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.”
“Marble’s pharmacy this week received a request for a postcard view of Satan’s Kingdom. The inquirer, motoring from New York City to upstate New York, said he “just wanted to proved to a friend that there is such a place as Satan’s Kingdom.” The proprietor of the drug store did not have the postcard view desired, but he assured the visitor that the name was correct, and that New Hartford had been called Paradise because it lay between Canaan and Satan’s Kingdom.”
(From a short newspaper article in 1931)
‘Home: A Novel’ was written by George Agnew Chamberlain and published by Century Company in 1914. The book is centered on three houses on the top of ‘Red Hill’. A summer guest in New Hartford for many years, Chamberlain modeled the houses (and borrowed a few people, though not the story line) on three houses on the top of Town Hill in New Hartford.
“For such a one Red Hill held locked a message, and the key to the lock was the message itself: “Turn your back on the paralleled rivers and railroads and plunge into the byways that lead to the eternal hills and you will find the world that was and still is.”
Let such a traveler but follow a lane that leads up through willow and elderberry, sassafras, laurel, wild cherry and twining clematis; a lane aligned with slender wood-maples, hickory and mountain-ash and flanked where it gains the open with scattered juniper and oak, and he will come out at last on the scenes of a country’s childhood.
At right angles to the lane, a broad way, cutting the length of the hill, and losing itself in a dip at each end toward the valleys and the new world. The broad way is shaded by one of two trees, the domed maple or the stately elm. At the summit of its rise stands an old church whose green shutters blend with caressing foliage of primeval trees…..
….Some of these clustered homes live the year round at full swing but the life of some is cut down in winter to a minimum only to spring up afresh in the summer like the new stalk from a treasured bulb. Of such was the little kingdom of Red Hill.”
The three houses on Town Hill have since been joined by many more; the elms are long gone; and there are no more summer homes on the hill. However, the elderberry and sassafras, the cherry, the oak all remain. And at this time of year, as one drives up the hill, the clematis are white veils drifting down through the trees. Timeless? no. Yet, there is an age there, an age that all old New England town centers have, though the road flashes past across the top of the eternal hills.
Gypsies are not usually associated with Connecticut history. However, an article in the Winsted Citizen from 1947 reported that in the late 1800’s gypsies did visit the region on a routine basis. There was a large horse market in Hartford that was operated by the gypsy ‘King’. During the winter, the gypsies went south. During the summer, there was apparently an encampment on the upper reaches of the Greenwoods Pond on the line between Barkhamsted and New Hartford. Here the men would trade horses while the women would peddle lace, fabric, baskets, and jewelry. The gypsies travelled in covered and open wagons, pulled by horses and usually with several spare horses in tow.
“The gypsy men wandered far afield, sold, and traded horses. The women cooked over open fires, sang and laughed as they maintained a kind of family life with the big covered wagons as homes. Pleasant afternoons certain of the women would emerge. Dressed in bright colors, full flowing skirts with contrasting blouses, many necklaces and bracelets, big ear rings, black shining hair parted in the middle, their bright bold eyes flashed warily as they kept a look-out for possible customers. They carried baskets and laces over their arms and went door to door selling their wares and soliciting business in fortune telling.”
(because the author has no desire to plow her drive to slither down the hill through the snow to where the files are)
The hotel in New Hartford’s village center has long been an institution. Not least because for a while it was painted pink. However, long before that interlude it was well known. Sarah Jones wrote a lengthy section on it in her 1883 book. She ended with a brief sketch:
“A notable feature of the institution, which has descended from one landlord to another, is the ‘gong’, which was used in the palmy days of stage coaches to Collinsville and Winsted, to arouse sleeping passengers and drivers for an early start, and which still wakes discordant echoes up and down the street whenever a smoking meal awaits the hotel boarder. Old-fashioned, not even picturesque, not a tree in front, nor a vine clambering over its porch, yet more than any other building a distinctive feature of the town, New Hartford clings to what has been for nearly a century The Hotel.”
I don’t, unfortunately, know the fate of the gong. Aside from the intriguing detail of describing the meal as ‘smoking’… one might note, from the standpoint of architectural/cultural history, the bias of the time. Located in an industrial village with architecture that sort of wandered into Queen Anne/Stick/Italianate, the hotel is indeed not what the late 1800’s fashion would have considered picturesque. Colonial Revival was just taking off at the time, so a ‘picturesque’ hotel (which would properly be called an ‘inn’) would be in a Federal, if not colonial style, either white or brick, and shaded by a few elderly elms or maples. Tastes change.
Sketches of the People and Places of New Hartford, Past and Present, by Sarah Lucia Jones, written in the late 1800’s and published by the historical society is an invaluable resource. Here is a short excerpt explaining the decision to build the Town Hall:
“After the old town house on the hill (Town Hill) was removed in 1848, there was no substitute built for many years. The voters of the town met for their annual meetings, one half of the time in the basement of the church at Nepaug, and the other half at North Village, sometimes at the school house, sometimes at Academy Hall. Neither was there any court room or suitable ‘lock-up’ for criminals, but, as a make shift, the old carriage shop formerly used by Wilson B. Spring served the latter purpose for some years. The building gradually fell into decay, and became unfit to hold an able-bodied convict. The need of a convenient building for town purposes was keenly felt and from time to time the subject was canvassed, but it was difficult to fix upon a site, a plan, and a measure of outlay which would please everybody.”
The Town Hall would eventually be built. It opened in 1876 and is still in use; though a major addition was made in the 1990’s, doubling its size.