middle class.
We do not tend to think of suburbia as noteworthy history more often seeing its faults than its successes, at best we are ambivalent about it. Yet, it is clear that not only is it a major trend in American culture, dominating the late 20th century; but it was also regarded as both innovative and aspirational by the people of the time.
New Hartford has a number of cemeteries. There is the Town Hill Cemetery: non-denominational, this is the first cemetery in town, established in 1738. Originally open to all residents of New Hartford, it is still technically owned by the citizens. Then there is the Old Bakersville Burying Ground, the Old Nepaug Cemetery, the North Village Cemetery, and the Pine Meadow Cemetery (all now non-denominational). These are all established around 1800 as the villages from which they take their names become established. In the mid 1800’s, Immaculate Conception’s Cemetery, Catholic in denomination, is established at the same time as the Catholic church in town. It owes its presence to the influx of French Canadian, Irish, and Italian immigrants, who moved to the town at the same as the factories took off. Lastly, Pine Grove and the New Nepaug Cemetery are established close to the turn of the last century. The former is an expansion of Pine Meadow (though on the other side of the river), the latter an expansion of the Old Nepaug cemetery.