The Founding Fish

Shad Fishing
Fishing for Shad by Moonlight
Fishing for Shad by Moonlight at "Jed Day’s Landing."
The Baptists were the first to organize a church in the place. They had built a meeting-house as early as 1792, near the old burying ground, which lies on the borders of the Whiting farm, somewhat below Elmwood village, but on account of lack of funds had never been able to finish it. A few years later, the Congregationalists started an organization, and presently proposed to the Baptists to remove this building farther north and that the two societies should join in finishing it, and in its use and ownership. The offer was accepted, and the building was removed to a location about where now stands the house of Alexander Day, on Northampton street. The house, which up to this time being unfinished was sometimes spoken of as "The Lord’s Barn," was at once put into shape for use. The Baptists owned three-fourths of the church property, and the pulpit was, therefore, occupied three Sundays of the month by ministers of their denomination, and by some Congregational minister the other Sunday. In the months where there were five Sundays, the Baptists generously gave the Congregationalists the benefit of the extra day. Soon the members of this latter society made a proposition to pay what moneys they raised for the support of preaching to increase the salary of Rev. Thomas Rand, then pastor of the Baptist society, and allow him to exchange with some Congregational pastor of the vicinity on the Sabbath, when by right the pulpit belonged to their denomination. Mr. Rand seems to have been greatly beloved by the members of both societies, and this proposition was readily accepted. It was only on sacramental occasions that the denominational separation was apparent on the congregation.
        The two societies continued to work together until 1834, when the Congregationalists put up a building of their own at the village, a mile north of Elmwood. There it stands to this day, and though for the last few years it has served for a tenement, and has lost its bell-tower and is otherwise altered, it still retains a churchly look, and with the old tavern and a few houses close at hand, is about the only memorial of the days of Ireland Parish. Until 1849, when the Second Congregational church was built, down on High street, an omnibus was regularly run from the village, by the river, to convey the worshipers of that vicinity to the church on Northampton street. With the advent of the new society in the lower village, there was such a decrease in the congregation of the old church, and so great a falling off in the financial support, that considerable discouragement followed, and it was many years before the society recovered itself.
        At the time the project of building a dam across the Connecticut was first thought of, the manufacturing industries of the place consisted of a little cotton mill, three stories in height—now the lower part of the Parsons’ finishing room—and a small wooden, two-story gristmill, whose upper floor was used as a dressing-room for the cotton used in the other mill. A wind wall a hundred and fifty feet in length was built diagonally upstream, out into the current of the ricer, and turned the water into the little canal, which was barely twenty feet across. This wing wall was about where the present dam is. The gristmill stood where the Mt. Tom mill now is, and the cotton mill was close below, both built right on the river bank. In front of the cotton mill was a row of three two-story, brick boarding-houses, and just above them was a small brick store. All this property was owned by the mills which were controlled by Smith Brothers of Enfield. The help in the mills was at that time, almost without exception, native American, drawn from the farming communities about, and this was the case all through New England during the first two decades of its manufacturing enterprise. Near the mills were four or five farmhouses, and on the flat below them were several more. All this region was commonly known as "The Field" was, in the main, clear of trees, and was used for mowing and tillage. There were two little swales near the depot, but otherwise it furnished fairly good meadow land. Depot hill was well wooded, and a patch of woodland of perhaps thirty or forty acres extended from here to the river, south of the old ferry landing. This was cut off just before the war. The slopes above the Field were given over to pastures mostly, but there was a big wood extending from South street up to Dwight street and westerly up to the cemetery. In the wood, near where William Whiting’s house now stands, was a little pond known as "Silver Lake," which was a famous place for frog concerts in the mist, spring evenings. It was a pleasant spot here to sit in the shade in the warm days of summer. In the winter, the youth of the region resorted thither to skate. Just above the junction of Dwight and High streets was a stretch of brushy, boggy land, where another company of frogs made music for the merchants who first built along High street. About the village, on Northampton street, were cultivated fields and orchards, and the big hillside beyond, to the west, was pasture land much as at present.

The Patch — 1850
The Patch — 1850
        Crafts’ tavern was the center of activity in the place until the railroad came into town. There was a great deal of teaming up and down the valley, particularly in the winter. The river was the main freight thoroughfare, and when the ice closed it to traffic, all the supplied for the country stores and the little mills up the valley had to go on wheels or runners. Hartford was the chief center of supply, and the taverns along the way were kept full every night. "Aunt Patty," who presided up at Crafts’ tavern was an excellent cook, whse coffee and smoking biscuit and mince pies were known far and near, and the drivers would keep their horses plodding well into the evening to reach this tavern, rather than stop at some inferior place. There was never a more jolly set of fellows in the world than those old stage-drivers and teamsters. "They lived for the day they were using," and their stories, jokes, and general good nature were proverbial. There were lively times in the bar-room after supper, when the cards and the checkers were brought forth, and the flip began to circulate, and the smoke wreaths began to curl through the thickening air. There was a continual rumble of conversation, broken at short intervals by laughter when some good point was made, until toward ten o’clock, when the company began to dwindle, and at eleven the last of them had gone bedward, lights were out and the house closed for the night. But everyone was astir long before dawn the next morning, and breakfast was served by candle light. There was a growing brightness in the east, but it still lacked something of sunrise when the teams were again on the road. The snow crunched frostily beneath the runners, the whips cracked, the bells set up a merry jingling, good-bye and a last joke or two were shouted back, and another day’s journey through the keen winter air was begun.

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