Hilltop Farm, located between Mapleton Avenue and the Connecticut River, just south of the Massachusetts border in Suffield, was developed in the early twentieth century as a country estate and gentleman’s farm by George Hendee, the co-founder of the Indian Motocycle Corporation of Springfield, Mass. Hendee devoted the farm to raising prize dairy cows and poultry. He developed a prize herd of Guernsey cows known as Hilltop Butterfats. In 1913, Hendee began assembling the property for his farm, which by the 1920s had grown to nearly 500 acres. His large manor house, built in 1916, was torn down in 1961 to make way for the sprawling campus of St. Alphonsus College, later occupied by the Lincoln Culinary Institute. The largest and most impressive surviving building from the estate is a massive Dairy Barn (18,700 square feet), constructed by Hendee in 1914. The architect of the manor house, Max Westhoff, may also have designed the barn, which has been called a “Monster Barn” and “Connecticut’s Agricultural Cathedral.” A two-story, Colonial Revival-style building, it is a ground-level stanchion barn with a high drive entrance. Two cylindrical silos flank the entrance on either side.
Later owners subdivided the farm. The parcel containing the barn was part of the former farm that was acquired by Pinnacle Developers in 1999. After local protest about the developers’ plans to build an assisted living facility on the land, Pinnacle sold 127 acres, including the barn, to the Town of Suffield. In 2004, the town sold 7.9 acres, including the barn and other farm buildings, to Educational Properties LLC, which owned the neighboring culinary school (aka the Suffield Conference Center). Educational Properties provided a renewable 99-year lease on the barn to the Friends of Hilltop Farm, which eventually purchased the building in 2013. The organization is restoring the barn and leases 65 acres of adjacent open space owned by the Town of Suffield. The property is now dedicated to agricultural and educational purposes.
The Second Baptist Church of Suffield was established in 1805 by members of the First Baptist Church. The original wooden church was replaced by a brick Greek Revival edifice in 1840, located at 100 North Main Street. The church was designed by local architect Henry Sykes, who had trained under Chauncey Shepherd of Springfield and Ithiel Town of New Haven. Additions were made to the church in 1953 and 1959.
The house at 161 South Main Street in Suffield was built circa 1786-1787 by Elihu Kent, Jr. (1757-1813). He was the son of Elihu Kent (1733-1814), who was captain of a militia company from Suffield that set out in answer to the Lexington Alarm in 1775. Elihu, Sr. was promoted to major in 1777. Serving with him in the militia was Titus Kent, who was owned by Elihu Kent as a slave. According to volume III of the History of the Western Reserve, by Harriet Taylor Upton, Elihu. Sr.’s son, Colonel Elihu Kent, Jr.
married Elizabeth Fitch, of Lebanon, Connecticut. He was also in the Revolutionary army with his father, and was captured by the British on Long Island and confined for a long time as a prisoner of war in the old “Sugar House” in New York, where he suffered greatly. He was a farmer after the Revolution and kept a tavern at Suffield, Connecticut. He was survived by four children.
A subscription library was started at a store in West Suffield in 1812. The Town of Suffield’s first free public library was established in 1894. Sidney Albert Kent, a Chicago businessman who was originally from Suffield and who had attended the Connecticut Literary Institute (Suffield Academy) donated $35,000 in 1897 to build a library as a memorial to his parents, Albert and Lucinda Kent. The building opened in 1899, but by the 1960s had become far too small for the expanding library’s needs. The old library was sold to Suffield Academy to raise funds for a new Kent Memorial Library, which opened in 1972. Considered to be a landmark of modernism, the new library building was designed by Warren Platner, an architect and interior designer known for his Modernist furniture of the 1960s. The library was in danger of being torn down in 2008, but residents voted in a referendum against demolishing the building and replacing it with a newer and bigger one (see pdf file: “Modernism at Risk.”). Construction will begin this summer on a handicapped-accessible addition to the existing library.
Mapleton Hall, at 1305 Mapleton Avenue in Suffield, was constructed in 1883. First known as Central Hall and located on Crooked Lane, which was soon changed to Mapleton Avenue, the building was used as a meeting hall for town government and farmers’ associations. As described in Celebration of the Two Hundred and Fiftieth Anniversary of the Settlement of Suffield, Connecticut, October 12, 13 and 14, 1920:
A strong community spirit has characterized the people residing in that part of the town long known as Crooked Lane and later as Mapleton. Early in the seventies they began to hold Lyceum and Farmers’ meetings in the old brick school house at the foot of the hill. It became too small for the interesting meetings and in the winter of 1879-80 a public hall was suggested. This sentiment quickly grew and at a meeting early in 1880 a committee consisting of Cecil H. Fuller, Arthur Sikes and Edward Austin was appointed to draw up articles of organization and agreement. They were presented at a meeting at the school house April 16, 1880, and an association organized. The articles of agreement were accepted and the following officers elected: president, Edward Austin; secretary, John L. Wilson; auditor, Dwight S. Fuller; trustees, Cecil H. Fuller, Henry D. Tinker and D. D. Bement. In the next two years enough money was raised so that the construction of Mapleton Hall was begun in the spring of 1882. It was ready for use in January of the next year and was dedicated January 16 with exercises that included an “old home week.” At first it was called Central Hall, but the name was later changed to Mapleton Hall. In 1896 a large addition was built to meet the requirements. All debts are paid and the association has money in the treasury.
The old Lyceum and Farmers’ meetings were continued in the new hall till 1885, when the Grange was organized to take their places. The organization occurred February 19, 1885 with Henry D. Tinker, master, Arthur Sikes, secretary and George A. Austin, lecturer. From that time till the present the organization has held meetings twice a month. When organized there were twenty-eight charter members; the membership is now two hundred.
Mapleton Hall later fell into disrepair but was restored over twenty years by the Mapleton Hall Association. Since 1978 it has been the principal performing space of the Suffield Players, who purchased the building in 1999.