Earlier this year I posted a photo from Images of America, Ellington, by Lynn Kloter Fahy, on the Market facebook page. I was astounded at the number of likes and comments requesting more photos and information on the history of farming in Ellington. As a result, we will be highlighting an Ellington farm each month on the Ellington Farmers’ Market blog. Some of the farms we tell you about will have long ago ceased farming and some are still actively farming today. Ellington’s rich agricultural history spans many generations. I hope you enjoy the blogs.
Meeting Joan Hyde Kummer
Mrs. Hyde Kummer
I recently had the honor and pleasure of meeting with Joan Hyde Kummer, the remaining family member to have grown up and participated in farming at the Hyde Farm, located on Somers Road in Ellington. At age 87, with clarity and a keen wit, she shared the history and her personal stories of growing up on the Hyde Farm.
In 1813, before it became the Hyde Farm, Peleg Martin of Thompson Connecticut built the federal style, ten-room red brick house about a mile and a half from the center of Ellington. He formed the red bricks by the brook that crossed the property and fired them at a local kiln. Peleg sold the house to Daniel Cushman Kibbe, who in 1856 sold it to Mrs. Kummer’s great, great grandfather, Epraim Hall Hyde and his wife Esther Foster. Epraim operated a dairy and grew broadleaf, open-field tobacco on the land.
Epraim and Esther’s son, Elbert, was a soldier in the civil war and wrote many letters home, one of which describes a bullet wound to his face, numbing his jaw and blinding him in his left eye. In the next sentence, he asks about the price of corn and potatoes! Amazingly, Mrs. Kummer possesses the original letter to this day. After the war, Elbert married Marriette, the granddaughter of Peleg Martin. Thus Mrs. Kummer can state that her great-great-great grandfather built the house in which she was raised.
This 19th century photograph is of the Hyde Farm on Somers Road. The red brick house was built in 1813 by Peleg Martin. On an 1869 map of Ellington, it is identified as the house of E. F. Hyde. Ellington Historical Society member Robert E. “Bob” Hyde, II, who passed away in 2011, was the son of E. Foster Hyde and grew up on his family’s dairy farm. Bob was also known as the builder of the Ellington Airport across the street from the family home in the 1960s.
By the 1880’s a new hay barn with a long “ell” for the cattle attached to its south side sat across the dirt road from the house. Dairy and tobacco farming continued on the land, which was now owned and operated by Robert Hyde, Mrs. Kummer’s grandfather. Because of a shortage of farmhands during World War II, E. Foster Hyde (Robert’s son and Mrs. Kummer’s father) was forced to give up his road contracting business and help his father on the farm. He was in his late 30’s at the time.
The following are excerpts from my interview with Mrs. Kummer:
“During this period, Dad decided to plant an acre of cucumbers for my sister Cynthia and me to raise and sell to the Silver Lane Pickle Company. His reasoning for this particular form of torture was that it was good for the constitution and would help with college expenses…good point. Every day we picked one- half an acre. Sundays were no exception. At the end of the day we sat under the apple tree and counted them. At the end of the season we bought war bonds…lots of them. Cynthia and I worked the tobacco on the farm from start to finish. We planted, hoed, de-wormed, suckered, and carried the full lathes to the rigging. Since most young men were at war, my grandfather paid us a man’s wage, which was a dollar per hour, and said that we worked better than the men. We did our pickle picking from dawn until tobacco time, and after the tobacco day we finished picking.”
“There were other tasks to do. Hay raking… sitting on the top of a rake, I looked down at the hay row far below, and at the rear end of the horse, and prayed that I would not fall off. Horse, rake and I traversed the steep hills of the Howard Kibbe farm, which formed the north boundary to our land and which my father had purchased. And then there was the silo. At corn chopping time, Cynthia and I climbed into the silo and stomped down the ensilage as it came out of the blower. If we didn’t guide the blower correctly, we just knew we’d be smothered in corn. I hated this job, particularly because the higher we got in the silo, the farther it was to the ground. Climbing out the small exit backwards and down the steep rungs attached to the side of the structure was almost too much for me. OSHA, where were you? Joking aside, Cynthia and I were good workers, did as we were told and never argued about it. And we were never required to do anything that we couldn’t handle.”
“Cynthia and I had two younger brothers, Robert and David. Ten and thirteen years of age separated me from them, so when I left home in 1944 to attend Radcliffe and Harvard University and then married and moved to California’s San Joaquin Valley, I missed a great part of their lives. After my grandfather died in 1962 my father stopped farming and began to sell parts of the land, but he maintained a sand and gravel business which Dave managed. Bob, following his keen interest in planes and with the help of my father, built the Ellington Airport which began operation in 1968. As for the packaging company, Bill Rice was looking for a place to set up his business and my Dad suggested that he use part of the barn. As Mr. Rice’s business expanded, more property was sold to him. Eventually all of the land west of the road, including the airport, was sold to others. What remains now – The old house with a few acres and a bit of brook. Nothing stays the same; change is the only thing that is constant.”
The Hyde home as it stands today.
On a drive or walk to this area of town, Ellington Airport and Rice Packaging are the most prominent landmarks on the acreage once farmed by the Hyde family. Although Ellington is now considered a “bedroom” community to Hartford and a “suburban” town, it is important and interesting to visualize its beginnings as a true farming community, with functional family homes and barns dotting the landscape between vast expanses of pastures, rolling meadows and income-producing agricultural fields. How lucky are we to have this history documented for us by Joann Hyde Kummer, whose ancestors built the home and worked the land on which some of us live or work today. We are also grateful to Ellington’s Historical Archivist, Lynn Kloter Fahy, who provided the photo from her book Images of America, Ellington which can be purchased at the Hall Memorial Library, Walgreens on Union St., Crystal Blueprint, amazon.com and http://www.arcadiapublishing.com.
The barn sits across the street on Somers Rd.