The Mystery Of 'The Alabama'
Hans Munchow bought the Valley Falls property in 1910 and in 1911 married Henrietta Cassin from Selma, Alabama and Louisville, Kentucky. He used Henrietta's money to rebuild the Red Barn and build the German-Austrian style stable and out buildings.
Henrietta was a Southern belle used to living in luxury in the city. Hans loved the life of a wealthy European aristocrat and to encourage Henrietta to spend time at their country estate created for her a cottage on Bolton Road that he named 'The Alabama' in honor of the state where she grew up.
We only recently became aware of 'The Alabama' while researching Munchow. But where was the cottage and what became of it after the Beach family purchased the property? The Beach grandchildren, Darico family and Ronald and Carol Burke were unaware of such a building on the Beach property.
Our best theory was that the Beach's moved the building from near their Big House and used it to house their help. But no information was found on its original location, where it was relocated, or its possible destruction.
Last Summer Carol Burke gave Ann Letendre a number of old Beach family photos and a tape of a 1978 interview with the Darico's that provide clues. It seems that 'The Alabama' has been hiding in plain sight. Anson Lyman's Tenant House became Hans Munchow's 'The Alabama" and returned to being Mary Batterson Beach's Tenant House. Here is the story:
Lyman's Tenant House
|1853 Woodward map of Valley Falls area.|
Our earliest map of the area is the 1853 Woodward Map. It shows not only who lived where, but also each individual building, including barns. At Valley Falls is Anson Lyman's farm and barns, the Valley Falls Factory with 3 associated buildings and an unlabeled structure on Bolton Road at the corner with Valley Falls Road that infers Anson Lyman owned the house. No other houses are nearby on Bolton Road.
The 1869 O. W. Gray map shows the same buildings with S. F. Bradley in Valley Falls Farm and the corner house labeled 'T.H,' often misidentified as 'Toll House,' but actually standing for 'Tenant House.' This Tenant House is part of Valley Falls Farm. It was common to provide housing for good farm employees and their families, who usually served the owner in some capacity also.
Anson Lyman probably built the house in the 1840's soon after he built the farmhouse. Then the Tenant House passed with the property from owner to owner. Census records and town directories provide an idea of who was in the house as the decades passed.
Hans Munchow became owner of Valley Falls Farm in March of 1910. The deed describes the bounds of four parcels with no reference to the buildings on them. The same description was used in previous and subsequent deeds and mortgages with only the name of land owners changing.
A short item in the March 25, 1910 Rockville Journal noted that Munchow bought the Hardy place and planned to put up a villa. Alfred Hardy was an earlier owner.
Munchow hired a German family to manage the farm and probably help with barn construction. The 1910 Federal Census includes the Philip Michael's family with his wife and 3 children. Philip was the farm foreman and his wife Katherine was servant to Munchow. It is likely they lived in the corner house, although its possible they used the mill house.
On June 24, 1911 Hans Munchow and Henrietta Cassin were married in Kentucky. Six months later a short item in the January 17, 1912 Hartford Courant says that Munchow "has his barns completed and equipped with modern conveniences, running water and steam heat. In the Spring he plans to build a new house and lay out the grounds, including a new road to his buildings from the highway."
Henrietta was a fairly wealthy Southern woman used to living in luxury in Selma, Alabama and Louisville, Kentucky. Much of her two years in Connecticut she would live in Hartford. Hans loved the life of a wealthy European aristocrat and as Henrietta was financing the farm he was anxious to bring her to the farm in hopes she would enjoy and continue supporting him. She was 10 years older than Hans and had been wooed by him while traveling home on a liner from Europe. So it was important to create a house that she would be comfortable in at the farm. That house on Bolton Road he named 'The Alabama' for the state where Henrietta grew up.
Hans may have intended to build a new cottage for Henrietta, but probably renovated the existing Tenant House to save time and money. After almost a year of marriage there may have already been tension building as the picture Hans painted of country life didn't meet the realities. He added the veranda and a bathroom, updated the interior, and made other improvements. The cottage was probably quite nice, although we don't know if Henrietta learned to enjoy the country. She may have missed her friends and city activities. Henrietta, however, would have only a year to enjoy her new home.
Munchow's employees that lived in the Bolton Road Tenant House may have moved to the Valley Falls Cotton Mill boarding house. A June 19, 1914 Hartford Courant article notes that "the Cotton Mill boarding house is still standing and some of the workmen at Dr.Beach's place have been living there."
Hans had taken out several mortgages on the farm. In April 1912 he transferred all the property to Henrietta, perhaps to provide some protection of the property. Henrietta though was no helpless Southern belle. She had a great deal of experience with real estate in Selma and may have forced the transfer to protect her investment. Read Henrietta's biography.
Hans also had fallen in love with his young secretary. His affair plus his debts caught up with him and he fled town in April 1913. Henrietta lived in Hartford until the property sold to Anna Werner in August and she could return to Kentucky. In the Hartford Courant article on his flight it says that "He made extensive improvements and put up two barns that were among the showplaces of the vicinity." That suggests he did not build a separate bungalow thus supporting the idea that he renovated the Tenant House.
An advertisement in the June 19, 1914 Hartford Courant offering the 158-acre property for sale mentions a '6-room bungalow, bath and large veranda overlooking hillside and lake.' This is likely 'The Alabama,' which would be only 2 years old and in pristine condition.
An October 17, 1915 Hartford Courant article describes Dr. Charles Beach's purchase of the property and that the building of their new summer home is underway. It mentions that the new house is on the same side of the road as 'The Alabama,' the bungalow built by 'the Count.' No further mention is made in the article of the bungalow.
The Darico's in their 1978 taped interview tell us that until the Big House was ready the Beach's stayed at the 'Shea house' or the old Tenant House on the corner. That would have been in 1915 while the house was being built. It is unlikely that Mary Batterson Beach would have been comfortable in a house used for generations by farm tenants, but as 'The Alabama' designed for Henrietta Cassin she would have been quite comfortable.
The following photo was in the collection of Beach photos that Carol Burke passed on to Ann Letendre for the Heritage Center. It was not labeled, but shows guests visiting a bungalow. The clothing and automobiles are consistent with 1915. The house has a veranda and beyond the automobiles the land seems to drop away into a valley. This is consistent with the 1914 description of a "6-room bungalow, bath, large veranda overlooking hillside and lake."
|Is this Hans Munchow's 'The Alabama' in 1915 being used by Mary Batterson Beach to entertain friends?
Compare the period photo with the corner house as it looks today. The veranda on the left has been enclosed, but the windows,front door and dormers are identical. On the rear is a structure that could have been a wrap around veranda overlooking the lake or enclosed as additional rooms. Click to enlarge images.
Front view with 1840 plaque and|
A March 5, 1916 article says that "Erwin Reed and family are occupying the bungalow on the Dr. Beach place, at Valley Falls farm, the former having taken the place of superintendent of the place." Apparently after the Beach family moved into the big house they used the bungalow for staff and their families.
We also know from Darico and the Beach grandchildren interviews that the corner house was used by the Beach's gardener and later his chauffeur. At some point the house was sold to Thomas and Anne Shea until her death in 2015.
In summary we could not find 'The Alabama' as a new and separate structure because Munchow had upgraded Anson Lyman's Tenant House for his wife. When the Beach's purchased the property they were pleased to find a like-new bungalow they could use for visits while the Big House was being constructed. Later they assigned the house to various employees such that it essentially became a Tenant House once again.
Various articles in the Hartford Courant and Rockville Journal as noted.
Interviews with the Darico family and Beach granddaughters. They are available online.
Updated April 2021