The History of Agriculture in Kent
A century ago, the town of Kent had a completely different appearance. The hills were bare of trees, and crisscrossed with miles and miles of stone walls and barbed wire fences. Where we now have tidy subdivisions with fancy houses and manicured grounds, there were once cows, hundreds of them. Maybe thousands of them.
There were also pigs and chickens, goats and sheep. The farmhouses and barns were surrounded by fields of corn, hay, rye, wheat and…tobacco! Yes, tobacco. Tobacco was an important crop in the northwest hills. We usually think of the Connecticut River Valley when we think of tobacco, the flat fertile valley lands covered with acres and acres of tobacco tents and long, low barns.
But tobacco was also grown here on our hills as a successful cash crop at the turn of the last century. However, it is a labor intensive crop, and after WWI sufficient help was hard to find, with the result that the tobacco industry died out in our area.
Another cash crop quickly moved in to take over the void left by the demise of the tobacco market. Got Milk? We sure did in Kent. Dairy farms, already common in Kent, quickly spread throughout the town, some small, some large, but all feeding a growing population of city dwellers who could not keep the necessary cow or two in their back yards.
The arrival of the railroad and subsequent development of refrigeration techniques made it possible to transport great quantities of milk farther and farther away from its source. Initially, creameries were built, usually near the railroad depots, to collect and process the milk. There was a Borden Creamery by the present South Kent Post Office, the foundation of which may still be seen. Eventually, modern technology permitted the raw milk to be hauled directly from the farm in ten gallon cans to the milk platforms near the train tracks where they were placed on the daily milk train.
Refrigerated trucks then replaced the trains, making the transportation of raw milk even more lucrative. High butterfat content brought the highest price, and our fields were dotted with herds of Guernseys, Jerseys and Holsteins, each breed known by its local keepers to be the highest butterfat producer!
Former Kent Historical Society President, Susi Casey Williams, compiled a list of dairy farms that she can remember from her childhood. With her list, we begin to shift away from our long focus on the iron industry in Kent ( a subject very worthy of historians’ attention, but by no means the only interesting part of Kent’s rich history). So sit back, relax and enjoy this virtual tour of Kent as it appeared a half century ago.
And, when you’re done if you have any comments, additions, corrections or questions, please let us know!!! Dairy farming was the principal occupation in Kent from the early 1800s until the 1950s – the iron works thrived in the mid-1800s, but the ore petered out. When I was, say, about 8 years old (1947), the following farms existed:
In town, the Casey farm on Lane Street, which also ran the McBee farm (pigs & chickens) near Ackerman’s house, the “summer barn” on North Main Street and the hay barns down by Kent Center School; the Templeton Farm on Maple Street where elderly housing is now – the barn is now The Nutrition Site & Masonic Hall; Lew Bull’s farm next to the old Town Hall – the barn became The Milk Pail Restaurant.
On Skiff Mountain, going up the hill was the Gurnsey Richards farm (Boone Moore’s); then the Ladd farm on the right, where the Connerys live now; on top, on the left where Tom Sebring & Steve Vaughn live now, was the Patrick Kinney farm; turn right, and at the Marvelwood School was the big Rawson Farm where they raised black angus (their lands extended to the stables, and over toward Jerry Tobin’s); going past the little one room school house, there was a Tobin Farm on the right (now Nichols); at the bottom of that hill was John Tobin’s Farm (now Austi Brown’s); then, going up toward Jerry Tobin’s, you first came to the Luther, later Paul, Skiff (Gunn) farm on the right (now occupied by Walter and Margaret Gunn Kane), next was the Tobin Brother’s farm, also on the right. Bill & Jerry Tobin both built their houses on farm acreage.
Taking that left at Skiff Mountain cemetery onto Dolldorf Road, which becomes Appalachian Trail Road, the land all belonged to the Kinney farm, until it conjoined with Gurnsey Richards’.
Going to Fuller Mt. Road & taking a right down the back way to Macedonia, there was Myra Hopson’s farm (now Pond Mountain Trust where Paul and Beth Dooley live and where my Dad often rode a big Morgan stallion), then the Card farm and a Wathley farm (now Jorrin). I don’t remember any farms along Macedonia Brook Road, until you got to Dell Eads’ – that was a Chase farm (Red Horse Ranch) and the magnificent barn was Vern Eads’ office and storage for his drop forging equipment.
On 341 toward NY State from Eads, there was the Edwin Chase farm on the right (big gray house still there where the Lawrence Chase family lives), followed by the Posselt farm on left, where we sometimes got Christmas trees.
Turn around on 341, and head back east toward Kent School – where there was another big farm (Kent School Farm) that the boys used to work at (now a soccer field, hockey rink, etc. & the new headmaster’s house) and where I kept a horse for a while. It burned, I think in the 70s. Down Schaghticoke Road, there was the derelict Fuller Farm, the first home of Kent School.
Now we’re back in town. Going east out 341, there was the Millard Stuart farm, formerly SteveChase’s, the barn now owned by Peter Woytuk. Continue down South Kent Road, and the only surviving dairy farm remains: the Arno farm, owned by the Vagts family. (Tom Coons’ father ran it for many years.)
South Kent School had its own farm, too. Phil Camp’s family ran a farm on Camp’s Flat Road (the back way to New Milford, through Merryall), and Phil’s stories about growing up there are treasures.
Take a left off Camp’s Flat onto Geer Mt. Road, and the Morehouse farm dominated the flats before the road started uphill. There were several big farms on Geer Mt. – the Olsens, the Howlands, Iron Mt. Farm; then straight onto Jennings Road, where John Brown and the Jennings family had farms. The road now dead-ends, but my brother Rob used to ride his horse up there via the old road (Ten Rod Road, because it was 10 rods wide to accommodate so many switchbacks due to steepness) that ran up to Jennings Rd from 341 by the old Barn Shop. The Dick Jennings farm still had no electricity or running water when my brother visited Stub Jennings in the 40s.
Turn around at the dead-end on Jennings Road & go back to the intersection with Geer Mt. Road, and go left onto Flat Rock Road. The lands on both sides were part of Iron Mountain Farm (main house on Geer Mt. Rd) which was Griggs Irving’s family. Now most of it is in the Nature Conservancy – fantastic views). Treasure Hill (if you go straight at the end of Flat Rock) had several farms, but some were converted to summer camps or weekend homes in my youth. The Burnett farm was down Treasure Hill toward New Milford.
Ore Hill – the steep road that goes up (southeast) from the foot of Geer Mt. Road. There was the Spaulding Farm off the first steep part, on the right; up a little further, on the left where the Standens live, is an old Chase farmhouse that I don’t remember as a working farm, but the lands were extensive. The Benedict farm was located where Ore Hill Road turns to dirt (and eventually joins Treasure Hill Road).
Turn around there, and go back & take a left down Peet Hill Road – (the one-room schoolhouse was smack in the middle of the intersection of Ore Hill Road & Peet Hill Road – torn down in the 50s). I remember the Hoffmans, who were tenant farmers for the old Samuel Peet Farm (the big stone house is still there, on the right) – but I can’t remember who owned it when the Hoffmans worked there. Bill Litwin bought the barn on the left and converted it into a house (now Ann Bass). I think Hoffman’s house (also on the left) was razed. Further down Peet Hill was (is) Bud Chase’s farm – he & wife Caroline were part of Triple A Ranch group who played country music & square dances. Caroline’s family, the Smyrskis, also had a farm at the end of Peet Hill Road right before it joins West Meetinghouse Road (the New Milford end of Camps Flat Road).
In Kent Hollow, there were lots of farms: the two Camp farms on Camps Road – Art Camp and his brother Bill Camp. Gail Camp was a friend of mine; I used to visit her. Once they were butchering pigs, slitting their throats & hanging them upside down to drain the blood out; then they would scald them in big vats of boiling water and scrape the hair off; then they would split them.
(About then I threw up.) There was the Tanguay farm, now Rehnberg, which still raises steers; and the Devaux farms on Beardsley Road toward Lake Waramaug, one of which is now a B & B. The Anderson farm, where one can still ride horseback, was a working farm. The Langs had a big farm on the flats between Andersons and Devaux. The Kallstrom Farm on Upper Kent Hollow Road still sort of operates…pretty rocky real estate. On Anderson Road, which runs between Treasure Hill & Upper Kent Hollow Road (and the road where Patti LuPone built a house recently), the Slaughters had a farm. The Frank Davis family had a farm on Kent Hollow Road, up the hill toward 341 from the Anderson farm.
I can’t remember many farms along 341 from Warren to Kent – I think Charlie Davis’s grandfather, John, had a farm off Davis Road – one barn is now Todd Cole’s house. At the crest of Segar Mountain, there was the Segar farm, which was sold piece by piece. There was the Fred Ward farm by the reservoir, near where Jane Soule lives – and the Soules still farm a bit.
Along Cobble Road was the big Naboriny farm – again, much of that now the Nature Conservancy. Up Cobble Lane (once Bacon Road) was Katharine Evarts’ farm, where she raised Guernseys & Jerseys – milk VERY high in butterfat. She is Rufus de Rham’s grandmother; she’s 101 & in a nursing home. (Year 2000)
Up Route 7, beginning from Sloane-Stanley Museum (Kent’s old dump site, formerly Kent Iron Works) the Batstones had a little farm on the right – used to supply goat’s milk to my dad for his ulcer. Then there were the Naboriny and Evarts lands on both sides – tilled and lovely. The Gawels had a good sized farm with lands that went up Studio Hill Road; the farmhouse sits on the right on Route 7 after Studio Hill Road.
Joe Bianchi farmed where the Kennedys live on the left, going up Good Hill. At the top of the hill, there was the Frank/Phillips Peet farm – lots of acreage. There was a small farm beyond that on the right, Stoffels. Farther along, on the left, was the Berry farm, which ran from Route 7 down to the river. Most of it was bought by CL&P. That was where the next Town dump was (“sanitary landfill”, by that time). Then there was the Ramuten farm at the junction of Carter Road with Route 7; up Carter Road was not only High Watch Farm (which WAS farmed) but Carter Road Farm beyond it.
Along Bull’s Bridge Road – from South Kent School toward Route 7 – there was the Newton Farm that was a bit odoriferous from the sileage – Bill Newton still farms, but much of the acreage has been sold for a swanky new golf course. Then the Lindberg Farm on the left. There were farms along Spooner Hill Road, too, that goes from Bull’s Bridge Road over to 341 just before Arno’s farm.
Going south on 7 from town, the Casey lands were on the right, the Templeton lands on the left. Then came the Angelovich farm – Conboy Flats – where we used to have the Firemen’s Fair, and where the Saddle Ridge subdivision is located.
Then Hilda Carlson’s farm (house on left, barns on right – which was the glassblower place until recently. It is now owned by the Kent Land Trust). That was it for farms on Route 7 south, until Bull’s Bridge – over the bridge and to the left (road closed now) was the Harold DeWitt Smith farm, and beyond that, Bull’s Bridge Farm on the right at the first curve after Schagticoke Road. Then you get to NY State – it becomes Dogtail Corners Road, which leads past Hunt Country Furniture.