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’.
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.
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.
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.
‘Buggy Whip industries’ are a shorthand for industries that no longer exist. Industries relating to horses are, of course, far less common than they were in 1900. Of the over forty companies that made carriage whips in the late 1800’s, only one still exists: Westfield Whip, in Westfield, Massachusetts http://westfieldwhip.com/index.html which still operates out of the orginal brick factory, covered in ivy, and endlessly fascinating to the would-be historian driving by. It looks abandoned, and yet isn’t. Still, the industry, as an industry, is very dead.
This digression to Massachusetts was brought about by finding a business card for a dealer in New Hartford. One E.R. Carter was a dealer in: Cutter Whip Sockets, along with Carriage, Tire, Whiffletree, and Shaft bolts; all of which were advertised as being made out of Norway iron, which had a reputation for high quality. Whip sockets have to be even more arcane an item than the whips themselves, and yet clearly there was enough of a demand for Mr. Carter to print up business cards advertising these wares. He also sold wagons, carriages, sleighs, surreys, and other horse or ox drawn equipment. Carter might be compared to an independent car dealer, with plenty of after-factory or custom parts available for purchase.
Carter, who was active in town in the 1900-1915 era was a wealthy man, in addition to his shop he owned six houses in town and some vacant land. His property was primarily in the North Village, High Street, and Steele Road areas. His family was also associated with Barkhamsted, quite a bit of space in his office memorandum book is taken up by the purchase and exchange of cemetery plots in the Pleasant Valley cemetery in Barkhamsted. The New Hartford Carters may be connected to the Carter family who built the Soldier’s Monument now located in the Center Hill Cemetery in Barkhamsted, but that is not presently known.
Filed under Industry, Names
Like many towns in the Berkshires, gas station or (at least) garages developed quickly, despite the apparent rural nature of the town, during the early part of the twentieth century. The first cars in New Hartford probably arrived around 1908, based on photographic evidence, with various summer visitors. By the mid teens, the center of New Hartford boasted a full service garage: Maxfield’s. Judging by the advertisements, it had tires, gas, greases, and by 1918 also sold Ford cars.
However, a picture of it from 1916 shows the transition in process…..look at the left hand side of the photograph. The steeple behind is not a church, it is Stanclift’s Livery stable, and that is a horse and cart under the porch connected to the garage.
“Raising teasels was the means of bringing wealth to the owners of the farm. Fifty years ago (c.1880), Mr. Watson happening to meet the late Elisha Marsh in Winsted, declared that he believed a man could still make money raising teasels as no machine then had been invented that would do the work so well. Few people know living remember how the sloping fields north of the state highway in the long hill section used to look when the lavender teasel plants were in full bloom.”
These fields were located in section between Ramstein Road and Cotton Hill. This area, now trees was, in the 1800’s, open fields. Once dried, the plants were used at the Bakerville fulling mill belonged to Daniel Lyman. It may have been located at the Cedar Lane bridge over the Nepaug. Another fulling mill that used the teasel raised in New Hartford was located in the Poverty Hollow section of Harwinton.
Teasel had been used for millenia as a way to clean and align the nap on wool once it had been fulled. This process created a finer, smoother cloth. However, in the 1800’s steel carding brushes came into use. In addition to greater uniformity, the metal did not wear out as quickly. Teasel, once a common plant, faded into obscurity. However, Mr. Watson was not entirely wrong. Some handweavers, especially those working with very fine wools, still use teasel, because the plant will break before the wool if there is a hard object caught in the fibers.
In recent years, asbestos has become something of a bogeyman; when it gets in the news it is due to health concerns or the cost of removing the material. The use of asbestos, and related minerals, dates back at least 4,000 years. However, it was only in the mid 1800’s that it became an industrial material. Asbestos was, and continues to be, valued for its fireproof nature and tensile strength. These properties made it ideal for use in insulation, especially for electrical wires, construction, and for use in applications that needed strong, flexible fiber reinforcement such as some glues. The Appalachian mountain chain has a number of asbestos deposits, the largest are in Quebec. Commercial mining of the material in the United States begin in the 1850s, on Staten Island, New York.
New Hartford briefly had an asbestos mine, as well. This mine was located in Nepaug, probably in what is now the state forest, and opened in 1902. It was briefly profitable, with new machinery being installed in 1904. However, the deposit must not have been large for the mine vanishes from the record shortly afterwards. The Nepaug area seems to have been rich in serpentinite geological formations, of which asbestos is a member; for soapstone, also a serpentinite stone, was quarried in the same area by Native Americans for centuries. In fact soapstone tools and artifacts from the area has been found in Long Island and other areas some distance from New Hartford.
West Hill Lake was originally ringed with laurel, the steep rocky slopes ideal for vast thickets of it. In the early 1800’s, on Loon Island, an island on the west side named after long-vanished birds and itself now mostly flooded by the raised height of the lake, Alpheus Spencer took advantage of this resource and New Hartford’s proximity to the multitude of clock factories in the Naugatuck Valley. He operated a small shop there on the island, making pins for clocks out of laurel wood. It is probable that he also made other items, such as pipes or spoons. Afterwards, the building was used as a hunting lodge. In 1864 the Greenwood’s Company dammed the lake, flooding Loon Island.
Why Mountain Laurel? Laurel is a brittle wood, so it is ill suited for anything that requires flexible wood or bending loads. But it is closely grained and incredibly heavy (about 63lbs to the cubic foot, for comparison Sugar or Rock maple, usually considered one of the heaviest woods, is only 42 lbs). This makes it ideal for use in small tools that are prone to wear. It is rarely over four inches in diameter, so it can only be small pieces. Other common uses were for spoons (an alternate name is Spoonwood) and for pipes, made from the root burls.
Iron, while not a renewable resource, is a recyclable one, especially if the strength of the iron made is not a major issue. During the mid to late 1800’s recycling iron made a great deal of sense, not because the raw materials were scarce, but because the creation of new iron remained expensive. Nepaug had a factory for a number of decades that specialized in this industry.
From a very early period several small shops in Nepaug turned wood, using the ample water power supply of the Nepaug river. Additionally, there were several blacksmiths. A logical extension of these two industries was the building of furniture. However, specialization was always a competitive edge, and in this case it was in building castors for furniture. Established long before the Civil War the factory changed hands a number of times; however, for most of its existence it made furniture castors, bed frames, and, early in its history, door locks. A small brass foundry in the complex made brass castors. However, most of its business was in making iron ones. Scrap iron brought in from the surrounding region was mixed with a small amount of new pig iron. This mixture was then turned into the various parts. The final touches were a large japaning and lacquer process to give the iron fixtures a look similar to the brass ones.
Although the furniture shop never approached the size of the larger mills elsewhere in town, it was very respectable. At one point the business sold for $30,000; while its payroll averaged between 800 to 1200 dollars a month throughout the year. This influx of cash must have been very welcome to the small village of Nepaug. Additionally, it bought not only scrap iron from the area, but also its fuel. Its furnaces were fired with wood. The business came to an end in 1875 when the foundry burned. The remaining material was then bought by D.B. Smith, the large factory in Pine Meadow, and closed completely.