Category Archives: Names

What’s in a Name?

In historical study, place names are invaluable tools that can illuminate waves of settlement, previous languages, or the political, economic and cultural priorities of a time period. New Hartford is hardly immune from the importance of names.
For example, on early maps a place is called Mast Swamp, becomes Greenwoods Pond, becomes nameless. This is the stretch of the Farmington River above town running up almost to the local dump in Barkhamsted. Today, the river winds through a broad, flat, marshy floodplain. There is essentially no human activity in the area, aside from those passing through on the river. But the area’s former names, and indeed its namelessness, reflect Connecticut history.
It was first called Mast Swamp because the broad valley of the river contained numerous pine trees ideally suited for building ship timbers and masts. The need for quality timber spurred British exploration and control of North America in the 1700’s, as the British Navy grew in its arms and trade race against France. Marine grade timber was also a valuable resource for the colonists who relied on coastal vessels for contact with the other colonies along the eastern seaboard, in addition to the growth of their own, independent trans-Atlantic trade networks. The name Mast Swamp not only gives clues to the ecological history of the area, but also that the area was valued primarily for its resource potential when the name was given. It was not Pine Swamp, but Mast Swamp.
It then became Greenwoods Pond. I am uncertain as to whether the company takes the name from the area or whether the company’s name is given to the area. Greenwoods was a major textile company, established in New Hartford. It gave its name to the pond (or lake) that it created. When its factories were built in the 1800’s, water power was the industrial power source. In order to power the textile mill, Greenwoods Company built a dam just above the town center and turned Mast Swamp into Greenwoods Pond. The name, therefore, is closely linked to Connecticut’s history as a manufacturing powerhouse. During which time, every river that could be harnessed for power was, and the great red brick mills in the valleys became as ubiquitous as the small red barns of the older, hilltop farms.
But, in 1901 Greenwoods left, moving south searching for cheaper labour and cheaper, more efficient coal power. The dam, and the name, remained until the flood in 1936. When the dam failed, the reason for the name vanished.
Today, it is seen as a part of the Farmington River, the current emphasis being placed on the river itself, as a both a recreational and economic resource.

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The Villages of New Hartford

Like all New England towns, New Hartford is actually composed of several villages. Originally these were distinct areas of settlement, surrounded by outlying pasture and woodland regions. Today, extensive development has blurred the distinct nature of these villages. A village’s location was determined by a number of different factors: convenient road intersections or river crossings, geographically and politically important locations, prime agricultural land, or access to water power. Not surprisingly, all of these factors had some role in the location of New Hartford’s five villages. All three had their schools, stores, churches and graveyards.

The first village was that of Town Hill. Its center was located at the corner of Rte. 219 and Hoppen Road, now the Memorial Bell Park. This location was probably selected for two reasons: it is about a quarter mile from the geographic center of town and it is a broad, flat hilltop reasonably well suited for farming. However, it was not on main highway and with poorer soils than those of the river valleys, along with no water-power, Town Hill was essentially abandoned as a village by the mid-1800’s.

The second village was that of Nepaug, originally called the town center. Located on the Nepaug River on what is now Rte. 202, but was then the Hartford-Litchfield Turnpike, this village had access to superior farmland in the Nepaug Valley and was on a main road, unlike Town Hill.

Bakerville and Pine Meadow were established shortly thereafter in the mid to late 1700’s. Like Nepaug they had the advantage of riparian agricultural land, easy access to water-power, and transportation links. All three river villages were centers of light industry, as well as trade and postal centers throughout the nineteenth century. Stagecoaches stopped daily in all three.

The last village was the North center. This is now what we consider the center of town. Although the Prospect and Holcomb Hill areas, which were part of the North Village, were farming areas, this center truly began to grow, along with Pine Meadow, in the 1820’s when the Farmington River was dammed and diverted in order to generate large amounts of power. The advent of the railway gave a further boost to Pine Meadow and North Villages, as the mainline of the eventual Central New England Railway and a line of New Haven and Hartford Railway ran through the villages.

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What is in a name?

New Hartford is, of course, named after Hartford; probably for the very simple reason that the first settlers of the new township in 1733 were all from Hartford families. Yet, there is always a tendency to consider other relationships. Hartford sits on the Connecticut River just below the last point of navigation, Windsor Locks; it is, therefore, a sort of gateway into the upper reaches of the Connecticut. A point of transition. New Hartford occupies another point of transition.
As one travels west from Hartford on Route 44, also known as the Albany Turnpike, the Old North Road, or the Great North Road, the first twenty miles are relatively flat (leaving aside Avon Mountain!). But as you cross into New Hartford you hit the first ridge of hills that reach clost to or above a thousand feet. Looking at a map you will see that Ratlum, Satan’s Kingdom, Jones Mountain, Yellow Mountain form the first line of the Berkshires; from here on the road will become a winding road between steadily rising hills. It no longer seems so clear with today’s modern roads, cars and multitude of other state highways; but in the 1700’s New Hartford was a gateway on the main road, just as Hartford was a gateway on the main river.

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