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Maxfield Brothers’ Garage

Maxfield Brothers Garage

Maxfield Brothers Garage

L to R: 1) Unknown. 2) Joseph Morin 3) Gene Roubillard 4) Henry Knight 5) Herb Maxfield 6) Monty Maxfield

Maxfield was one of the town’s earliest garages. They specialized in Ford, what else, and Studebaker.  They also carried parts for bicycles. In addition to repairs, one could purchase gasoline, kerosene, various supplies, and (figuring prominently in the photographs) Coco-Cola. The garage was active in the teens and twenties, and possibly later. It was known as the brick garage and occupied the same space as the current Torrington Savings Bank in the center of New Hartford.

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Gas Plants In New Hartford

At the turn of the century, the North Village in New Hartford was lit by gas lights.  These lights were powered, between the 1890’s and 1907, by gas produced at the Greenwoods Company’s gas plant.  This plant had been installed to light the mills, which had gone to ten hour days in the late 1870’s and needed more artificial light.  Another gas plant lit the cotton mills of D.B. Smith in Pine Meadow.

There were also at least two private plants generating gas in the North Village.  Private gas plants were not unheard of; they tended to be built for large houses that were not close to industrial centers.

In 1907, the Greenwoods gas plant exploded due to faulty maintenance procedures.  Two men were killed and a third severely burned.  The gas plant was not rebuilt, since the mills were idle at that time.  It is not know how the North Village was lit, or if it was, between 1907 and 1913 when electricity arrived.  If anyone knows the location of the private gas plants, we would like to know.

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Puddletown

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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