GROWING UP IN HARWINTON
ON HARMONY HILL ROAD
IN THE 50's
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,
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
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