Historical Society offers rare chance to tour Zagray farmhouse

By Kevin Hotary - Staff Writer
Colchester - posted Mon., Sep. 12, 2011
The Colchester Historical Society offered a tour of the Zagray Homestead on Sunday, Sept. 11. Photos by Kevin Hotary.
The Colchester Historical Society offered a tour of the Zagray Homestead on Sunday, Sept. 11. Photos by Kevin Hotary.

Local history buffs were presented with a rare opportunity on Sunday, Sept. 11, as the Colchester Historical Society, together with the Colchester Land Trust, sponsored a tour through the house and a hike on the surrounding grounds of Zagray Farm on Amston Road.

“As far as I know, this is the first time,” said hike leader Gary Walter of the opportunity to tour the house, which remains relatively untouched inside since the Zagray brothers bequeathed the approximately 200-acre farm to the historical society 10 years ago.

Never married and very frugal, the three Zagray brothers “were very self-reliant,” said Walter, who explained that they grew and made nearly everything they needed. The cellar still contains jars of fruit canned by the brothers from some of the numerous fruit trees on the property.

The five-bedroom house, which seems small by today’s standards, with low ceilings and cramped rooms, only briefly had indoor plumbing, added when the Zagray’s mother was sick. Soon after her death, however, the facilities were removed, with pipes leading from an upstairs bedroom the only remaining indications of where they had been, according to Bertha Glemboski of the historical society. To this day, a small, three-stall outhouse behind the main house remains as the sole “bathroom.” A nearby wash house was used for cleaning up.

In addition to the house, a number of other buildings remain in use on the Zagray farm, including a foundry and an industrial-scale machine shop – at least two of the brothers were professional machinists.

“They made just about everything that they needed. They were experts, they knew what they were doing,” said Walter.

Today, the shops and much of the grounds are maintained by the Quinebaug Valley Engineers Association, which, together with the Colchester Fish and Game Club, received 99-year leases to use the property, together with the historical society.  And it was the engineers that made a discovery in the machine shop that started one of the great mysteries surrounding the Zagray brothers – a can of cash.

“That started a systematic search,” said Walter, and to date, about $54,000 in cash has been found hidden in various places, including in an old ammunition box hidden under an old sink along a stone wall behind the house, which is now known as the “money wall.”

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