The George Webster Family
|George Webster, Sr. |
George Webster was an immigrant farmer who brought his family from Scotland to Vernon. He arrived in America in 1866 at age 33 and his family followed in 1869. He and his family farmed in Vernon for three generations. Thanks to their stewardship of the land Vernon today enjoys two of the Tankerhoosen Valley's most iconic parks.
George Webster (1833-1905) was born in 1795 in Cuper, Fife, Scotland, on the east coast north of Edinburgh. There he married Jane Paterson (1828-1896) about 1859 and they had four children: Jane/Jennie (1860-1927), Mary (1863-1943), Ann (1864-1887) and George, Jr. (1866-1943).
|Jane Alexander Webster. |
About 1869 George brought his family to America settling in Vernon where in 1879 he bought a 10 acre farm on West Road in Rockville, just south of the railroad. He was 46 living with his wife Jane and their 4 children: Jane/Jennie 20, Mary 19, Ann 15 and George, Jr. 13. He was a ‘market gardener' growing fruits and vegetables to sell in Rockville and probably Hartford. The two older girls were employed in the mills as woolen weavers. Jane/Jennie and Ann never married and remained at the family home while Mary became the wife of George Wood.
George was successful as in 1886, at age 52, he and his only son George, Jr. bought the 87-acre Maro Hammond farm at the corner of Bolton Road and Bamforth Road. From Colonial times the Hammond's, and their Thrall neighbors on Bolton Road, owned large fertile farms in the Tankerhoosen River Valley stretching from Reservoir Road to today's Clark farm on Valley Falls Road and south beyond today's Rail Trail. The 87 acres Webster bought extended to Valley Falls Road on the south, north on Bamforth Road beyond the cemetery and included the property and river behind the Thrall house.
Their youngest daughter Ann died a year later in 1887 at age 23. The first of the family to be buried in Elmwood Cemetery.
The Vernon Grange was organized in 1886 and in 1887 they built a model of the Tolland County Fair at Hyde Park. The model was designed by George Webster. The Webster family was very active in the Grange and in addition to the Vernon Congregational Church this would have been both their social circle and connection to the local farming community.
George's farming skills, passion and pride are evidenced by his entries and success in the annual Tolland County Fair. For example, in 1894 The Rockville Journal notes that George had 51 vegetable exhibits and 11 varieties of grapes. In 1895 he was awarded first prize for the best collection of vegetables having 90 varieties. And In 1903 George, Jr. took several firsts for his grapes, apples and pears; and his wife Margaret received first for her canned fruit.
|George Webster & family about 1900.
||The Webster house today.|
In 1896, George's wife Jane Paterson died at age 68 and was buried in Elmwood Cemetery with their daughter Ann. In the 1900 census two hired men and a hired girl were living with them. We don't know if their quarters were in the barn or if there was a tenant house at one time.
After his wife died and as he was aging George decided to pass the farm and house to his only son George, Jr. In the 1901 deed is this clause, "The Grantee of this deed shall provide me a comfortable support and maintenance in health and sickness and furnish medical attendance and medicine when necessary."
It was common prior to nursing homes for families to care for elderly or sick parents. George, Sr. died several years later in 1905 at age 72 and was buried with his wife and daughter where the first two generations of the family were buried together with a series of eight headstones that show their relationships.
|The 8 graves of George Webster's family. |
George Webster, Jr. (1866-1943)
George, Jr. immigrated to America in 1872 and was naturalized in 1880. He grew up on his father's farm and, as in most farm families, became a farmer and succeeded his father.
He married Margaret McElwain (1869-1924) about 1892 and they had four children - Edith in 1893, who married Luther Skinner, Andrew Kenneth in 1895, George Paterson in 1898, and Jean Doris in 1905, who married John Schweitzer.
|1934 aerial photo of Webster farm.|
Note the amount of open fields.
Click to enlarge.
When he inherited the farm in 1901 the deed defined three parcels of land:
1- The 87-acre property purchased from Maro Hammond.
2- Four acres along Valley Falls Road, probably including the vernal pool.
3- The ‘wood lot' of 26 acres above Valley Falls.
Also left to him was the livestock, farm tools and his father's shares in The Vernon Creamery.
George, Jr. also took pride in his work and was involved in the Grange and community. As a testament to his skills and reputation when the Beach's were building their big house on Bolton Road they hired George, Jr. in 1916 to ‘take charge of their place' as noted in a Hartford Courant article. He was their first gardener and may have laid out the Beach's vegetable and flower gardens. The Darico family succeeded him as Beach's caretakers.
In February 1917, as the United State prepared to enter the war in Europe George and his two sons registered for the draft. Their registration provides the following descriptions:
George, Jr. was 49, 5' 10", 170 pounds and had a hearing disability.
Andrew Kenneth was 21, 5' 10" and 155 pounds.
George Patterson was 18, 5' 10" and 150 pounds.
George's oldest son Andrew Kenneth entered the Army and served in France. His younger son George Patterson stayed home to help with the farm. In a twist of fate Andrew Kenneth returned home safely in 1919, but George Paterson was lost to the Spanish Flu in December of 1918.
In the 1920 census Andrew Kenneth, 24, and his sister Jean Doris, 15 were living at home with their parents. There was also a 55 year old hired man from Ireland.
George, Jr. lost his wife Margaret a few years later in 1924. She was 55. In 1926 George married Blanche Templeton, who was also widowed in 1924 from her husband William Templeton. William worked in the Rockville mills.
George and Andrew Kenneth continued to run the farm until 1929 when George sold the original 87-acre farm to Rockville industrialist Frederick Belding. Belding wanted property on which to spend summers and bring his friends to hunt and fish. This was one of Belding's first purchases and became the core of today's Belding Wildlife Management Area.
The property extended from Bamforth Road to Reservoir Road and included the Tankerhoosen River and the pond, then known as Webster Pond. Belding added to his holdings during the depression and with his friend Lebbeus Bissell accumulated over 750 acres preserving it from development.
After the sale George moved to Dobsonville with Blanche living on Hartford Turnpike where he continued as a market gardener. George died in 1943 and is buried with his family in Elmwood Cemetery.
Blanche continued to live in Dobsonville until her death in 1963 when she was buried in Talcottville's Mount Hope Cemetery with her first husband.
Andrew Kenneth Webster (1895-1986)
Andrew Kenneth was known by friends and family as just ‘Ken' or ‘Uncle Ken,' and in some documents, as well as his on his gravestone, as ‘Kenneth Andrew.' Born in 1896 he was too young to know his grandparents. His brother George Patterson Webster was two years younger and they grew up working the farm as their parents and grandparents did. The brothers were probably very close.
|The Rockville Journal|
June 13, 1918.
The children likely attended the Southeast or Valley Falls school on Bolton Road above Valley Falls. It was an uphill walk from the farm to school and whenever possible they hitched a ride with neighbors. The highest grade they completed was eighth grade.
Kenneth's generation of young men were moving off the farms to less demanding careers. In his teens the war in Europe was raging and in the news. When America entered the war Andrew joined the army or was drafted. He trained here and was sent to France in April 1918. He served in the 82nd Division of th U.S. Army attaining the rank of Corporal.
At the time he registered for service in 1917 he was 21, 5' 10" and 155 pounds. It was noted that he could ride a horse, handle a team and drive an automobile.
The Rockville Journal published many articles supporting our troops in service. They encouraged our soldiers to write home and often published their pictures and letters. Kenneth's June 1918 letter to his mother was published with a photo. The paper noted that he shipped out in April after ‘Signaling School' at Camp Gordon learning Buzzer and Radio work. What they could write home was limited. He told his mother he was learning some French and that outside of drill hours they played baseball and other games.
Kenneth returned in June 1919 as a Corporal after 14 months overseas. His younger brother George remained home to help on the farm, but lost his life to the Spanish Flu epidemic which took many in Rockville during the fall of 1918. Andrew was spared exposure to the disease that ravaged Vernon while surviving the War. The brothers were likely close and the loss must have been hard on him.
Kenneth was a farmer and very involved with the Grange as were his father and grandfather. In 1916-17 before leaving for service he was a very young Master of the Grange as he was again in 1925-26 after returning.
On October 16, 1920 Andrew married Gladys Mae Hibbard,23 of Longmeadow, MA, a stenographer. Gladys (1897-1993) had been born in Ellington. She too became a Master of the Grange in 1938. Kenny was a life member of the Vernon Grange and of the Fayette Lodge in Ellington.
In 1929 his father sold the farm and a year later Andrew, now 34, became a foreman living with his wife Gladys, 32 and daughter Anne, 7 in Vernon. Although his father sold the farmland in the valley he passed the Valley Falls property on to Andrew.
Kenneth remained in the farming business, but now as a manager of large farms. The family moved to Bethlehem and he went on to manage farms for the state in Vernon, Woodbury and Norwich.
In 1986 Kenneth died at age 90 at the Masonic Home in Wallingford. He was brought back to Elmwood for burial with his Vernon family. The remaining property he owned in Vernon above Valley Falls passed to his daughter Anne Knapp and her husband Andrew.
The Andrew Kenneth Webster Preserve
Ken had one daughter, Anne who was born in Vernon. She married Andrew Knapp of Bethlehem, CT. Ken lived with them in his last years, died in 1986 and was buried back in Vernon in Elmwood Cemetery with his parents and grandparents.
Andrew and Anne Knapp had one son, Andrew Webster Knapp. Through the years the 35-acre wood lot next to Valley Falls Park remained a favorite place to visit. From time to time the Knapps would hike the trails, visit vernal pools and picnic on the cliff overlooking the valley.
When Anne aged and was living in a nursing home the men decided to sell the property; but as the family had so enjoyed it wanted they wanted to see it preserved rather than developed.
|NCLT walk above Valley Falls.
In 2004 Andrew and Anne Webster Knapp sold the 35-acre Valley Falls parcel to the Northern CT Land Trust, who named it the Andrew Kenneth Webster Preserve.
At the closing Knapp said, "It was always an adventure to go off to the woods, out into open spaces with my family. We would always be there for the first day of trout fishing."
Thus the George Webster family's stewardship and love of the land they worked led to the Belding Wildlife Management Area and preservation of the Webster Preserve high above Valley Falls Park.
Now the Northern CT Land Trust maintains the trails and each October lead a walk of the property to the overlook above Valley Falls.
After the early Elmwood Memorials were published we were contacted by Nancy Whitman, a Webster descendant living in New Hampshire. Knowing little about the family and curious about the name on the NCLT Valley Falls preserve we began researching, with considerable help from Nancy Whitman, Carol Nelson and Nancy Strong who are related to the Webster family.
The old photos are courtesy of Nancy Whitman.
Much of the story was pieced together from deeds, newspaper stories and online genealogy sites.
Updated July 2023