West Cemetery’s Civil War Effigy Graves

IMG_3402Memorial Day is an appropriate time to reflect on the staggering statistic that forty percent of all Union dead in the Civil War were unidentified.  While this was a marked improvement from the Mexican War fifteen years earlier – in which 100% of the American dead were buried in unmarked graves – it nonetheless posed a particular problem for Americans.

death-george-washington

The Death of George Washington – a classic representation of the idea of the “good death.”

Death held a central place in the culture of Victorian America.  Society dictated that there was such a thing as a “good death,” in which the deceased expired in his own home, surrounded by loved ones.  To such a religious society, the dying individual was closer to God, and therefore his final words were dutifully recorded as being of great importance.

TimeCivilWar_p139_Embalming_slideshow

A Civil War embalmer

The deaths of hundreds of thousands of Americans in the prime of their lives at great distances from their homes and families was therefore at variance with the notion of the “good death.”  While thousands of dollars were spent on embalming bodies to return them home for burial,  many families were left without even a place to mourn their fallen soldiers.

IMG_3403A solution was the effigy grave, a memorial stone for a victim whose body – because it was unidentifiable or for financial reasons – was unable to be returned home.  The Civil War graves grouped together in Litchfield’s West Cemetery (with a monument of a drum labeled “Mustered Out) are a good representation of these graves.

IMG_3405These men fought on some of the most famous battlefields of the Civil War.

IMG_3406Others suffered through unimaginable horrors in prisoner of war camps.

Perhaps these memorials gave some comfort to the families of these soldiers in the aftermath of the war.  One hundred and fifty years later, the stones continue to remind passersby of these soldiers’ service to our nation.

Hidden Nearby: The Throop Family Enterprises Marker in Morris

IMG_3401In the last post we examined the Loveland/King grist mill that once stood along Route 109 east of Morris.  This marker, a plaque attached to a millstone, sits along Route 109 west of Morris and denotes the site of another industrial operation.  Here the Throop family engaged in a variety of enterprises, most centered around milling.

photo (22)

The Throop Mill, located on the south side of Route 109, where its foundation is still visible. In addition to cider, the mill made shingles and operated as a grist mill for flour. Courtesy Morris Historical Society.

Little information is available about the Throops.  This marker, however, gives an insight into an interesting aspect of Connecticut’s early economy, cider making.  Cider was an important outlet for farmers to turn a perishable product into a lasting one.  Once it was barreled cider was also easy to transport to markets.  Recipes for cider were widespread in the 19th century, with most farmers having their own method.  Some advocated cleaning the press, others recommended using the residue from previous batches to add flavor.  While some recipes called for unripe apples, others used rotten apples.  Some even called for grass to be mixed with the apples.  Cider in the colonial era and the early republic was nearly always hard, and as the alcohol level was quite low was enjoyed by children and adults alike.

wpressx Apples were ground before pressing.  These ground apples would be placed in a bucket, underneath a wooden disc attached to a screw.  By turning the screw the disc would exert pressure on the apples, turning them into liquid and pulp.  Often the press would double as a cheese press.

photo (21)

Mill Pond, also known as Throop Pond or Jones Pond. The water from this pond was used to power many of the small industries operated by the Throops. Courtesy of the Morris Historical Society.

Cider making was immensely popular on Litchfield County farms.  Records from Torrington indicate that in 1775, the population of 843 people produced approximately 1500 barrels of cider.  There were two cider major cider producers in Morris (then South Farms) – the Harrison family in addition to the Throops.  Litchfield County also had 103 distilleries in 1810, many of which made apple beverages of higher alcohol content.  By means of comparison, New Haven and Tolland counties together had 101 distilleries.

photo (20)

The Throop house, which burned in 1914. Courtesy of Morris Historical Society.

In recent years small batch production of agricultural products has once again become fashionable.  Syrup, honey, and jams are mainstays at farmers’ markets.  The popularity of these items harkens back to a time when local production of items like cider was not simply in vogue, but rather a way of life.

For information on cider making in early New England, see “New England Cider Mills, Distilleries, and Breweries, 1790–1840” by Roger N. Parks and Sylvie Turner.  Available on the Old Sturbridge Village website, http://www.osv.org/explore_learn/document_viewer.php?Action=View&DocID=1005

Hidden in Plain Sight: The Walking Tour!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The Litchfield Historical Society is sponsoring a walking tour based on this blog on Saturday, May 18th, at 10:00 a.m.  We’ll explore some of the sites previously discussed on these pages and share thoughts about some that will appear in the future.  The tour will focus on sites on the Litchfield Green and nearby South Street.  Visit the historical society’s website – http://www.litchfieldhistoricalsociety.org – for more information and for registration.

Hope to see you on the tour!