Ramsdell Farm walk brings history to life

By Denise Coffey - Staff Writer
Thompson - posted Tue., Oct. 8, 2013
Park rangers led a walk into history by showcasing the remanants of the Ramsdell Farm. Photo courtesy of Marcy Dawley. - Contributed Photo

Soon after the 1955 flood that took 87 lives and left $400 million in damage in northeastern Connecticut, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers began planning the West Thompson Dam. Land was taken by eminent domain, 10 buildings were relocated and 78 properties destroyed to make room for the West Thompson Lake. One Thompson woman refused to leave her land. The story goes that when federal officials tried to take Alice Ramsdell’s property, she met them with a shotgun. 

On Oct. 6, Park Ranger Michelle Kucchi led Walktober participants on a walk back in time to the site of the remnants of the Ramsdell Farm. During the walk, Kucchi shared historical records and early photographs. She shared the information she’d gleaned from interviews with Ramsdell’s nephew. She led a tour of the site where stone walls and foundations marked where the main house, the barn and various outbuildings were constructed. Participants shared stories they’d grown up with regarding the woman who made a name for herself by refusing the government.

The farmstead was built in 1735 by Elijah Nichols. In 1825, Hezekiah Ramsdell bought the house. Over the course of the next 170 years, the house remained in the hands of Ramsdell’s descendents. Alice was the last Ramsdell to live there. When she died in 1995, the ownership of the land and house was turned over to the federal government. The stories of her feistiness live on, however.

Kucchi and seasonal Park Ranger Amber Reilly brought participants along old Ravenelle Road, through an apple orchard where Hezekiah Ramsdell developed his own species of apples known as Ramsdell Sweets. They passed out maps of the property and locations of the barn, chicken coop, carriage house and privy. Black and white photographs showed the grand house, a huge barn and a train engine that Frank Ramsdell purchased in 1937. Kucchi led the group into a dell where that train engine was housed. Railroad ties were barely visible in the ground. 

Kucchi’s interest in the history of the area led her to find Ramsdell’s nephew. It took her to the Wiscasset, Waterford and Farmington Railway Museum in Maine, where she found the railroad engine that once belonged to Frank Ramsdell. She found photographs and newspaper articles at the Thompson Historical Society. And she discovered “The History of Windham County,” by Ellen Larned. All of them helped fill out the stories behind the dates and historical records.

Marcy Dawley had been on the trail that passes the Ramsdell Farm “a million times” but never knew the full story. “You learn so much on these walks,” she said.

For Woodstock resident Ellen Rewinski, the walk lent credence to the stories she’d heard growing up about Alice Ramsdell. “We knew there was a lady who wouldn’t go when the government tried to take her land,” she said. “And those were the days when most people were compliant.”

For Dawley, Rewinski and her husband, Bill, the walk was enjoyable, even as rain threatened. “She gave a great presentation,” Bill said of Kucchi. “Her enthusiasm was catchy,” Dawley added, “especially on a crappy day.” 

In its 23rd year, Walktober continues to be a vehicle for telling the stories of the people who lived and worked in what’s known as the Last Green Valley. More than 100 have been scheduled through Oct. 28. They include historical tours, foliage paddles, grub crawls and dog-friendly walks. For more information, visit www.thelastgreenvalley.org.

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