Monday, August 31, 2015

Wolcott History – Old Maps and Abandoned Roads

I find maps amazing. The amount of history that is recorded in them is phenomenal. And when you can compare maps of the same area from different time periods you can learn even more. We are fortunate to have many old maps of Wolcott available to us on the website of the Wolcott Historical society ( Click on the history link, then find the link to these maps, all of which are .jpg files and can be expanded for better viewing. Here are just a few things that I found interesting when looking at this collection.

Boundline Road – In the 1868 map you can see the upper end of Boundline Road extends in a straight line all the way up to Spindle Hill Road. In the 1946 map you can see that it is now just a short stub road north of Route 69 and is just a dirt road serving a few homes before it ends. Just a few years late in the mid-1950’s it is now paved and extends twice as far. At the end of that section there is a path through the woods – not following the rest of what used to be the road, but curving off to the left to meet Spindle Hill Road and then crossing it. The section north of Spindle Hill Road is the blue trail that runs past Jack’s Cave and then up into Plymouth. Nowadays Boundline Road extends farther north, almost to the Mad River. The section from on the north side of the river is still a path that comes out on Spindle Hill Road, but it is not shown on any current maps (like Google Maps or Google Earth).

Upson Road – On the 1868 map you can see that heading due east from the center there is a road that goes all the way out to Woodtick Road. This is Upson Road. In the 1946 map you can see that this is one of the few “improved” roads in town and this is still true in the mid-1950’s. But Upson Road no longer connects with Center Street. If you look at any current maps you will see that it still goes in from Woodtick Road, but only about 2/3 of the way before it bends to the south for some new homes. I’m not sure why this change was made – perhaps the town fathers wanted to keep traffic going on Center Street as the preferred route.

Road Naming – Many of the current roads in town were named after residents. If you look closely at the 1868 map, you will see that the roads are not named, but the individuals for whom the roads are now named are still living on them. See the Andrews homes on what is now Andrews Road, Mr. Minor living on Boundline Road very close to what is now Minor Road, Mr. Beecher in the NE corner of town on Beecher Road, Mr. Upson living on Woodtick Road just north of Upson Road (he owned that entire section of land down to where Upson Road is). There are others, but these are the ones that I immediately noticed.

Abandoned Roads – One of the prominent roads in the town originally was the north-south road at the eastern end of town. You can see it clearly on the 1868 map. By 1904, while the upper section is still there, the lower portion has been reduced to a short dirt path just to the east of the newly built Southington Reservoir. In the 1946 and mid-1950’s map you can see more of the abandoned road, but it stops about half-way up the town and then meanders back to the southwest. Since this is all watershed for the Southington Reservoir, it is falling further into disuse and is probably difficult to find. Even the upper section which used to be part of Beecher Road and other drivable roads going over to the caretaker’s house at the New Britain Reservoir are now abandoned. But somewhere in middle of that vast tract one could probably find the foundation of the home of George Atwood which is shown on the 1868 map. There are other abandoned roads elsewhere in town such as the dirt road that starts from Central Avenue just to the east of the big S-curve and meanders off to the northeast. See if you can find others.

Route 69 – Route 69 was built in the mid-1930’s and was the first paved road in town. On the earlier maps you can somewhat trace where it was going to be, but in order to traverse the town from SW to NE you had to take a whole series of other roads. In the 1946 map you can see Route 69 with its sweeping curves. In many cases it followed the route of existing roads (you’ll have to compare the maps to see this), and in other cases a whole new road was created. This is particularly true for the long climb up the hill to the north of Center Street. Instead of going east on Center Street, then diagonally up Minor Road to meet Boundline Road, the new Route 69 took a straight path up the hill to the point where an existing road ran from Boundline Road NE to meet Woodtick Road. This was quite a feat of engineering back in the 1930’s.

There is a statement that a picture is worth a thousand words. But if the picture is a map it’s worth many thousands of words. The intersection of geography (where the hills and rivers are), genealogy (who lived where), and politics (how we drew boundaries and where we put the early schools in Wolcott) is quite fascinating to me. I hope that this very brief introduction to Wolcott History – as captured in some old maps – encourages others of you to explore and discover other interesting items in our town’s history.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Trick-or-treating in the 1950’s

Growing up in the north end of Wolcott in the 1950’s, there were few more important days than Halloween. Thanksgiving, Christmas, and to a lesser extent Easter were important holidays to be sure, but they were all about families. Even the 4th of July was adult oriented as my dad set off some roman candles over the sand pit next to our house and the kids ran around the yard with sparklers. But Halloween was all about kids – and candy!

Our allowance in those days would buy a few pieces of penny candy at Martin’s – or, if you wanted to spend the whole thing, a coveted Three Musketeers bar (my favorite!). But a good haul on Halloween night could net you the equivalent of a year’s worth of allowances. So it was certainly worth planning for.

In our neighborhood the purchase of a costume from a store was considered a waste of money. With most families having multiple children the younger children had help from their mothers putting a costume together and the moms, and sometimes dads too, would accompany the kids around the block, strategically waiting out on the street while the group of children knocked on the front door. So it was the pre-teen and early teen years when we designed and built our own costumes and could go out on our own that were the most memorable – and the most lucrative! I remember my last two years of trick-or-treating quite vividly, even though more than half a century has elapsed since then.

We had a pretty long route plotted out. Starting from our house on Seery Rd, we hit the couple of houses down the street, then all the way to the end of Barclare Rd, then up Catherine Dr. and turned the corner to get the last two houses at that end of Seery Rd. From there we went to Hoadley’s across the street, then up Long Swamp Rd, stopping when we did a couple of houses past Stanley St. (the houses were getting too sparse beyond there). Then we looped around Stanley, Clark, and Boulder, getting all the houses in that neighborhood. We didn’t go up Woodtick Rd. as there were too few houses to bother with, but we did go up Rt. 69 as far as Jay Piekell’s house. Turning back we did all the homes on Rt. 69 back to Witham Rd. That much of the route pretty much filled a paper bag with candy (as well as a few apples, a couple of popcorn balls, and other non-candy items from the parents that wanted us to eat more healthy stuff). So we’d hide the haul thus far in our garage before heading off on part two of the route.

The second part of the night (until it got too dark), went down to North St. We skipped Averill Ave, as many of the homes there were summer homes and were unoccupied in late October. Down North St, then doing Cedar Ave and Lakeview Dr. before calling it a night. We skipped Cedar Point for the same reason as Averill Ave. Second part of the night was not as lucrative as the first part, but a lot of families on Cedar Ave and Lakeview had kids and the homes were close together so we got another half-bag of candy from that part of the route. As I look at a map now, we probably walked over four miles that night. With all the stops it took 2-3 hours.

The next-to-last year of my trick-or-treating, I decided to make a robot costume. I collected a few boxes of different sizes. Using a knife for cutting appropriate holes, crayons to enhance the facial features, and a bunch of tape (I don’t recall having duct tape in those days, so it was probably masking tape), I fashioned what I thought was a reasonable facsimile of a robot. What I failed to properly estimate was what the process of doing all that walking would do to my design.

At the beginning of the night, things were going reasonably well, but the awkwardness of walking was slowing me down a bit. And gradually the constant motion of my arms and legs began to take a toll on my taping job. I eventually abandoned my arm and leg boxes somewhere in the bushes along the road, leaving me with just a larger box around my chest and a smaller one over my head. In the end, even these were starting to come apart and I must have looked like I’d just thrown something together – so unlike all the planning and work that I had put into it.

But it was my costume the next year that finally put an end to my trick-or-treating days. I had decided to avoid the issues with the rigid boxes and have something that was both comfortable and made for easy walking so I could move faster (and get more candy!). I decided to dress as a girl – using one of my mother’s dresses, a wig we’d gotten from somewhere, and other appropriate accompaniments including some of my mother’s makeup. Since I had gotten my growth early, I made for a fairly tall girl, but the costume enable me to do exactly what I had planned – move quickly and get more candy. I decided to do “the rounds” on my own and not with friends that year.

I got a few strange looks from people as I went from house to house, but I probably just ignored them as I was concentrating on hitting as many houses as possible. But it was purely happenstance that a whole group of people, including myself, ended up at the same house at the same time. Mrs. Musso (if my memory of her name serves me correctly) lived just the other side of Martin’s. There was a group of younger kids (with their parents dutifully waiting at the end of the driveway), plus most of my guy friends from the neighborhood. We all crowded around the door and someone rang the doorbell. Mrs. Musso was putting a candy bar in everyone’s bag, but when she got to me she said the fateful words that still ring in my head to this day – “Why aren’t you wearing a costume?”

Evidently my costume that year was TOO good. She, and all the other people whose homes I had just been at, thought I really WAS a girl. They probably thought that I was my sister, who was only a year younger than I.  But unlike the others, she voiced her opinion – and in front of all my friends from the neighborhood! I was humiliated. I don’t remember if I even finished the rest of part one of the route that I’d been planning. I certainly didn’t do part two – where I was likely to encounter other classmates from school.

Looking back, I probably could have laughed it off and delighted that my costume was so good. But for a 12-13 year old boy all I remember is the laughter of my neighborhood friends and the humiliation that I had to endure for the next few weeks from them. That ended my trick-or-treating days. But I was getting to the end of that tradition anyway. Halloween was a kid’s night and I wasn’t a kid anymore.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Genealogy Story – Uncovering the parents of an orphan

Recently I was assisting a friend with some research into her ancestors. Her maiden name was Miller and she knew her Miller ancestors back to her great-grandfather, Albert Noah Miller, who had passed on in 1924. But she had no information about his parents.

My initial searches using located the census records of 1860 and 1870. In 1860 he was 3 years old and was found in the home of Philip and Maria Fetherolf. Philip was a retired farmer at age 58 and it was obvious that these were not Albert’s parents. In 1870, at age 13, he is found at the home of Abe[Abraham] and Susan Fetherolf. At age 26, Abe is the son of Philip and Maria.

I was also fortunate to find on Albert’s obituary from June 5, 1924 in the Reading Eagle. Besides an account of his life it noted first that his personal physician was Dr. Fred A. Fetherolf. Then it stated, “Left an orphan at an early age, he was adopted and reared by the late Dr. A. P. Fetherolf, father of Dr. Fred A. Fetherolf.” Finally, it states that “While living with Dr. [Abraham] Fetherolf he read medicine and in 1877 was graduated from Bellevue Medical College”

The second statement was a bit confusing to me, as Abraham Fetherolf was only 16 when Albert was first found living with Philip and Maria and he certainly was not old enough to adopt Albert. So while it’s true that Albert lived with Abraham from when he was a teenager and most certainly learned his doctoring skills from Abraham, and it’s possible that Abraham formally adopted Albert in his early teen years, it is misleading since at the time he was orphaned (before the age of 3), he must have been adopted by Philip and Maria, not Abraham.

So, who were the parents of Albert?

The mystery was finally solved when I was able to locate the death certificate for Albert. His attending physician was F[red] A. Fetherolf and was attested to by Albert’s son, Austin R. Miller. The names of his parents were given as David Miller and Elizabeth Fetherolf! Further investigation revealed that David and Elizabeth were married in January 1856, Albert was born on December 28, 1856, and Elizabeth passed away on October 7, 1857 when Albert was only nine months old. Elizabeth’s tombstone records that she was the w/o [wife of] David Miller, an indication that David was still living at the time. Since the name David Miller was a very popular name in that part of Pennsylvania at the time and I have no further information about him (age, etc.), I have not been able to find other records about him.

So, it appears that when Elizabeth died in October 1857 that Albert was not really orphaned, but that his father, David, who was about 21 at the time, did not feel capable of raising him and so gave his young son to Elizabeth’s parents to raise. Philip then passed away in 1868 when Albert was only 11 and the job of raising him fell to Albert’s uncle Abraham who was 24 at the time and had been married about 3 years.