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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Hidden Nearby: The King Grist Mill Marker in Morris

IMG_3281This monument, difficult to see as cars speed along Route 109 in Morris, marks the site of the King Family Grist Mill.  The grist mill was once a vital part of New England communities.  While we usually associate grist mills with grinding wheat into flour, that was not typically the case in New England.  Here, with our rocky soil, it was far more common for farmers to raise rye, corn and buckwheat to be milled.  In fact, white bread was considered to be a luxury.

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An undated image of King’s Grist Mill. Courtesy of the Connecticut Historical Society.

This particular grist mill, likely built in the 1830s, was initially run by the Loveland family, who operated the mill in Morris (then called South Plains) for nearly fifty years before it was taken over by the Kings.  In addition to grinding grains, the families also utilized water power to saw timber and for the fulling (cleaning)of cloth.  The mill was described by Marilyn Nichols (who wrote its history, likely around 1905) as being “one of the old landmarks and one of the more generally known throughout Litchfield County and other sections of the state.”  Nichols described its location as being “in one of the most romantic and beautiful valleys of Connecticut.”  In fact, Nichols wrote of one local artist who gained distinction – and $400 – by selling a painting of the mill at a New York studio.

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Diagram explaining the workings of a grist mill. Courtesy of National Park Service.

The Loveland/King mill utilized two circular stones to grind.   Traditionally, both stones would have grooves cut into them to act as teeth.  The grains would be poured over the bottom stone while water power was used to turn the top stone, grinding the grain into flour.  One bushel of grain typically yielded 35 pounds of flour.   Johnnycake was the most expensive product of the mill, as it required a special bolt made from silk, and it was a particular target of hungry mice.

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The milldam for the Loveland/King grist mill was destroyed to help create the Wigwam Reservoir for the city of Waterbury.

Farmers would bring their grains to the mill, and the milling usually took place while the farmer waited.  The Lovelands were known to operate their mill until midnight to accommodate the farmers.  Millers usually received a percentage of the grain as payment, and mills often served as commodity houses where grains and flour were traded.

IMG_3282Elijah King took possession of the grist mill sometime before 1874, and while he ran it successfully for some years, changes in farming techniques and the decline of old milling practices left him bankrupt.  In fact, the prevalence of wheat flour from the Midwest and the advent of gasoline-powered engines to mill grains on the farm for animal consumption prompted Nichols to write, “obsolete is the old grist mill in Connecticut.”  Few remnants of grist mills are visible in the state, and the only trace of the Loveland/King mill, once a vital part of the local economy in Litchfield County, is the marker placed by the King family along Route 109.

Update:  Below are two maps depicting the mill.  The first is Clark’s 1859 map designating the mill as Loveland’s mill.  The second is Beers’ 1874 map, showing that King owned the mill at that point.  Note also the numerous structures in the area compared to today.

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Clark’s 1859 map

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Beers’ 1874 map. Thanks to Linda Hocking of the Litchfield Historical Society for supplying the images of these maps!

Much of this information came from Marilyn Nichols’ lecture, available at:  “Old Grist Mills Cease” (2010-367-0) Litchfield Historical Society, Helga J. Ingraham Memorial Library, P.O. Box 385, 7 South Street, Litchfield, Connecticut, 06759