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.
Before 1936, the people of New Hartford used Greenwood’s Pond, the impoundment of the Farmington River above the North Village, as their local swimming hole and as an ideal location for yacht races. Following the failure of the dam, boats obviously could no longer use the area, though people still recall swimming above the remains of the dam abutments during their lunch hours, as the dam was right next to the Greenwoods Factory buildings. It is probable that swimming in New Hartford would have been confined to West Hill Lake and the rivers, had it not been for the construction of the reservoirs. The MDC’s purchase of substantial amounts of land in New Hartford and Barkhamsted, nearly a quarter of the latter town and about a sixth of New Hartford, caused local outrage. One of the issues was that neither town gained any benefits from the reservoirs. Though today, the open space preserved by them is a clear benefit; at the time, the issue of open space was unheard of.
An agreement was reached that the two towns could use the Compensating Reservoir for recreation. This was possible because the Compensating is not a drinking water supply, instead it maintains the appropriate stream flow downstream of the Nepaug and Barkhamsted Reservoirs. Stanclift Cove, therefore, was created as a park open only to residents of those two towns. The MDC would later open another area as a recreation site for the general public; but Stanclift Cove remains an essentially private park.
It was named after the Stanclift family, who had farmed in that area for many years. They had been prominent in the affairs of both towns, serving in local offices and running a livery and freight service.
Although the green in Pine Meadow has been open space for well over a century; the actual park is much more recent. Chapin Park was established in July 1946 as a memorial park. It was gifted to the Pine Meadow Fire Company by the Chapin family, who had owned the land for several generations. The family had been long time volunteers for, and benefactors of, the fire company. This was, admittedly, both publicly generous and privately beneficial. The Chapin family’s factories, houses, and other interests had been protected by the company. However, by 1946, the family was no longer involved in the town and had sold most of their property; the park was one of the last pieces left. The park was a memorial not only for World War II but also for an illustrious, but closed, chapter in New Hartford history. Today, it is a beloved piece of the town’s landscape.
In studying prominent, and less so!, individuals from New Hartford’s history, a certain trend quickly appears: New Hartford as a retreat, especially in the summer.
There are several reasons for this. One is strictly social. Many of these people knew each other prior to their introduction to New Hartford. People tend, naturally, to congregate with their friends. So, for example: Cyrus Yale, the reverend of the Town Hill Church, had a brother: Richard Yale. Richard knew, through business, Morris Smith. Morris was the husband of Julie Palmer Smith, author. That friendship led the Smiths to New Hartford; where they bought a house on Town Hill expressly for use as a summer retreat. From there, friendships with other people, including Efrem Zimbalist Sr. and Bernice Gilkyson, helped in those families’ decision to buy property in the area. This sort of social relationship was repeated and reinforced through various networks, not all overlapping, and helped to create that cultural community, the snowball effect.
However, another reason was sheer practicality. New Hartford had traditionally been a major stop on the Hartford-Albany stage route. Originally, when the roads were at their most primitive, it would have been a long day’s travel. However, by the late 1800’s the road improvements had cut the travel time down to a few hours by horse or by stage, perhaps half a day; freight traffic would have continued to be relatively slow, however, as it was dependent on oxen. The advent of the trains in New Hartford in the 1870’s radically changed that. In the late 1800’s New York City, Boston, and Hartford were all readily accessible by train. It took perhaps five hours by the express routes to get from the center of Manhattan to New Hartford. Suddenly, visiting the ‘country’ for the weekend, while working in New York became eminently reasonable.
Filed under community, Roads
New Hartford did not get a formal ambulance service until the 1960’s; however, its fire department was formed much earlier, although surprisingly late for a factory town.
In 1885, a major fire burned a large portion of the town center, destroying 12 buildings and damaging a number of others. It was only put out with the help of Winsted’s fire department, which had raced to the scene via train and horse. (see the print edition of the New Hartford Independent this coming Saturday, to be cross-posted here later) It was clear that New Hartford needed a fire department and immediate discussion ensued; a somewhat unnecessary editorial comment from the Hartford Courant stated that, “New Hartford had had a severe lesson, as it was predicted it must, before its citizens would waken up to the need of a fire engine and an organized fire department.”
Nonetheless, it was not until 1895 that the department was organized under the direction of William T. Platt, a blacksmith who owned a shop on High Street. Thirty-one charter members formed the first volunteer department. At the time the department owned little equipment. Its first engine was not even horse-drawn, rather it was ‘Old Handrail’ a small hose-wagon. Two years later, however, they were able to purchase a horse-drawn hook and ladder engine with a thousand feet of hose. Having relatively little equipment was counterbalanced in the town center by the high quality water system that fed the town, the system could deliver water at 135 lbs of pressure.
It is always enjoyable to poke about amongst the historical records of any location and New Hartford is no exception. Alongside the familiar, immediately recognized events and organizations are the little remembered ones, that nonetheless were important to someone at some time. One of the more superficially opaque folders is labelled: ‘500 Club’. What exactly this organization was, however, can be answered quite quickly, thanks to a combination of the folder’s contents and the internet. Between 1910 and 1930, the 500 club flourished. Composed entirely of women from New Hartford and the surrounding area, this was a social group whose ostensible occupation was the playing of the card game, 500. This game, not dissimilar to Bridge, was very popular during this period. It had been developed in the United States shortly before 1900, predating both main styles of Bridge by almost two decades. Card games were incredibly popular in the early twentieth century; games such as Euchre, Bridge, and 500 also involved a team or partner element, making them ideally suited for social gathering as well as competitive play. Though various versions of Bridge have surpassed 500 in the United States, it remains popular in Australia, New Zealand, and Quebec.
A multi-page verse compilation, on the 20th anniversary of the club in 1930, demonstrates, however, that the club’s activities went far beyond simply playing cards. The group routinely went on trips throughout southern New England (including a very early automobile trip), was an important social activity for many of the women, and was a potentially major source of fundraising: during World War I, they were able to raise well over one hundred dollars for the Home Guard, an amount that is quite impressive, considering that the average yearly salary in the U.S. was around eight hundred dollars. For more on the Home Guard see: https://newhartfordcthistory.org/2012/08/22/april-13-1917/
The group was never very large, perhaps two dozen at its greatest extent. The Historical Society’s record of it ends with its 1930 publication, but it may well have quietly continued on for quite some time. (we would, naturally, love to learn more, so if you know of anything contact us!) It is an excellent example of one of the many social organizations that have flourished in the town, with their combination of socializing, recreation, and civic involvement.
It is always somewhat surprising to realize that many institutions, which are apparently part of the community bedrock, are relatively recent in their creation. One of the youngest, and yet most surprising, are the local emergency services. New Hartford’s Volunteer Ambulance Association is a fairly young institution, established within the living memory of many town residents and volunteers.
In the 1960’s New Hartford was served by John (Jack) Shea’s private ambulance. The owner of the funeral home in the center of town, he was well situated to respond to many incidents (this funeral home still exists: Montano-Shea). However, as New Hartford grew it became apparent that a larger service was needed. State regulations had also changed in the late 1960’s, requiring different training and certification. Consequently, Mr. Shea donated his ambulance, for the legal sum of one dollar, to the New Hartford Volunteer Ambulance Association. This organization was formed in 1968 as a volunteer organization with twenty-five members. It’s members received several months of training at the Winsted Hospital before they began service. The ambulance was run out of Jack Hoffman’s Hardware store (Ace Hardware). At the time, the only equipment was the aging Cadillac, which more closely resembled a station wagon than a present-day ambulance. The primary job of the service was to get the patient to the hospital as quickly as possible, as many of the now standard medical practices and medicines were barely in their infancy, if they even existed.
Until 1984 the ambulance was dispatched out of Jack Hoffman’s store in the center of town (this store still exists as Ace Hardware). The actual dispatching was routed through the Winsted police office: they would receive a call, then they would call Jack, Jack would find and call the volunteer on duty and send them out. At night, it was routed directly from the police to the volunteers. Jack, and his employees, were on duty for well over a decade, seven days a week.
In 1984-85 three major changes occurred: the 9-1-1 service finally covered the entire region, the town took over the job of dispatching, and pagers were purchased for the volunteers. Although 9-1-1 had been introduced in the United States in 1968, it was not until well into the 1980’s that it became standard across the country. The introduction of 9-1-1 meant that a person no longer had to call the fire, ambulance, or police services directly; an immense improvement in the accessibility of the emergency services and, consequently, their response time. By 1984, the needs of the town had grown large enough that handling them in the hardware store was no longer viable; and so dispatching was shifted to the town hall. Finally, until 1985, all dispatches had to go by telephone. This meant that volunteers on duty were essentially tied to their phones, which was increasingly difficult. The purchase of a pager system in 1985 was an important one, for it meant that while the volunteers on call had to be within the region, they no longer had to be near their telephone. Today, with the proliferation of mobile phones this no longer seems to be so ground-breaking, but it was valuable for the maintenance of the association.
Today, New Hartford’s ambulance continues to serve the towns of New Hartford, Barkhamsted, and the surrounding region. It remains a predominantly volunteer force. For more information see: http://www.nhvaamb.org