From the West Hartford Archives: New Britain Avenue Near Corbin’s Corner

Joseph Butler House. 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

This is a photo of the Joseph H. Butler house and roadside stand on the north side of New Britain Avenue, just west of Berkshire Road, where I-84 runs today. This house at 1372 New Britain Ave. was in the Butler family for over 100 years.

Henry C. Butler was born in this house on Sept. 11, 1843, to Orange C. Butler and Mary Francis. This 1700s house was known as the Jemima Brace house after its original owner.

Other than two years, Henry Butler lived here his entire life, working the farm that backed up to the current Mildred Road. He took his own life at the age of 84 in October 1927 after the failure of his potato crop and the condemnation of his cattle by tuberculosis. His wife, Julia Francis, and his son, Joseph, took over the management of the farm until the former’s death in the spring of 1935. Joseph therefore became the last direct survivor of the family. In the 1940s and 1950s, Joseph conducted a roadside produce stand outside the house.

In 1962, he moved to Farmington. From the research I did, it wasn’t very clear from first glance if he sold the house and it was used for I-84 afterwards or if the house was specifically condemned and he moved afterwards. When the property was demolished in the fall of 1962, the timing aligned with other houses in the area that were condemned by the highway construction.

At the time of its removal, the inventory of the property showed the house, one-story roadside stand, two-story barn, two-car garage, greenhouse, shed, and chicken coops. I-84 opened through the land a few years later and Exit 40 was constructed where the roadside stand once stood. As for Butler, he died in 1966, a few years after moving to Farmington, and left no direct relatives.

In the late 1930s through the 1950s, as Ridgewood Road was being developed, land was bought from the Butlers for housing.

James F. Ryan, a veteran real estate developer in town for many decades, laid out Mildred Road across the northern border of the Butler land in the early 1950s. This was the beginning of the roads around Conard High School, including Berkshire Road, Beechwood Road, Westpoint Terrace, and Miles Standish Drive.

To the east of 1372 New Britain Ave was 1358 at the northwest corner of Berkshire Road. This was also owned by the Butler family, although for much less time. After it was sold to Annette Chatfield in 1928, a relative of the Gerths who owned a farm across the street on the south side for many years, it was added onto and renovated. In 1957, the West Hartford Methodist Church, which had been at the corner of Boulevard and Lockwood Terrace for more than 30 years, bought this property and relocated to the corner of New Britain Ave and Berkshire Road. A church was built on the site in 1959, just a few years before Sears opened down the street and before Exit 40 was laid out next door. The current building was constructed in 1970 and still stands today.

Many people know the West Hartford United Methodist Church on New Britain Avenue as the “pumpkin church.” Photo credit: Ronni Newton (we-ha.com file photo)

This whole neighborhood was home to many different farms with many families, some generational and some very new. There were many old houses on both sides of the avenue, but none exist today – all were torn down for one reason or another. The last building to survive, the Gerth barn, burned down in August 1972.

More than 50 years later, the landscape is almost the scene, with some slight changes. Books could be written about how their families tied together over the centuries, but some honorable mentions of family names that lasted in today’s street names and many others that were simply lost to time: Francis, Newton, Gerth, Chatfield, Bramley, Wolcott, Long, Dodge, McCartney, Foster, Hoye, and Corbin. Major intersections like Corbin’s Corner are historically significant, but the forgotten land in between was also important to the families that lived there. Many descendants today possibly have information or photos of this area without ever thinking it’s significant to our local history. Memories and photos were taken for granted when they were contemporary, but as time goes by, what we contribute now may be the only thing we have left to remember.

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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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    • I agree wholeheartedly, this is great to learn from the perspective of someone who has lived in town only 12 years I can see small changes or improvements in town. It’s great to see the history of our town, past and present as it’s happening.

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