Wolcott Historical Society News - August 2010
By Florence Goodman
In this edition, I will move onto the farms in the South West District of the town. This district includes farmland that is located in the Woodtick and Frisbie School area and west to Wolcott Road. On the 1868 map, some of the early family names in this area were Brown(e), Bement, Hough, Rose, Hall, Tuttle, Minor, Munson, Merrill, Welton, Nichols, Higgins, Todd, Frisbie, and Upson. The farms that I will discuss in this district are Bock, Echo, Wakelee, and Warner Farms.
Back in December 2009, I wrote an article about the Woodtick section of town highlighting an early manufacturer Gustave Cornelis. I stated that the Cornelis House was located at 292 Woodtick Road and was owned by Bill Gniazdowski Jr.; that information was incorrect. The Cornelis House was taken down in the late 1950s or early 60s and was located across from the Woodtick Reservoir.
The house that I said was owned by Cornelis was the Bock Farm house and located at 292 Woodtick Road just south of Frisbie School. However, Mr. Cornelis did sell the Bocks some of the land that made up their farm. The Bock Farm is where Bill Gniazdowski Jr.'s 60-acre Echo Farm is located today. The original house was built around 1895 and is located in the back of the house. The larger gambrel roof section in the front of the house was built around 1913 by Mrs. Bock's brothers, the Schindler's.
Bill's father and mother purchased the run-down farm from Mrs. Bock in 1935 and turned the property into a large turkey farm from 1940 to 1942. Then from 1943 to 1945, chickens covered this farmland. After raising poultry for five years, Bill Gniazdowski Sr. decided to raise hogs for a short period of time, but was not allowed to bring in any type of garbage to feed them, so he moved that venture to Naugatuck. Finally, he raised beef cattle on the farm from 1949 to 1962. He had 110 cattle in the herd. In 1962, the Gniazdowskis decided to slow down, so they began to lease their largest field to the Wolcott Baseball Association in exchange for the payment of property taxes. This ended in 1986, "after the Association and the Gniazdowskis were sued over a 1984 incident in which a boy broke his leg while playing on the field."
In 1978, Bill Jr. gave up his career as an insurance adjustor to take over the farm from his parents. Bill Jr. and his dad built a new barn around 1979 on the original foundation of the old barn. Then he began planting 15 acres of blueberries, about 9000 bushes, on the land with the help of his family. Today the farm still houses fields of blueberries, but there are also five greenhouses filled with hot house hybrid tomatoes, lettuce, and bedding plants, as well as several fields of other produce such as squash, cauliflower, and peppers to sell to local farm markets and local residents from his farm stand. It's wonderful to see this working farm thriving in our town.
In 1737, Ebenezer Wakelee acquired several hundred acres of land in the area of the Wolcott/Waterbury town line that covered what is now Sharon Road in Waterbury and north on Wolcott Road to Tosun Road, as well as west toward Lakewood Road. The Wakelees had a granite quarry on the boundary of their property where the Waterbury dump was located at the top of Industry Lane. The Wakelee property was referred to as the "Big Plains" region. The house that Ebenezer Wakelee built stood a short distance away from the Almus Wakelee house that is still located on Wakelee Road; it was erected between the years 1882 to1885. Almus (grandson of Ebenezer) and his wife, Harriet were buried in the back yard of that house.
Just north of the Mona Lisa Restaurant was another Wakelee house that was demolished several years ago. Jonathan Bement, who was the son of Almus and Harriet Wakelee, built that house in 1842. This area was the general location of the Wakelee Farm, which included dairy and hay barns, chicken coop, icehouse, blacksmith shop, milk house, horse barn, and wagon shed. Almus was the great grandfather of Robert A. Wakelee, who was a selectman in our town for 33 years on and off from 1912 through 1959, and lived in the Almus Wakelee house during his lifetime.
His son, Robert C. Wakelee, was born in 1907 and grew up on the Wakelee Farm. He gives a vivid description of life on this farm in his autobiography Me & My Pa. He stated that in the year he was born, 1907, his father had about 12 to 14 milking cows that gave him enough milk for a 400-quart milk route in Waterbury. His dad would be up early in the morning milking the cows and was the "fastest milker around." He would carry a 10 or 15 quart milk can onto the customerÕs back porch, dip a one-quart dipper into the can, and pour the milk into mason jars or any other containers that the customer left for him. Robert C.'s description of life on the farm indicates that this daily work included every family member. He later built a greenhouse on his property on Wolcott Road and ran that business for most of his life. Over time, much of the Wakelee land was inherited by family members and sold off or developed into residential and commercial properties.
Bordering the Wakelee property to the south, opposite Sharon Road was the Warner's Dairy Farm; their house was on the corner of Lakewood and Wolcott Roads in Waterbury. They also had a poultry farm, which was located where Highland Manufacturing is found today. Ken and George Warner ran these farms. Warner's property ran all the way to the top of Long Hill Road in Waterbury. That property was sold in the mid 1900s for the development of a housing project called "Warner Gardens."
Next month, I will discuss Willow Brook Dairy on Tosun Road and the Munson and Norton farms found in the South West district of our town. Remember to visit our Farm display at the Wolcott Country Fair in August.
If you have pictures or information about any Wolcott farms, please contact me at 203-879-9818 of email me at fjgtdg at gmail.com
(Information for this article was taken from The History of Wolcott, Connecticut from 1731 to 1874 by Samuel Orcutt, 1986 Historic Resources Inventory by Paul Loether, and Wolcott, Connecticut 175th Anniversary 1796-1971 by John Washburne, Old Wolcott by Rose Wakelee Badger, Wakelee Genealogy pamphlet, Me and My Pa, Autobiography of Robert Charles Wakelee, a July 1989 article in the Waterbury American by Daniel Petersen, and interviews with Eloise Mayo Packer of Florida, Bill Gniazdowski, and Ray Dolinger of Wolcott.)
Our Schoolhouse Museum is open by appointment only during the winter, spring, and summer months. Anyone interested in visiting the Museum, please call Loretta Leonard at 203-879-4310 or Flo Goodman 203-879-9818. Our meetings are held on the first Thursday of each month at the Old Stone School on Nichols Road at 6:30 PM.
Gniazdowski's house and barn on Woodtick Road 1936.
Hogs grazing on the Gniazdowski's Farm in the 1940s.
Turkeys feeding in front of an old barn on Gniazdowski's Farm.
Florence Edith Porter Wakelee on the farm with horse.
Almus Wakelee House built between 1882-1885.
Jonathan Bement Wakelee Sr.
To view past installments of the Wolcott Historical Society News, click here.