Wolcott Historical Society News - October 2020
By Florence Goodman
Before sharing this month's article, I'd like to add some additional information that I received from Don Therkildsen about Happy Hollow Farm. In 1954, his dad, Myron Therkildsen and James Homewood bought seventy-two acres of land on Center Street, known as the Arthur Harrison property. It also included Harrison's abandoned home at 388 Center Street. Of these seventy-two acres twelve were on the north side of Center Street and sixty were on the south side and also bordered Bound Line Road. This newly acquired land allowed them to greatly expand their business. They had approximately 10,000 chickens that were housed in a 240-foot long building that today is the home of the Wolcott Veterinary Clinic. The egg business was known as "Happy Hollow Farm" and their motto/logo was "Our eggs are Best, Fresh from the Nest." Their thriving egg business included home delivery and a retail sales market, which was housed in the basement at the home of James Homewood and family at 409 Center Street. This is where they washed the eggs and weighed and graded them. They had a long conveyer belt with a light underneath, which allowed them to check the eggs and then sort them by size. Myron and his family moved into the Arthur Harrison homestead located across the street and it is still in the Therkildsen family today. Happy Hollow Farm continued to serve the residents of Wolcott and surrounding communities for many years. In 1968 most of the land was sold to Manka, Lyga and Walsh who developed it into Farmingbury Settlement, an up-scaled residential community. Thanks, Don for this additional history on Happy Hollow Farm!
A recent "remember when" post on Facebook from Art Santopietro generated a great conversation about past businesses located in town. This post allowed me to obtain several early 1930s photos from another former resident, Robert Kraft that were taken in front of the MacCormack family home on Wolcott Road. I wrote about MacCormack's Cider Mill in April of 2012 and mentioned it again in August of 2012, but with the addition of these new photos I wanted to revisit this very interesting history.
Starting in the early 1800s the Mad River provided waterpower to several mills from Center Street to Nichols Road. The parking lot of Pat's IGA along Wolcott Road was once a beautiful mill pond and Pritchard's Sawmill was built across the street on the falls and rock formation on Center Street. Further down the river behind Rite Aid and Samson Machine Inc were two cider mills, Pritchard's and MacCormack's.
William MacCormack was born on February 19, 1860 in Longford, Ireland and came to this country in 1864. He was the son of John and Ann (Jones) MacCormack. When he first came to this area from New York it was to pursue his craft of carpentry, but the pay was far from adequate so he moved his family to Wolcott in 1890 to open some type of mill. He started out chopping and carting wood and doing a variety of odd jobs when he realized that people were taking bushels of apples to Pritchard's Cider Mill to be pressed, then selling the cider for a nice profit.
It was at that point Bill MacCormack decided to try his hand at the apple cider business. He gathered 1500 bushels of apples with the intent of having Mr. Pritchard press them into cider, but to his horror the mill wasn't working that week. He had all those apples to dispose of so he had to work fast. He purchased the old Hiram Payne mill on the Mad River, which consisted of a crude wooden press with two screws and that was the beginning of his cider business.
Working fourteen hours a day, MacCormack was able to produce five barrels of cider each day. On days when a stone was mixed in with the apples it cost him a day's work because the graters were made from wood with pegs stuck into them and the stones would destroy the grater, which he would then have to rebuild.
In time, Mr. MacCormack was able to purchase better equipment and a better mill, which greatly improved production. By then he also had his son working the mill with him. They were now able to turn out 175 barrels of cider per day and people couldn't wait to get their hands on that delightful beverage. Cider was sold all over town and especially at the local agricultural fairs.
His land covered a large area from the Mad River along Wolcott Road, up MacCormack Drive (named for his family) and over to Potuccos Ring Road to where Fire Company #3 is today. A good portion of his land was covered with apple orchards. His home, which is still standing today, was on the corner of Potuccos Ring and Wolcott Roads. Bill had a gasoline pump and an ice cream stand next to the house that was located on Wolcott Road where Bill and Sam's Diner is today. In May of 1954, Company #3 purchased some of the old MacCormack farmland on the corner of Lyman and Potuccos Ring Roads with an old barn still on the property. The members of Company #3 tore down the barn, but left the foundation on which they built their first three-bay firehouse. You can still see some of that old foundation if you look towards the back of the firehouse from Lyman Road.
Over the years "Bill" MacCormack became known as the "Cider King" because of his expertise in growing apples and in the production of apple cider, but he was also well known as a weather prophet. People in the community respected his knowledge and expertise in both these areas. Some time in the early 1930s Bill retired and his son, Louis took over the cider mill. William MacCormack died at his Wolcott Road home on June 16, 1936, at the age of 76; he is buried in the Old Pine Grove Cemetery in Waterbury. His wife Mary died before him.
On April 16, 1944 the old Pritchard Sawmill, which had been a landmark on the Mad River since 1751, was destroyed by fire. The Wolcott Volunteer Fire Department was alerted of the fire at 4:30 A.M. by George Hall who lived on the west side of the Wolcott Green and could see the mill burning from his home. The fire company could not save the sawmill, which had closed in 1939 after being in operation for 80 years, but thankfully they were able to stop the fire from spreading to MacCormack's Cider Mill. If they had not been able to stop the spread of the fire, MacCortmack's Mill might have closed earlier than it did. The exact date of when MacCormack's mill closed is not available.
If you enjoy hiking, you can hike south behind the back of the Rite Aid parking lot and along the river you will come across some old foundations, which were probably the remains of MacCormack"s old cider mill. You can also see the remains of Pritchard's Sawmill on Center Street if you hike north from that location.
(Information from this article was taken from articles found in the Waterbury American> articles from Sept. 1930, March 1932, 1953, and April 16, 1944; a 2012 conversations with the late John Rossi of Long Meadow Drive and George Maher of Woodtick Road; a death certificate of William MacCormack in Town Clerk's records; a Sept. 2020 conversation with Don Therkildsen; and photos from Robert Kraft)
At the corner of Potuccos Ring and Wolcott Roads stood the MacCormack home, gas pump and ice cream stand. The home still stands there today next to Bill & Sam's Diner.
Mrs. MacCormack standing with Chuck and Bob Kraft in front of her home.
Bill MacCormack sampling his cider, circa 1931.
This old MacCormack cider jug was found at the remains of the mill by the late John Rossi in the 1950s.
This is MacCormack's cider mill in 1896.
A very young Don Therkildsen in front of his house in 1960s.
The Arthur Harrison house at 388 Center Street in 2014.
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