Nepash is an Indian name. It was assigned to the river in memory of an early settler, perhaps a Tunxis Indian, who drowned there.
Nepash/Nepaug Village was a memory as well by April 27, 1918, when the first water came flowing into the Reservoir, filling the basin that once held homes, businesses, a school and other signs of community, with 9 billion gallons of water.
The talk, by some, of mysterious happenings at the Nepaug Reservoir appears to center around the suspicion that in building what was an engineering marvel, some in the community of Nepaug Village were left behind.
Once again, a little history may shed some light on the mystery.
Nepaug Village was a community of farmers, principally of dairy products and potatoes. In earlier days, farmers grew wheat, tended sheep and harvested a flax crop from which they made linen fabric. In addition to the farms, there were also fine homes of prominent, ancestral families in the Village. The disruption brought about by building the Reservoir, would separate a people from generations of their family lives, community and history.
Just a few stories:
The Douglas Farm, a large, brick residence with 170 acres of woodland and the Nepaug River flowing in the rear of the property, had been in the family for generations. Their dairy farm was known for its prize-winning butter, then later for its cream.
The 1830 Weston Barnes homestead was one of the finest in Nepaug Village. The residence had 7 fireplaces and 17 large rooms. The farm consisted of about 300 acres of land for cows and crops. Weston Barnes, a Civil War veteran, was taken ill with pneumonia and passed away on April 13, 1914, shortly after the sale of his property was finalized.
Warren Aldrich was one of a number of Village residents with connections to Collinsville. Aldrich had worked as both a farmer and a Collins Company forger. His son John was president of Collinsville Savings Society. Ultimately, Aldrich sold his property to Frank and John Chesosky, who were milkmen in Collinsville. The soil in the western meadows of this farm was used to build the Phelps Brook dam.
Andrew Zwick’s 120+ acre farm, which extended up Sweetheart Mountain, was part of the first transfer of properties to the state. Zwick Point, a rock outcropping, can still be seen from the Reservoir, a reminder that his farm indeed existed on this spot.
While most of the residents and businesses in Nepaug Village sold their property to the state, for prices which were reportedly above market value, there were some holdouts.
Edgar Richards, for one, refused the state’s request to purchase his property. So, they condemned it. In response, Richards left for California, having refused to accept any payment for his loss. Stephen Dowd’s home was purchased, not by the state, but by a Frank Barnes, who dismantled then resurrected it on Jerome Street in Bristol. The Collinsville Water Company also had protracted negotiations with the state over the loss of use of its own small reservoir property.
In addition to these and many other displaced residents, there were other citizens of Nepaug Village who were unable to speak on their own behalf, to secure their transition out of the Reservoir’s path. Most, however, had family who advocated for them. The "they" we speak of here were those buried in Nepaug Village’s cemeteries.
There were three, not two, cemeteries in the vicinity of Nepaug Village. The third and smallest graveyard has not always been included in the listing of properties transferred by the state while building the Reservoir.
Most of the bodies at Saint John’s Cemetery and the Old Canton Southwest Graveyard were removed, at the state’s expense, between October and December 1915. While this second final resting place, for the approximately 370 bodies, was left up to family members, the vast majority of the deceased were moved to one of two new cemeteries in Collinsville: one on the west side of the river, Calvary Cemetery, and the other on Simonds Avenue. A number of the bodies were also transported to Burlington Center Cemetery and a few others to South Windsor.
But, what about Ford Cemetery? This was a private family plot with a single, tall monument, located on Ford Road. It was built in 1855 by the parents of Caroline Ford, who died at age 18. Mr. Omni Ford, who had once owned a silver mine, passed away next and was placed beside his daughter. In 1901 Mrs. Ford, a Tunxis Indian who had meticulously maintained the little graveyard, died and was buried with her daughter and husband.
While the Ford Cemetery was beyond the reach of the planned watershed, Hartford Water Works, nevertheless, took it over. HWW removed the wrought iron fence that encircled the Ford monument, then left the little cemetery to the brush and passing time.
People can be haunted by their memories of loss, pain or injury, memories that they’re unable or unwilling to forget. There are those who believe that some of this unrequited energy has been left behind by the former inhabitants of Nepaug Village. But, what about the three members of the Ford family? Were they left behind as well?
Part III: Nepaug Reservoir: Canton’s ‘Bermuda Triangle?’
Here’s the Deal
About Town thanks the knowledgeable librarians in Burlington (Burlington Room for local history), Canton and the Canton Historical Museum for their valuable assistance. In addition, a note of appreciation to Town Historians: Leonard Alderman (Burlington), Mary Ellen Cosker (Canton) and Larry Carlton (Canton), who keep stories from our history alive.