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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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The Northfield Knife Shop

knife shop dam

A recurring theme of this blog has been that street names have a lot to tell us.

Mill pondSuch is the case with Northfield’s Knife Shop Road.  Here, on the Humiston (or Humaston) Brook mill pond, once stood Litchfield’s largest business.

Northfield_Knife_Factory_Northfield_CT-690x405The Northfield Knife Company was established in 1858, taking advantage of the water power and access to the Naugatuck Railroad.  In the post-Civil War era the company produced over 12,000 knives per year.

000_2242It employed 120 workers, many of whom were highly trained experts from Sheffield, England, then world-renown for its excellence in steel-knife production.  (In fact, when a proposal was made in 1866 to incorporate Northfield as a separate town, one opponent argued before the state legislature that the English cutlers weren’t fit to be citizens of a town!)

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Foundation of the the knife shop complex.

The mill dam brought other businesses to Northfield as well, most prominently a feed and fertilizer mill run by Jeremiah Peck.  The growth of these two businesses led to a corresponding growth in Northfield’s population, and factory housing appeared in town.  In 1865, for example, the Northfield Knife Company spent $5,000 to erect five homes for employees on Main Street.

northfieldknifeoct41884ironageadNorthfield knives live on as Northfield UN-X-LD, a division of Great Eastern Cutlery.  Today they are made in Titusville, Pennsylvania.  The mill pond in Northfield remains, however, testimony to the industrial heritage of this area and to the Northfield Knife Company, an internationally-known business whose knives were featured at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago.

Much of the information presented on Northfield’s industrial history is derived from Rachel Carley’s excellent  Litchfield:  The Making of a New England Town.