REPRINTS


PONY RIDES and BUCKLAND TIMES
by Susan Barlow

This article originally appeared in The Manchester Life monthly, which ceased publication with the January, 2012 issue

In her excellent series of "Buckland Times" newsletters, historian Susan Way provided fascinating glimpses into the history of Buckland, especially in the early-to-mid twentieth century. She interviewed Buckland residents, and compiled about 16 publications during the 1990s, packed with stories and photos about the Buckland train depot, trolley, farms, stores, and the day-to-day life of the residents.

I had received some copies of the Buckland Times from Gary Keeney, who contacted me after I mentioned the Keeney family in a Manchester Life article about memoirs – this column is now available online, which you can access by clicking "Memoirs".

Gary's family "goes way back," as he says, in Manchester, and his second cousin was interviewed for the Buckland Times, reminiscing about the old days there.

One of the copies that Gary gave me contained a story about the Thresher Pony Farm. This article, along with all the others in the Buckland Times, was researched, written, edited, and illustrated by Susan Way.

In addition to being thrilled to read more about the pony farm, I wanted to know more about Susan Way! But first, let me tell about The Thresher Pony Farm pony rides, run on Sunday afternoons in Buckland, at the corner of Adams Street and Tolland Turnpike. The pony rides were a well-loved institution in Buckland from about 1939 to 1960.

From Susan Way's article: "Early on, Merv Thresher had a pony named Dandy which he rode everywhere. It wasn't long before people began to stop and ask if he would give their children a ride…soon he had a sign up: 'Five Cents a Ride – Six for a Quarter.' Adams Street was now paved while other streets still were not, and so a drive out to Buckland was a popular Sunday event. Merv and his father were in Hartford buying another pony on September 21, 1938, when the great hurricane struck with full force at about 2 p.m."

The article goes on to describe the devastation to local farms, including Merv's father Charles's four acres, but with the resilience of people in need, the father had an idea.

'"Merv, you've got a good business here with your ponies. How about selling them to me?' They soon came to an agreement and Charles bought a Model-T truck, circa 1924 model, painted Thresher Pony Farm on the side and began taking them around to all the country fairs. The business expanded and a riding ring was set up next to the old Keeney barn. Eventually the Threshers cared for 30 ponies in that barn and families continued to make a drive out to Buckland a regular Sunday event, stopping for pony rides and asparagus in the spring at Louie Grant's. The pony farm became a family business with Merv and Bob working with their father and many other loyal employees."

Both Merv and Bob served in World War II, and their mother, Ruby Thresher, handled the ponies for the five years they were gone. She learned to drive the truck and take the ponies to local events, managing the business side of things as well.

Changes came to Buckland – "The Threshers had inherited that corner between two sections of Depot Street when Herbert Keeney died in 1939….the Threshers moved into the house at 22 Depot Street. Later they converted what was originally a tobacco-sorting shed on the corner where Manchester Honda is today into a house, and Merv and his wife, Elizabeth (Burnham) Thresher, raised their family there….Merv decided to go to work for Pratt & Whitney full time. Bob Thresher continued to run the pony farm until 1960. Soon after that, the corner became Buckland Agway."

Since I personally loved the pony rides, I enjoyed this story and wanted to know more about Susan Way, whom I tracked down on Facebook (the historian's friend).

Historian Susan Way

I was so pleased to meet Susan Way, who now lives in Coventry and is active in the Coventry Historical Society, serving as volunteer archivist. Since I, too, do research, I easily saw the large amount of work that went into the newsletters. Susan researched census records, agricultural reports, archival newspapers, etc. She also interviewed many "old-timers," which can take lots and lots of time. I asked how she got interested in Buckland, since she had grown up in New Jersey. She explained that she had seen the Hartman shade tents when she drove back and forth to a summer job at Camp Woodstock from her home in New Jersey. She moved to Manchester in 1976, and took a job at Ann's Spot, working for Gilda D'Appolonio (this little restaurant is now the Sinnamon Shop).

"Learning some local history helped me to understand my new home. I went to work in Hilliardville about 1981 for Gilda at a luncheonette at the corner of Adams and Hilliard Streets, and worked there for seven years. I met the locals there, and asked about the old days. After Gilda closed her place, about 1988, I bought my hot dog cart and set up on what's left of Depot Street, near Agway and Gerich's Garage.

"One day Dick Keeney, about 80 years old at the time, came and had a hot dog…and I asked, 'Dick, did you grow up around here?' He pointed to a spot about ten feet away and said, 'I was born in a house that stood right there.' He tried to describe to me what that corner had looked like when he was a child."

Eventually, Dick drew a map with a pencil and paper, showing the old Buckland. "When I began to conceive the idea of the Buckland Times I went to Town Hall and got a real map and we were on our way. One story led to another. Each person I spoke to would send me on to someone else. I got especially interested in the tobacco story."

Tobacco

Many of the Buckland Times articles describe tobacco farming, which was an important and valuable crop in Connecticut as early as 1792. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Buckland tobacco growers included Hartman and Hackett farms. The "plantations," as they were known, were huge, and employed workers year round. Some farms providing housing. In the May 1995 Buckland Times edition, she quotes Kenneth Irish, Sr., who said, that Buckland was "a terrific place to grow up" in the 1930s. His family lived in one of the worker houses, which the Buckland Times describes as having "no electricity, no hot water, only outhouses, they were hardly insulated, with only a wood stove for heat. They cut wood on the hill. They hooked their radio up to the car battery. They weren't expecting more than this."

Ed. Note:To read the complete May, 1955 issue whose icon is displayed above, please click: May 1995 issue

As a teenager, I worked for L.B. Haas Tobacco (founded 1853), but recall seeing the much larger Hartman farm, and its many outbuildings, including barracks and houses. Now that area has become the mall, large stripmalls, hotels, and apartments.

Susan Way describes the A. & S. Hartman company, and includes an ad they ran in a 1924 Tobacco publication (see graphic at right). The firm was established in Manchester in 1882 as a dry-goods store, and according to Adolph Hartman's grandson, the store took a tobacco crop from a local farmer as payment of a debt. Adolph then packed samples and visited cigar makers until he sold that crop, learning in the process that there was a need for tobacco dealers, as well as tobacco farmers. In 1901, the Hartmans became "shade" tobacco growers, that is, growing tobacco under large cloth tents, to increase humidity and simulate a Sumatran climate. In January 1902, the Hartmans bought about 71 acres in Buckland around Buckland and Burnham (now Pleasant Valley Road) Streets. Acreage and production grew and grew into the 1970s, and although tobacco is still grown in Connecticut, I haven't seen any in Manchester in many years.

Other Buckland Stories

Susan Way includes stories about potato-, strawberry-, and asparagus-farms; the Chaponis, Jackson, Keeney, and Kellehan families; the Meekville section of town, and many others. With her kind permission, we have posted the complete complete set of Buckland Times newsletters on this web site, which you can access by clicking: Buckland Times reprints.