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From the West Hartford Archives: 977 Farmington Avenue to LaSalle Road

South side of Farmington Avenue in West Hartford CenterPhoto courtesy of Noah Webster House & West Hartford Historical Society

Historian Jeff Murray takes a look into West Hartford’s past to uncover some surprising information, stir up some memories, or reflect on how much life has changed – or hasn’t changed at all. Enjoy this week’s ‘From West Hartford’s Archives’ …

By Jeff Murray

The stretch of land on the south side of Farmington Avenue from approximately 971 to 977 Farmington Avenue was owned in the late 1800s by the widow of Jason Shepard – Mary Jane Griswold – a prominent member of the latter family in West Hartford.

Griswold was the biggest landowner on the southwest corner of Main Street and Farmington Avenue until the end of World War I, allowing her to rake in the rents and develop gradually over time. Some of the earliest stores in the Center that lasted through the years were built or established under her ownership, like John Fish’s meat market. The so-called Shepard Building, further east than this photo, contained a tinner’s shop, a horse car repair shop, the Selden family’s ice cream parlor, a feed store, and a barber, providing a foundation for early businesses that would evolve and expand to other towns.

In the case of the parcel of land in this featured photo, it remained empty for decades as stores were built all around it.

Beginning in the 1910s, Griswold began selling off portions of this land to Susie Butler Andrews, who had accumulated property at other corners in the Center and beyond. In 1919, she bought from Griswold a large tract of land that became 971-977 Farmington Avenue, just two years before Griswold died and divided the entire estate into 37 equal parts for the surviving family. One might say that this two-year transition mirrored the modern growth of the town in this post-WWI era.

Susie Butler, who grew up on the northeast corner of Main Street and Farmington Avenue, married Myron Andrews, a Hartford banker. Her grandfather on her mother’s side was Rev. Myron Morris, pastor of the Congregational Church from 1852 to 1874. She helped build upon her father’s property at that corner over the years and steadily acquired real estate to subdivide, like Dale Street across from LaSalle Road. When she bought the 249-foot parcel of land from 971-977 Farmington Avenue, it was the largest unoccupied and undeveloped land on the west side of Main Street. The population of West Hartford in 1920 was 8,854, just under double what it was in 1910. It was set to triple in just another 10 years, meaning the Andrews family was in possession of highly desirable land.

The empty lands west of the Center were quick to go after this. In 1921, Susie leased the eastern portion at 971 Farmington Ave. to Seymour & Michaels, who built a 40-car garage for winter storage and maintenance. They had a gas station located at Raymond Road, so this garage became their new headquarters and office. This is where Bartaco and Barcelona are today.

Seymour & Michaels stayed here until the spring of 1930 when Universal Motors took over the property and rented from Susie land further west at 975 Farmington Avenue for a gas station.

A few weeks before she died of tuberculosis, in the midst of the Great Depression, Susie quitclaimed the land to the newly formed Andrews Corporation. Her four children owned an equal share in the partnership. In the spring of 1953, the corporation did not renew the lease of Universal Motors and the area transitioned from a gas station and car garage to a long string of restaurants, most notably the Maple Hill Restaurant in 1955.

Current property lines actually follow the old Griswold-Andrews parcel over 100 years later

The fate of 977 Farmington Avenue (and the subject of this photo) branched off from its neighbor in the fall of 1924 when Susie Andrews sold the long lot to Thomas Mohen and Charles F. Amidon, who operated the Hartford car dealer Mohen & Amidon. They may have had plans to develop the lot into a dealership or other auto business, but they did nothing with this property over several years – literally nothing apparently because they were cited by the health department in May 1930 for not clearing stagnant water on the property. According to the Hartford Courant, “During the past few weeks, people in the Center have been attracted by the croaking of frogs on this land and have found boys hunting them.” They were ordered to drain the land and did so quickly.

It is an absurd scenario imagining the modern rumble of 1920s cars just feet from a collection several frogs along stagnant water, but West Hartford had it for a limited time. After the area was cleaned up and cleared, the land was rented to Grody Chevrolet as a used car lot for just a few months. Israel Grody had opened the agency in West Hartford from Bristol in July 1934 along Raymond Road and opened the car lot until just November, removing it to Hartford.

If the Griswolds were a sign of the 1800s and the Andrews family was a sign of the 1920s, it was the Sinatro family that brought us to now. From the croaking of frogs to the used car lot, the lot at 977 Farmington Avenue had not seen a consistent tenant until May 1935 when Pasquale and Mabel Sinatro bought the lot from Mohen & Amidon.

They had 977 Farmington Avenue built starting that summer for an expansion of Sage-Allen, which had been just west at 981 Farmington Ave (as the West Hartford branch) since 1930. The architects of this new building were Mylchreest and Reynolds of Hartford, with West Hartford Councilman Dennis Ahern as contractor. They laid out a driveway to the east of the lot (seen on the far left side of the featured photo) for rear parking. The Sinatros developed the east side of LaSalle Road through the 1930s and 1940s, helping to fully develop this section of the Center.

A photo of the store building at 977 Farmington Avenue in the spring of 1937 shows Sage-Allen occupying only one of four spots (the far left). Kottenhoff’s Drug Store, the Central Flower Shop, and the Model Food Store occupied the other flats. The Sage-Allen store doubled in size soon after, taking over Kottenhoff’s and half the building with it.

The commercialization of the 1950s brought a massive expansion to the store and a second floor addition was built in the summer of 1962. By this point, the West Hartford branch was the oldest and largest of the four branches. After it closed in 1990, the building was renovated but still owned by the Sinatros until they sold it to LaSalle Road Partners LLC in 2015.

his 1920 map shows Susie Andrews’ property she purchased from the Griswold estate a year prior.

Finally, the building at the corner of LaSalle Road – probably better known for Hilliard’s Candies – was owned by the Griswold family, but by a close relative of Mary J. Griswold Shepard. Allen Griswold, prominent builder nearby at Arapahoe Road, Four Mile Road, and Woodrow Street, built a house at this corner in 1912 for George R. Hall, which can be seen in the above map from 1920. His wife Agnes hosted many events at this house, including for the YMCA Women’s Auxiliary, the Rector’s Guild of St. James’s Church, the Women’s Literary Club, and the Storer Chapter Sewing Society. They lived there for 14 years until they sold the property in 1926 to Newkirk & Whitney, who remodeled it into a funeral home.

The corner of LaSalle Road and Farmington Avenue, between 1935 and 1937. Photo courtesy of Noah Webster House & West Hartford Historical Society

In 1929, they sold it to the May Realty Company, who tore it down. In pieces, the modern building at 981-985 Farmington Avenue was built under developer William Clark through 1931. The distinctive architecture came from the plans of George Zunner, who designed several other buildings in the area.

It hosted the original Sage-Allen West Hartford branch, multiple bakeries, a package store, O. W. Hjerpe & Sons, the Pickwick Book Shop, Bennett’s card store, and several more across multiple generations. Just a hundred years ago, this stretch of Farmington Avenue had a car garage, a gas station, stagnant water, and a house at the corner – what will come next?

971-977 Farmington Avenue, looking toward LaSalle Road. Google Street view

Corey Pane has completed his “Greetings From West Hartford” mural on the side of 977 Farmington Avenue. Photo credit: Ronni Newton (we-ha.com file photo)

Jeff Murray was born and raised in West Hartford and has been involved with the Noah Webster House & West Hartford Historical Society since 2011 when he was a high school student and won the Meyer Prize for his essay on local history. Jeff routinely volunteers as local history researcher uncovering information for numerous museum programs such as the West Hartford House Tour and West Hartford Hauntings. Jeff works as a data analyst at Pratt & Whitney.

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