From the Mansfield Historical Society Newsletter, Vol. 40, No. 4, November 2004
The last issue of the newsletter contained biographical information about George H. Reynolds, the original owner of Spring Manor farm. He was a local farm boy who, in later life, became a prominent mechanical engineer. In this newsletter, we continue the history of Spring Manor farm with an article from The Willimantic Chronicle, dated September 19, 1883 that describes George Reynold’s development of the land comprising Spring Manor Farm.
“In 1879 Mr. Reynolds purchased a tract of land extending from the town road west to the Willimantic river. The greater part of this tract was covered with timber and brush and to most people uninviting. That part fronting the road was covered with stones and huge boulders and uneven and hilly withal. The western part bordering on the river is a level plain densely covered with stately pines, on the skirts of which runs the N.N. Railroad. What special beauty charmed the purchaser and invited his capital to this rugged and uncultivated forest is best known to himself.
Soon after the purchase he set men to work building a wall by the roadside four feet thick at the base, three feet at the top and four feet high above the ground, being set below the power of frost to move it, and faced alike on each side. This wall was continued nearly or quite half a mile in length to his northern boundary line. A walk was then graded six feet wide between the wall and highway and a row of elm trees along its border, 125 in number, of the cork bark variety, brought from New Rochelle, N.Y. They are now well to growing and we imagine that in coming years those that pass that way will point with pride to that lovely row of trees and refresh themselves and the panting steeds beneath its cooling shade.
Additions have been made to the original purchase, the whole tract now comprising 175 acres which has been divided by cross walls into roomy pasture and tillage fields. Bordering on the river is a plain of 18 acres mostly covered with evergreen trees, the outer portion of which as been trimmed up and cleared of underbrush, the center being left in its natural condition, as the proprietor expressed it, for the rabbits to hop around in and afford a safe retreat for the partridge and grey squirrel, all of which make a home there unmolested…
The walls are all built after one pattern like the one described in the forepart of this article and aggregate 16,000 feet in length… . The abutments are built larger and higher than the main wall and are capped with flat stones from the quarry of Mr. Humphrey at Willimantic. A massive foundation has been laid for a new barn, two smaller ones are already built, the largest one to stand between the two. Further up the incline a house is to be built over looking the park and plain below. Near by flows water from a living spring sufficient for man and beast. A drive way has been graded through the premises nearly a mile in length connecting with the highway at each end. Iron grates from the DeLamater iron works, N.Y., of which Mr. Reynolds is superintendent engineer, close the entrance to the grounds and are also used to close driveways between fields. All the stone work has been done by Mr. Joseph Jones of Willimantic a large part having been laid with his own hands and it is safe to say that he has no superior in laying farm walls…
That Mr. Reynolds expects to see a full return in dollars and cents for his outlay on this rugged tract of wild land is not presumed, but he drinks in the full value in the pleasure of making the improvement on that portion of his native town over which he used to ramble in his youthful days. He was born of good stock, though not in wealth, and is a brother in a family of twelve children all but two of which are now living. Mr. Reynolds is in the prime of his life, just the upper side of fifty years, and is brim full of push so to speak, a self-made man having battled successfully with the elements of business life from his boyhood days to his now riper years. His inventive genius, coupled with an indomitable perseverance has brought him wealth and he evidently takes pleasure in expending it to beautify the earth. We congratulate him in his prosperity and hope that his life may be spared many years to enjoy the fruits of his labor.”
In 1885, after developing his farmlands, George Reynolds finally built a handsome home on a bluff overlooking his farm property and the Willimantic River valley. The Queen Anne style house is embellished with marble and granite fireplaces, elaborate woodwork, sweeping staircases and decorative ceiling stencils and plaster medallions. On the granite mantel in the master bedroom is inscribed: “I built this house here because I love my native land. Geo. H. Reynolds, 1885”.
Behind the house, a gilt-trimmed elevator car from the Waldorf Astoria Hotel housed the spring from which the property derived its name. The elegant springhouse, now gone, was a souvenir from Mr. Reynold’s days in the elevator industry. George Reynolds bottled the mineral water and marketed it under the name “Tolland Water”. It was advertised that it would “cure Kidney and Liver Troubles, Rheumatism, Gout and Dropsy.”
In 1921, Spring Manor farm was purchased by the State and became part of the Mansfield Training School. It added valuable buildings and 512 acres of farmland to the training school property. The enlarged farm holdings enabled the institution to be almost self-supporting agriculturally. The farm furnished milk and a substantial supply of eggs and meats, as well vegetables and fruits during the growing season and forage crops for the livestock. George Reynold’s former home and carriage house served as quarters for training school employees.
Boys from the training school were employed on the farm year-round and performed most of the manual labor. This was considered an important part of their occupational training and was essential for the running of the farm. They helped with the care of livestock and worked in the fields. In the summer, both boys and girls assisted with the weeding of gardens and the harvesting of crops. The farm was one of the most successful departments in training clients for community placement.
Sadly, since the training school closed in 1993, Spring Manor farm has fallen into disrepair and the once cultivated fields are gradually returning to their natural state. All of George Reynold’s hard work is slowly being undone.
NOTE: Since this article was written, the University of Connecticut established the Spring Valley Student Farm on a portion of the Spring Manor Farm site. Student farmers now grow produce, herbs and flowers there that are utilized by UConn’s Dining Services. This information about the farm appears on the Dining Services website:
“Spring Valley Student Farm (SVSF) sprouted in spring 2010 from a project planted by Residential Life. Since that time SVSF has blossomed into a year-round community for eleven student farmers living in two UConn houses 4.5 miles off campus. The student farmers learn about sustainable community living, organic food growing methods and the business aspects of how food is harvested, processed and presented to the UConn dining community. As stewards and ambassadors of the farm the student farmers support Spring Valley Student Farm as an educational destination where everyone may come together to learn and grow. Spring Valley Student Farm exists as a collaborative venture between Dining Services, Residential Life, EcoHouse Learning Community and First Year Programs, the College of Agriculture, Health and Natural Resources, and the Office of Environmental Policy.”