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Belated Congratulations!

I (the anonymous author of this quondam blog ūüôā ) would like to thank Ginny and Bob Worrest, Pat and Tammy Casey, and Barbara LaMere, for all their wonderful work in making our wine tasting fundraiser a success once more! Along with all of our local sponsors, without local business where would we be?


I would also encourage people to help us with our next project: 2015 will be the 60th anniversary of the 1955 Flood which changed the face of Northwestern Connecticut permanently. If you, or a relative, have any recollections, artifacts, or anything at all relating to the Flood, we would love to know about it! We are quite happy to make copies of original documents if need be. Digital, paper, or other submissions would be much appreciated!

Thank you all for your support and interest.

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Hope to see you there!

Our one, and only, fundraiser for the year: September 12th, 2014 from 6 to 9pm at Ski Sundown. Our wine tasting is not only an excellent way to taste a wide variety of wines and beers; but it is a great dinner. We will have a number of dishes from various local restaurants: Pizza to Lobster Macaroni to Thai!
$25 at the door, hope to see you there! Come support local history!

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Looking to the Future

Historical Societies are dependent on the good faith of the citizens of the town. It has been said that history has been written by the victors.  A more correct statement might be that history is written by those who value their culture.

The New Hartford Historical Society needs more members if it is to survive. I write this looking at a number of file cabinets, shelves, and ranks of boxes: the archives of the society, encompassing well over a century of information, photos, recollections, letters, the memories of hundreds of people.  Without members, the memories will be consigned to the dark recesses of some location somewhere.  Should New Hartford be an orphan, without an history, or a proud child of its ancestors? New Hartford embodies all the great strands of New England history, whether of tragedy or joy.  Shall these events, these people, these dreams be forgotten? From Floods to Fires, the canvas of the great racing yachts, the guitars of great artists, the working man, the farmers, the authors, the actors, the thousands of lives? Shall we consign them to oblivion?

Membership in the New Hartford Historical Society:

Supporter: $25-$49

Patron: $50-$99

Greystone Circle: $100+

Please make checks payable to New Hartford Historical Society and mail NHHS, P.O. Box 41, New Hartford, CT 06057 or stop by and see us, Wednesday nights between 7 and 9pm.

Thank You!



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Snow Day

We aren’t open tonight, thanks to New England’s regular winter weather!

Contrary to the popular media of today and the breathless coverage, major storms are nothing new. Town Hill, and all the other hills, regularly got cut off in the winter, especially once the hills were open pasture.¬† The fields tended to create major drifts at any obstacle, such as a fence-line along a road.¬† One account states that the drifts reached 15 feet in height in 1873/4 and that some people didn’t leave their farmyards between January and March.

One of the best known winter storms was the Great Blizzard of March, 1888. New Hartford got 42 inches in that storm, which also had high winds.  See: http://www.courant.com/entertainment/hc-winter-storm031488,0,794681.story

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Tobacco in New Hartford

Tobacco was a major crop in the Central Connecticut Valley, and to a lesser extent in the Housatonic Valley.¬†¬† Although in early years it was general purpose, it¬†was later renowned in the cigar trade.¬†Because tobacco was a very high value crop, it was natural for farmers elsewhere to at least attempt to grow it.¬† In New Hartford, tobacco was not a common crop, because the heavy soil of the hills was not favourable.¬† It was, however, grown in the Farmington River Valley in Pine Meadow and just above Satan’s Kingdom.¬† These areas had the type of soil, and the slightly milder climate, which was required for tobacco.¬† It was not, however, a large enough crop to require the construction of the purpose built drying barns which once were the landmarks of the Connecticut River Valley.

In 1873, one of the main growers in town was Mr. Gilman.¬† His farm was located in the area where the Pine Meadow school now stands.¬†¬†His primary business was dairy farming, and¬†with 30 cows he was a major dairy product supplier for the neighbouring factory houses.¬†However, he also grew hay, corn, and tobacco on a 30 acre meadow.¬†¬† This meadow was, in fact, the floodplain of the Farmington River.¬† Today, this¬†meadow’s tendency to flood has been reduced due to the construction of a dyke following the 1955 Flood.¬† But at the time, the nature of this flood-plain meant that the field was rich soil.¬†¬†¬†Consequently, the quality of Gilman’s tobacco was considered to¬†rival the Connecticut River valley product and commanded the highest prices of all the growers in the town.

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Stephen Kelsy (Kelsey)

Cross posted to the coming Saturday’s print edition of the New Hartford Indpendent.

The first settler‚Äôs house in New Hartford was finished in November, 1733, somewhere on the top of Town Hill by Stephen Kelsy.¬†¬† By December 1733 the first proprietors had all selected, by lottery, their parcels and building began in earnest early in the spring of 1734.¬† The town would be formally incorporated 1738. ¬†In 1733, New Hartford was still seen as ‚Äėan unbroken wilderness infested by wild beasts and Indians.‚Äô¬† For perspective, in 1733 George Washington was only a year old.¬† King George II was king; the idea of the United States was not yet even a distant concept, though the Molasses Act of that year can be seen as one of the first opening movements.¬†¬†

Stephen Kelsy had been born in Hartford in 1677.  He died in New Hartford in 1745, the first person to be buried in the town’s original cemetery, the Town Hill cemetery.  His gravestone stands to this day.  He was married to Dorothy Brounson, from Wethersfield, and they had eleven children, born between 1700 and 1718.  

It is not known if Kelsy spent the winter in his new house on the hill, if he did it must have been a long winter.  However, in order for a proprietor to legally claim their lot, they had to live there personally for part of the year.  His neighbors would have been the aforementioned wild animals; the Native Americans who used the region as seasonal hunting grounds and for other resources, such as soapstone, generally wintered in long-established settlements in the more protected river valleys.

Kelsy’s house was likely built of logs and would probably have been only eight feet by eight, with the only opening being a door.  The size can be estimated because houses were required to be at least 16 feet square in order to count as a permanent dwelling, which suggests that people probably built houses that were smaller, or tried to.  The house probably had a simple, fieldstone cellar for storage.  A fieldstone fireplace and chimney would have served for both heating and cooking.  It is unlikely that he had any livestock; and he probably walked out from Hartford, along the trail that would become Route 44.

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The Forests of New Hartford Part I

Thank you to everyone who made our eighth annual wine-tasting fundraiser an amazing success!

New Hartford, like much of Connecticut, is primarily a forest landscape, no matter how fragmented.  However, despite the ancient appearance of the forest, most of this is second or third growth forest for New Hartford’s landscape has undergone several massive changes in the last three centuries.

Prior to settlement in the 1730’s, most of New Hartford would have been forest but not all.  Like the rest of southern New England the forest was broken by swamps, beaver meadows, and clearings made by Native Americans, fires, and blow downs.  Although there is no record of permanent settlement by Native Americans in New Hartford, the region was used for hunting and for mining soapstone; it is probable that some clearing and management was done, especially in the areas near the soapstone quarries, mainly in Nepaug.  Both the Farmington and Nepaug valleys would have been swamps.  Swamps and beaver ponds would have also occurred on smaller streams; actual bogs could occur even on the tops of hills.  Driving on Rte. 219 between Dings and Carpenter roads a faint idea of what these swamps would have looked like is apparent: a mix of red maple, alder, and dogwood giving way to winterberry, blueberry, marsh grass, and then open water.  The photograph above is of this swamp, taken from Maple Hollow Road.  Bottom land, where seasonal flooding occurred (for example the Farmington below Pine Meadow) would have had silver and red maple along with sycamore; in other areas of the river sandy, glacial outwash soil meant that white and red pines dominated.  The hills would have been a mixture of American chestnut, oak, birch, beech, maple, ash, and pine.  Hickory, hemlock, tulip poplars, basswood, elm, and a multitude of other trees would have also been abundant.

By the mid 1700’s, however, adventurous loggers had already mapped the area, staking the Crown’s claim to the highest quality lumber for use by the Royal Navy.  The early name for the Farmington river valley west of the center of town, Mast Swamp, dates from this period.

In the colonial era wood was a critical resource used not only for building houses, but for fences, tools, household items such as buckets, for making dyes and medicines, and for use as charcoal and fuel.  Charcoal is often overlooked, but it was required for the making of iron and gunpowder.  A productive iron furnace could use well over a thousand acres of wood each year.  Almost every type of wood was used, each suited to a specific task: oak for framing, pine for siding, cedar for fences, chestnut for flooring, birch for charcoal, and so forth.

The clearing of the forests would have begun on the hilltops, especially on Town Hill, which was the first settlement.  High quality lumber, such as the white pine of Mast Swamp, would also have been cut.  The last areas to be cleared would have been the steep, rocky hillsides such as the Ledges of Satan’s Kingdom and in the true swamps: the difficulty in access and the relatively poor quality of the lumber would have meant that there was little incentive to go there.  By 1800 it is estimated that nearly 90% of Connecticut had been cleared.

This did not mean, however, that trees were not in evidence.¬† Woodlots and hedgerows were used to ensure a continued supply of lumber.¬† Land that was unsuitable for even grazing was often turned into these woodlots.¬† Fast growing species such as ash, poplar, and birch would have been primary species in these areas.¬† Elsewhere trees were planted for other purposes.¬† Sugar maples were planted to shade roads and to provide maple syrup, the primary sweetener until the Caribbean molasses trade took over.¬† In New Hartford only a few of these maples remain.¬† Most of the giant sugar maples on Town Hill, West Hill, Holcomb Hill, and scattered elsewhere date from the early to mid 1800‚Äôs.¬† Some may have been planted even earlier.¬† These trees, so symbolic of the New England landscape, are now in decline; and each year’s storms take down a few more.¬† Other trees, especially nut trees such as hickories, chestnuts, and butternuts, were planted to mark boundaries; many old deeds record a property corner as being, ‚Äėthe big chestnut‚Äô.

After 1800, economic and demographic shifts were also reflected in the fate of the land….

To be continued.


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April 13, 1917

Taken from the New Hartford Tribune:
“There was a large crowd in attendance at the Home Guard dance given in the town hall on Monday evening of the preent week and eachn one present had the very best kind of a good time. The hall was very attractively decorated with flags, bunting and army muskets and two large portraits of President Wilson were displayed at the front of the hall. Excellent music was furnished by Nobile’s orchestra from Winsted with the dancing continuing until one o’clock Tuesday morning. Refreshments of ice cream and soda water were served in the rear of hall and a large company of spectators viewed the dancing from the balcony. Captain H.E. Newport and P.J. Johnson, who had the dance in charge, are very much pleased with the success of their efforts and the public at large certainly appreciate the work done by these two members of the Home Guard Company in arranging so skillfully the details of the occasion. The proceeds will net something over thirty dollars which will be used in procuring some needed equipement for the company. Guests attended the dance from Winsted, Collinsville, Torrington, Simsbury, Hartford, Bristol, New Haven, and other places. It is expected tht the company will give other public entertainment benefits later in the season and no doubt the public will at all times be ready with a generous and repeated patronage.”

The Connecticut Home Guard was established following the United States’ entry into World War One in 1917. By March of 1917 some 20,000 men had enlisted in the Connecticut Home Guard and by the end of that year fully half were trained, armed and otherwise equipped. The guard was established to protect cities and industries throughout the state from potential attack by German forces. They were especially strong along the coast: New London had three infantry companies and one machine gun company. They also participated in recruitment drives and in general fund-raising, especially the liberty loans.

The town hall is, of course, the same building as today. One can, standing in the senior center, easily imagine it being used for dances with spectators and music in the balcony.


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Excerpt from Sketches

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.

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Keeping Cool

Until the advent of refrigeration, ice was a major seasonal industry in New England. Although most small dairy farms supplying only the immediate needs of themselves and their neighbours could get by with spring-houses, the larger dairies that shipped milk used ice. It was also used by families for refrigeration: ice-boxes were usually built of heavy wood with a tin lining. Ice peddlers would travel around the town on a daily route, selling 10 or 15 cent blocks as needed.
The ice trade truly took off with the railroad industry. Railroads made long-distance, fast food shipments possible as well as substantially increasing the amount of weight that could be shipped. Ice was both a shipped product and a requirement for shipping other products. By packing products in a layer of ice and sawdust shipments could be made year round; however, such packing was heavy and cost-prohibitive prior to rail service*. In New Hartford ice was shipped out by rail, mainly to the New York market; but products such as beef and oysters were shipped in by rail, packed in ice.
Ice in New Hartford came from the numerous mill ponds and natural ponds throughout the town. West Hill pond produced ice of a very high quality due to the clean nature of its spring-fed water and undeveloped state. The largest ice producer, however, was Greenwoods pond. The Greenwoods company’s 15,000 cubic foot ice house, located on the north shore of the pond, was directly connected to the rail line.¬† Ice houses were purpose built structures designed to store ice through the summer, they relied on sawdust insulation and very tightly built structures to reduce¬†the loss through melting.¬† Harvesting ice began in mid-January and ran through February.¬† The ice was cut into 2’x3′ blocks and run by a series of conveyors into the ice house for storage or directly to the rail line, where it was loaded on flatbeds for shipment.¬† The cutting of the ice on the lake¬†and¬†loading the railcars¬†was all done by hand.

In 1910 the ice house burned. This was not an uncommon fate for ice houses, as odd as it may seem. Because ice was stored in sawdust, the building was actually extremely flammable, especially late in the summer when it would be nearly empty; poor ventilation would have also increased the fire danger. Shortly after the fire, health concerns shut down ice production at Greenwoods pond completely. However, ice from the Farmington River continued to be produced. John Stavnitsky, whose farm was just above Satan’s Kingdom, had a pond fed by the Farmington and obtained special dispensation to sell ice, despite the shut down of the Greenwoods pond upstream. He supplied much of the town, including some of the dairy farms. However, when refrigeration began to be used in the 1930’s ice production quickly vanished.

*Unless the area was served by canals, barges like railroads could make a profit from heavy, low value freight. I should note, ice was shipped¬†in earlier eras: the Roman Emperors are reputed to have had ice shipped in from the Alps…

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