Allen’s Cider Mill—another landmark is gone

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Arthur E. Allen of West Hartford bought the North Granby cider mill property in 1919. One hundred years later the roof and upper floor of the old mill collapsed and the south wall of the building fell down. (The mill collapsed either late Sunday, August 11 or early Monday, August 12, 2019.) Many Granby people expressed sorrow at the loss of another Granby landmark. Buying cider at Allen’s was a tradition, and the memories remained, even though the mill had been closed in recent years. There is so much history here.

The mill has had other owners, but the one remembered by residents today is Allen’s Cider Mill. Arthur Allen, his son, Francis B. Allen, and his granddaughter Lois Allen Longley, had been making sweet cider there for most of those hundred years. In the fall, families would make their traditional trips to the mill to purchase pumpkins and cider. In the 70s and 80s, every child in pre-school or kindergarten would visit the mill to see how cider was made and then have a delicious taste of freshly made cider.

The cider mill building, however, has a much longer and varied history than just 100 years. Historian Mark Williams traced the history in an application that placed the building on the National Register of Historic Places. Originally on the north side of Mountain Road, it was a house and a tavern. It was probably moved across the street to the present Post Office location around 1858 and used to house paupers. In the early 1870s it was moved a short distance to the west and remodeled for a dance hall. A few years later it was moved to its last location and cabinets were added to be used for the newly organized (1875) Grange meetings.

The first owner to make cider and cider brandy was Silas Cossitt. He built his house on the northwest corner in 1783. He had a “sider mill” and a distillery, probably supplying cider brandy for his father Rene’s tavern. Cossitt also owned the southwest corner, but there were no buildings on that land. Williams believes that it is the frame of this 1783 Cossitt house that was eventually moved across the street. 

Silas Cossitt joined the exodus to Ohio in 1804 and the property was sold to Eber Clark of Hartland. He used the cider mill and distillery to supply the tavern he opened in his house, but then he also emigrated to Ohio in 1810. Deeds now show a barn on the southwest corner.

There were several short-term owners of the property until 1813, when John Willey bought it and lived there for 19 years. Willey was a blacksmith and became a very wealthy and respected citizen. He not only had the cider mill, distillery and tavern in North Granby, but also was part owner of the Crag gristmill and a sawmill, a Justice of the Peace, a Representative to the General Assembly and the Postmaster. 

After Willey died in 1832, his heirs sold his property to his former business partner, Abner Case, who now owned most of North Granby. Case was wealthier than Willey and not only had all the same positions and businesses, but was also a militia captain, storekeeper, clothier and held numerous mortgages. His home was on the northeast corner and he probably had employees in the Willey house and tavern. Case continued to make cider brandy, which lasted longer than sweet cider and brought in more money. There were at least 40 stills operating in North Granby at this time.

The next owner of the property was Wilbert Reed, who bought it from Horatio, son of Abner Case, in 1857. Reed replaced the 1783 Cossitt house with a new house in the Italianate style, twin to his father’s house across Granville Road. He most likely dismantled the old house and moved the massive hand-hewn post and beam frame to the southwest corner. In 1860, Reed was housing 17 paupers and they were probably living in the relocated Cossitt house.

Reed died in 1865 and the next owner was Willis Phelps. He moved the cider mill building a short distance west and made it into a dance hall on the second floor. In the late 1870s, he moved it again to the west and added features suitable for Grange and other public meetings.

The hall was in the upstairs of the mill building. The wide pine floor boards of Phelps Hall resounded to the echoes of dancing feet. The paneled and plastered walls had stenciled decoration. There was a circular recess in the low ceiling, with a half barrel set in and plastered inside. A kerosene lamp hung high in the recess so dancers wouldn’t hit their heads on it. The neighborhood was known as Phelps Corners.

When Cossitt Library was built in 1891, Phelps was put under considerable pressure to donate his land, but he held firm and asked a high price, and the library was built across the street. His reluctance was understandable since it was planned to build a hall in the basement of the library to compete with his. The Granby Grange used to meet in Phelps Hall, but later moved its meetings to Cossitt Library Hall.

The next owner was the first to use the building as a cider mill. George O. Beach bought the property in 1899 and moved his cider brandy distillery from West Granby. Beach built an addition on the south side of the mill for a stillroom and strengthened the upper floor so he could store and age the huge barrels of brandy there. He had a steam powered screw press and two large tanks (about 40,000 gallon capacity) used to ferment the sweet cider.

This is interesting, because after decades of conflict over alcohol, Granby finally voted to go dry in 1900. Beach evidently ignored that inconvenient fact. He continued to distill cider brandy until 1912. 

During World War I, when metal was scarce, the copper still was dismantled and sold for scrap. It was the eve of prohibition for America and legal cider brandy was on its way out.

When Arthur Allen bought the property in 1919, he named it Allenhurst. He started making sweet cider using the old steam engine powered equipment. Farmers would drive their wagonloads of apples to the mill and if two teams approached at the same time, an impromptu horse race often ensued to see who would be first in line.

Francis Allen took over his father’s business and in the 1940s converted to an electric hydraulic press for the apples. Refrigeration was also added to prevent the fermentation that was once encouraged.

Lois Allen started working with her father at age 10, and was happily involved in the cider making business for many years. In 1970, the old Wilbert Reed house burned, but the mill and sales barn were untouched. The full operation of the mill was taken over by Lois Allen Longley in 1973. 

The well-known Allen Cider was widely distributed throughout Connecticut and Massachusetts. Lois estimated that her business was about 75 percent wholesale. In her father’s and grandfather’s day, the opposite was true, with the bulk of the business being retail.

Through the years there were changes. Plants and a greenhouse were added to the cider, apples and vegetables. A new partnership formed. But time affects both buildings and people. The business closed and the mill was silent until one windy, rainy night in August 2019. 

Information from the National Register of Historic Places application by Mark Williams.