Dam History

Origins of the West Hill Pond Dam

From a 2006 Title Search by Margaret M. Cusick,

The property conveyed was on “each side of Shepard Pond Brook” and was conveyed by John Foote to Ezra Griffin. Ezra Griffin also acquired a strip of land, part of an original highway, from the Town of Barkhamsted- see Vol.5, pg.92, as well as other adjoining property. The property upon which the dam is located can be directly traced from this 1796 deed. Ezra Griffin conveyed the above land, as well as other land, to
William Battell on 8/15/1809- see Vol. 7, pg. 74. That deed mentions a gristmill and sawmill. When William Battell conveyed to Roswell Marsh on 9/21/1809- see Vol. 7, pg. 205, reference was to “a small piece at the neck of the Shepard”.
2006 Title Search by Margaret M. Cusick

Roswell Marsh conveyed all his lands to his daughter Anna Merrill. According to Margaret Cusick,

On 10/15/1864, she, along with Joseph Merrill, conveyed a saw mill and shingle mill on the outlet to Shepards Pond and all the land in connection with the same, as well as water privileges at the outlet, to The Green Woods Scythe Company.
2006 Title Search by Margaret M. Cusick

Their interest in purchasing the water rights is explained by New Hartford Past and Present,

In 1864 the Greenwood’s Scythe Co. purchased right to dam this outlet, to compensate the Greenwoods Cotton Mills for water used during the month of June, July and August, when by terms of agreement, they (the Scythe Co.) were debarred from using the water on Greenwood’s Pond. When the Greenwood’s Co. bought out the Scythe Co.’s Works they took this privilege, and in 1876 for safety, at an expense of $1200, put in a permanent stone bulk-head at the outlet of the lake. This raises the surface of the water nine feet thereby submerging Loon Island. The Greenwood’s Company have a gate about twenty-four inches square, by which they draw the water in case of exigency, when their Otis reservoir fails to furnish sufficient extra supply. A gatekeeper remains in charge of the the outlet. When this nine feet of water has been exhausted, the springs will not again fill the basin, but it must remain in its lowered condition until heavy rains or melting snows restore the needed supply.
– New Hartford Past and Present

More about the Greenwood’s Company can be found in the archives of the New Hartford Historical Society, but the key fact from the perspective of West Hill Lake is that the Greenwood’s Scythe Co. closed its doors in 1873. According to the New Hartford Historical Society archives,

The Greenwoods name was attached (to the Greenwood’s Scythe Co.) because it drew its power from the Greenwood’s dam and also much of the company’s infrastructure and capital was connected to either Greenwoods or its shareholders. The factory was located at the west end of the village, directly above the dam. The second-to-last house on the north side and the last house on the south side on Route 44 westbound were connected to the company, as offices, company houses or barns.At first the factory prospered: despite being destroyed by fire in 1869, it was immediately rebuilt. However, by 1873 the company was in trouble and closed in that same year. It may have been a combination of factors. The largest factor was that the main Greenwoods company needed all the water-power and financial capital it could get; its refusal to subsidize the Scythe company was lethal.
– New Hartford Historical Society

Just who took control of the water rights and dam on West Hill Pond following the closing of the Greenwood’s Scythe Co. in 1873 is unclear. But it might be assumed that since West Hill’s tributary – the Morgan Brook – fed the Farmington upstream of the Greenwood’s Company dam, that those rights were maintained by the Greenwood’s Company. Today it is hard to fathom the impact of the Greenwood’s Co. on the history of New Hartford. The Historical Society relates that the company owned considerable realestate and infrastructure including a significant dam on the Farmington River whose fate bears caution …

After the company left in 1901, with a final sale of inventory/real estate in 1903, the buildings were used by several other companies. However, the last of these left in the early 1930’s. The Greenwoods dam, by then over eighty years old, failed in March, 1936. The failure was caused by poor maintenance combined with an ice jam and unusually high water; and the entire 32 foot tall, 200 foot long dam gave way. This event dramatically changed, beyond all recognition, the face of New Hartford: Greenwoods Pond, most of the mill complex, a large portion of downtown, and a substantial amount of Pine Meadow vanished in a matter of minutes.
– New Hartford Historical Society

Just downstream of New Hartford on the Farmington River lies the Hamlet of Collinsville, site of the former Collins Company factories. The Collins Company was formed in 1826 and experienced explosive growth as a result of sound management and the good fortune of being the largest edge tool manufacturers in the world … a manufacturing capability that was leveraged to produce bayonets and swords during the American Civil War. The buildings – closed now for nearly half a century – straddled the Farmington River – with the company name lending itself to its location, Collinsville. The Collin’s Co. maintained dams on the Farmington River for power generation and at some point, likely after the departure of the Greenwood’s Co in 1901 and their sale of assets in 1903, purchased both the water rights for West Hill Pond.

Fast forward to 1964 and the Collins Company having barely recovered from the flood of 1955 ceased local operations. Don Viering – an active Canton resident and community member, including charter member of the Canton Zoning Commission – maintained a residence on West Hill Pond. Mr. Viering had been vexed by the communities lack of control over the water level with the level sometime abruptly changing in the summer to where Mr. Viering would find his rowboat high and dry just a week after it had been bobbing nicely at its mooring. Mr. Viering’s connections to the Canton/Collinsville Community provided him with the insight that the Collins Company might be disposing of assets which would have included the water rights to West Hill Pond. Viering approached stakeholders at West Hill Pond who formed the West Hill Pond Association and acquired those water rights from the Collins Company which included ownership of the dam. Finally the waterfront stakeholders at West Hill Pond had control of the height of the lake and operation of the dam. For the past half century, that association has managed all aspects of dam maintenance and safety. While the West Hill Pond Association (WHPA) owns the dam, the land on which the dam is situated is owned by the Laurel Acres Property Association (LAPOA) and the road crossing the dam is owned by the Town of Barkhamsted.