Category Archives: Industry

Industrial Sites

The Connecticut Trust for Historic Preservation is currently running a survey designed to locate and inventory all industrial sites in Connecticut.  The primary goal of the survey is to identify industrial sites for reuse.  I doubt that there is anyone in Connecticut who is not familiar with the classic Ct town: acre, upon acre, of gorgeous red brick mill buildings (often with 14 or 16 foot ceilings and oak or chestnut flooring) standing vacant in the center of nearly every major town.  These buildings are elegant monuments; if the financial, regulatory, and environmental hurdles can be overcome they are also incredible spaces for housing, offices, and light industry.

Ironically, the 1936 and 1955 Floods are often seen as having done New Hartford a favor.  Most of our brick factory building were demolished following either fire or the Floods; we haven’t been burdened with these great vacant spaces.  On the other hand we don’t have the business opportunities they could represent either.

In any event, two late 1800 factory remnants still survive in town, both much shrunken from their height.  The old Greenwoods factory, the remaining third of which is now occupied by Hurley Manufacturing, Ovation Guitars, and several small businesses; and the small remnant of the old Chapin factory in Pine Meadow, now occupied by several small businesses, including the Collinsville bakery.

Early 1800’s industry is almost as well represented: the Blacksmith shop and the Gristmill, both in Bakerville date from this period.

Modern industry can be found at the Industrial park (as well as Greenwoods and Chapin) and is generally of the small, high value, specialty type.

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Gas Plants In New Hartford

At the turn of the century, the North Village in New Hartford was lit by gas lights.  These lights were powered, between the 1890’s and 1907, by gas produced at the Greenwoods Company’s gas plant.  This plant had been installed to light the mills, which had gone to ten hour days in the late 1870’s and needed more artificial light.  Another gas plant lit the cotton mills of D.B. Smith in Pine Meadow.

There were also at least two private plants generating gas in the North Village.  Private gas plants were not unheard of; they tended to be built for large houses that were not close to industrial centers.

In 1907, the Greenwoods gas plant exploded due to faulty maintenance procedures.  Two men were killed and a third severely burned.  The gas plant was not rebuilt, since the mills were idle at that time.  It is not know how the North Village was lit, or if it was, between 1907 and 1913 when electricity arrived.  If anyone knows the location of the private gas plants, we would like to know.

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Excerpt from ‘Sketches’ by Sarah L. Jones

Sarah Lucia Jones description of New Hartford, written in 1883, paid particular attention to the North Village.  Here we find a description of the New Hartford Hotel, the landmark building that stands at the intersection of Route 44 and Church/Bridge/Center Streets.

“the most respectable citizens of the town were among Mr. Cowles’ (the hotel owner) customers for liquor, there being no drugstores in those days, when the decanters on the sideboards needed replenishing….Among the customers who drank at the bar we find occasional mention of Dr. Thomas Brinsmade, Phineas Merrill, Co. Israel Jones, and Peletiah (sic) Allyn, who, when chilled with a long ride, found cheer and comfort in such stomach warmers as a ‘mug of flip’, or a more moderate ‘nip’ of the same, a glass of sing, brandy, or punch, which Mr. Cowles seems to have understood the art of mixing to perfection. The charges for board and lodging seem to vary in accordance with the quality of the guest, and probably also the quality of refreshment. ‘Breakfast’ is charged in one instance as 1 s. 3 d., while another boarder gets ‘3 meals victuals’ for 1 s. 6 d.; ‘to supper, flip, and bate’, ‘to lodging and bitters’, to bate cattle and horses,’ ‘to trouble in weighing hogs’ are among the registered charges.”

What exactly ‘bate’ means is unclear; however, given its usual usage (‘to restrain’) and the second mention of it; my best guess is that it was a charge for stabling cattle or horses, probably overnight.  The hotel was on the main drove road, so cattle and hogs would have been passing by frequently.  Hotels (or taverns and inns) would have had stock yards as a matter of course, much as modern hotels have parking lots.  Presumably, the hotel had a decently large set of scales as well and, for a charge, these could be used for weighing hogs and probably other goods as well.

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What does HWW stand for?

The initials MDC in northwest Connecticut are well known and well understood: the Metropolitan District Commission, an opaque title for the corporation that supplies Hartford, and much of the upper central Connecticut valley, with its water.  This water, it should be noted, is some of the finest in the nation in terms of quality and cost.  A large portion of this water comes from the complex of reservoirs built on the Farmington and Nepaug watersheds.  The state’s biggest reservoir is Barkhamsted, which was built by the MDC.

However, if one visits the Nepaug reservoir, one will not see the MDC initials on the original stone for the pumping controls and other work.  Rather, it is HWW: Hartford Water Works.  It was this company which actually built the Nepaug and Compensating Reservoirs, both of which are partially within New Hartford.  HWW was created in 1855 to serve Hartford; in 1930 the MDC was created, the following year, HWW was absorbed into the MDC.

Today, although the MDC serves a much larger region; this earlier association is still strong in people’s minds.  It was, and remains, a matter of ‘water for Hartford’.

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The first gas station in Bakersville

The current Village Auto Body Shop, on Route 202, at the corner with Maple (or Stub) Hollow Road, is the location of the first gas station in Bakerville.  A later station was located where the ‘Bakersville Mall’ is today.  Today, there is no gas station in Bakerville; the nearest ones are at the top of the hill in Torrington (the old ‘Apple House’ station) and in the North Village of New Hartford.

The first station was a Texaco station, erected in 1920.  Route 202 was not paved until 1924.  The station had two pumps and a small shelter for the attendant; and was later expanded into a small grocery store.

The gas station is long gone, well over thirty years past, possibly in the early 1970’s.  However, it is said that a portion of the concrete slab in the auto shop belonged to the station.

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Who owns Greenwoods Pond?

We don’t tend to think much about who owns river bottoms, ponds, or lakes.  The body of law, riparian, surrounding these properties is massive, and the legal issues continue to be contentious.  However, for the general public they tend to fall into that somewhat grey area of being neither explicitly public nor private.  The Farmington River’s West Branch above the center of New Hartford definitely falls into this area.  This large floodplain is accessed by hikers, fishermen, hunters, and (of course) the innumerable canoers, kayakers, and boaters.

What appears to be a floodplain is actually an artificial lake bottom.  The Greenwoods pond was created during the 1800’s (the first dam was around 1816, by 1880 it was a thirty plus foot dam.) It failed in 1936 destroying a large portion of the industrial center.  The dam was never rebuilt.

The water rights to the dam and the pond, including the immediate watershed, totaled some 250 acres; the rights also included the rights to any power generated by the dam, which included the ability to control the flow of the river.  These rights had originally belonged to the Greenwoods Company, a large textile firm.  Following their departure from the area, the rights were passed through several companies until they ended up being owned by Landers, Frary, & Clark.

In the 1930’s the Metropolitan District Commission, the water company in charge of Hartford’s water supply, was in the process of purchasing as much land as was possible in the upper Farmington River watershed.  Most of their purchases were focused on the east branch and the Nepaug River, where the three main reservoirs were constructed, a fourth (Hogback) was later built on the west branch.  However, following the dam failure they were able to purchase what had been the Greenwoods Pond, as LFC had no interest in rebuilding.  Today the MDC continues to own the property.

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Otis Reservoir

New Hartford, being a river town, even if it is not a navigable, must pay attention to what is above and below it.  One of the more important things above it; though essentially forgotten today, is the Otis Reservoir.  This reservoir controls the headwaters of the West Branch of the Farmington River and is located in Massachusetts, in Otis and Beckett. Otis was built in the 1880’s to regulate the water supply for the Greenwoods Company in New Hartford and was owned by them, giving them almost complete control of the water rights from Otis down to New Hartford, some 20 miles distant.  It covers about 1200 acres, with a watershed of 11 square miles.  Because of its distance, water took almost 48 hours to travel from the dam to the mills; consequently, Greenwoods was an early adopter of both the telegraph and the telephone, since this allowed them to communicate with the dam’s gate-keepers.  If more water was needed, or less, the flow needed to be changed two days in advance. The goal was to keep a constant steady supply of water, even in the drier summer months.  West Hill Pond, Highland (or Long Lake), and several other minor ponds were also used to regulate the water flow in the West Branch.  Greenwoods pond itself, in New Hartford, was not a regulating water body; its dam was solely a power dam, creating enough of a fall to generate power.

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