James Burr’s Berry Farm c.1858
James Burr was born in New Milford, CT on July 12, 1832, in a district which is today the town of Bridgewater, CT. In his early boyhood his family moved to Monroe where his father Isaac Burr purchased a farm at the northeast intersection of Cutlers Farm and Bugg Hill Roads. Today we associate this same farm with the Pulaski family, who acquired the property in 1895 from the descendants of Isaac Burr.
As a young boy, James and his siblings received their education at the humble one-room schoolhouse in the Cutlers Farm District of town. The schoolhouse stood at the northeast corner of Cutlers Farm and Purdy Hill Roads, which was just about a 2-mile walk to and from school each day. As a young man, James was drawn to the vocation of teaching, and toward that goal he successfully completed 2 terms at the Connecticut State Normal School, which survives today as Central Connecticut State University in New Britain, CT. Once he earned his certification he served as a qualified teacher for several years in both Monroe and Trumbull.
In time he naturally applied his talents for education to practical farming methods and farming economy. These pursuits inspired him to become a founder and first Master of Monroe’s Harmony Grange. His incumbency as Master continued for several terms and he was a renown celebrated lecturer, his orations drawing interested farmers from Monroe and neighboring towns. He was often called upon to give lectures at agricultural conventions in Connecticut. James was convinced that the most lucrative crops for a farm of limited acreage were those comprised mainly of small fruit.
James married Caroline Salmon of Trumbull on October 13, 1857 and immediately set out to buy a local farm with the intent of applying his agricultural methods. He purchased the farm of Prosper Hurd at the intersection of Elm Street and Lover’s Lane. The house dates to c.1805 and still stands today. There James and Caroline raised their family and their crops. James was never one to rely on a single solution in farming and was known for his innovation and agricultural experimentation. He never settled on a single variety of any fruit and planted many breeds annually to produce the best results over the longest season.
In his early years he sowed crops of Baldwin apples, Japan plums, Doolittle black raspberries and varied other crops, both fruits and vegetables. Ultimately he found his greatest success in the Hovey variety of strawberry, upon which he built his successful berry empire. In his day James Burr was considered the largest grower of strawberries in the state of Connecticut. His high-quality prized fruit sold throughout the town and was delivered daily to Shelton, Bridgeport, Newtown, Birmingham (Derby), New Milford and New Haven.
The Burr Berry Farm was an unparalleled success in Monroe for over 30 years. James was 70 when he passed on December 27, 1902 after a long-term illness. He was survived by his wife and two daughters. He, his wife Caroline and their 5 children are buried in the Cutlers Farm and Elm Street Cemetery on Cross Hill Road. The next time you enjoy a delicious locally grown strawberry, take a moment to think of James Burr, The Berry King of Connecticut.
Monroe Airport: 1940 to 1973
A parachute jumper prepares to touch ground at the Monroe Airport that functioned between 1940 and 1973 on a grass expanse off Moose Hill Road that today is the site of the St. John’s/B’nai Israel Cemeteries. Almost all of the activity at the field was recreational, drawing amateur aviators, skydivers and, later ultralight pilots. Ben Hurd (1904)-1955) built the airport, converting the farm of his father Ambrose Hurd (1872-1929) into an auto-racing track in the 1930s before creating a 2,000-foot aircraft runway with his young daughter Lois. A hangar and snack bar were added to the airstrip. Hurd, the elder, died on his farm, kicked fatally by either a cow or a horse. It was never determined. His son Ben amassed countless hours of flight time and was known to be an over-adventuresome flier who navigated visually (VFR) without an instrument-rating (IFR). He was famous for getting out of tight spots, using his aeronautical instincts to wing through heavy weather that would deter more judicious aviators. In 1955 Ben Hurd and four passengers in his gull-wing Stinson airplane went down in poor visibility and crashed in a heavily-forested area near Dover Plains, NY. None survived.
Chura’s Stand/Bill’s Drive-In