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Coleman Road's Dairy Farming Past Evident in Southern Middletown

It has changed significant from its early days as a remote and isolated place, dominated by two farms. Today it is a sought-after suburban neighborhood dominated by ranch houses and commuters.

A reader recently contacted me expressing an interest in the history of his street and of the settlement of his immediate area. He lives on Coleman Road, a rural roadway that was developed mostly after the 1950s.  

Today, the street is dominated by single-story ranch houses built in the 1950s and 1960s, and has more recently been the location of some fine and more elaborate houses.

In 1859, as shown on he Walling map of that date, this roadway was home to only three families, and 15 years later, when the 1874 Beers Atlas was published, the population had doubled to six families.

Surprisingly, all but one of those early homes still exists.

Coleman Road currently runs from South Main Street to Round Hill Road near the Middlefield/Durham border. Today, as in the past, it has two intersecting streets along its route, from north to south, Brush Hill Road, off to the west, and Kelsey street to the east. Historically, the route of Coleman Road crossed South Main and intersected with Randolph Road, but roadway north of South Main Street was realigned and renamed Brown Street.

The entire road formed the boundary between East and West Long Hill, school districts in the southern part of town. This is very clear on the 1874 Beer’s Atlas, which depicts West Long Hill in pink and East Long Hill in blue, shown here.

Irish immigrants dominated the street in the mid-to-late 19th century: Richard Dooley, in 1870, worked as a farm hand, but owned his own farm at 275 Coleman Road by 1900. In 1870, Garrett Keefe lived at the southern end, on the east side of the road, and was a small-scale farmer. John Collins, also an Irish émigré, who lived in a house that stood near where the Guida family lives today, was a quarryman.

He possibly worked at the quarry near South Main Street. At the corner of Round Hill, John Donovan, another Irishman, had a farm in 1870 and 1880, and possibly lived in the small house that currently occupies the corner.

The road was named for Timothy Coleman probably in the early 20th century. Interestingly, roads in the outlying districts often went unnamed until then, street names being mostly an urban thing before the 1910s. 

Timothy Coleman (born in 1856) emigrated from Cork County, Ireland, when he as 24 years old. His intent was to reside in Hartford after a brief visit in Middletown with an uncle. Instead, he found a job here, as a farm laborer for Andrew Fitzgerald in Middlefield, and decided to stay. 

In the mid-1880s, Coleman took a farm laborer position with Stephen W. Miller, who owned a farm on Coleman Road. When Miller died, Coleman purchased the farm from his estate. It was a 100-acre spread that he took on the task of improving; he built new barns, remodeled the house (435 Coleman Road), and added 40 acres to the property by buying Miller’s residence, the old Atkins/Crowell place, across the street at 390 Coleman Road.

In the 1880s, successful farming required a man to be flexible in what he grew. Coleman was a “general farmer,” specializing in growing vegetables to be sold in local and regional markets, transported to nearby urban centers by way of the local trolleys and railroads that passed through Middletown.  He may have also used the steamships to get his produce to New York City.

He also grew potatoes and reserved some acreage for tobacco, both good cash crops in the late 19th century. After 1920, during his final years on the farm, he converted to dairy farming, as did most of his neighbors. His “Maple Drive Farm” had a milk wagon that sold his milk products acquired from 35 milking cows on the farm.

Stephen W. Miller (1821-1884) had been the primary farmer on Coleman Road for most of the 19th century. His mother was the daughter of Elisha Fairchild, who built 390 Coleman Road, and Miller inherited that property from his father’s estate in the Coleman. This was Miller’s primary residence even after he purchased the c. 1770 Atkins/Crowell House across the street at #435 in 1860s.

The Millers date back as English settlers in the earliest years in Middletown. Stephen W. Miller started his working life at the Wilcox, Crittenden & Company on South Main Street, and only began farming when he received the 50-acre lot and the family house as part of his father's estate. He cultivated at least five-acres of tobacco annually, a profitable cash crop in the mid-nineteenth century, used primarily for cigar wrappings. The rest of his farm was under vegetable cultivation for the regional markets. 

Coleman took up residence in 390 Coleman Road and purchased 435 Coleman Road, across the street, and its associated 40 or so acres when he converted to dairy farming. His son William Coleman later lived in the other house and worked on the family farm.

The other farming enterprise on 584 Coleman Road is still in operation. The Guida family farm began just before 1930 and was a dairy farm that delivered milk to local residence for more than 40 years. Alexander Guida emigrated from Poland in 1898 as a young boy.

Many Poles in this time period, who had come from rural regions of Poland, found old Yankee-owned farms that families were eager to sell during the Depression. Guida developed a thriving dairy business on the land that had formerly belonged to the Collins family, building new barns and a new homestead. Alexander’s sons, Anthony, Joseph, William, Frank and Stanley built up the dairy in modern times, becoming well known for their ice cream and milk products.

They operated as Sunshine Dairy for many years, and opened a string of regional convenience stores that featured their milk. The Guida family also donated 100 acres of conservation land at the intersection of Coleman and Round Hill Roads for all of us to enjoy.

Coleman Road has changed significant from its early days when it was a remote and isolated place, dominated by two farms. Today it is a sought-after suburban neighborhood dominated by ranch houses and commuters.

Take a drive during our beautiful fall season and see it in a new light, and squint your eyes to see its past.

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Ellen Waff October 04, 2011 at 03:02 PM
I noticed that the Fairchild House is unlabeled in the Walling map. Perhaps that is because the owners (Coes?) of the house were considered crown-sympathizers or Tories during the Revolutionary War period (probably were Quakers), and the house became "tainted" by that. The current owners of the house (Kirkpatricks) related that to me....
Katy October 04, 2011 at 05:41 PM
Above it mentions that the Fairchild House was built 1n 1775 by Elisha Fairchild and then it was the home of Stephen Miller and then Timothy Coleman. My mother moved on to Coleman Rd in the 30's after my grandparents built 3 homes at the S. Main street end of the road and my aunt just moved away from there 2 years ago. My aunt said that they used to play in the woods near Timothy Coleman's home and there was a grave for Elisha Fairchild in a small cemetery up there in the woods not far from the Coleman house.
Joyce Kirkpatrick October 04, 2011 at 09:16 PM
The Fairchild House remained in the hands of the family (Lucretia Fairchild, who married the first Stephen W. Miller, was Elisha's daughter) until the house was purchased by Timothy Coleman. A Walling map (Middlesex County, 1859) shows the Stephen Miller house right where it is today, just north of Brush Hill Rd. on Coleman. Elisha Fairchild probably was a Tory - his family in Durham had been soldiers of the king for several generations. He died in Jan. 25, 1777 of smallpox, according to the transcription from his tombstone and now in the Middlesex County Historical Society's records. There are two stories about how he contracted the fatal disease - one that he grew crops and sold or gave them to the British troops who were quartered on Long Island and having trouble finding provisions. The other - he learned that some of the young American soldiers imprisoned in New York who were suffering from the highly contagious disease were brought to the Milford shore by the British and dumped there on the beach. On hearing that some of the unfortunate soldiers were from Durham/Middletown, Elisha drove to Milford with a wagon to fetch them home. Soon after, Elisha contracted and died from smallpox. In the 1890's, a history of the area known as Long Hill was written. Its author, Thomas Atkins whose family had, I believe, supported the Revolution, chose not to describe the Fairchild/Miller house, but used it as a locator for another house on the road.
Katy October 05, 2011 at 02:44 AM
Ms Kirkpatrick.. thank you for sharing the history of your home. I'm sending a copy of this story to my aunt and I'm going to include what you wrote. She and my mom played with one of the Coleman descendents and remembers your home fondly.
Elizabeth Warner October 05, 2011 at 11:12 AM
Wow. Interesting!
Joyce Kirkpatrick October 05, 2011 at 05:06 PM
Katy... Thank YOU! It's so nice to have another witness to the Elisha Fairchild grave site which others also remember. Someone told me that they remembered (perhaps in the 1950's?) that, every Memorial Day, a black car would stop on the road near where the grave was. A mysterious woman dressed in black, complete with black hat and veil, would visit the site and leave some flowers. A most touching story. Would your aunt have any memory of that?
Katy October 07, 2011 at 04:38 PM
I talked to my aunt yesterday and she remembered that black car too. She said the woman would never say a word to anyone but would go up and pay her respects to the grave and then leave. No one wanted to intrude on her when she was there but they all thought she must have been a long lost relative. She remembered her visiting the grave from when they first moved to the area but couldn't remember how many years this went on. My grandparents moved on to Coleman Road in the 1930's so it's possible she was there in the '50s.

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