A Chance for Land and Fresh Air: Russian Jewish Immigrants in Ellsworth and Amenia, 1907-1940
October 2016 to March 2017
The Sharon Historical Society is open Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday, 12-4 and Saturday 10-2.
Office Closed for the Holidays from Dec. 24 though Jan. 3. We will reopen Jan. 4 at 12pm.
Unknown to many locals, Russian Jewish immigrants began purchasing farmland in the Ellsworth hills above Sharon in 1907. The new immigrants had been forbidden to own land in Russia, and they were working in sweatshops and living in crowded tenements on the Lower East Side when Baron de Hirsch’s Jewish Agricultural and Immigrant Aid Society offered assistance with farm mortgages.
The Jews saw land ownership as their chance for genuine freedom, and dairy farming as an opportunity to counter prejudice by showing their capacity for hard work. Over 30 immigrant families would become dairy farmers in the Ellsworth hills. Among these are families whose descendants still have farms in the area, including Osofskys, Paleys, and Gorkofskys.
Since the land was stony and unyielding, most took in vacationers, offering rooms with kosher meals to make ends meet. By 1925, the families began to run boarding houses and hotels in nearby Amenia, New York. Directly on the train line, Amenia became an early Jewish resort for New Yorkers seeking a reprieve from city life amidst country views and fresh air.
An exhibit, A Chance for Land and Fresh Air: Jewish Immigrant Farmers, Hoteliers, and Shopkeepers in Sharon and Amenia, 1907-1940 opened at the Sharon Historical Society on October 22. The exhibit celebrates this unique two-village story through photos, news clippings, and other historical documents, as well as period farm equipment and audio interviews with early settlers and their descendants. The Sharon Historical Society is open Wednesday-Friday, 12-4 and Saturday 1-5.
Emily Winthrop Miles
Emily Lindall Winthrop was born in New York City to Grenville Lindall Winthrop and Mary Talmadge Trevor Winthrop on March 10, 1893. Grenville Winthrop was a tenth generation direct descendant of Governor John Winthrop founder of the Massachusetts Bay Colony and a ninth generation descendant of John Winthrop The Younger who brought iron production to the Massachusetts Bay and Connecticut colonies and served as the Connecticut Colonial Governor for eighteen years.
Emily Winthrop grew up in New York and at the family estate, Groton Place, in Lenox, Massachusetts. She was educated in the arts and became a superb artist as a sculptor, painter and portraitist. She studied sculpting under famous sculptor Daniel Chester French and also with Abastenia St. Leger Elberle, Brenda Putnam and Harriet W. Frishmuth.
In September 1924, Emily Winthrop eloped with the estate chauffeur Corey Lucian Miles (1891-1960), along with sister Kate who eloped with Darwin Morse, (formerly the Groton Place poulterer). The four were married in the Interlaken section of Stockbridge Massachusetts. Over the next two years the foursome resided in Santa Barbara, California. On the return to the East Emily and Corey searched for property, finally settling on Neverland, along the Sharon/West Cornwall Road. The central property was purchased in 1925 from the Stickles family, formerly owned by collier and mill operators Moses Handlin, and later by Dwight Handlin. When the Miles were in need of assistance to develop their farm and estate, they called on good friend Edward J. (E.J.) Kirby (1898-1945) from Lenox, who operated the estate and farm for the rest of his life.
Corey Miles took over the North Canaan Airport in 1929 and ran it successfully until 1947. In 1930 he and barnstormer Roscoe Britton flew Mrs. Miles and Kathleen Kirby (1898-1994, E. J. Kirby’s wife) from Canaan to East Boston Field (now Logan Airport) and back, the first flight of its kind from northwestern Connecticut.
Mrs. Miles was frequently impressed with the face or bearing of individuals and she would use them as models for her statuary. THE CARPENTER was a worker from West Cornwall, and THE ATHLETE was modelled from middleweight boxer Tiger Flowers Johnson. Her several large scale sculptures received wide acclaim, including the 7.5 foot tall aluminum casting of a dancer (Diana) which was exhibited in the American Pavilion at the 1939-1940 New York World’s Fair. Both Diana and The Huntress are on permanent outdoor exhibit at The Southern Vermont Art Center. Two bronze castings of her larger-than-life works stand in the garden at the Miles Sanctuary in Sharon, along with an aluminum cast bas–relief north of the garden pool.
Mrs. Miles was also a designer of furniture and jewelry, a published poet and photographer, a collector of Wedgwood, 19th century glass, 18th century glass and drawings and paintings by J. Gould, Rodin, Calder and J. J. Audubon and his son. Today her work and collections are housed in numerous museums including the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Brooklyn Museum, Middlebury College, Shelburne Museum in Vermont, Museum of the Fine Arts in Springfield, Massachusetts, Montclair Art Museum in New Jersey, Syracuse University, Cooper Union, Berkshire Museum and several others.
Emily Winthrop Miles was truly a Renaissance woman. A fascinating character with a marvelous sense of humor she was more than a bit of a rebel as shown by her elopement and frequent disdain for the formalities of the Winthrop family. Upon her death on Christmas 1962, Neverland was ceded to the National Audubon Society and now serves as the Emily Winthrop Miles’ Wild Life Sanctuary.
~Edward M. Kirby
Emily the Collector
Emily had wide-ranging collecting interests and often took young Ed Kirby with her to browse antique shops looking for a wonderful “find.” Slag glass, Staffordshire animals (particularly the poultry!), hobnail glass, Wedgewood basalt china, and minerals were some of her favorites. Upon her death on Christmas morning, 1962, her collection of eighteenth century glass and ceramics-over 948 pieces-was bequeathed to the Brooklyn Museum.
“A moderate smoker, Emily would doodle on the back of the Benson & Hedges hard pack. From that venue came many of her “doodles” of modern art. If she liked the work she would show the sketch to me for comment. With (or perhaps without) my endorsement Emily copied those she liked on large sheets and colored them. The final copies were beautiful and marked her entry into a new artistic endeavor, one for which she never received the recognition deserved.”
– excerpted from Seldom Told Tales of Sharon, Book 2
Emily the Sculptress
Mrs. Miles was frequently impressed with the face or bearing of individuals and she would use them as models for her statuary. THE CARPENTER was a worker from West Cornwall, and THE ATHLETE was modelled from middleweight boxer Tiger Flowers Johnson.
E.J. Kirby was a boxing fan. … Emily was also a boxing fan to a point. E.J. arranged for a boxer names Tiger Flowers Johnstone to pose for her. A rather handsome man, the resultant statues, a bust and “The Spearthrower,” even contained such details as Johnstone’s cauliflower left ear, a common malaise of boxers.
Bronze Head of Tiger Flowers Johnstone
At the Center of Sharing: Sharon Hospital
The first Sharon Hospital opened on December 10, 1909 in a rented brick house owned by Otto Tiedeman on Calkinstown Road.
The new hospital opened on April 10, 1916, with 16 beds, 3 nurses and an operating room. The first operation—an appendectomy—was performed by Dr. Chaffee on April 11.
In 1922, the hospital purchased the adjacent “Kenny” home to serve as a nurses’ home. When the building opened in 1923, the total number of beds expanded from 16 to 25. Maternity was located in the Nurses’ house.
Beginning in the early 1920s, fund raising was begun to expand the hospital’s already cramped quarters. The Sharon Hospital Auxiliary organized a series of street fairs and events raising $10,700.
A three-story fireproof addition was added between 1928 and 1930, adding a waiting room, nurses’ room 8 bed ward, full maternity department, and a new operating suite.
In 1945 the trustees appointed a building committee: Dr. Byron Stookey, Mr. Heathcote Woolsey and Mr. Lyman Rhoades. After the purchase of additional land to the north, the building began to take shape and opened its doors in 1948 at a cost of $799,405.13.
In 1949, the new Chaffee Pavilion was added at the cost of $800,000. This addition expanded the hospital’s bed capacity to 50.
In 1957, the new Harry Payne Bingham Wing and the Ford Wing were opened to increase the capacity to 68 beds in projects costing more than $200,000.
In 1963 construction begins on Sharon Hospital’s largest expansion project, a $2 million project financed without any public fund drive, thanks to bequests from the estates of Herbert R. Fransioloi, Muriel Alvord Ward, together with a Federal grant under the Hill-Burton hospital construction program. The hospital serves 3,000 patients in this year—the most yet.
On August 1, 1965, formal dedicatory ceremonies were held to open the Fransioloi Building, the Berry Unit, and the Ward Unit. These projects provided facilities for pediatrics, obstetrics, gynecology, post-operative recovery, fracture room, emergency rooms, administrative offices, gift shop, improved kitchen and laundry equipment. Also completed was the renovation of the Ward C. Belcher Pathology Laboratory. Bed capacity was increased to 92.
Between 1972 and its completion in 1976, a major renovation project included improvements to and expansion of the Intensive Care Unit and the Emergency Room. The Laboratory and Radiology moved to their new wing and present location.
The new North Wing opened on April 29, 1995, adding four new operating suites, rehabilitation services including cardiac, a chapel, a new kitchen and employee dining room, and a new medical/surgical unit. The lobby was renovated and expanded and improvements were made to the physical plant.
A Virtual View of the Exhibit
A Pictorial History of the Sharon Green
Curated by The Sharon Green Preservation Association & The Sharon Historical Society
Sharon Green as a Center for Commerce
Today we think of the Sharon Green as primarily a residential area. It is a beautiful, open space lined with rows of large trees and surrounded by well-kept, historic homes. But it has not always been that way. For most of its history, the Sharon Green was the center of commerce for the Town of Sharon and the near-by farms and industries.
In the days before automobile ownership became widespread across America, most small towns, including Sharon, hosted a wide variety of businesses that offered the many goods and services that were needed by the local residents. In Sharon, almost all of these businesses were located on Main Street and Upper Main Street facing the Green. A few were located on West Main Street or in Sharon Valley, but many were in buildings facing the Green – buildings that remain standing today.
The photographs in this exhibit illustrate how the uses of twelve buildings facing the Green have evolved over time.
Critical Trends: Automobiles and Shopping Centers
As automobile ownership became widespread in the 1920s, and prevalent after World War II, most of the businesses facing the Green closed as people began to drive to neighboring towns that offered larger stores. This trend was accelerated in Sharon by the opening of the Sharon shopping center in 1960.
Although the closing of small stores and the establishment of shopping centers is often thought of as an unwelcome development, those trends have been critical in making the Green the quiet, beautiful place that we know today. If the Green were still a center of commerce, it would likely be surrounded by parked cars; part of it may have even been paved over for parking. Also, it is likely that many of the homes would have been modified to have larger storefronts, as has happened on the main streets of many neighboring towns. The Green would be a far different place than what it is today.
The Sharon Inn
The Green was the home of several inns in the 19th century. The largest and most important of these was the Sharon Inn, which was located just across South Main Street from the clock tower. The original building was expanded several times with additions both to the front and rear. The Inn was razed in 1954, and the site is currently the home of the memorial to the men and women from Sharon who served in the military. Photographs: Later views showing additions on the west side.
Early View of the Front of Sharon Inn
Autos in the front of the Sharon Inn
The view to the south from the front yard of the Inn.
Major David Gould House
This house at 2 Main Street, which is now exclusively a private residence, sits diagonally across Main Street from the site of the Sharon Inn. In the 18th and 19th centuries, this key location, at a busy crossroads, was the home to a general store, a millinery store, a jewelry store and a lumber yard.
The leftward curving tree seen in photo number one still stands today.
Town Hall has been the center of Sharon’s civic affairs since it was built in 1875. It was also a hub of commerce for many years.
The building was initially much smaller than it is today and had no columns. It was also the home of the post office.
There was a house immediately to the right of Town Hall that housed a pharmacy and various other businesses. That building was razed in the 1950s and replaced by a new wing of the Town Hall building, which housed the post office.
The post office addition was removed and replaced by a new wing of Town Hall in the early 1990s. Note that the fire department was housed in the wing of Town Hall under the tower at one time. The post office addition was removed and replaced by a new wing of Town Hall in the early 1990s. Note that the fire department was housed in the wing of Town Hall under the tower at one time.
Town Hall to West Main Street
This stretch of Main Street is home to three buildings with significant commercial histories.
The Marckres House at 67 Main Street, built in 1890, has been the home of a clock and jewelry shop, a barber shop, a photography store, The Singing Hollow Shop (a variety store), WKZE and WHDD. The original house was rich in architectural detail, most of which was removed when aluminum siding was added sometime after World War II. Much of the original detail was restored when the building was restored in the 1980s.
The Charles Sears House at 73 Main Street, built in 1840, was the home of the Sears Harness and Trunk Manufactory. There was also a tannery in the rear. The building also housed the offices of Dr. Sears and Dr. Gudernatch.
The brick part of the Russel Bartlet House at 81 Main Street was built in 1783. The wooden portion extending to the corner with West Main Street was added in 1959. This building housed various businesses owned by Edward Middlebrook in the early 1900s, including a meat market in the rear. It was also the home of the post office at one time. More recently it has housed a fabric shop, a beauty salon, a clothing store and a bookstore.
The Abner Burhham & Prindle House
The Abner Burnham House at 125 Main Street was built in 1811. It housed Sharon’s first clockmaker and also served as a tavern beginning in 1838. It also housed a dame school, which was a school for young children. It housed a millinery shop by 1865, with 6-8 employees.
The house was severely damaged by fire in 1925, when the Casino, which was located immediately north of the house, burned to the ground.
When the house was rebuilt, the roof was raised to provide for a full-height second floor.
The Prindle House at 141 Main Street was built in 1810. Although currently used as a residence, it has housed many businesses over the span of two centuries, including a millinery shop, a dress shop, a clock, watch and jewelry store, a shoe store, a grocery store, a drugstore, and icecream and soda shop and a print shop for The Rural Gazette. Like many other buildings on the Green, it also housed Sharon’s post office at one time. Most recently, it housed the Connecticut Yankee and Marge Anderson’s Country Clothes.
Upper Main Street
Most businesses were located on the lower part of Main Street, but a few were located on Upper Main Street, especially on the northern end of the street.
The Wike Mercantile building at 106 Upper Main Street, built in 1855, has housed many businesses in its two storefronts, including the local office of the Connecticut Power Company, the bus station, the telegraph office, a barber shop, a beauty parlor, a coffee shop, a fish market, a laundry, an office of the Sharon National Bank (later acquired by Union Savings Bank), Olsen’s hardware store and a Radio Shack. One of the storefronts also served as Wendell Wilkie’s campaign office during the 1944 Presidential election.
The Gager House at 96 Upper Main Street, built in 1788, has been primarily used as a residence, but it also housed Mrs. Wylie’s Old Homestead Tea Room.
The two buildings near the north end of Green at 147 Main Street and 1 Cemetery Hill, usually referred to as the Gillette Buildings, were the preeminent commercial buildings in Sharon throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. Located in a prominent location just as the road from Lakeville enters the main part of the Green, these buildings have been the home of many businesses.
The larger building was moved to its current location from Sharon Valley or Cemetery Hill sometime before 1853. Columns were added in 1890. In the late 1800s it housed the E.F. Gillette General Store, with a sideline in furniture, and also Builders Hardware Iron & Steel. It also housed the post office at one time in the 1800s.
In the early 1900s it housed George Klebe’s stores and then from 1927-1963 was the home of Al Jenkins’ store, which sold groceries and dry goods. Al’s wife, Bea, was the daughter of George Klebe, the former owner. It later housed the Bargain Box and an antiques store.
The Gillette Buildings (15 Sept. 1940)
Al and Bea Jenkins
The smaller building was built between 1806 and 1837. It was first used as a hat factory. It later housed a series of pharmacies, including Cole’s, Meredith Gillette’s and Walsh’s. It later was the home of Habitant Kitchen Wares.
View from the location looking south down Main Street
Current views: Note that part of left wing of the larger building has been removed.
The physical boundaries of the Green were laid out when the town was established in 1739 and have remained unchanged since then. Even though the Green extends almost one mile south of the clocktower, most people think of the Green as encompassing just the rectangular space running from the clocktower to the place where Main Street merges with Upper Main Street by the Methodist Church.
The outer edges of the Green have included sidewalks from the earliest pictures. The sidewalks were first paved in 1912, well before the roads themselves were paved. The roads were paved in the 1930s as part of the “Let’s get Connecticut out of the mud” campaign of Gov. Wilbur Cross and in response to the efforts of the State Grange to improve the ability of farmers to get their produce to market. Photographs from the early 20th century show that the sidewalks along the Green stretched well south of the clocktower, providing a place for local residents and visitors to stroll. Although still visible in the contour of the land in some places, the sidewalks south of the clocktower were allowed to deteriorate and were abandoned by the 1950s.
Although we have located no pictures from before the 1870s, it is likely that the Green was initially used as a common area for town residents to graze their cattle and for other civic purposes. In the 1860s, the rectangular part of the Green was planted with four rows of elm trees that stretched along both sides of Main Street and Upper Main Street. During the mid- to late 19th century, many villages in New England undertook village improvement projects. These were often associated with Arbor Days, when organized community-wide efforts were made to plant new trees to provide shade and beauty.
Trimming the Elms.
As the elm trees grew in the late 19th century, the Green was transformed from a somewhat unkempt and empty space into a beautiful, shaded park, with the roads on each side of the Green covered by a canopy of magnificent elm trees.
These four rows of elm trees left a wide, open space down the center of the Green that remains mostly intact today.
Unfortunately, most of the elm trees fell victim to the Dutch Elm disease, which began to spread through New England in the 1930s. By the early 1960s, most of the elm trees on the Green had died and had been removed.
The Sharon Association, under the direction of Alice and Ted Mix and Jane Buckley Smith, led the effort to plant new trees in the 1960s. Since 1995, the Sharon Green Preservation Association has led that effort. In an effort to avoid a repeat of the plight of the elm trees, when all of the trees died of a common disease at the same time, the more recent plantings on the Green have included different types of trees.
Uses of the Sharon Green
Although initially a shared space for the grazing of cattle, the Green has been used primarily as a space for public gatherings and as a public park since it was beautified in the 1860s.
Many Sharon residents recall playing ball on the Green in the 1950s and 1960s, but that activity was discouraged by the postmaster (when the post office was still located on the Green).
Iron Faith: Celebrating the History of St. Bridget Church
Curated by the St. Bridget History Project & Funded by a grant from the Connecticut Humanities Council.
The St. Bridget History Project was awarded a Planning Grant from the Connecticut Humanities Council in the fall of 2006 to begin an oral and archival research project on the history of the parish. Local scholar Dr. Jeremy Brecher served as consultant and an on-going parish oral history project was launched. Parishioners were trained and interview subjects included parishioners, priests, and community members.
The project was strengthened by a Historic Preservation Technical Assistance grant from the Connecticut Trust for Historic Preservation, awarded in 2007, for architectural consulting on the parish’s 1883 carpenter Gothic church, and a subsequent Housatonic Heritage Partnership Grant, awarded in 2008, for research on the area’s 19th century iron and other workers, including many who were founders of St. Bridget Church. This effort culminated in the Iron Faith exhibit, made possible with a 2009 Implementation Grant from the Connecticut Humanities Council.