The Beach Family of Vine Hill Farm

Charles M. Beach House, 11 Winthrop Road

The land known as Vine Hill Farm was assembled by Charles M. Beach beginning in 1859. The head of Beach Brothers Company, a chemical and dye making company in Hartford, Beach summered in a house on South Main Street just northeast of New Britain Avenue. (The house was built in 1850 and still stands today at 11 Winthrop Road.) Beach had come into money through his father, George Beach, who was the fourth president of the Phoenix National Bank in Litchfield, CT.  Beach built one of the biggest dairy farms in Connecticut after buying out six farms on the four corners of New Britain Avenue and South Main Street.

Charles E. Beach

When all of the property had been assembled, the land became known as Vine Hill Farm. A creamery was built on the east end of the farm and a herd of high-grade cows was secured. Since Beach’s cows were a superior grade, they resulted in the production of superior grade milk, which helped to cement Vine Hill Farm’s reputation as one of the finest dairying enterprises in the region. Still, the dairy business was a side venture for Beach and his family.  His son, Charles Edward Beach, would eventually take over family business (now called “Beach & Company”) and later served as chairman of the board of the Whitlock Coil Pipe Company.

A glass bottle that once contained Vine Hill’s “Clinical Milk.”

Charles E. Beach graduated from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst in 1882 and shortly thereafter took over the family farm. In 1885, he hired Frank H. Stadtmueller to run the farm. Stadtmueller was a native of West Hartford and a recent Yale graduate. Together, Beach and Stadtmueller create the certified milk business in Connecticut. Vine Hill produced “baby’s milk,” a hygienic milk achieved by careful daily cleaning of the over 200 cows, the milking tools, the milk pails, and the barns.  Baby’s milk or “Clinical Milk” was shipped in bottles by train all over the country and led to Vine Hill’s standing as a top notch dairy farm. In 1907, Governor Simeon E. Baldwin appointed Stadtmueller the State Dairy Commissioner, a position he held until his death in 1918. He was later also named the State Agricultural Commissioner.

Vine Hill Farm workers in their milking uniforms.

In its heyday, more than 30 men worked on the farm. They had not only the cows to care for, but bottling milk, making cream and butter, a grist mill, an ice pond, and a blacksmith shop.  Many of these men boarded in what is now the Sarah Whitman Hooker House museum on the southeast corner of New Britain and Main Street, which was also part of the Vine Hill property.

An interior view of the Charles M. Beach House, 11 Winthrop Rd. Watercolor by Frances Antoinette Beach, 1878. In the collection of Historic New England.

The Beach family had established very fine living quarters in the home on South Main Street (11 Winthrop Road), as evidenced by existing watercolors done by daughter Frances Antoinette Beach in 1878, now in the collection of Historic New England. In 1895, Charles E. Beach married Catherine H. Coffing, the daughter of Charles Coffing, a prominent farmer who lived at the house that still stands at 272 S. Main Street in West Hartford. The couple had two children: Charles F. Beach in 1896 and Thomas Coffing Beach in 1899. In 1900, Charles E. Beach built an 8,000 square foot mansion on the hill on the east side of South Main St., just northeast of New Britain Ave. (today 18 Brightwood Lane). It is a shining example of Shingle style architecture.

A vintage view of the Charles E. Beach house in snow, looking at the south side of the house and the ‘porte cochere’ (a roofed area over a driveway and entrance to a house).

According to a 1910 census record, Charles E. Beach lived in the home with his two sons, sisters Mary, Frances, and Edith, one Irish servant and one German servant (his wife Catherine had died in 1900 at the age of 31, possibly from complications from the birth of their second son). During World War I, the Beach family was very involved in the war effort: Charles E. Beach headed the Red Cross and his sisters held fundraisers and Liberty Loan drives, like a French Market they hosted on the farm that drew 1,000 people.

After Charles M. Beach’s death in 1910 and the turbulent years proceeding World War I, production on the farm declined. Farm hands joined the war effort or left agricultural jobs for factory work. Bloomfield’s Woodford Farm gradually took over as the area’s leading producer of baby’s milk.

As the farm declined, sections of Vine Hill Farm were parceled off. The largest part – some 30 acres – was given to the Town of West Hartford by the Beach family to create Beachland Park in 1932.

The Beach sisters: Harriet, Frances, Edith and Mary. Harriet is the only one who married.

Charles E. Beach died in 1940, leaving the estate to his surviving two sisters: Mary and Edith. Mary died in 1946, followed by Edith in 1948, and the estate was given to Charles E. Beach’s son, Charles Frederick, who had grown up in the house. Charles F. Beach sold the property and the land was subdivided into new residential developments east of the property to meet the need for more affordable housing to accommodate factory workers who had come to the Elmwood section of West Hartford during World War II.

Today, the Charles E. Beach House at 18 Brightwood Lane has been lovingly preserved by its owners of the past 30 years. It is currently on the market! For more info, contact Deb Ortega at Debra.Ortega@Raveis.com or (860) 977-6004.

The Iceman Cometh (and Goeth)

Ice is in the news. Connecticut’s rivers are being clogged by ice jams and the U.S. Coast Guard is sending out ice cutters to take care of the mess. With all the hubbub about ice right now, I can’t help but think that 2018 would be a boon year for the ice harvesting industry, were it to still exist.
Icejames
Ice jams on the Farmington River, January 2018. Photo by Tessa O’Sullivan.
But alas, the ice harvesting industry has long gone by the wayside. Refrigeration pretty much took care of that in the 1930s. Still, you might encounter an oldtimer or two who remembers their grandmother using the old icebox. So where exactly did that ice come from?
If you lived in West Hartford at the turn of the 20th century, you didn’t have to go far. Edwin Arnold founded the Trout Brook Ice & Feed Co. on Farmington Ave. in West Hartford in 1879. A complex of company buildings were situated on the banks of Trout Brook. When the brook froze over, the ice was sawed in to blocks, stored in an ice house using an early conveyor belt, and packed in sawdust to keep cold. The company employed huge red wagons to carry the blocks of ice to homes in the area. Hundreds of workers purportedly came by trolley from Hartford to report for work during the ice harvesting season.
Trout Brook ad
Ad for The Trout Brook Ice & Feed Co., once located on Farmington Ave. in West Hartford, Connecticut.
Trout Brook Ice & Feed map
Trout Brook Ice & Feed was located on Farmington Avenue, near the intersection of what is today Trout Brook Drive. Notice in this 1909 map that Trout Brook Drive does not exist! Notice also the pond to the right, resulting from a dam in the brook.

But Trout Brook Ice & Feed didn’t just service the Greater Hartford area. With an influx of immigrants to metropolitan area, the need for ice grew. At the same time, increases in technology meant more factories setting up shop along the rivers. Many sources of natural ice in metropolitan areas became contaminated from industrial pollution or sewer runoff. And so, ice from a pristine rural community like West Hartford, Connecticut became desirable. At its peak, Trout Brook Ice & Feed would ship up to 50 carloads per day by railroad to New York City.

Trout Brook Ice & Feed image
An early conveyor belt used to transport heavy blocks of ice into the ice barns for storage.
Business was good for Trout Brook Ice & Feed. So much so that in 1912, Edwin’s son Fred Arnold purchased land along what used to be the Middle Road to Farmington to build another ice pond to keep up with demands. In addition to dredging for the new pond, the company built ice barns for storage and laid trolley racks to carry the ice to Farmington Ave. for shipment throughout the region.
girls delivering ice
Women working at an American ice factory during World War I. National Archives & Records Administration.
Now, as increases in technology allowed for new refrigeration methods in the early 20th century, there was a chance that the ice industry would die out. However, when the United States entered World War I in 1917, the American ice trade rebounded. The nation’s existing refrigeration capabilities were challenged by increased shipments of chilled food to Europe during the war. Factories upped their production of munitions, which used up ammonia and coal that might otherwise be used for refrigeration plants. In short, the ice industry was called upon to relieve the refrigeration burden and maintain adequate supplies.
Early Refrigerator
Vintage ad for the Kelvinator, “the Finest in Electric Refrigeration,” 1934.

Unfortunately for the ice business, the years following WWI resulted in the industry’s collapse. The introduction of inexpensive electric motors resulted in the modern refrigerator replacing grandma’s ice box. In 1927, Arnold sold Trout Brook Ice & Feed Co. to the Southern New England Ice Co. That company dissolved nine years later. And it wasn’t the only ice company to do so.

In the 1930s, natural ice harvests declined dramatically and ice warehouses were abandoned or converted for other uses.
In 1936, Wallace B. Goodwin (of the Goodwin Pottery family), purchased land west of Ridgewood Road with the dream of creating a development that would offer “seclusion” but not “isolation.” He had trouble finding funders for his project because no one believed that a neighborhood out in the woods would be a desirable location. Eventually, Goodwin was able to purchase land between Wood Pond and Tunxis Roads, which included the land around Wood Pond and Woodridge Lake. The first house was built in 1937 for Charles Derrick, the Hartford Electric Light Co. CEO, designed by Norris Prentice and built by Charles Robinson. Guess what? The development was a hit and by 1941, 44 houses had been sold.
wood-pond-map-19442.jpg
A ca. 1940 aerial photo of Woodridge Lake and Wood Pond, originally built by the Trout Brook Ice & Feed Co. In the late 1930s, the land around the lake and pond were developed into a residential neighborhood.  By 1944, the Woodridge Association that still exists today had been formed.

A newspaper article from the mid-1940s describes the neighborhood:

“Few Hartfordites are aware that there is a winter-summer resort just a stone’s throw from West Hartford Center – Woodridge Lake, just back of Ridgewood Road, formerly the old Arnold ice pond. Now this mile and a half long lake is a sight on Sundays – you see skaters, ice boats, toboggan slides, and 19 cabins dotting the edge of the water with smoke curling up from the fireplaces.”

The homes were originally intended as summer homes for the well-to-do of Hartford. In the past 20 years, an increasing number of residents have vastly expanded and modernized the homes for year-round use. Some residents built entirely new homes and kept the original, smaller cottage on the property. It is said that the foundations of the Trout Brook Ice & Feed ice barns can still be found on the properties.

Today, there is not a trace of the building complex that once occupied Farmington Avenue alongside Trout Brook. There is, however, a street that bears its name, though few would know that an ice company once stood at its intersection with Farmington Ave. The iceman may have come and gone before our time, but its history is still worth remembering.

Trout Brook Ice & Feed ice pick
Vestiges of the Trout Brook Ice & Feed Co. include this vintage ice pick, donated to the museum by Joan and Arnold Casinghino.

A Trolley Runs Through It

Hartford and West Hartford Horse Railway
The earliest trolley, the Hartford and West Hartford Horse Railway, laid tracks along Farmington Avenue in 1894.

The section of Farmington Avenue west of the Center but east of Mountain Road doesn’t normally get much attention. It’s a relatively quiet residential area peppered with a variety of house styles that intersects at almost every block with a side street. Even at rush hour when there’s moderate traffic, it’s hard to imagine that at trolley once ran up and down this street.

In 1894, when the first plans for the Hartford & West Hartford Horse Railroad Company were approved, Farmington Avenue was sparsely populated with about 10 houses between today’s Pleasant Street and Mountain Road.  These were mainly farm houses with large swathes of land. Up until that time, the intersection of Farmington Avenue and Main Street was where the action was, with a variety of fine houses (including the home of William H. Hall) built in today’s West Hartford Center.

In the late 19th-century, West Hartford experienced a population boom. With an ever growing influx of immigrants in Hartford, more established residents began moving west into West Hartford. Increased transportation – like the trolley – allowed businessmen to work in the Capital City but to live in the rural splendor of West Hartford.

0217g Reservoir No. 1 and Farmington Ave
Trolley tracks laid on Farmington Ave. next to the Reservoir (looking east)

The earliest form of mass transportation was the “horse railroad” begun in 1863. Steel rails were laid on major Hartford streets and train cars sat on the tracks and were pulled by horses. The Hartford & West Hartford Horse Railroad Company began laying down tracks on Farmington Avenue in West Hartford in 1894. Service began shortly thereafter, but there were still kinks to work out. The local churches were bothered by excessive noise and trolley cars jumping the tracks at different switches. And with winter’s arrival, patrons began appealing for stoves, fur robes, and better closed compartments within the cars.

Still, the introduction of the trolley along Farmington Avenue was an attraction for most. A trolley car house on the north side of Farmington Avenue, just east of Pleasant Street, which had been recently created to provide access to the newly laid out Fairview Cemetery. By January 1, 1895, two “special” trolley cars showed up at the car house with finished rooves and luxuriously upholstered cross seats. Around the same time, wires and poles were installed to allow for all of the horse-drawn cars to be converted to electric cars.

Map of West Hartford, 1896
The trolley “car house” was located on Farmington Ave. just east of Pleasant St.

By June 1895, the trolley had helped spur a demand for building lots along Farmington Avenue. Real estate speculators purchased tracts of land and began to subdivide them into lots. Ironically, the lumber and other materials needed to build new homes on Farmington Avenue were often transported to the building sites by the trolleys. The growing attraction of the area is further demonstrated by the creation of the side streets Westland Avenue and LeMay Street. Laid out in 1905, Westland Avenue gained additional attention when Edward W. Morley, a nationally recognized chemist and professor, built a house at 26 Westland Avenue in 1906. George LeMay built a home “off Farmington Avenue at 1114” in 1905; by 1909, it was known as 9 LeMay Street.

Edward Morley

Competition between trolley companies produced more alternatives, like branch lines. In 1899, Hartford & West Hartford Railroad was bought by the Farmington Street Railway. According to a 1901 book called Trips by Trolley Around Hartford, one could take the Hartford Street Railway from City Hall in Hartford to West Hartford Center (a 25-minute trip) for 5¢. If you

Trolley time table 1901

 

wanted to continue on to Farmington, you had to switch to the Farmington Street Railway in the Center, which ran every half-hour in the summer. It cost 10¢ to make the 25-minute trip to Farmington or 15¢ to reach the street railway’s terminus in Unionville (a 40-minute trip).

 

0228 C west hartford trolley - Copy
Trolley service left from Hartford’s City Hall (the Old State House). This trolley’s “West Hartford” sign can be seen faintly.

The year 1914 is considered to be the height of the trolley industry in America. In that year, 14 billion people rode on trolleys throughout the United States. There were now over 200 miles of trolley track in Hartford County (the lines being consolidated into The Connecticut Company). It’s no surprise, then, that residential development on Farmington Avenue grew significantly around this time, as more people began to take advantage of the easy transportation the trolley provided and moved farther west. The majority of houses built on Farmington Avenue between Westland Avenue and Garfield Road date from 1915-1930.

1917 Map The Center and outer ring

Additional side streets were drawn out [by 1917: Sunset Terrace, Wardwell Street, and Ellsworth Street (later changed to Garfield Road)], even if no houses had been built on them yet.

As romantic as the trolley seems to us today, they did not come without problems. To make way for them, the landscape of Farmington Avenue was changed. The street was widened and trees were removed, to be replaced with poles and wires. The road was now not as passable for horse-drawn carriages, pedestrians, and bicyclists. And once automobiles came into vogue, accidents involving the trolleys became common. The local residents – who might have moved to the area because of the promise of easy transportation – began to complain that the trolley did not stop frequently enough on Farmington Avenue. Passengers would wait at the designated area only to find a streetcar filled to capacity whizzing by with shouts of “Take the next car!” trailing behind.

The advent of the automobile correlated directly with the decline of the trolley. As more people drove to work, the use of the trolley diminished, eventually to be replaced by buses. The streetcar service from Hartford to Unionville ran until 1934, when trolley lines through Hartford County were reduced mainly within the City of Hartford.  By 1941, The Connecticut Company had retired its last car.

0228 B park rd trolley 1934.jpg
The last West Hartford trolley, Park Road, 1934.

But here in West Hartford, the trolley had done its work. The development of Farmington Avenue from a patchwork of individual farms to a seamless community was only possible with the advent of the trolley, which attached the neighboring tracts into accessible strands of homes. Individual real estate and land decisions were made by the older generation as they retired away from town and sold off the land to prospective buyers; however, the increase in improved transportation, including the automobile, helped provide Farmington Avenue with a support network of side streets that coincided with the housing boom. Real estate companies and like-minded developers capitalized on these waves to provide a supply of “modern” suburbia to Farmington Avenue, a perfect storm that pushed residents from farmland to sidewalk to side street within three decades.