Tag Archives: history

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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An old invoice

2012.1.48 E.H.Stone invoice


The invoice includes: 2 boxes, 2 bundles of spokes, one coffin box (so presumably no body included…), a turkey, buckwheat, catsup?, and two pigs.  One may note that the two pigs cost almost as much as the rest of the loads put together.  Somehow, this does not surprise me, but does suggest that the pigs were alive and unhappy!

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First Subdivision

Subdivisions are a well entrenched part of American life, whatever one’s opinions of them are.

The first planned subdivision in New Hartford occurred in 1947.  It is still in existence, largely unchanged, and is now called Litchfield Lane off of Town Hill.  It was originally called Town Hill Acres.

The newspaper description of this subdivision is clearly reveals the attitudes of the time.  The newspaper comments that they are negotiating with the town over road maintenance for the new roads being created, an entirely new problem for that era.  They also note that all of the houses will be attached to the public utilities, again something we take for granted.  The houses were also purported to be ‘interesting innovations in the Town Hill landscape”: they were ranch houses, the first of their kind in the town.   The houses were to be neither excessive ‘edifices’ nor ’embarrassingly’ small.  They were designed to appeal to the middle class.

We do not tend to think of suburbia as noteworthy history more often seeing its faults than its successes, at best we are ambivalent about it.  Yet, it is clear that not only is it a major trend in American culture, dominating the late 20th century; but it was also regarded as both innovative and aspirational by the people of the time.

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Stephen Kelsy (Kelsey)

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

The first settler’s 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 ‘an unbroken wilderness infested by wild beasts and Indians.’  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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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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The New Hartford Chorus

Entertainment in the era prior to radio, television, and the internet was locally created, generally through a variety of social organizations. The New Hartford Chorus, with at one time over one hundred members, was one of these social organizations. It flourished during the years of World War I under the direction of the Jones family. Other notable families involved included: Stanclift, Driggs, and Chapin. As with any chorus, soloists were brought in from other areas; a 1918 performance included two soloists from New York City and one from Boston, though the soprano was from New Hartford. In addition they collaborated with musical groups from Hartford, Norfolk, and Winchester. They often performed in North Congregational Church or the adjacent Assembly Hall.
In 1917, when patriotic feelings were at a fever pitch, it is interesting to note that the chorus ordered a hundred songbooks through the Connecticut State Musical Director, a position that was part of the Connecticut State Council of Defense. Included in the pamphlet were: the Star Spangled Banner, Speed Our Republic, Battle Hymn of the Republic, Marseillaise, America the Beautiful, and America (my country! ’tis of thee). The pamphlet did not, however, include the musical notation, only the words, which may suggest that it was either assumed that people knew the tunes, but not all of the verses, or that they would have sufficient rehearsal time to memorize the piece by ear.

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Heading east on Rte. 44 from Pine Meadow one quickly enters what appears, aside from one or two older houses, to be an area dominated by mid-late twentieth century development, from the old Waring Factory (now Collinsville Antiques), to the condominiums of River Run, to the Foothills Plaza. One might be forgiven for assuming that this section of town, pinched as it is between the ledges of Satan’s Kingdom and the Farmington River, had little historic activity prior to the widening of Rte. 44. After all, while the railroads ran on the southwest side of the river, the other side has a wider floodplain was the earliest alignment of the road to Albany, the Farmington River Turnpike, now an almost forgotten dirt road.  However, from the early 1800’s the southwest side became preferred.  This was due partially to the growth of Pine Meadow, which encouraged the southwards extension of the town.  In the early 1800’s, the Wilcox family built a tavern at what would become Puddletown, creating a nucleus for further growth.
Then for a brief period between 1847 and 1863, this section of town was a center for industrial activity, known as the Furnace District or Puddletown.  It boasted an iron foundry, iron-works, charcoal pits, some tenement houses, and the Wilcox tavern.  Its name came from the method of iron production: puddling.  This method created fairly good quality bar iron, low in sulfur and other impurities.   An 1852 map shows the iron works located on the bend in the river where the River Run condominiums and the Water Treatment Plant are now located.
In the mid 1800’s, New Hartford was the ideal location for this sort of industry.  It was a dynamic center of development: Elias Howe, a Massachusetts native, had just invented his sewing machine in New Hartford while working as a mechanic for the developing textile mills, the Chapin company was building high quality carpenter’s tools, and other manufacturing firms were also being established.  Iron ore was readily available from deposits in the Berkshires and the finished product was in high demand.  Puddletown’s location outside of the rest of town took advantage of a flat, undeveloped area, ideal for industrial activity, then as now.

However, when a fire destroyed Puddletown’s iron foundry in 1863, the factory was never rebuilt.  The remnant foundations of the factory remained until the floods of 1936 and 1955, at which time the buildings were almost entirely erased from physical memory.   The road’s alignment remained.  An 1874 map shows almost a dozen houses, a school, and the Wilcox tavern just south of where the foundry was.  However, the map is clear: the iron foundry has vanished.  Only the name remains: Puddletown Road, and this is preserved to this day: appearing on some GIS mapping of the area.
Puddletown was not rebuilt because it was an expensive, labor intensive process of iron refining.  By the 1860’s this method could not compete with the modern methods, in particular the Bessemer and Aston Processes, which not only produced a form of mild steel, but could be scaled up to modern industrial quantities.  A puddling furnace could only produce about 900lbs at a time, the Bessemer Process handled 15 tons.   Additionally, readily accessible iron was mostly played out in the Berkshires.  Improved transportation also meant that shipping bar iron in to supply industry was more than competitive.  In any case, Puddletown vanished from New Hartford, remaining only as a particularly obscure, if vivid, piece of history.


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