Let’s Explore Elmwood!

The alliteration is just too tempting. We will be exploring Elmwood with award-winning architectural historian, Mary Donohue, this Saturday, May 26 at 10 a.m. Perhaps you’ve noticed the trend; when there’s a Sidewalk History Walking Tour, you get a sneak peek!

Enjoy this Excerpt about Elmwood from our traveling Exhibit (it’s not easy being addicted to alliteration), West Hartford Business: Images of Suburban Development :

“Elmwood is one of the first West Hartford neighborhoods to be a self-contained community with its own school, church, post office and stores. Elmwood’s earliest businesses, such as the Goodwin Brothers Co., produced utilitarian products from the area’s rich clay soil. The arrival of the railroad in the late 19th century cemented Elmwood’s position as the place for industries to locate, providing easy access for shipping products. The area was home to many international corporations including Royal Typewriter, Heublein, and Coleco Industries.

“With factories came the need for affordable housing for employees. Elmwood Acres was built as a federally subsidized housing project of 300 units, one of three built in West Hartford during World War II to house workers and their families. Following the war, the small ranches and capes newly constructed in Elmwood were purchased by returning veterans, and many small retail plazas appeared along New Britain Avenue. In 1997, the community group West Hartford Vision organized to clean up the neighborhood that had been blighted over time by drugs, crime and vandalism. Since then, Elmwood has experienced both refurbishment and new development that have led to its revitalization.

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“West Hartford was home to many long-lasting restaurants, including Maple Hill, Edelweiss, Scoler’s, La Scala and Elmwood’s Fernwood, the only one of these still in business today. The Fernwood originally opened at 1113 New Britain Ave. in 1945 and was purchased by Anthony Cacase in 1949. Long-term employees Laurie Hazelton and August Audibert took over the business after Cacase’s death in 2009 and credit the loyal clientele as the key to the restaurant’s continued success.

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“In 1947, as “going to the movies” became a popular pastime, the Elm Theater offered seating in both orchestra and balcony levels. Residents flocked for decades to see the latest Hollywood hits, but eventually new megaplexes presented serious competition. At that time, the Elm Theater found a niche as a place for second-run movies. However by the 1990s, with the advent of the VCR and the popularity of movie rental stores, the theater struggled. After closing in 2002, the theater was converted into a Walgreens amid protests from residents.

“In the early 1960s, the S.S. Kresge Corporation turned some of its more poorly performing S.S. Kresge stores into “Jupiter Discount Stores.” West Hartford was home to a few Jupiter Stores, including the one on New Britain Ave. These bare-bone, deep discount stores offered a limited variety of fast-moving merchandise such as clothes, drugstore items, and housewares. By 1966 there were almost 100 Jupiter stores in operation across the country. The S.S. Kresge Corporation changed its name to Kmart in 1977.”

More insights to come this Saturday! Get your tickets while you can. Walk-ins are welcome!

(Please tell your friends you’ll be joining the tour, too!)

Wandering Arnoldale and Beverly Roads

In the 1920s, wealthy business men built handsome new homes in West Hartford neighborhoods that lined the eastern end of Farmington Avenue. Two of these outstanding side streets, Arnoldale and Beverly Roads, feature homes that were built to impress. Their styles range from Shingle to Colonial Revival to Bungalow to Spanish Revival. On Saturday, May 19, 2018, we will continue our celebration of Historic Preservation Month with a Sidewalk History Walking Tour of Arnoldale and Beverly.

Every home has a story, and we can’t wait to hear what award-winning architectural historian Mary Donohue has to share with us.

Here is a sneak peek (sans spoilers):

711 Farmington Avenue

Ludlow Barker’s home, pictured above from a newspaper feature, once stood on the corner of Beverly Road and Farmington Avenue. Pianists will fawn over this advertisement from the Hartford Courant in 1903:

ludlow barker

Ludlow Barker started selling Newby & Evans Pianos in 1886. His plaintive enthusiasm for the product, laced with testimonials through history about the power of music, gives a sense of Barker’s personality. A particularly compelling excerpt:

I verily think, and am not ashamed to say, that next to divinity no art is comparable to music. – Martin Luther

The tones of a Newby & Evans Piano thrill one! They are selected with great care by Ludlow Barker.

1910-11-21 (Death of Ludlow Barker)

Ludlow Barker & Co. was operated by Barker himself until his death in 1910. His obituary in the Hartford Courant indicates his funeral was held on November 23, 1910, at his home.

Barker’s stately house at 711 Farmington Avenue was demolished in 1966. Farmington Avenue Apartments now stand in place of the home.

Though we won’t be able to gawk at what was once there, we will have the chance to learn more about houses like these:

Arnoldale bungalowArnoldale grey hseBeverly red house

Beverly Leach hse

Join us for the second in our trio of Sidewalk History Walking Tours of West Hartford this Saturday, May 19, 2018. (And tell your Facebook friends you’ll be there!)

More information on this and the tour of Elmwood (Saturday, May 26) can be found at noahwebster.yapsody.com.

Walk-ins are more than welcome! We’ll keep you posted on a rain date – but hopefully will not have to use it.

Strolling Through History – Literally

Park Road, so named because the street led to Hartford’s first park, South Green, extends 12 blocks west of the Hartford city line to South Main Street. The area’s terrain and streams made it an ideal area for farming. In the 1920s and 30s, as the automobile increased in popularity, roads to and from Hartford, like Park Road, became more traveled. Population increases in the Park Road neighborhood led to new housing developments that offered a combination of single and multi-family dwellings. At the same time, numerous commercial strips and family-owned businesses lined Park Road to serve the needs of local residents.

To celebrate Historic Preservation Month this May, the Noah Webster House & West Hartford Historical Society is offering three walking tours of West Hartford! Architectural historian, Mary Donohue, will lead the forge through Park Road on Saturday, May 5, 2018 at 10 a.m.

You are about to get a sneak preview, of sorts. Some throwback images from the Noah Webster House & West Hartford Historical Society show just how much the quirky business district has changed (and a bit of what has stayed the same).

Rest assured, there are no tour spoilers below! 

 

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132 Park Road
(Jacobs Paint and Wallpaper Co. is no longer there, nor is Perry Pharmacy. Can you tell what businesses are there now?)

 

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178 Park Road
(My, do we wish we could get a brake adjustment for $1!)

 

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185 Park Road

 

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202 Park Road

 

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338 Park Road
(And it’s still a Shell station!)

 

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353 Park Road
(Now Park Road Cleaners.)

 

Parade 2.jpgIn the 1990s, a neighborhood task force worked with the town to help reinvigorate the area. New lighting and landscaping were installed and the reconstruction of Park Road itself contributed to the stability and growth of the area. When the repaving of Park Road was finally completed, a celebration parade was held to mark the event and to bring shoppers back to the area. This Park Road Parade has become an annual event.Parade 1.jpg

Join us for the first of three Sidewalk History Walking Tours of West Hartford this Saturday, May 5, 2018. (And tell your Facebook friends you’ll be there!)

More information on this and the tours of Arnoldale & Beverly Roads (Saturday, May 19) and Elmwood (Saturday, May 26) can be found at noahwebster.yapsody.com!

Who gets to use to the parks?

Written by Dr. Tracey Wilson, Town Historian

When my kids were little, in the 1990s, there were big signs at Rockledge Golf Course disallowing sledding and skiing on a great hill off South Main Street.  Now, the town has opened the course in a movement across the country to use parks in the winter as well as the summer.

In the 1940s, the town encouraged skiing and skating in the parks.  The town bought the 70 acre West Hartford Golf Club for $20,000 in 1943.

The town used the course as both a summer and winter venue. The Recreation Department set up three ski trails at Buena Vista and provided a first aid toboggan. The West Hartford Outing Club organized activities on a “Practice” and “Advanced” slope.  They also helped get the pond in shape for skating.

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In February 1945, the ski committee of the West Hartford Outing Club sponsored ski racing at Buena Vista. Elementary, Junior and Senior High boys and girls ran a series of races in February with the hopes of winning an emblem for their ski jackets at the end of the season.

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Buena Vista Skiers circa 1946

On the Sunday after Christmas in 1947, according to the Hartford Courant, over 600 people skied on the three slopes.  By the second week in January 1948, the town provided lights for night skiing. There was also a hill for coasters and tobogganers.

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The Recreation Department offered free ski lessons to both children and adults. By February 12, 1948, the Rec Department counted almost 8,000 skiers and skaters.

At the same time, the town set up a skating rink behind Hall High School (the present Town Hall in the town’s center). The rink was three inches of solid ice on the ground, so parents did not have to worry about their kids falling through. On January 22, 1948, the Rec Department planned to add lights. Students at Hall could skate during gym periods. Residents could also skate at Fernridge Park, Beachland Park and Buena Vista.  All three places had warming huts for skaters.

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On January 13, 1958, the Rec Department claimed 5,000 people “flocked to West Hartford skating, skiing, and coasting in one of the biggest turnouts in town’s history.”

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As late as 1972, the Parks and Rec Department sponsored free downhill ski lessons at Buena Vista.

This year, the town has once again opened a golf course to the public in the winter.  What fun to go cross country skiing at Rockledge.  And, what about opening up some of these ponds to skating? Or having an outdoor rink at some of the parks or schools?

 

 

 

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Share your thoughts in the comments section!