These photographs were taken sometime shortly before the 1955 Flood. It shows the Bridge Street bridge, rebuilt after the 1936 flood, that connected Bridge and Cottage Street. This alignment was changed completely after the 1955 Flood, with the creation of Route 219.
What is particularly interesting in these photographs is the building behind the bridge: the old Village Firehouse. Very few photographs exist of this structure, which also went down the river. In the second photograph old Greenwoods factory complex is visible. At the time of the picture, it was being used by the Underwood company, which made everything from gun fittings to vacuum cleaners.
Today the site of the old Firehouse is part of the town garage parking lot. The new firehouse is slightly back from the river, roughly where the substation (visible on the right in the first picture) was. Only a few traces of the bridge remain: the abutments on the Bridge Street side are buried in the lawn/river bank, on the Cottage Street side a few traces of rebar and stone work can be found.
Ice fishing in New Hartford is popular on West Hill Pond in January and February, a century ago ice fishing also occurred on the Farmington and Nepaug Rivers as well as on Greenwoods Pond, which was the dammed section of the Farmington above the town. The rivers were more favorable to ice fishing a century ago because of the number of low power dams that slowed the flow rate considerably; although the rivers still freeze up today, the ice is thinner and rougher.
Tunking required shallow, clear water and abundant slow moving fish. A large hole was cut in the ice and the spiked bar lowered to rest on the bottom of the river. The fish were driven up river by beaters pounding on the ice. Assuming they were swimming slowly enough, as the fish crossed the bar, the people would rapidly raise the bar, spearing the fish. It was not, apparently, a very successful method. It was commonly attempted on shallow river waters where the current slowed the movement of the fish. It is likely that it was used on the Nepaug River and sections of the Farmington below Pine Meadow.
Typing (tipping) is the classic form of ice fishing using bait and a bobber dropped through a hole, with a flag that would be raised if the fish took the hook. It was a very successful form of fishing at West Hill Pond and Greenwoods Pond.
West Hill Pond was always a good fishing spot and still is today. Greenwoods Pond, of course, has returned to its state as a river and still has excellent fishing, but of a different type: trout rather than lake fish. Today, the shallows of the Farmington at Pine Meadow are also ideal for fish and are a favorite spot for trout, but a century ago this was not the case. Pine Meadow was a fishing spot where the art of fishing was happily practiced, but generally without fish involved. It is likely that the combination of the village’s sewers, the outflow from the Greenwoods turbines, and the weir for the Chapin factory made the river inhospitable for fish in the early twentieth century. Today this section of the Farmington boasts some excellent fishing and extremely clean water, some of the best in Connecticut, despite having ever more people on and using the river.
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.