GROWING UP IN HARWINTON
ON HARMONY HILL ROAD
IN THE 50's
By
Joan Anderson Kirchner

My earliest memory is of the chimney fire in our house on Harmony Hill Road. My father and grandfather had built a small house in Nepaug where I must have lived as a baby. He sold the house in 1946 to Wayne Allen for $4,900.00. The Bill of Sale states that the down payment was $20.00. We moved to Harwinton when I was almost three years old. My parents purchased our house on Harmony Hill Road from Fanny Duval in July, 1946 for $8,500.00, (with a down payment of $25.00) which included 85 acres of land, garage, barn, and other outbuildings. Our house was next door to my grandparents' home (also called the Jonathan Brace House), where my mother was born. The Bills of Sale are both hand-written on yellowed, unlined paper.

The house did not have running water or electricity. I remember the outhouse, using a potty at night, and the hand pump outside the kitchen. Heat was provided by the KALAMAZOO wood cooking stove in the kitchen, and a pot belly wood stove in the living room.

During our first winter on Harmony Hill Road, we had a chimney fire. What I remember of it is being wrapped in a quilt and carried by my father to the neighbors house, the Hazeltine's. I was 2 years old, my brother Carl, about 8 years old, my sister Laura, about 5 years old. We were put to bed in the guest room, but Carl kept running to the window to watch the fire. Finally we were allowed into the dining area and I remember Mrs. Hazeltine making orange juice with an impressive looking juice machine! It was after the chimney fire that my father joined the Harwinton Volunteer Fire Department, and continued as an active member until long after his retirement from his work as a tool and die maker.

Carl and Laura attended the one room school at Four Corners, which is now the intersection of Route 72, Route 4, and Woodchuck Lane. The old schoolhouse was moved across RT 4 to Woodchuck Lane many years ago. By the time I went to school, the Consolidated School was built. Laura had brought home an old reading book when they consolidated the schools, and taught me to read. Some of the stories in that book are still my favorites and I read them to my children and my grandchildren. School in Harwinton was grades 1 through 8, and High School in Torrington. I was in the last class from Harwinton to graduate in Torrington--as L.S. Mills was built regionalizing Harwinton with Burlington, and Juniors were given the opportunity to stay in Torrington for their Senior year, or attend Mills. I stayed in Torrington.

Our neighborhood had lots of families with children. Across the road were the Reynolds. Marilyn, was a year younger than I was, then came Robert, Marjorie, and several years later, Nancy. Robert still lives on Harmony Hill Road, about a quarter mile north. Further up the road were the Pepins. Buddy (Chet) and Kathy were a little younger than we were, but I played with them frequently. Next door to us was Lanny Hazeltine. He was one or two years older than me, and we were literally sandbox playmates! Up the road on the hill, the Montgomerys purchased the Weeks sister's home. Lee was a year older than me, her brother, Alex, a year or two younger. Next to them were the Dews. Dorothy was older than Carl, and Bobby was a year younger. Carl and Bobby were best of friends for many years, and still keep in touch. Just up the road and on the other side were our Aunt Mabel and Uncle Elmer. Elmer was our mother's older brother. Their children, our cousins Ann and Wally, played with us frequently and came down to our house. We all rode bikes up and down the road, played hop scotch, and jumped rope in the road. (We ate lunch at whose ever house we were playing at.) There was very little traffic to worry about. Carl and Bobby spent quite a bit of time in the woods. They made roads through the woods which they later used to drive their doodle buggies or hot rods around. They could drive from Bobby's house all the way down to Thieman's store on Route 4, next to the firehouse. Once when Buddy and I were riding our bikes on one of the trails, he flew off his bike and slid down the hill on his stomach. OUCH! He was covered with scratches, but no serious injuries! I remember Carl and Bobby built a go-cart. No power or pedals. The had a rope for steering--and no brakes. They just gave a push (with me in the back,) down the hill toward the Main Road (Rt 4) and was I scared--and at the same time--excited. They also played war or cowboys and Indians with BB guns--shooting at teach other.

The kids my age spent a lot of time making little towns under the trees in back yards, and driving little cars around. Each kid was the "Mayor" of their town. We also had clubs like the "Green Mountain Boys" and ran at will through the woods. We carried peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for lunch in knapsacks, and Zarex (pre Kool-Aid) in canteens. Sometimes a baseball game would be played in the meadow between our house and our grandparents house. It would mostly be the older boys, Carl, Bobby, Lanny, and Henry and Billy David who lived on the corner of RT 4 and Harmony Hill Road. Occasionally they would let Laura and I play, probably when they needed bodies to chase the ball.

In the summer, Spencer and Janet Reynolds would move from New Britain to his parents' home, across from my grandparent's. We called his parents Uncle Rob and Aunt Laura. Jane was my age and her brother Hal was younger. I went down there and played with them. I remember Aunt Laura's rhubarb punch and picking fresh peas from the garden and eating them raw. Jane now lives up the road on the corner of Leadmine Brook Road.

What strikes me is Jane's grandmother Laura Reynolds was a child-hood friend of my Grandma Drake, Laura and Rob's sons Spencer and his brother Warren played with my mother and her brothers and sisters, Jane and I are friends, and our daughters, Joanne and Ginger were friends and classmates. Now Jane's and my granddaughters, Lauren and Ariel are friends. On a one mile section of Harmony Hill Road, three families (Drake, Reynolds, and Hooper) have lived, played, grown, (and married) for over 5 generations.

Mr. and Mrs. Arthur Covey lived on the other side of my grandparents in the house where our Great-Grandparents (Lucius and Adeila Jane (Brace) Drake) had lived. Mrs. Covey was an author of children's books using her maiden name of Lois Lenski. They lived in Florida during the Winter and I always looked forward to their return in the Spring. Mrs. Covey would invite all the children in the neighborhood to her studio (where Tom Norton lives now) to paint and write. I think I was there more that the other kids, and she taught me how to write poetry and to make little books. When her great-niece, Marilyn, came to visit from Ohio, Mrs. Covey would call me to come and play with her.

The Hazeltines always welcomed us to play, and to ride bikes in their driveway which was a big circle.. Lanny had a high swing that was great fun. He also had a train set in their basement. For the Fourth of July, they had a picnic for neighbors and friends, and at night shot off fireworks. This was before fireworks were against the law. Whenever I went over there, Mr. Hazeltine would have me sit in his lap and would talk to me--about what I don't remember. I think he always wanted a daughter. Mrs. Hazeltine had a classy car--a convertible. I remember her driving Lanny and me down to Thieman's Store for ice cream. I had my first pistachio ice cream with them. My favorite flavor was usually coffee.

Another family Fourth of July tradition for my family, was a picnic at Bidwell's in Satan's Kingdom, New Hartford. Mr. and Mrs. Bidwell were the parents of Aunt Geatha, who was married to Uncle Fred--my father's brother. Uncle Fred and Geatha had one son, Scott. He is my only first cousin on my father's side. The picnics were held in the "grove" behind the house and was attended by us, Bidwell's son Tommy and his wife Adeline, and their two sons, Dean and Rodney. There were probably others there, but I don't remember who they were. Possibly Burton Harrington who was a friend of my grandparents. The "grove" is now built up with houses.

Mr. and Mrs. Baldwin lived next to Reynolds, across from Hazeltines. When their daughter, Barbara Brown came to visit with her children, Janet and Kitty, the neighborhood kids gathered there to play house and other games in their "rec room" in the garage. Mrs. Baldwin was a very "gentile" lady.

Since we didn't have a television until the mid-1950's, (remember-no cell phones, digital cameras or pagers, computers, or internet either) the family usually played games in the evenings. Sometimes Aunt Edna, and Aunt Frances would join in. Some of the games we played were Flinch, Sorry, Easy Money, Navigation, Parcheesi, and probably others I don't remember. On Saturday nights my parents had a "card party." They played Pinochle. 10 - 12 handed! It depended on who came. Usually, Mom, Daddy, Aunt Edna, Aunt Frances, Aunt Mable and Uncle Elmer, Bernice, Ed, and Junior Dings, Lester and Ronnie Dickenson, Grandpa Drake, and one of us kids if they needed another person. They used 5-6 decks of cards and sat around our big round oak table with all the leaves put in it. They had a card shuffler to handle all the cards. This was a big night for us kids as it was the only time we were allowed to have soda and potato chips. They would stop playing cards and have a break around 10:00 PM and have snacks--what a treat!

Once we got a TV, the week-night games pretty much ended. Grandma Drake would come up to watch, sometimes aunts Edna and Frances. The shows we would watch were: Grace and George Allen, Jackie Gleason, Jack Benny, Red Skelton, Grocho Marx, and of course on Sunday nights Ed Sullivan. While we watched, we would get snacks during commercials calling "reserved" to save our chair. There was always a dish of ice cream, too. Grandma Drake also liked to watch wrestling and boxing! On Sunday afternoon the Reynolds kids would come over to watch the Walt Disney show as they didn't have a TV.

During the summer on weekends there was almost always a picnic in the meadow between our house and Grandma Drake's. Sometimes Uncle Floyd Drake and Aunt Ethel would come with Bruce, Paul, and Gayle--and their dog Lucky. They lived in West Haven and we didn't see them as often as the relatives who lived in town. During the picnic we played croquet, badminton, or baseball. All of us kids would run around the fields and woods. Sometimes we played in the hay field--and would Grandpa Drake be mad when he found the hay all knocked down. We would also make a pile of hay in the barn and jump from the rafter into the hay. It is a wonder we didn't break a leg. O course, when haying time came, we were there to 'help' with the bales of hay--at least I think we helped! Grandpa kept two milk cows, and Grandma had chickens, so we always had fresh dairy products at home.
I especially liked to make forts and hiding places. One "fort" I made was to place one end of a ladder on a tree limb, the other end on a saw horse. Then drag out quilts and blankets and drape over the ladder, putting stones on the edges to make more room inside. Another "fort" I made one time was in my mother's flowers in back of the garage. She had what seemed at the time a huge bed, maybe 10' X 10' of very tall yellow flowers. I think they were "Golden Glow Rudbeckia" and I made a winding path through the flowers and a nice place to hide in the middle. Needless to say, when I showed my mother my hiding place, she wasn't too happy! The apple trees at the edge of the woods were great for climbing. The limbs were low and spread out. We spent many hours pretending that we were in airplanes, cars, spaceships or whatever we were interested at the moment.

Each fall, the first weekend in October, was the Harwinton Fair. I saved my allowance for months so I could play the games and go on rides. I had $2.00 for each day! We entered drawings, vegetables and whatever else we thought might win a ribbon. Laura and I entered clothing we made in 4-H. On Saturday morning we would wait out by the road for the horse back riders to come from Bee Mountain Stables in Bakerville. It was exciting to watch them coming down the road. Then, if the weather was good, we would walk down to the fair grounds. The really scary part was going past Henry Camp's farm. He would always have his bull chained out by the road--with a ring in its nose. Scary! (That bull has made his way into several Harwinton stories!) The smells and sounds of the fair haven't changed much over the years. We always had a picnic under the big oak trees near the entrance. There would be at least our family, Aunt Edna, and the Uncle Elmer Drakes. I think others who were at the fair would join us. At the end of the day, we would wearily trudge home. On Sunday, my Anderson grandparents from Collinsville would come to the fair. Grandma always gave us a few dollars to spend. The last thing we did was buy a balloon to take home. One year mine flew away when I got home, and I remember chasing after it and crying. As a teenager it was fun to hang around with friends, and go on rides together. There used to be a parade throughout the fairgrounds and exhibitors and famers would wend their way through the grounds. In 1957 the year Ford Motor Company first produced the Edsel, and they had a convertible on display. Winnie Haas, myself and I think another friend were hanging around the car and when they went to line up for the parade, the salesman asked us if we wanted to ride along. Boy, that was exciting! I remember riding along, waving to the crowd, and hearing my mother say, "Hey, there's Joan in that car." I have attended the fair every year since the age of 10 months old!
My sister and I belonged to the 4-H Four Leaf Clover Girls sewing club. The leader was Mrs. Leon Kirchofer. My mother and aunts had also belonged to the same club with Mrs. Kirchofer. After a while, Gail Eselby and Caroline Conners took over leadership of the club. When my daughter, Joanne, was old enough to learn to sew, Mrs. Ethel Lindbloom was the leader, but the club was still called the Four Leaf Clover Girls. Three generations of our family belonged to that sewing club. (I also belonged to a 4-H cooking club, and 4-H dairy club.) I guess that's Harwinton-- following the footsteps of your parents and grandparents---as it should be!

By Joan Anderson Kirchner