Granby 1888 to 1895 by James Lee Loomis

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Edited by Carol Laun

For the next few months I am going to share a paper that James Lee Loomis presented to the Hartford Monday Evening Club in 1968. He was born in 1878, the only son of Chester Peck Loomis and Eliza Harger. Chester P. was co-owner of the Loomis Bros. Store that once dominated Granby Center. James Lee Loomis married Helen Bruce and was well known as an insurance executive, banker and author. He lived in the lovely family home built by his grandfather, Harrison Loomis, at 245 Salmon Brook Street. Despite his career in Hartford, his roots were always firmly planted in Granby. He died in 1971 at the age of 92.

It is a brief period of which I write, from 1888 to 1895, when I went away to boarding school. A few lines about our town and village before the turn of the century. The losses and tragedies of the Civil War, after 25 years, had passed into history. Peace for the indefinite future seemed assured. The United States was not entirely isolated, but nearly so.

Granby was a typical agricultural town with a few craftsmen and professional men. The Village of Salmon Brook Street was the busiest part of town. Contentment and comfort is mostly a feeling of security in home and surroundings, and that, in this period, the people of Granby had in marked degree.

The metropolitan center of Hartford with a population of some 50,000 felt like it was farther away than New York City is now. The telephone, electric lights, food in tin cans and the auto were still to come. It was in truth a reconstruction period.

Four years after the close of the Civil War, a soldier’s monument was erected. An open space at the head of the street had been filled in as the site for the standard style of a war memorial. When completed and erected, the old soldiers observed the man on top at parade rest, had his right foot forward instead of his left and the rifle was turned the wrong way around. I have been told it was finally accepted at half the contract price. The gun has long since entirely eroded. Maybe this seemingly good omen will some day bring peace.

Note: The half price story may or may not be true, but several articles about our monument have agreed with Loomis about the correct position for parade rest. However, there is an identical statue in Deerfield, Mass. Granby’s monument was restored in 2002 through the efforts of Shannon-Shattuck Post 182 of the American Legion and the Salmon Brook Historical Society.

In 1872 the South Congregational Church was organized at the center of Salmon Brook Street, making three active churches in the three centers of town. An attempt was made to found a Seventh Day Adventist Church in the village by a smart salesman, or drummer as they were then called, by the name of Sam Benjamin. Father remarked one evening at supper that Loomis Bros. had been so pestered that they had promised to furnish the carpet and the bell. Mother, it seemed, was much perturbed by this extravagant support but regained her composure when Father assured her Sam would never get that far with the Church. And such was the case. When the building right in the center of the village was about 2/3 finished, the funds ran out and the builder foreclosed a mechanics lien, converting the building into a suitable two family house. So the village was saved the embarrassment of having two Sabbaths during the week.

Note: The unfinished church that had two oddly angled doors (possibly for men’s and women’s entrances) is now a part of Windmill Springs at 234 Salmon Brook Street. In the early 1900s it had a Phillip’s Grocery store in the south half and a barber shop in the north. In 1943 it was remodeled into two small apartments and a furnace was added to the building. When the condos were built in 1982, the building was converted again. During renovation, the shape of the original arched church windows and larger doors were very obvious

As farmers had difficulty in finding markets for their produce, sufficient capital was raised to start a first-class creamery in 1882. This was a real boon to the town. The cattle population steadily increased. There was a firm market for this preferred product of creamery butter in the city centers of the state. The by-product of producing cream is the raising of hogs. The use of the skim milk, ordinarily mixed with bran and buttermilk, sold at the creamery for $1 a barrel or less. 

In those days there was no occasion for a town dump. If a family kept pigs, they were the garbage disposal. If you kept no pigs, a Swedish fellow a mile from the village was glad to come and get your refuse. I said to this fellow, Mike, one day, “Have you seen Mr. Brigham who has just come into the village?” His reply, “I already have. He sure has swell swill!”

About this time, tobacco as a good money crop began to flourish with experimental acres to begin with. Father once told me that the first piece in town was perhaps a half-acre in what is now our north lawn. The woods were full of what were called chestnut sprouts, then in great demand for telephone poles and railroad ties. This brought a lot of French Canadians into the town in lumber camps. 

Loomis Bros. opened their new store in 1891. The credit of the townspeople, as a rule, was of the highest order. Mortgaging ones home and land was avoided if possible. As one neighbor stopped to gossip with another, he said to him, “Henry, I believe that corner of your house is sagging.” To this Henry replied, “If you had as heavy a mortgage on you as this house has, I guess you’d sag!” 

Credit is in part a matter in inheritance. It took the Pilgrims eight years to pay in beaver skins for their passage. This may have been the first notable case of “Sail now and pay later.” Although diluted by ten generations, the determination to pay still appears in the bloodstreams of New England.

To be continued.

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