The Hanks Reservoir

From the Mansfield Historical Society Newsletter, Vol. 35, No. 6, November 1999

In 1990 the University of Connecticut set aside 157 acres of land at the corner of Routes 195 and South Eagleville Road to be known as The Albert E. Moss Forest, Wildlife and Wildflower Sanctuary. The entrance to the preserve is located behind the brick apartment buildings known as Mansfield Apartments. It is a peaceful place to stroll and enjoy nature.

The sanctuary is fittingly named for Albert E. Moss, who taught forestry at the University from 1914 to 1942. He headed one of the first college forestry programs in the United States and was among the first to teach animal ecology. In 1932, Moss and his students planted 200 white pines to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the birth of George Washington. A trail leads through this stand of pines, now 80 feet high, to a lovely pond, commonly known as “Tift Pond” or “Sullivan Pond.”

Roberta Smith, Mansfield’s municipal historian, has researched this historic pond and discovered its important connection to the local silk industry. She presented her research at the dedication of the sanctuary on April 21, 1990. The following is a reprint of her talk.

In 1840 Baruch Southwick and Sanford Tift, both of Worcester County Massachusetts, purchased a 140 acre farm in the southerly part of the so-called North Society. The large dwelling once stood on the corner of Birchwood Heights Road and Route 195.

Eight years later in 1848, Sanford Tift sold two acres of the farm to George R. Hanks. He reserved all the wood and timber on the premises and also stipulated that Hanks was to maintain a fence. The deed also included this very interesting information, “he may raise a dam across the brook to any height provided that the water shall not flow the bank of the southeast corner of the premises.” Obviously, Tift did not want water overflowing on his remaining property.

The Tifts owned the rest of the farm until April 14, 1874, when David Tift of Hartford sold it to James O. Sullivan. Previously the house had been divided into a two family dwelling, and Sullivan bought only one half of the house – the north half. The deed specifically stated “by the reservoir or pond of P. G. and J. S. Hanks,” and at the conclusion of the deed, “excepting the lot sold where the reservoir now stands.” Many of us remember calling it “Sullivan’s Pond” or “Jimmy’s Pond.” It was indeed surprising to learn that Sullivan never owned the pond at all!

Hanks Brothers Mill - Trade Card
Hanks Brothers Mill – Trade Card

The Hanks also purchased a few acres from another land owner which adjoined the Reservoir area. For the further consideration of 50 cents, the owner Baxter Hall granted the Hanks and their heirs “the right to flow my land on the south and west of sd Reservoir so high as is necessary for the water to run over the present waste way.”

Historically this is extremely interesting because, of course, the Hanks needed an adequate water supply for their silk mill located on Hanks Hill. Thus the dammed brook created a pond which became an auxiliary water supply for the Hanks Hill Silk Mill. It was referred to in the deeds as the “Hanks Reservoir.” The reservoir remained in the Hanks family for almost 100 year until December 1945, at which time several of the heirs sold it to a Manchester, Connecticut firm who in turn sold it to the State of Connecticut on March 13, 1952.

In view of the fact that Tift owned the brook area only for a brief period and later sold his entire farm and had no further connection with Mansfield, and that Sullivan never owned the pond, neither of the names, “Tift Pond” or “Sullivan Pond” seem appropriate. We hope that serious consideration will be given to the earlier and more historically significant designation, “The Hanks Reservoir.”

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