In 1892 the Ensign-Bickford Company of Simsbury acquired a half interest in the Climax Fuse Company of Avon. By 1907 the companies merged. Following its practice in Simsbury, Ensign-Bickford erected housing for its workers in Avon, including a number of houses built c. 1913 around a small green called Farmington Court. Unusually for the time these were mostly single-family homes instead of multi-family tenements. This was part of a new movement in which industrial companies began erecting suburban-type neighborhoods for their workers. Farmington Court was renamed Columbus Circle in 1930, but which time the residents were primarily Italian-Americans. The Prince Thomas of Savoy Society, an Italan-American social club, built its headquarters nearby in 1932.
The farmhouse at 215 Nod Road in Avon was built c. 1850 by Chester Randolph Woodford (1814-1921), a dairy and tobacco farmer who lived to the age of 107. As a young man he was a clock salesman who once employed the services of a future president, as described in his obituary in The Jewelers’ Circular (Vol. LXXXIII, No. 20, December 14, 1921):
For several years Mr. Woodford traveled through New York, New Jersey and Maryland as collector and salesman for a clock manufacturing company and became thoroughly experienced in this line. In 1838 he went to Illinois, where he became associated with his uncle, Joseph Bishop, in the clock business. While successfully engaged at this work, Mr. Woodford was accused in selling clocks in the State of Illinois without a license. The matter was brought to court and Mr. Woodford engaged Abraham Lincoln to defend him. It was maintained at the trial that the clocks were manufactured in the State and it was therefore unnecessary to secure a license, and on this defense the case was won by Woodford and his counsel. It was while traveling in this State that Mr. Woodford stopped at a tavern where several men were discussing a name for a new county. Mr. Woodford told them that they had better name it after him and they did. In 1841, he returned to his native town.
He was a member of the East Avon Congregational church, president of the Avon Creamery, and a member of the General Assembly from Avon in 1858, having been the oldest living former member. When Mr. Woodford was 105 years of age a loving cup was presented to him by the members of the General Assembly in behalf of the State. Mr. Woodford was a republican in politics and he cast his first vote for president for Martin Van Buren. He had served in his home town as selectman, tax collector, assessor and justice of the peace.
Woodford was the first farmer in Avon to grow tobacco. He started with broadleaf for cigar wrappers and, with his son Prescott, began to grow shade tobacco in 1905. Tobacco was grown by the family into the 1980s. The farm, now called the Pickin’ Patch, then switched to growing vegetables and berries, but the property still has a number of historic tobacco sheds.
In 1917 Italian immigrants working at the Ensign-Bickford factory and on farms in Avon and surrounding towns formed a social club called the Prince Thomas of Savoy Society. It was named for Prince Tommaso of Savoy, Second Duke of Genoa. During World War One, Prince Thomas was appointed Luogotenente, or lieutenant general, by Victor Emanuel III and served as the king’s second-in-command. Established as a mutual aid society, the Society’s meetings were held in members’ homes and other rented spaces until the group erected the building at 32 Old Farms Road in Avon in 1930-1932. Many Italian immigrants were involved in the building trades and used their expertise to build the clubhouse. Each member of the Society was required to contribute a certain number of hours each week until the project was completed. The clubhouse was officially dedicated in 1932.
The house at 45 Nod Road in Avon was built c. 1785-1789. It has been much altered over the years, acquiring several additions. In the 1830s the house was owned by Amasa Woodford, who was part of the movement that led to Avon becoming an independent town in 1830. Part of the Woodford family farm, which has been in continuous operation since 1666, is now the Pickin’ Patch on Nod Road.
In 1905 the house was acquired by Joseph Wright Alsop IV (1876-1953), a gentleman farmer, insurance executive and member of a well-known political family. Alsop was a member of Connecticut’s House of Representatives, 1907-1908 and state senate, 1909-1912. He also served as a First Selectman in Avon from 1922 to 1950. He was married to Corinne Robinson Alsop (1886-1971), a niece of President Theodore Roosevelt and a leading suffragist. Corinne Robinson Alsop who served in the state House of Representatives in 1924–1927 and again in 1931–1933. While owned by the Alsops, the house was part of their large stock-breading and dairy business called Wood Ford Farm. They added the house’s Colonial Revival front portico in the 1930s. Her husband died in 1953 and in 1956 Corinne remarried to Francis W. Cole, former chairman of the Travelers Insurance Company.
The Derrin House is a vernacular farmhouse at 249 West Avon Road in Avon. Its oldest sections may date to c. 1747 (could that be 1767?) and it was added to at least four times over the years. The most recent section of the house is closest to the road and the sign for the house reads c. 1810. It was built by the Derrin (or Derring) family. Little is known about the family other than that they built several houses along the same road in the western part of Avon in the eighteenth century on land they acquired in 1766. The house is located in Horse Guard State Park and is owned by the State of Connecticut Military Department for the First Company Governor’s Horse Guard, which is based across the street. The house is currently being restored by the Avon Historical Society.
Among the buildings designed by Theodate Pope Riddle for Avon Old Farms school was an Estate Manager’s House. Located near the Water Tower, Forge and Chapel, the cottage was built c. 1922-1923. With its half-timbering and brick nogging, it resembles the traditional English houses of Sussex and Surrey. It is now known as the Gate House. Read the rest of this entry »
One of the first buildings to be constructed at Avon Old Farms School in Avon was a carpentry shop (other early buildings were the Water Tower and Forge). The carpentry shop was later turned into the school’s Chapel in 1948 and named the Chapel of Jesus the Carpenter. The school buildings were designed by Theodate Pope Riddle, who utilized craftsman from the Cotswolds in England to construct buildings in a traditional English country manner. The carpentry shop is a half-timbered structure of brick nogging resembling similar buildings found in English villages that Theodate Pope Riddle had visited. Originally, students sat in the chapel on seats that faced each other along its length. The Chapel underwent a major renovation in 1999: the roof was restored and a new organ was installed inside. Next to the Chapel is a wooden cross, made in the early 1950s with hand tools using timber grown in the school’s woodland’s. It was placed in its current location when the Chapel was renovated in 2000. A tablet notes that it is dedicated to the memory of Donald W. Pierpont, Provost (Headmaster) from 1947 to 1968.
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