By Thomas L. Lentz, Municipal Historian
The Horace Parmelee house, formerly known as the Bosco house, was built in 1847 and occupied by Horace and Eunice Parmelee. Architecturally, the house is a late example of the post-colonial or Federal style. Horace L. Parmelee was born June 28, 1819, the son of Moses and Ruth Parmelee. Eunice Maria Parmelee was born on August 2, 1822, the daughter of Rufus and Eunice Parmelee. They were married on June 11, 1843, by the Rev. E. Swift in the Congregational Church. H. L. Parmelee is shown as occupant of the house on the 1859 map of Middlesex County. Horace died August 5, 1898 and Eunice November 8, 1905.
The house is set back over 350 feet from Route 81, then the Haddam and Killingworth Turnpike. The Turnpike was chartered in October, 1813 and completed in 1817. Tolls were collected on the Turnpike until 1850. Immediately behind the house is an old road, now abandoned. This road was possibly part of the original north-south road prior to the Turnpike.
The Parmelee Farm was a large and active farm in the nineteenth century. Much of the land is flat and suitable for growing crops. Rocky and hilly sections of land were used for pasturage. The 1880 census lists Horace’s occupation as “Farmer.” When the farm was sold in 1904, it was 150 acres in size. Exhibits at the Agricultural Fairs, ledgers, and old newspaper articles shed light on the agricultural activities in Killingworth at the time. The major crops were corn, oats, rye, flax, wheat, turnips, peas, beans, potatoes, onions, grapes, strawberries, and a variety of vegetables. Crops were often followed by a planting of clover, timothy, and other grasses to replenish the soil. Animals included horses, cattle, sheep, oxen, swine, and poultry. Hay was grown to feed animals. Killingworth was a supplier of beef, pork, mutton, leather, wool, eggs, cheese, and butter. Most farms had an orchard with apple, pear, and peach trees. Apples were used to make cider at local cider mills. Witch hazel grows abundantly in Killingworth and was harvested to supply manufacturers of medicinal witch hazel extracts in Essex and Clinton. The Agricultural Census of 1850 shows that many of these crops were grown on the Parmelee Farm.
Eunice Parmelee is listed as “Owner, Agent, or Manager of the Farm” in the Agricultural Census for the Productions of Agriculture in Killingworth during the year ending on June 1, 1850. Eunice, whose husband Rufus died in 1845, owned the land adjacent to the 3½ acres she deeded to Horace in 1847 and upon which the house was built. Eunice lived in the house with Eunice M. and Horace. The census lists 110 Acres of Improved Land; Cash value of Farming Implements, $75; Value of Farming Implements and Machinery, $3000; Horses, 1; Milch Cows, 2; Working Oxen, 4; Other Cattle, 4; Sheep, 10; Swine, 3; Value of Live Stock, $325; Rye, bushels of, 60; Indian corn, bushels of, 30; Oats, bushels of, 30; Wool, lbs. of, 20; Peas and Beans, bush. of, 30; Irish Potatoes, bush. of, 125; Butter, lbs of, 400; Cheese, lbs. of, 100; Hay, tons of, 12; Value of Home-made Manufactures, $100; Value of Animals slaughtered, $60.
Other buildings on the property included a large red English barn with hewn timber frame, an “old” barn, a stone barn, and a pole barn. The red barn was in the form of a classic English barn with a central aisle with two double doors in the center of both sides of the barn. The Boscos related a story that the doors were large enough that a pair of Percheron horses and a hay wagon could be outfitted inside the barn and driven out through the double doors. The large barn was used for housing animals, storage of hay, and threshing. This barn was in poor condition and underwent further deterioration during a storm in 2010 and was removed for safety reasons. An older barn stood on the east side of the old highway behind the house. This barn had deteriorated and was destroyed by hurricane Gloria in 1985. The stone barn was used by the Boscos for processing turkeys and the pole barn was used for raising capons.
During an Environmental Review of the property in 2000, the Office of State Archaeology noted that the area has a high probability of Native American resources. It would be expected to locate a series of small hunting and gathering camps that may date back to as long as 6,000 years ago. These would be camps where Native Americans were utilizing the natural resources of the area especially the area where the brook flows into the Menunketesuck River. Confluences of two water systems were often desirable as campsites for Native American populations. The junction of the two waterways is within Cockaponset State Forest but the Parmelee farm property is in close proximity. An archaeological survey of the property has not been done so the archeological remnants are relatively unknown.
Horace Parmelee died in 1898 and left no last will and testament so that there is no inventory of his estate. The property went to his wife, Eunice, who sold the property to William Kathotka of Manhattan, New York in 1904. In the latter part of the nineteenth century, many of the descendants of the original families left Killingworth for better farmland in the Midwest. The old homesteads were sold to land agents who sold the farms to European immigrants. The Parmelee farm was sold to the Pavelka family in 1906 which continued to farm the property.
In the 1950s, the house was run by the McGraths as a summer resort known as “Farm in the Dell.” There was a pool slightly to the northwest of the house. A lighted shuffleboard court was located just south of the house. A carriage shed was located at the northeast corner of the house. The McGraths converted the shed into four rooms with porcelain sinks and toilets and shower stalls to provide rentable lodging for workers who were employed in the construction of The Connecticut Turnpike (I-95). When the road was completed, they used the building, known as “The Lodges,” to house their guests. The building was demolished in 2007.
Anthony and Maria Bosco purchased the property in 1956 and with Anthony Jr. ran a turkey farm on the property until around 1970. It was known as Bosco’s Turkey Farm and sold turkeys as “Bosco’s Birds of Killingworth, Prime Young Native Turkey.” Tony Bosco Jr., Greg Bosco, and Betty Bosco have related considerable history on the farm which has been recorded by Bruce Dodson. Turkeys were raised to eight weeks in the English barn (which they called the animal barn), then let outside during the day to free range in the area of the Community Gardens. A large addition to the English barn was built for raising turkeys. The 40 x 140 foot pole barn was built and used for raising capons (neutered roosters). There was a grain silo on the southwest end of the pole barn. The stone barn and a cinder block addition were used for processing the turkeys. At its peak, the operation produced 7,500 free range (bronze) turkeys and 6,000 capon chickens each year. The pond southeast of the house was dug around 1964 and stocked with trout and bass. Another pond, now dry part of the year, called the “turkey gut pond” was located southwest of the stone barn along the old highway. A pipe from the stone barn carried residue from the processing of turkeys into this pond.
The Town of Killingworth purchased the house and 131 acres for $670,000 in 2000. The property was named the Parmelee Farm to reflect its historical past. The Killingworth Community Gardens were established in 2008 by Peg Scofield. The gardens provide residents the opportunity to maintain a garden for food production. In 2009, the Board of Selectmen established the Parmelee Farm Steering Committee to develop long-range plans for the use of this unique property. The Steering Committee is currently chaired by Tim Gannon. The Steering Committee supports the continued use by the Killingworth Community Gardens, use of the Parmelee Farmhouse by the Killingworth Historical Society, creation of walking trails, restoration of the farm buildings and hayfields, conducting workshops, and additional projects being discussed and developed on an on-going basis. The Town was awarded a Historic Preservation Technical Assistance Grant from the Connecticut Trust for Historic Preservation to conduct a feasibility study of the farm. The farm received a $150,000 grant under the Small Town Economic Assistance Program (STEAP). The farm has also received assistance from the Killingworth Lions Club and Killingworth Foundation. The Killingworth Land Conservation Trust has established hiking trails on the land under the direction of Bruce Dodson. Painting and repairs to the house were done in 2009. In 2010, a 99 year lease was signed granting use of the house to the Killingworth Historical Society. The Historical Society plans on restoring the interior of the farmhouse and using it to store and exhibit its collections. Also in 2010, The Town of Killingworth obtained the Pine Orchard District schoolhouse built in 1853. The schoolhouse, which stood on Route 148, was dismantled and moved to the Parmelee Farm. After selection of a suitable site, the schoolhouse will be reconstructed and used for community events. Long-range plans also include replacing the barns that have been lost.
In December 2010, a Schematic Landscape Master Plan was prepared for the Parmelee Steering Committee by Thomas J. Elmore of Elmore Design Collaborative, Inc., Historical Landscape Architects. The purpose of this plan is to layout a road map for creating a long-range plan for Parmelee Farm that encourages its use while preserving its heritage. Recommendations are made for improving and developing the Parmelee Farm into an active open space that retains its agricultural heritage, its sense of place, and its scenic beauty while providing opportunities and specific places for the diverse activities identified on the Steering Committee’s List of Priorities.