Wolcott Historical Society News - June 2020
By Florence Goodman
Last month's article about victory gardens was written with the sign of the times in mind. Although I could not specify where these gardens might have been planted in town, I failed to mention that many people who lived in rural areas usually planted family gardens. Since the establishment of the Farmingbury parish in the mid 1600s, settlers needed to till the soil to survive; thus farming has always been woven into our history. Ten years ago I wrote a series of articles about the forty plus early farms in our town and I thought it was time to revisit this topic.
As previously stated, farming was a way of life for most of the early settlers of Wolcott, but it was not an easy task. The old stonewalls that border so many properties around town are reminders that those stones were dug from the thin rocky soil in the process of tilling the land. This land was far from ideal for growing crops, but our strong forefathers did just that in order to put food on the table. They also raised cattle, dairy cows, poultry, ducks and pigs to feed their families, which was also a necessary bartering tool. Sustenance farming was a way of life in these early days and included the whole family. Everyone had chores either inside or outside and there was no age or gender discrimination; their days were long and hard.
Some Wolcott farmers tried growing crops to sell at farmers' markets, but found that their crops matured weeks later than those grown in Southington, Cheshire, and Meriden because the town's higher elevations delayed the start of the growing season. There were however, many dairy farms in our town. Most of these farmers had full time jobs in Waterbury or other surrounding towns; thus farm work was done at dawn and dusk by family members in addition to going to their regular jobs or attending school. In the summer, many school age children worked on their family farms. These farms helped residents survive in good times and bad and many of them were still in existence until the 1960s.
Today we still have a few farms left in our town; they are Echo Farms, Homewood's Happy Hollow Farm, Atwood's Farm, which is now called Pillwillop Therapeutic Farm and Hillside Equestrian Farm. Since Echo Farms is the only one that I know of that produces crops for resale this is where I will begin.
As you travel south on Woodtick Road just past Frisbie School you can't miss Echo Farms, which is located at 292 Woodtick Road and is owned and operated by Bill Gniazdowski Jr. This sixty-acre piece of land was originally called Bock Farm and the original house, which is hidden in the back section of the present house, was built around 1895. The larger gambrel roof section that is in the front of the house was built around 1913 by Mrs. Bock's brothers, the Schindler's.
Mr. and Mrs. Bill Gniazdowski Sr. purchased the run-down farm from Mrs. Bock in 1935. They started their farming experience by turning the property into a large turkey farm from 1940 to 1942. Then from 1943 to 1945 chickens covered this farmland. After raising poultry for five years, Bill Gniazdowski Sr. decided to raise hogs for a short period of time, but he was not allowed to bring in any type of garbage to feed them so he moved that venture to Naugatuck. From 1949 to 1962 he raised beef cattle on the farm; there were 110 cattle in the herd. This was a huge undertaking so in 1962, the Gniazdowski's decided to slow down and find another use for some of their land. In that year, they began leasing their largest field to the Wolcott Baseball Association in exchange for the payment of property taxes, which worked out well for twenty-four years. As the saying goes, " all good things must come to an end," well this agreement ended in 1986," after the Association and the Gniazdowski's were sued over a 1984 incident in which a boy broke his leg while playing on the field.
In 1978, Bill Jr. gave up his career as an insurance adjustor to take over the farm from his parents. He and his dad built a new barn on the original foundation of the old barn around 1979. Then Bill with the help of his family began planting fifteen acres of blueberries, about 9000 bushes, on the land. Over time the blueberry farm slowly turned into a vegetable farm and today there is only a small field of blueberries. The main crops that are grown are vegetables and flowers. By mid-May you can find Bill's greenhouses filled with bedding plants and vegetables as well as a large variety of beautiful hanging flower baskets. There are also several greenhouses filled with hothouse hybrid tomatoes, lettuce and bedding plants. The fields are planted as well with other produce such as squash, cauliflower, eggplant and peppers. Much of the crops grown on the farm are sold to local farm markets in the area, but anyone can purchase fresh produce daily at the farm stand, which is always stocked with the best tomatoes as well as corn and other produce from local farms; he also delivers topsoil. It's wonderful to see this working farm still thriving in our town today; thanks Bill for your hard work and dedication.
(Information for this article was taken from The History of Wolcott, Connecticut from 1731 to 1874 by Samuel Orcutt, 1986 Historic Resources Inventory by Paul Loether, and an interview with Bill Gniazdowski of Wolcott in 2010; photographs compliments of Bill Gniadowski Jr; 2020 photos of house and barn from Flo Goodman)
A 1936 photo of the Gniazdowski barn and house in Woodtick Road. (Photo compliments of Bill Gniazdowski, Jr.)
Turkeys feeding in front of an old building on the property on Woodtick Road in the 1940s.
A greenhouse at Echo Farm that will soon be overflowing with bedding plants and hanging flower baskets.
The sign at the entrance to the greenhouse.
A 2020 photo of the Gniazdowski barn on Woodtick Road.
A 2020 photo of the Gniazdowski home on Woodtick Road.
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