Sugar Maples, Cider Brandy and the Spite Barn

Sugar Maples, Cider Brandy and the Spite Barn

Thank you to the Bloomfield Journal for letting us reprint this seventh article in a series
published in Volume 32, Issue 51
Friday, December 19, 2008

Can you answer these Trivia Questions about Bloomfield?
1. What is the largest body of water completely located in Bloomfield?
2. What was banned from in front of houses from 1973 to 1980?
3. Name the only manufacturing plant in Bloomfield in 1945.
4. Which Supreme Court Justice first hung his shingle here?
5. How many Bloomfield men are listed on the National Vietnam Veterans Memorial?


Reading history can be a dry, uninspiring exercise; lots of dates, names and places. But in perusing records of the Wintonbury Historical Society, one can find interesting details of early Bloomfield residents who played major and minor rolls in our history. And this adds to our understanding of life in earlier centuries.

Have you ever wondered who planted the sugar maple trees that have lined Maple Avenue and Burr Road?  Captain David Grant was a successful farmer, legislator and staunch churchman.  He boarded the poor for the town and state.   He and his son David Wadsworth Grant, who also served in the legislature, at one time owned 600 acres along the top of the hill on Maple Avenue and below on the east side of it as well as what is today called Grant Hill. They took great pride in their land holdings that included the farms of the Capen Brothers and the Humphrey and Burr families.  The Grants built the beautiful trap-rock house as well as the house that is now the Cottage Grove Conference Center.  It was David W. Grant who planted the maple trees on the west side of Maple Avenue to Burr Road and along both sides of Burr Road in 1823. For many years pails hung on the trees gathering sap for maple syrup in the late winter. Unfortunately, many of the trees have been taken down.

In 1869, on what is now Juniper Road, there were people living in 3 houses – and one cave where a Mr. White lived for many years.  He apparently had “consumption,” or tuberculosis. His mother and sister lived on the Capen farm and cooked and brought meals to him. The only treatment then for TB was a nutritious diet and “fresh air” and this remained essentially the only treatment available until the 1940s when Streptomycin, one of the early antibiotics, was shown to be effective against the tubercle bacillus.  We don’t know Mr. White’s outcome but he must have had many cold, lonesome days and nights.

At the corner of Tariffville and Duncaster Roads is the old Hoskins Tavern, built in 1832 by Rockwell Hoskins. Scan 3It was owned by the Hoskins family for over 100 years and operated as a tavern from 1832 to 1850.  It was on the stagecoach line that went from Hartford to Westfield, Massachusetts, but with its dance hall and tap room, it was also a popular place for neighbors to gather.  The man who lived next door on Tariffville Road, was a frequent customer and ran up a large bill at the tavern. Henry Hoskins took him to court and the man was forced to pay, but he was so angry, he put up a barn right on the lot line and close to the road so that he would not have to look at the tavern again. And thus it became known as “the spite barn.”

In 1858, John and Margaret Forsyth bought a farm and home that had been built in 1760 in north Bloomfield on what is now Duncaster Road.  An indentured servant, Isaac George, came from England to help with the farm work, moving on when he completed his indenture. When he heard of the death of the Forsyths in the 1880s, he returned and bought the place. After Isaac died, his wife Lydia stayed on alone, her two children having married and moved away.  Lydia is described as having “peculiarities” such as having a coffin in her house in which she stored apples. One story is that she bought it for herself with foresight as an investment.  Another version of the story is that she bought it for Isaac when he was sick but had to keep it 20 years before he died.

In the nineteenth century, one of the most lucrative as well as respectable industries in town was the making of cider brandy.  It is said that at one time there were at least 25 cider mills and distilleries in town.  (Still Road, part of the boundary between Bloomfield and West Hartford, is so-named because of a large still that was at the eastern end of that road.) Another member of the Hoskins family, Charles Hoskins. lived for many years on what is now appropriately called Hoskins Road. He served at least one term in the state legislature. He ran a very successful cider mill and still and to distinguish him from other members of his family, he was known as Cider Brandy Hoskins. The story is told that in a year when the apple crop was poor, Cider Brandy Hoskins was heard to complain that he had been able to turn out only 300 barrels of this popular beverage that season.  It was said that it took 5000 bushels of apples plus 25 cords of wood to produce 1500 gallons cider brandy.

Long before the Revolutionary War, Daniel Wilcox came from Granby to land that is at the end of what is now Gun Mill Road. He built a dam across a brook north of his house and erected a saw mill, a gun mill and blacksmith shop. Here he made guns for the Revolutionary War. He also served two terms in the State Legislature and was active in Old St. Andrews Church and, according to his grandson, also served in the Revolutionary Army.  It is interesting that in addition to guns, he made bear traps. His farm bordered on what is now Penwood State Park, apparently a nice home for black bears then as it is today.

by Ralph Schmoll
Wintonbury Historical Society

1. Gale Pond
2. For Sale signs
3. Johnson Gage
4. Oliver Ellsworth
5. Five