Day Trips: Barkhamsted, a town where much of the land is still forest

Published on Friday, 2 February 2018 19:05
Written by Marty Podskoch

Barkhamsted is a rural town in northwest Connecticut. Our town history is a lot shorter than most Connecticut towns because Barkhamsted was one of the last areas settled in the state. The town was incorporated in 1779. Why so late? Good farm land was not abundant in Barkhamsted, so many bypassed the town in favor of more fertile areas. Also, the town is not located near the ocean or on a big river. Transportation was difficult due to steep, rocky hills, numerous streams, and thick woods. As settlement progressed sawmills, gristmills, and other water-powered mills were soon up and running. Most early residents were farmers for family consumption with any surplus traded at market.

The population grew fairly rapidly in town until about 1830. But then a 100-year decline began, primarily because of two factors: better farmland available to the west, and the growth of urban factory jobs in other towns. Barkhamsted had some small factories, including the famous Hitchcock Chair Co., but never developed a robust manufacturing base. The railroad eventually came through town but there were no railroad depots in Barkhamsted.

In the 1930s a pressing need for more drinking water for Hartford led to the construction of the Saville Dam and Barkhamsted Reservoir. The reservoir had a huge impact on the town. A section called Barkhamsted Hollow was flooded and much of the watershed land was reserved. Farms, small villages, and the town’s municipal center were displaced. In addition, two large State Forests were established in Barkhamsted. Today, almost half the land area of Barkhamsted is devoted to Peoples State Forest, American Legion State Forest, and the water company land, limiting economic development but insuring open space, a rural character, and the beauty of our town.

Interesting Places

Historic Squires Tavern Museum. Operated by the Barkhamsted Historical Society. Exhibits, historic photos of Barkhamsted, restored tavern and farmhouse. Open year-round on Wed. 9 am to noon and Sun. 1 to 4 pm. 100 East River Rd. 860-738-2456

Peoples State Forest. Main area located on East River Road. about one mile north of Pleasant Valley and one of Connecticut’s most beautiful state forests. Excellent trout fishing, canoeing, and tubing in the Farmington River, which is designated as a Wild & Scenic River. Miles of hiking trails (many with excellent vistas), snowmobile trails, picnic areas along the river, and a nature museum. Office: 860-379-2469

Peoples State Forest Nature Museum. A stone-faced building originally built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1935. Information on native flora and fauna, animal mounts and skulls, minerals and insect specimens. Also displays about area pioneers, Native Americans, logging, quarrying, and the Civilian Conservation Corps. Greenwoods Rd. Seasonal hours.

American Legion State Forest. Offers fishing, hunting, canoeing, and kayaking. There are also 30 camp sites in the Austin Hawes Campground that is in a wooded setting. Season begins in mid-April and ends Labor Day.

Saville Dam. One can walk on the dam to see beautiful water vistas. Free parking. At intersection of Routes 318 and 219.

Village of Riverton. A charming New England village with historic Hitchcock Chair

showroom (13 Riverton Rd. Tues. thru Sat. 10 am to 4 pm), glassblower shop, general store, and other quaint shops. Riverton Fair on second weekend in October. On Route 20 in the northwest part of Barkhamsted.

Pleasant Valley Drive-in Theater. One of the few remaining in Connecticut, a classic Americana experience. Snack bar available. Has operated since the 1940s. 47 River Rd. (Rt. 181). 860-379-6102

Paul Hart, Barkhamsted Historical Society

This is an excerpt from the book, The Connecticut 169 Club: Your Passport & Guide to Adventure. It was written by local residents to encourage people to visit the beautiful 169 towns & cities in Connecticut. The 8.5 x 11 hardcover book contains 368 pages and over 180 illustrations, maps, and photos. It was edited by Marty Podskoch, author of eight books including the Conn. Civilian Conservation Corps Camps, Catskill & Adirondack fire towers, Adk CCC Camps, Adk 102 Club, and Adk illustrated stories. The travel book will be available in late summer 2018. One can pre-order a signed book with free shipping by sending $24.95 plus CT sales tax $1.58 to: Podskoch Press, 43 O’Neill Lane, East Hampton, CT 06424 Also available in late summer 2018 at local stores, Amazon, and Barnes & Noble. Information (860)267-2442

Posted in The Bristol Press, General News on Friday, 2 February 2018 19:05. Updated: Friday, 2 February 2018 19:07.