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
On July 16, 1926, Paolo Cianci was turning left from New Britain Avenue onto South Main Street when another driver drove on the wrong side of the road towards him. He swerved to avoid him and hit this telephone pole. The driver who cut him off turned sharply to the left and sped away down New Britain Avenue and was never caught. This photo was taken by state police officer John J. Paulsen.
Most of the land on all four corners was owned by the Beach family in the 1920s, accumulated over many years. Charles M. Beach’s original dairy farm was on the northeast corner, the first house still standing at what is now Winthrop Road and Brightwood Lane. In the 1880s, Beach bought the Davenport farm across the street (the origin of Davenport Road) and used the old colonial house on the southwest corner as a boarding house for workers. In 1899, the Beach family bought the Mills farm at the northwest corner (the Mills house is the site of a veterinary hospital today). And to complete the four corners, Charles M. Beach’s son Charles E. Beach bought the Sarah Whitman Hooker house and land at the southeast corner.
The Vine Hill Farm, which is now Beachland Park and the side streets behind Mayflower Street, had been substantial, but after Charles M. Beach’s death in 1910 and WWI, farm production steadily declined with a turn towards factory work and competition from other farms. By the mid-1940s, most of the farm was sold off or donated by Charles M. Beach’s son and three daughters, but at the time of this photo in 1926, the first cracks in the Beach “empire” were just under the surface. Land was sliced off a little at a time.
In 1921, much further south, Pasquale Panella, who was born in Italy, bought 23 acres of land on South Main Street and what is now Greenhouse Boulevard to start Panella’s Greenhouse with his wife Maria. They conducted it for over 30 years. A sign at the top right displays an ad for Panella’s greenhouse, only 5 years old by this point.
A mailbox at the left reads Turner, the family of Frank Turner who lived at the corner of South Main and New Britain Avenue. As the Beach family continued selling off land, new houses sprung up in the 1930s and 1940s along these two main roads, the town pushed for new shopping centers and businesses on all four corners into the 1950s and 1960s, and the Turners remained. It was Turner’s son, Frank Jr., who owned the land adjacent to what became the restaurant Joshua Tree in 1977, 51 years after this photo was taken.
A really good look at a corner in the middle of its transition from a local neighborhood farm to the busy commercial block that it is today.
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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