Brief History of the Bauer Property - 257 Copse Road
By Robert E Kuchta
The Bauer Park was established in 1990, when Erwin Bauer gave his farm to the Town of Madison. He left the farm to the townspeople, as he and his brother Anthony never married, and had no immediate family nearby. Anthony died in 1989, and Erwin died in 1996. Erwin lived in the house for most of his 92 years. He and his family saw many changes during the years that they lived there. Two major events that had an impact upon their land and life were the Great New England storm in 1938, and the construction of Interstate 95 in 1958.
Erwin was at home during the hurricane of 1938, and watched the ground around the Sugar maple trees east of his house heave up and down as the ferocious winds blew.The Bauer's were truck farmers and would drive their vegetable products to the Farmer's market in New Haven. The newly constructed interstate highway considerably shortened the time of their trip to the city. Erwin also recalled the time when the electric lighting was first brought to the Town Green. At the present (1999) there are still no street lights near the Bauer homestead on Copse Road. The roads have changed a bit since Erwin lived on the farm. Old Ridge Road is partially abandoned and is grown back to forest on the eastern portion of the Park. During the mid 1960s, ponds were dug on the farm to provide water for irrigation. The areas that the Bauer's used for growing vegetable and fruit crops are very gravelly and the rain drains fairly quickly through the soils.
Four ponds are located on the property. Three are located on the western side of the farm. Two ponds are just west of the farmhouse. A small stream flows into these ponds from the south. There are small fish in these ponds and American eels. When the Bauer's dug these ponds, the excavated soils were spread in the original wetlands. These areas were probably used for hay production. Purple New England asters and pink joe pye weed plants grow in these areas near the pond. Just west of the two ponds, at the edge of the red maple swamp grow poison sumac, sweet pepperbush and native blueberry plants.The Bauer's worked industriously in trying to shape the land and make waterlogged areas productive for agricultural crops. When they dug the eastern pond, they bermed up the soil to form an earthen dam. A channel was also dug to provide for overflow from heavy spring rains. During one or several big flooding rains, the earthen berm was breached and the stream returned to its original channel location. This eastern stream was channelized and widened on the northern end of the east hay field. A small land bridge was created to allow access to the eastern side of this stream.
The land was closely cropped for hay and strawberries, and there were open fields up until the mid 1970s. As haying decreased as the Bauer's aged and couldn't keep up with the maintenance of the hayfield, the forests have begun to return in the continuing years. A red maple forest is growing along the banks of the stream, and an oak/ash forest is developing on the uplands east of the stream. The western side of the stream is still cut for hay and is presently open field. The land bridge is probably filled with large boulders and the culvert allowing the stream to pass is also constructed of native rock. no pipe is visible. The Bauer's were very thrifty and careful when they built this path across the stream. On the north side of the crossing, native asters and shrubs grow, where on the south side is a large square patch of tall reed grass, which grows right up to the forest edge on its south side. There are other patches of reed grass on the property, along the streams and ponds where extensive grading and shaping of the watercourse or waterbody occurred. The stream near Copse Road, along the western side of the road and in various places in the woods near the pond has been excavated to form a deliberate channel. Perhaps the Bauer's tried to speed the flow of the stream water in an attempt to dry out more of the wetlands, so that they could grow more crops. That was not an unusual circumstance that occurred on farms.The westernmost pond on the property was dug in a square shape and the gravel spread to the east, in a small sunken area. In the eastern woods, the Bauer's created the quarter acre pond, with hopes to raise trout. It apparently was not successful, as the pond water got too hot during the summer for the cold water fish to survive. There are large freshwater mussels growing along the edge of the pond, and raccoons probably eat them as a delicacy.
Trees & Crops
On the slopes to the south of this pond fruit trees were planted. Apple trees,with varieties such as MacIntosh, Red Delicious, Golden Delicious, Northern Spy, Standard Gravenstein, Red Gravenstein and Roan beauty were probably planted in the early 1920s. Mixed in with the apple trees were Seckel pear, Clapps favorite pear and Bosque pear and peach trees. On the western slope near the pond were 4 Fellinberg plum trees.Along Copse Road, just south of the house are Seckel pear trees. A beautiful flowering Goldenchain tree (Laburnum wateri) was planted just outside the kitchen's southern windows.The Sugar maple trees along both sides of Copse Road were also probably planted near the house for shade. They may have been tapped for sap, for making maple syrup. Some of these maple trees appear to be as old as the original house, and may have been there when the Bauer's came to own the farm. On the north side of the house is an old artesian well, with a hand pump. The Bauer's planted a Japanese yew near it, probably to camouflage the well. Japanese yews were also planted on the east and south side of the kitchen, to hide the concrete foundation.
The Bauer's grew many types of vegetables and fruits on the farm. A short list of vegetables includes the following: Asparagus, green string beans, yellow string beans, Kidney beans, broccoli, carrots, celery, chives, yellow and white corn, cucumbers, dill, kale, Head lettuce, leaf lettuce, yellow onions, parsley, green peppers, red peppers, yellow peppers, peas, potatoes, pumpkins, radishes, yellow summer squash, green summer squash, spaghetti squash, acorn squash, large green winter squash, Swiss chard, red tomatoes, yellow tomatoes and turnips. Some of the fruits that they grew included cantaloupes, Casabas, cherries, red currants, white currants, honeydew melon, red raspberries, rhubarb, strawberries, red watermelon, and yellow watermelon. As mentioned previously, they had apples, pears, plums and cherries which were grown on their orchard trees.
The southern porch has a concrete foundation wall supporting it, which is dressed up with white painted lattice boards. This porch was most likely added at the same time as the "new" kitchen addition in the 1920s. The original foundation of the house is built with local Madison granite blocks and is not hidden by any landscaping plants. It is also curious that there is no front step next to the original front door that faces Copse Road. It is probable that the original granite steps were used for foundation stones elsewhere on the property. The barn foundation may have been repaired and the three or four granite slabs used in their repair.The barn was added to in about the same time period as the addition was made to the house. An additional bay was added to the eastern end of the barn, adding some 12 feet in width to it. The original portion of the barn appears as old as the original farmhouse. They are both fashioned with post and beam construction, using mortises and tenon joinery and held with wooden pegs. The posts and beams may be made from American Chestnut and are remarkable in size and length.The Bauer's maintained their buildings in fairly good condition, except for the chicken coops.
The Bauer's used various types of fuel to heat their house. They had sufficient fuelwood in their forests to burn wood for heat. They might have used small maple saplings for kindling and hard logs of oak or beech for keeping their basement stove fired up for the night. The large old furnace in the basement could use either wood or coal, and its appears that they used both. There was some old apple wood in the basement stored for firewood. These were branches pruned from their orchard trees.
The Bauer's did have animals on the farm: 6 or 7 cows, chickens and cats. As the Bauer's grew older, they may have sold off their animals. As a farm business, they sold chickens, chicken eggs, and perhaps cow's milk, along with the vegetables and fruits they grew. It is well known that they sold their vegetables and products from the 2 car garage on the property. During various times, they delivered farm products to the Farmer's market in New Haven and also door to door to people's home's along the Middle Beach area.
As a supplemental business, they would collect the domestic trash from their vegetable customers. Two sites on the property were used for the disposal of items and can be investigated even today for a historical look at what was used and discarded from households in the past. One area used for disposal is just south of the eastern pond in the woods, east of the foundation of the middle chicken coop. A second area is near the western wetlands by the western hayfield. Various metal and glass items such as buckets and glass bottles have been found in both trash dumps.
Speaking of animals, the Bauer's periodically had trouble with woodchucks. The woodchucks like to make their homes in the gravelly well drained soils. They dig out their entrance and exit holes and leave the excavated soils in a mound around their ground openings. These holes and mounds make it annoying for riding on a hay tractor and cutting good even-lengthed hay. The Bauer's would use traps to capture the groundhogs or woodchucks.The Bauer's also had to deal with deer and crows. The deer population was not as large as it is today, so they did not have as much of a problem when they were farming in their prime years. They did have a noise cannon to disturb and deter the crows from pulling up their corn seedlings.
Recent History of the Bauer Park: 1990-1999
The park has been set up for open space use, agriculture, gardens, trails and nature activities. The park encompasses some 64.5 acres with 40 acres located on the west side of Copse Road and 24.5 acres on the east side, just north of Hunter's Trail. The farm buildings on the property include the farmhouse, barn, tool shed, garage, and an outhouse. These buildings are maintained by the Town and will be utilized for nature study activities, and a future farm museum. There are open fields, forestland, wetlands and hills to explore in the park.
There are two trails in the park: the Woodland Trail is on the eastern side of the park and starts east of the Community Gardens. A second trail travels west of the two ponds and loops around the edge of the field. There is also a connecting boardwalk that allows for access to the High School property.
There are two areas utilized for Community Gardens: the larger area accommodates 90 garden plots which are 20 feet by 20 feet and are available in the spring on a first come first served basis. Contact the Town Hall for information. The garden plots south of the farmhouse are utilized by organic gardeners. There are two other areas that are used for demonstration gardens, nearby the farmhouse. Chestnut tree seedlings are also planted on the park property, and are part of a 20 year research project developed by the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station and the New York Botanic Gardens.
To the west of the ponds is an area used for a Butterfly and Bird Habitat Garden as part of an Outdoor Classroom area. Benches for seating are placed near the gardens and ponds for pleasant enjoyment of the property. During the school year, various school groups visit the park for environmental study activities. Periodically, walks and nature tours are held on the weekend by local naturalists. Many of these programs are supported by the Erwin Bauer Charitable Trust. Nature Center: The Park Nature Center is a work in progress as we build up a library of resource books, tools, and exploration equipment. The Nature Library is a part of the Nature Center and there are several bookcases with books about birds, trees and shrubs and interpreting nature. Equipment such as nets for pond exploration, terrarium containers, microscopes and hand lens are stored in one room on the second floor of the farmhouse. Educational activities may occur at one of our three designated outdoor classroom seating areas, or may happen along one of the nature trails. As a matter of fact, nature activities may happen or be scheduled for any of the many various habitats of the park, or just under the shade of a maple tree in the lawn. They may also happen in the barn, farmhouse or any of the other outbuildings at the park.
Farm Museum: The Farm Museum as a collection of historical tools, books, furniture and other items that would have been used during the time the Bauer's farmed this property. Some of the items belonged to the Bauer's themselves and many others have been collected or have been donated by Madison resident's. The museum will have descriptions of the items for visitors to read and may be cataloged in the future. Some larger items, such as tractors, hay wagons, plows and lawn mowers may be displayed outside in a sheltered area. Most of the items are displayed in the second floor of the farmhouse on tables and benches made by local high school construction class students.