In the last few weeks there has been a notable increase in the activity in the town focused on the water. The trout season is open, with fishermen on the Dugway wall, in the Farmington, and fishing by boat in Lake McDonough (Compensating Reservoir) and in West Hill Lake. One really knows that summer is not far, despite the weather, when one sees the buses for the Farmington River Tubing staged down by the Satan’s Kingdom bridge. That business only dates from the 1970s. But, swimming and water sports have been popular for much longer. Until 1936, the Greenwoods Pond on the Farmington was an ideal place for yacht races and other such sports: formed by the power dam, it backed up a long sheet of water nearly to Pleasant Valley in Barkhamsted. Equally popular was West Hill Pond, which in the late 1800’s had the sense of romantic wilderness which made the Hudson River and the Adirondacks beloved summer places. Only, West Hill was much easier to get to.
Here is a summer scene from the late 1800’s:
Hunting racoon at night with hounds is something that most people firmly associate with the southern United States, perhaps as far north as Tennessee. But usually New England does not come to mind.
However, northwest Connecticut had a strong tradition of running hounds on racoon trails well into the twentieth century. One of the favored areas for the coon hunters was the East Branch of the Farmington River. At the top of the valley, in Hartland, the Newgate Coon Club flourished with dozens of members and a clubhouse. The Newgate Coon Club primarily ran its hounds on the upper streams and steep hills of the East Branch in Hartland, Granby, Barkhamsted, and Granville (Mass). Today its land is part of the Barkhamsted Reservoir watershed owned by the Metropolitan District Commission.
Farther down the valley, it was Ratlum Mountain that attracted the hunters. In particular, the Warner family, especially Harry and Lena, and the neighboring Bradley family were ardent coon hunters. Their hounds ranged over the Ratlum mountain area, including the land that is now Ski Sundown; the hunters followed on foot scrambling over ledge and through laurel, their path lit by lantern and moonlight.
Today the baying of a hound is unlikely to be heard on the mountain, but the racoons remain.
Ice fishing in New Hartford is popular on West Hill Pond in January and February, a century ago ice fishing also occurred on the Farmington and Nepaug Rivers as well as on Greenwoods Pond, which was the dammed section of the Farmington above the town. The rivers were more favorable to ice fishing a century ago because of the number of low power dams that slowed the flow rate considerably; although the rivers still freeze up today, the ice is thinner and rougher.
Tunking required shallow, clear water and abundant slow moving fish. A large hole was cut in the ice and the spiked bar lowered to rest on the bottom of the river. The fish were driven up river by beaters pounding on the ice. Assuming they were swimming slowly enough, as the fish crossed the bar, the people would rapidly raise the bar, spearing the fish. It was not, apparently, a very successful method. It was commonly attempted on shallow river waters where the current slowed the movement of the fish. It is likely that it was used on the Nepaug River and sections of the Farmington below Pine Meadow.
Typing (tipping) is the classic form of ice fishing using bait and a bobber dropped through a hole, with a flag that would be raised if the fish took the hook. It was a very successful form of fishing at West Hill Pond and Greenwoods Pond.
West Hill Pond was always a good fishing spot and still is today. Greenwoods Pond, of course, has returned to its state as a river and still has excellent fishing, but of a different type: trout rather than lake fish. Today, the shallows of the Farmington at Pine Meadow are also ideal for fish and are a favorite spot for trout, but a century ago this was not the case. Pine Meadow was a fishing spot where the art of fishing was happily practiced, but generally without fish involved. It is likely that the combination of the village’s sewers, the outflow from the Greenwoods turbines, and the weir for the Chapin factory made the river inhospitable for fish in the early twentieth century. Today this section of the Farmington boasts some excellent fishing and extremely clean water, some of the best in Connecticut, despite having ever more people on and using the river.
The Greenwoods Dam, on the west branch of the Farmington, failed in 1936. But then what? The Metropolitan District Commission, then known as the Hartford Water company, purchased the water rights along with the land once inundated by Greenwoods Pond. In doing so they also inherited the question of whether the dam ought to be replaced.
But should the dam be rebuilt? While it seems self-evident today that the dam and pond had no real use beyond recreation and that was economically minor; this was not the feeling for several decades. Greenwoods Pond had been a valuable recreation spot for New Hartford and Barkhamsted even after it was no longer a vital power source. It was, arguably, as much an emotional argument as an economic one. The MDC had no need of another dam, especially if it was one that could not provide clean drinking water. Their’s was an economic argument.
The upshot was several decades of discussion between the towns and the MDC about what, if anything, should replace the dam. The eventual agreement was that the MDC would help fund several recreations areas to compensate for not rebuilding the dam. Among these areas are Brown’s Corner in New Hartford and Stanclift Cove in Barkhamsted. Today, the old Greenwoods Pond lake bed is open for hunting, fishing, and passive recreation.
A short-lived band, it almost certainly died when the Greenwoods Company left town in 1907. The article is from the New Hartford Tribune, an undated clipping in a series about local businesses.
Note the names, there is a good reason it was the Canadian band. New Hartford had, and still does have, a number of families who came down from Quebec and the Maritimes; a common migration throughout the Champlain and Berkshire regions.
“New Hartford is well favored in the musical line by the Greenwoods Canadian Brass Band. This band was organized in December, 1899, with Anthony Bedore as manager and Alfred Dechamplain was leader and musical instructor. The members of the band with their respective pieces follow: Alfred Dechamplain, cornet; Remi Pauquet, cornet; David Russett, cornet; Felix Guilbeault, piccalo; Barney Moran, alto; Arthur Christian, alto; Arthur Parren, alto; Regis Gagnon, trombone; Peter Gelina, trombone; Arthur Cote, baritone; Isaac Moran, bass; Lawrence H. Hotchkiss, snare drum; Peter Dechamplain, bass drum and symbols.”
A number of the larger houses in New Hartford were used as summer houses in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. These houses would routinely host guests for a weeks or months. They were close friends, family, and business acquaintances. New Hartford was easily reached by train from New York City, Boston, and Washington D.C.
Tennis, swimming, croquet, card games, billiards, recitals, lectures, long walks, fishing in West Hill Pond, a wide variety of pursuits.
This photograph taken in 1880 shows that people did not dress for tennis the way we do today! Only a few people can be definitely identified in this photograph: the man seated on the right is Morris Smith, a businessman with interests in Hartford and New Orleans, the woman seated next to him in the dark dress is his daughter, Carlotta Norton Smith. Beyond that it is difficult to say, though that particular event was attended by the noted actor William Gillette, so he may be in the photograph.