Saturday, December 29, 2012

Exploring Back Home

From Dave Brigham:

I've lived in the Boston area for most of the last 22 years, and have explored a lot of out-of-the-way spots in the last few. I've had a great time doing so, but recently I've been drawn to the history of the town in Connecticut where I grew up.

Founded in 1670, Simsbury is a suburb of Hartford. My family moved there in 1962, three years before I was born. In those days, the town was still quite rural. I remember tobacco barns less than a half-mile from our house, and many more spread throughout the town.

Simsbury was along the route of the Farmington Canal, a waterway system that ran from New Haven to Northampton, Mass. Begun in 1825 and completed ten years later, the canal never did well, especially once railroads were built.

Still, I remember a section near my house where water sometimes pooled, and when it froze over we played hockey on it.

Trains also once ran through the town. I remember seeing and hearing them when I was a kid. I spent a lot of time with my friends walking along the tracks near my house, to get to the market to buy candy, gum and soda; the country store for penny candy; or to just explore the brooks, ponds and woods alongside the raised track bed.

In August 2011 I went back to Simsbury (my parents no longer live there; they're in nearby Windsor) trying to solve a mystery. When I was a teen, my friends and I explored an abandoned house near the tracks, and I'd long wondered what the circumstances were around that scene.

Through good ol' Facebook, I learned that a man named President Little had lived there, and that he'd been quite a character. While in town for a golf tournament, I decided to see if I could find any remnants of the old house.

Read "In Search of President Little" to find out what I discovered. Then come back.

This year, ahead of the golf tournament -- which is held annually in late August -- I found out about an abandoned road in the Tariffville section of Simsbury, once again through Facebook.

I decided to check it out.

Mountain Road begins in T'ville (as us locals call it), at the bottom of a hill, near the intersection of Route 189 and Elm St. (Route 315). Part way up, you cross into Bloomfield, and shortly after that, the road ends.

There's a sign indicating that the adjacent 28 acres, known as the Frederick C. Bidwell Forest Area, were donated by the Bidwell family for hiking purposes. According to current and former Simsbury residents (via Facebook), there's a path that takes you up to the top of the ridge, from which you can see Hartford. There's a chimney up there that marks where a dance hall once stood.

Unfortunately, I was pressed for time and didn't have time to hike up to find that spot. Next time.

But I did explore the road, which was closed in the late '70s or early '80s because the curves were so close to the edge of the ridge that the road became unstable.

Old mountain road #1 Old mountain road #2 Old mountain road #4

I plan to get back to Simsbury when I can to explore more of the town's historical backside.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Merry Christmas!

From David Burke:

Fireplace and chimney

This chimney was located off Route 44 in Canton, CT, and was decorated every year. It was recently removed and replaced by a shopping complex.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Friday, December 14, 2012

Concord, Part IV: Rusty truck

From Dave Brigham:

I've driven past the Brigham Farm Stand in Concord, Mass., numerous times over the years. I'm sure I'm a distant cousin to these folks.

On a recent drive, I noticed for the first time some rusty vehicles across the road from the farm stand. So after having visited the town's Old Rifle Range (see December 4, 2012, "Concord, Part I: Old Rifle Range"), Mattison Field conservation area (see December 8, 2012, "Concord, Part II: Mattison Field") and bit of abandoned railway (see December 11, 2012, "Concord, Part III: New Haven rail bed"), I made this little farm my last stop in Concord.

Old Jeep #2

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Concord, Part III: New Haven rail bed

From Dave Brigham:

Between checking out the Old Rifle Range trail in Concord, Mass. (see December 4, 2012, "Concord, Part I: Old Rifle Range") and that town's Mattison Field conservation area (see December 8, 2012, "Concord, Part II: Old Water Tower"), I took a quick walk along an abandoned rail bed.

Old rail bed

Part of the old New Haven Line, this section is slated to become part of the Bruce Freeman Rail Trail project. As much as I love walking, running and riding on paths that have been converted from old rail lines, I have no problem with some of these old routes being left to nature.

Camouflaged rail

Stay tuned for the last installment, about a a local farm.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Concord, Part II: Mattison Field

From Dave Brigham:

Concord, Mass., used to be much more of a farming town than it is now. The town still has plenty of open space, and some small farms, but it's more well known these days for high-priced estates and politically correct moves like banning bottled water.

While driving a bit off course recently on my way to the town's Old Rifle Range (see December 4, 2012k "Concord, Part I: Old Rifle Range"), I stumbled across an old water tower situated between two of the above-mentioned lovely homes. I made a mental note to return after checking out the range.

I wasn't disappointed.

Restored water tower

Located on town-owned conservation land known as Mattison Field, the tower was recently restored. One of only two remaining wooden stave water towers in Concord (the other is on private property), the structure provided water to the dairy farm that stood for nearly 140 years.

After passing the tower, I took a nice walk around the field, and into the woods, where I spied an old, overgrown metal gate.

Old farm gate

Mattison Field is a nice place to stroll, with or without a dog. There are other old gates and stone walls, in addition to rusty barb wire, around the perimeter. Through the woods one can see the newer estates that have pushed out farms such as this one.

For more about Concord's farming history, and Mattison Field and the water tower, read this.

Stay tuned for parts three and four....

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Concord, Part I: Old Rifle Range

From Dave Brigham:

Concord, Mass., is well known for the important role it played in the Revolutionary War, and for the famous authors who lived there in the 19th century, among them Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Henry David Thoreau and Louisa May Alcott.

Over the 20+ years I've lived in and around Boston, I've explored Concord and nearby towns a little bit. I've gone to Minute Man National Historical Park and Walden Pond, and shopped in the town center.

But the four-part series about the town's out-of-the-way spots that I'm launching here, doesn't cover any of those topics. Rather, I focus on places that I'd never heard of until one recent day when, after consulting Google Maps, I took a drive and did some hiking through the quaint former farming town.

Google Maps has become my go-to tool for Backside adventures. This time, I focused on the area about 15 miles northwest of where I live. I scanned the map and almost immediately "Old Rifle Range" popped out at me.

That was all I needed to see.

I found the site without too much trouble, and began hiking in. I wasn't sure exactly what I would find, but the map at the beginning of the trail indicated that there were four "targets" along the trail.

I didn't know exactly what I was looking for, however, so when I saw a few shallow areas that looked a bit like foxholes, I somehow thought that's all I was going to get. But before too long I came across the first cement berm, and I got excited.

Rifle range berm #2

There are metal spikes driven into the berm. I don't know anything about guns or firing ranges, so I'm not sure what the spikes did. After a short hike up the path, I found the second berm, which had hardware positioned in front.

Rifle range gear #2

I presume these racks held targets, and that the gears moved the targets forward and back. I learned after doing some research online that the range dates to World War I. The Army used it to train troops from distances of 200, 300, 600 and 1,000 yards.

The last target area was the most distinctive for a few reasons. First, there was graffiti on the wall.

Rifle range graffiti

Second, a tree had grown up and around a piece of the old hardware, making for a very, shall I say intimate, arrangement.

Together forever

In the next three parts I'll post about abandoned railroad tracks, a restored water tower at a defunct farming site, and some rusty vehicles near a farm with my family's name on it.