For many years, the only building on the main intersection in Granby was the Meeting House built in 1736 on the northwest corner hill, which once was much closer to the corner. The cemetery was established around the Meeting House.
In 1773, a house and barn were built on the southwest corner of Salmon Brook Street and Rte. 20/189. Pliny Hillyer bought this 30-acre property, where he built a tavern and a store.
Pliny Hillyer was a prominent and wealthy citizen of Granby. He was a lawyer, a judge and a businessman. He served in the State Legislature and held many Granby offices. When Granby was incorporated as a town in 1786, he was chosen to be a selectman at the first Town Meeting. He was president of the Granby Turnpike Company, and built a toll road that is now Rte. 189.
Hillyer had a tavern license and he also was in partnership with Ozias Pettibone in a general store. A Simsbury account book from the 1770s shows Pettibone and Hillyer selling John Owen a singing book, indigo, a brass weathervane, a stone cup and a skein of silk, as well as more than 20 pounds of steel. The original Pettibone and Hillyer store later became the ell when the store was enlarged many years later.
The formerly empty land on Salmon Brook Street now had two thriving businesses. Pliny also owned a cider mill and a distillery to make cider brandy for his tavern, which was located south of the store.
In the late 1780s and the early 1800s, Pliny had a new partner for his general store, his son-in-law, Jeptha Curtiss. Hillyer and Curtiss sold an amazing variety of items—Irish linen, coffee, spices, china tea sets and tea, buttons, cloth, silverware, hats, salt, imported spirits, tobacco, tools and much more.
Jeptha Curtiss died in 1806, and Pliny eventually gave the store operation to his youngest son, Maltby. Maltby took over the business at an unfortunate time. The economy had already been damaged by the War of 1812 embargo. After the war, England flooded American markets with cheap goods and the economy got worse. There was a nationwide bank panic around 1820. Maltby Hillyer went bankrupt and lost the store. His father, Pliny, had just retired and had to deal with the creditors.
In 1822, Pliny sold his land and buildings to Col. Isaac Phelps for $2,500. Four years later, when Pliny died, his estate was insolvent, although he once had been one of the wealthiest men in Granby. His finances had also suffered because of his investment in two expensive ventures that failed—another turnpike on Rte. 20 and the Farmington Canal.
Col. Isaac Phelps
Col. Isaac Phelps probably bought the property as an investment. He lived farther south at 239 Salmon Brook Street in a beautiful gold colored house with a unique fence, where he and his wife Rhoda raised five children. He was a wealthy farmer and large landowner in Granby.
Isaac’s son Erastus Phelps took over the tavern operation. Isaac and his sons Alonzo and Aralzia became storekeepers. In 1828, Aralzia Phelps was the sole proprietor and advertised his new “Cheap Store,” selling black Barcelona handkerchiefs, heavy silk stockings, calico, buckskin shoes and groceries. Strangely, he advertised his prices in English money—shillings and pence. Boots cost nine shillings and six pence. He requested cash, domestic manufactured articles and farmer’s produce in payment.
Unfortunately, Aralzia Phelps died a year later, only 30 years old. The Phelps family then started leasing the store to others. Hillyer and Clark rented the store for several years. Then Holcomb and Sanford took over. The tavern was leased to Frederick M. Hayes.
In 1839, Isaac Phelps died from a fall in his barn. A Granby diary said, “he fell through the scaffold of his barn and expired in one hour.” The ad selling his property described a valuable estate including the “Tavern Stand formerly kept by Erastus Phelps and at this time by Frederick M. Hayes, and the Mercantile store nearby and various outbuildings.” There were mortgages on the property.
Isaac Phelps died without a will, so a Simsbury lawyer was appointed administrator. He sold the land and buildings for $500 (with mortgages) to five men—Ambrose Adams, Allen Pinney, Daniel Hayes, Nathaniel Pratt and Charles T. Hillyer.
1840 and 1841 brought several quick sales. The five men first sold the store and ¼ acre to Almeron Pratt. Then four of the men sold the land with the tavern to the fifth man, Daniel Hayes, for $2,600. Daniel Hayes then sold it to his son Frederick M. Hayes for the same amount.
Within the next 30 years, the tavern changed hands several times. Each time it was sold for a higher price. It was called the Hayes Hotel until Miles Godard Gaines bought it and called it the Gaines Hotel.
While the general store was thriving, the Gaines Hotel was in difficulty. Miles G. Gaines sold the property to Samuel Benjamin Jr. in 1873. Benjamin was a local traveling salesman and involved in many real estate transactions and mortgages. He sold the hotel to Ira Hull in 1876. Ira and his wife, Marietta Hayes Hull, operated the newly named Granby Hotel and also a Livery and Feed Stable to rent or board horses. There were several mortgages on the property.
After buying the store with ¼ acre of land, it seemed that Almeron Pratt didn’t want to be a shopkeeper and he leased his store to John J. Phelps, of Windsor. In 1846, a 14-year-old boy named James Newton Loomis came from Southwick, Mass. and asked for a job as a clerk. He was hired, paid $35 a year plus board, living with the Phelps family.
J. N. Loomis was evidently very good at his chosen profession. After a few years, he announced that he was going to leave. Instead, Phelps made him a partner. Loomis was just 20 years old. At first the new company was called J. J. Phelps and Co. and then it became Phelps, Loomis and Co. The store changed ownership several times until J. J. Phelps bought it in 1853 for $250.
Three years later, in a sale that would have a remarkable future impact on Granby, J. J. Phelps sold the store to James Newton Loomis and his younger brother Chester Peck Loomis, for $600, still with less than an acre of land. The first Loomis Brother’s Store was now in operation.
The brothers started to buy more land around their store, an acre or an acre and a half at a time. Then there was a strange development in 1859. J. J. Phelps and a partner, William Shelton, both of New Haven, came back to Granby and leased the old Hayes Store across the street from the Loomis Store. They paid the owner, Daniel C. Hayes, $85 a year. In a move to avoid the competition, the Loomis brothers took over the lease early in 1860 and used the building for storage. They finally bought the old store a few years later for $1,000.
The young Loomis brothers, only in their twenties, managed to buy two stores, build a large house to the north for James Newton Loomis and have a business profitable enough to greatly enlarge their store in 1864. The photo shows the new store with the small original store an ell to the north. The three-story building had an apartment on the second floor where Chester Peck Loomis and his family lived. There was a public hall on the third floor used for Town Meetings, a private school and for meetings by local organizations such as the Mason’s. The building was located in front of present-day Stony Hill Village.
The Loomis Brother’s Store was the most important building in Granby. It housed the Post Office, the Town Clerk’s Office and the Probate Court. The townspeople gathered here, not only to shop, but to get their mail, exchange views on politics and hear the latest town gossip. It was a store where you could buy (on credit) everything from pins to plows. Everyone had a small book listing their purchases and the amount owed to the store. When a crop was sold, the farmer would come to settle his debts for that year. The Loomis brothers also served as a liaison with banks and insurance companies for the citizens of Granby.
On Feb. 18, 1877, a very cold and windy Saturday night, after a Masonic Lodge meeting, there was a disastrous fire in Granby Center, destroying the Granby Hotel, the Loomis Brother’s Store, Post Office, and adjoining buildings. There was no fire department and there was little that could be done to fight the fire. People managed to save the Town Record Books from the Town Clerk’s Office and also to save some of the contents of the store. Then the wind changed and unfortunately, three books of Granby Land Records, thought to be safely removed, were burned and lost.
After the fire, Ira Hull lost his hotel property due to mortgage foreclosures. The Loomis brothers fortunately were insured and collected $5,600. They quickly moved into the “Old Hayes Store” they owned across the street and were open for business in less than a month after the fire. Goods and clothing saved from the fire were on sale for cash only.
The Loomis brothers stayed in the old store until 1891, when they built the third Loomis Brother’s Store just to the north—a Granby landmark until it was taken down in 1975
The burned tavern was replaced with the present mansard-roofed house at 255 Salmon Brook Street. The former Loomis Store land is now part of Stony Hill Village. The James Newton Loomis house is still there at 261 Salmon Brook Street and is now a lawyer’s office. The original 1773 white Colonial house on the corner was moved to its present site at 265 Salmon Brook Street.