Wolcott Historical Society News - September 2012
By Florence Goodman
Throughout history rivers have played a major role in the development of industry in cities and towns in our area. The major river in our town has been the Mad River and although today it may seem sluggish and small compared to other rivers, two hundred years ago its swift waters carried power that ingenious settlers were able to harness; thus leaving the remains of Wolcott's small industrial history along its banks from North Street down to the Woodtick Reservoir.
I was aware of several sawmills on the river, but I never realized that we also had two cider mills with one just below Center Street around the area behind Samson Machine and Yankee Larder Plaza. This mill belonged to Bill MacCormack and people came to his cider mill from far and wide each fall to enjoy the taste of his wonderful apple cider.
William MacCormack was born in Longford, Ireland and came to this country in 1864. He was the son of John and Ann (Jones) MacCormack. When he first came to the area from New York it was to pursue his craft of carpentry, but the pay was far from adequate so he chose to move to Wolcott in 1890 to open some type of mill. He started out chopping and carting wood and doing a variety of odd jobs when he realized that people were taking bushels of apples to Pritchard's Mill to be pressed, then selling the cider for a nice profit.
It was at that point that Mr. MacCormack decided to try his hand at the apple cider business. He gathered 1500 bushels of apples with the intent of having Mr. Pritchard press them into cider, but to his horror the mill wasn't working that week. He had all those apples to dispose of so he had to work fast. He purchased the old Hiram Payne mill on the Mad River, which consisted of a crude wooden press with two screws and that was the beginning of his cider business.
Working fourteen hours a day, Mr. MacCormack was able to produce five barrels of cider each day. On days when a stone was mixed in with the apples it cost him a day's work because the graters were made from wood with pegs stuck into them and the stones would destroy the grater, which he would then have to rebuild.
In time, Mr. MacCormack was able to purchase better equipment and a better mill, which greatly improved production. By then he also had his son working the mill with him. They were now able to turn out 175 barrels of cider per day and people couldn't wait to get their hands on that delightful beverage. Cider was sold all over town and especially at the local agricultural fairs.
His land covered a large area from the Mad River along Wolcott Road, up MacCormack Drive (named for his family) and over to Potuccos Ring Road to where Fire Company #3 is today. A good portion of his land was covered with apple orchards. His home, which is still standing today was on the corner of Potuccos Ring and Wolcott Roads and he also had a gasoline station that was located on Wolcott Road where Bill and Sam's Diner is today. In May of 1954, Company #3 purchased some of the old MacCormack farmland on the corner of Lyman and Potuccos Ring Roads with an old barn still on the property. The members of Company #3 tore down the barn, but left the foundation on which they built their first three-bay firehouse.
On April 16, 1944 the old Pritchard Sawmill, which had been a landmark on the Mad River since 1751, was destroyed by fire. The Wolcott Volunteer Fire Department was alerted of the fire at 4:30 A.M. by George Hall who lived on the west side of the Wolcott Green and could see the mill burning from his home. The fire company could not save the sawmill, which had closed in 1939 after being in operation for 80 years, but thankfully they were able to stop the fire from spreading to MacCormack's Cider Mill. If they had not been able to stop the spread of the fire, MacCortmack's Mill might have closed earlier than it did. Exactly when MacCormack's mill closed is not available.
Over the years "Bill" MacCormack became know for his expertise on the apple crop and production of cider, but he was also well known as a weather prophet. People in the community respected his knowledge and expertise in both these areas.
If you hike enjoy hiking, you can hike down behind the back of the Rite Aid parking lot and along the river you will come across some old foundations, which were probably part of the cider mill that MacCormack purchased. There is also a square stone structure that appears to be what is left of the base of the cider press.
(Information from this article was taken from articles found in the Waterbury American articles from Sept. 1930, March, 1932, 1953, and April 16, 1944, and a recent conversations with John Rossi of Long Meadow Drive and George Maher of Woodtick Road, and death certificate of William MacCormack in Town Clerk's records.)
Our Schoolhouse Museum, which is usually open in the fall on Sunday afternoons, will be closed for several months this fall and winter because of painting. You may visit the Museum in the spring when it reopens by calling Carl Hotkowski 203-592-8237 or Flo Goodman 203-879-9818.
MacCormack's Cider Mill in 1896.
W.J. Blacker and Bill MacCormack in an early horseless carriage. (Photo from 1931 Waterbury paper)
Down on the MacCormack Farm - Front row, left to right: Mollie Misland, Mrs. Mary Misland, holding her son, Joseph, Kressie Misland, Mrs. Bregg, Joseph Misland, Mrs. Louisa MacCormack, Rear row: Louis MacCormack, Miss Renie Larkin, Joseph Snydes, Harry Painter, William MacCormack, and Peter Fitzhenry. (This old photo was from 1931 Waterbury paper)
Bill MacCormack sampling his cider.
Old MacCormack cider jug found at the remains of the mill in the 1950s by John Rossi.
Remains of the mill along the Mad River.
Remains of the mill along the Mad River.
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