Farming In The Tankerhoosen Valley
"Connecticut's agricultural roots date back to the crop gardens planted by indigenous peoples who cultivated such staples as the Three Sisters (maize, beans, and squash), sunflowers, and Jerusalem artichokes.
"European settlers brought their own land-use practices, such as clearing large tracts of land for crops and grazing livestock, and learned new techniques from the region's Natives. By the late 18th century farming was an economic mainstay for most residents, but by the middle of the 19th century the rise of industry changed the state's agrarian landscape to an industrial one.
"Farmland acreage and the number of farms in the state steadily declined well into the 21st century, with recent tallies showing fewer than 5,000 farms. There is, however, a renewed interest in local farming and today's small farms produce dairy, eggs, tobacco, fruits, and vegetables that contribute to the state's economy." (ConnecticutHistory.org/topics-page/agriculture)
The history of farming in the Tankerhoosen Valley is similar to that of the state. However, Vernon has lost more of its farmland than surrounding towns and may soon lose what little remains. This section is a reminder of our heritage and will hopefully begin a dialog on what we want to save.
Our Farming Heritage
The first settlers of Vernon in the 18th century were farmers. At the time Connecticut's state religion was Congregationalism and the nearest church was in Bolton. When enough families had settled around Vernon Center they petitioned for their own church becoming the North Bolton parish in 1768, built our first church on the hill above Vernon Center and hired our first minister, Rev. Ebenezer Kellogg, who would serve the church and the town for 55 years.
In 1800 Rev. Kellogg answered a survey sent to all the towns and parishes in Connecticut describing the Vernon he knew. This was 8 years before we would become Vernon and just before mills would begin to flourish and change the nature of our community. It's a description of Vernon as an agricultural community.
The version of Rev. Kellogg's description linked here is edited for easier reading. Our language and writing has changed over the past 200 years.
» Go to Rev. Ebenezer Kellogg's 1800 description of Vernon
Our Vanishing Farms
The earliest mills were located along the lower, western part of the Tankerhoosen River as this area was easier to access than the falls of Rockville. But by mid century the focus and investment was in Rockville. Nonetheless the mills of Phoenixville, Dobsonville and Talcottville continued to flourish through the 19th century.
But the rest of the Tankerhoosen Valley was left to farming and agriculture until the mills began to wane in the mid 20th century and major highways were built to connect Hartford and the central Connecticut Valley to Boston and upper New England. This highway split Vernon, erased Dobsonville and paved over wetlands. It also made Vernon a prime area for establishing one of Hartford's bedroom communities and all that cleared farmland was ripe for development.
The Tankerhoosen Valley was fortunate in one respect. Wealthy families bought failing farms in the area in the 1920's and 1930's for the recreational use of family and friends. Used for hunting, fishing and camping these lands were protected from development and today are available for our enjoyment as The Belding and Tankerhoosen Wildlife Management Areas and several properties owned by the Northern CT Land Trust. Most of this property is located in the Tankerhoosen Valley.
Unlike some of our neighboring towns Vernon never established a farmland or agricultural commission to be a voice for preserving at least our agricultural heritage and as a result most of it has vanished without our having a serious discussion about what we want to protect for our children and the future.
Today our Plan Of Conservation & Development (POCD) recognizes only two Heritage Farms - farms owned by members of the same family for one hundred and fifty years or more. They are the Strong Family Farm in Vernon Center and the Clark Farm on Valley Falls and Bolton Road.
» Learn more about Our Heritage Farms.
Our Heritage Field
There is one field in Vernon with a direct connection to Vernon's earliest days that is still farmed and, as a bonus, also has the best view in town of the Tankerhoosen and Connecticut River valleys. It is so connected to our roots, both historically and physically that it is a Vernon gem, yet is greatly underappreciated. This is its story.
» Learn more about Our Heritage Field.
The Vernon Grange
The grange movement grew out of the need in the late 19th century for farmers to come together to develop a voice in towns and state government and for a place to socialize and relax.
Outside the cities and mill towns the primary places to gather and socialize were churches. As important as church was to farmers they also needed a place to let off steam and most of the churches frowned on popular music and dancing. It was a place for young men to meet young women and many a marriage began here.
The answer to both needs was the grange and Vernon joined the movement in 1895 and built the Vernon Grange building at Vernon Center, now also the home of the Vernon Historical Society and Museum.
The Strong family has been part of the Vernon Grange since its establishment. In 1995 Geraldine Strong wrote the history of the Vernon Grange. She was also the Historian for the First Congregational Church and has lived in Vernon Center most of her life. With her permission we publish her article here.
» Read the history of the Vernon Grange by Geraldine Strong.
The Tolland County Agricultural Center
Preserving Our Agricultural Heritage