During New Hartford’s first century (1720-1820), the main occupation for most of its citizens was farming. It is likely that some commercial agriculture, as defined as produce grown explicitly for a market beyond the town, took place. However, most of it was probably in the form of rough grazing for livestock: cattle, sheep, and hogs. Timber would have been another source of income, but probably was largely played out by the Revolution.
From 1820, or earlier, New Hartford began to develop a manufacturing base. Dams were built on both the Farmington and Nepaug rivers. The variety of manufacturing was impressive: ranging from textiles to specialty tools. The building of tenement or factory housing in Pine Meadow and the North Village during the mid/late 1800’s testified to the increasing population whose livelihoods depended on industry. The growth of an ‘urban’ population encouraged the growth of other supporting businesses: from livery stable, to coal delivery, to taverns and hotels. In addition, of course, the town supported a number of specialized tradesman: blacksmiths, coopers, cartwrights, and others. Farming also continued; but not quite as extensively. Some of the smaller, subsistence/general farms vanished. By the late 1800’s, farms that could claim to focus on only one major item were more common. While these farms likely grew almost everything that was needed on the farm, they focused on a few primary products for export: dairy, tobacco, and apples were the main exports. These farmers also made use of the tradesmen in the village centers.
By 1920 New Hartford looked quite different. A gradual decline, almost unnoticeable, had begun after the Civil War. The opportunities for farming in the midwest combined with lower labor costs for industry in the south and New Hartford, like many New England towns, slowly lost population. By World War II, many of the big factories had left the region; the days of producing bulk items had passed. Farming, however, had fared worse. It had collapsed completely. The only ‘growth’ industry was in tourism. New Hartford was an ideal retreat from the urban centers: fishing, boating, and hiking all appealed.
The late twentieth century saw another shift. The town’s position as a ‘bedroom’ community: where the majority of the population worked and played elsewhere was established. Specialization continues to occur. The remaining manufacturers produce a few, high value items, often for the aerospace industry; but employ only a handful of people. Relatively little commercial/trade exists, but what does exist tends to be focused and keenly aware of a competitive environment. Gone are the general stores, in their place are stores catering towards fly fishermen, artists, and specialty retailers. Farming has also become more focused: vineyards, orchards, Christmas trees, and a few general farms that concentrate on CSA’s and the local food movement. Most of the land has been given over to houses and is not farmed or managed for timber. Yet, the land’s indirect value is incredibly high. Skiers, hikers, fishermen, all benefit from several major areas: among them Ski Sundown, West Hill Lake, and Nepaug state forest. New Hartford falls within several vital watersheds: safeguarding not only the rivers that are popular with fishermen and boaters, but also a major water supply for the greater Hartford region. Water is a product of New Hartford.
What will be next?