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 Velhage farmhouse at the northeast corner of Oakwood Avenue and Layton Street, looking northeast along what would become Layton.
The farmhouse is long gone now, but it was located at what is 110 Layton Street.
Frederick “William” Velhage owned this house at the time this photo was taken. Velhage was born in Berlin, Germany (what was then Prussia) in August 1840 and immigrated to the U.S. in 1855 with his parents, Christian and Hannah, marrying Mary Rabbeth in 1863. They moved to a farm in West Hartford in the 1860s on the east side of Oakwood Avenue near where Layton Street is today.
The Velhage farm was located from 410 Oakwood Avenue on the south side; Levesque Ave on the north side; and east all the way to the line of 53 Levesque, 50 Layton, and 49 Layton St. These building lines still exist today and due to the unique shape of the farm compared to old maps, the land can actually be traced out to mark the exact boundaries.
The family stayed in the neighborhood for many decades and was prominent in town affairs. Frank R. Velhage, their son, was a selectman in West Hartford in the early 1900s and also lived near Oakwood Ave on Levesque. William’s grandson and Frank’s son, Francis B. Velhage, grew up on the farm and entered service in World War I on April 7, 1917 with the Navy. Serving on the USS South Carolina as a gunner, he died in an accident aboard the ship when a grating fell and pinned him to the deck in September 1917. He was the first serviceman from West Hartford to die during WWI and was honored along with another fallen soldier, Waldo Hayes, when the local American Legion formed in 1922 as the Hayes-Velhage Post.
After William’s death in 1913, his wife Mary continued owning the land until the mid-1920s when she sold it off. Velhage’s neighbors, Patrick Martin and Bridget Cosgrove, owned the rest of what would become Layton Street, Melven Road, and Foley Street off New Park Ave from the late 1800s until the 1920s. When Layton Street was laid out starting from New Park Avenue in the mid-1920s, it was named after their daughter, Mary Martin Layton. The Velhage farmhouse remained through the 1930s on open farmland that extended east to where Layton Street stopped.
In 1937, developer Richard F. Jones, Jr. subdivided the land at Levesque and Layton for new houses in a tract called Velhage Lawn. It was driven by the anticipated opening of the Pratt & Whitney factory off Flatbush Avenue. The Velhage farmhouse was torn down soon after as new houses were built along Levesque and Layton through the 1940s. Since then, the neighborhood has looked nearly the same after 85 years.
While the Velhage farmhouse no longer stands, it lasted from just after the Civil War until nearly World War II and was the footprint for the housing that still stands in the Charter Oak neighborhood. While the farm isn’t as historically influential, sandwiched between the popular legend of Charter Oak Park and the French Canadian settlement that gave us Levesque, Caya, Boulanger, Mozart, and Westphal, the Velhage land was what filled in the gap between the two. This photo is one of the few remaining of this important land.
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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