Connecticut

Flashback Photo: Jewish Farmers of Connecticut

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Mary Dallek by Jack Delano, Photo courtesy Library of Congress.

Mary Dralick by Jack Delano, Photo courtesy Library of Congress.

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, a small farm in Colchester, Conn., was a dream for many Jewish immigrants trying to eke out a living in the tenement slums of New York’s Lower East Side. Colchester and other Connecticut towns attracted hundreds and hundreds of Jewish farmers.

Land was cheap in Connecticut and help was available for Jewish immigrants who wanted out of the city.

A typical rocky Connecticut farm. Photo courtesy Library of Congress.

A typical rocky Connecticut farm. Photo courtesy Library of Congress.

By the end of the 19th century, Yankee farmers were abandoning their farms in Connecticut. It was too hard to scratch a living out of the state's rocky soil, help was hard to find and farmers could earn more money in the cities. So many farms were on the market during that period the Connecticut State Board of Agriculture published catalogs of farms for sale.

Meanwhile, European immigrants were coming to the United States by the millions. Jews fled Russia and Eastern Europe to escape persecution, arriving in America with little money. Jewish relief societies in the United States tried to help them. In 1889, a wealthy German Jewish banker named Baron Maurice de Hirsch donated $2.4 million for resettling Russian Jews in the United States. The Jewish Agricultural Society in New York and the Baron de Hirsch Fund gave Jewish farmers small loans to establish farms.

Jewish farmers settled in clusters in Colchester, Norwich, East Haddam, and Newtown. By 1928, the Jewish Agricultural Society estimated Connecticut was home to 1,000 Jewish farms and 5,000 Jewish farm families.

Jewish farmers working in a small Colchester coat factory. Photo courtesy Library of Congress.

Jewish farmers working in a small Colchester coat factory. Photo courtesy Library of Congress.

Life was hard on the farms, and many farmers worked part-time in small local industries. In the photo above, farmers worked part time in the Levine coat factory. Mary Dralick, pictured at the top of this page  was a sewing machine operator at Levine & Levine Ladies Coats. She was shown on her father's farm, where she helped with the milking and the chores after a day of work at the shop.

Mr. and Mrs. Abraham Lapping. Photo courtesy Library of Congress.

Mr. and Mrs. Abraham Lapping. Photo courtesy Library of Congress.

In 1940, Farm Security Administration photographer Jack Delano went to Colchester to photograph the Jewish farmers. He was Jewish, and he wanted to illustrate the plight of the part-time farmer. During the Depression, people who both farmed and worked part-time in light industry weren’t eligible for federal relief programs aimed at helping farmers.

When Delano went to Colchester in November 1940, one-quarter of the town was Jewish – down from half in 1920. Colchester’s Jews ran dairy and poultry farms, clothing factories and retail stores. The photo above shows Mr. and Mrs. Abraham Lapping, Jewish poultry and dairy farmers. "They run a small farm and take in tourists during the summer," wrote Delano.

Abraham Lapping. Photo courtesy Library of Congress.

Abraham Lapping. Photo courtesy Library of Congress.

Delano also took photos of Colchester's synagogue and Hebrew School, below.

One of the Jewish residents of Colchester after the services in the local synagogue. Photo courtesy Library of Congress.

One of the Jewish residents of Colchester after the services in the local synagogue. Photo courtesy Library of Congress.

Below, children at the Hebrew school examine a map of Palestine.

Photo courtesy Library of Congress.

Photo courtesy Library of Congress.

Connecticut was close enough to New York that its Jewish farmers and small businesspeople could maintain family and social ties with the city. Some found a market for their products in New York. Alphonsine and Jacques Makowsky fled the Nazis and settled on a poultry farm in northeastern Connecticut to raise African guinea hens. A fire destroyed their henhouses and they began to cross breed Cornish gamecocks with hens. The result: the Cornish game hen. The Makowskys sold as many as 3,000 a day to New York restaurants like the 21 Club.

Levine and Levine, Colchester, Conn. Photo courtesy Library of Congress.

Levine and Levine, Colchester, Conn. Photo courtesy Library of Congress.

With thanks to the Connecticut State Library, Jewish Farmers in Connecticut, and Picturing Faith: Photography and the Great Depression, by Colleen McDannell.

16 Comments

16 Comments

  1. Phyllis Schneider Winkler

    December 18, 2014 at 12:05 pm

    I can’t open this. I keep getting a comment that I can’t edit it. I just want to read this!

  2. Elizabeth S. Taylor

    December 18, 2014 at 12:49 pm

    I agree: passwords are ridiculously complex. Dear NEHS, please retract the password requirement.

  3. Stephen Henry Karney

    December 18, 2014 at 3:51 pm

    Opened without issue on my phone. Trouble at the PC. Thanks for posting. I have a daughter-in-law who will treasure this.

  4. aharon berman

    March 16, 2015 at 6:48 am

    i live in israel
    my father Samuel ob”m was a famer in colchester

    his parents OB”M Aaron & Kate Berman

    can anyone help with more info

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