A chapter of Moodus history goes up in flames
Where There's Smoke, There's Fire
Adapted from an article by JENNIFER FELCIANO
The heat was intense, the flames incredible, and the smoke could be seen as far away as Colchester. A spectator at the Sunday morning fire in Moodus asked Shelly Simon, "How did it start?" Shelly's answer to that question is a long story: take three generations of the Simon family and mix them well with Moodus history.
It all began back in 1935 when brothers Max and Isidore Simon started what became the largest family-run chicken farm in the area. Beginning with just a modest barn, at its peak the Simon Brothers chicken farm consisted of 55,000 Rhode Island Red chickens housed in four large coops and on two ranges. At one time the farm boasted 85 acres. Today the hilltop property is down to about 40 acres.
Simon Brothers would wholesale their farm-fresh eggs to most of the area resorts and many restaurants. One or two days a week, they also delivered eggs to Hartford grocery stores. In the 1940s Max was introduced to Joyce by a local resort owner who knew her and her parents as longtime summer guests. The city girl and the country boy hit it off, got married, raised three sons and worked the farm together.
"It was hard, dusty work. I did the bookkeeping, chicken vaccinations, and until a chef was hired on, the cooking for the family and as many as 12 hired hands," said Joyce. Some of those hired hands worked for the Simons for 20 years. As on most farms, the family all helped out. "The boys were required to work on the farm until they were 16-years old," Joyce said. "After that they were allowed to decide for themselves."
Ken Simon, the eldest son, recalled candling and grading eggs, helping with chicken vaccinations and working the delivery routes. "Those days provided lessons that I'll value for a lifetime," Ken said. "The egg business was an all-consuming mixture of livestock management, farm maintenance and customer deliveries. It was also, both literally and figuratively, a stinky business. But I learned a lot about work, farming and marketing there. My father was the hardest working man I've known, but the family farm in general, and the egg business in particular, was a difficult business to sustain, primarily due to ever-increasing corporate agribusiness encroachment."
Isidore Simon left the business in the 60s at which time the farm changed its name from Simon Brothers to JoyMax Poultry. At that point, with the boys grown and away at college, it was just Joyce and Max and they continued to run the JoyMax poultry farm until 1976. From 1976 till sometime around 1993, Arbor Acres, the world's largest chicken breeder at the time, leased the back coop to raise laying chickens before moving its operation down south, where it's cheaper to raise chickens.
In 1977, the Simons renovated the front two coops into a gallery and art studio. Known as the Down On The Farm Gallery, The coops were now home to potters, glass blowers, woodworkers, jewelers, a musical instrument repair shop, and a bakery.
Over 14 years, Down on the Farm gained a great reputation in the professional craft community and it was great fun to do," said Ken, "but it was another difficult way to make a living." With Joyce retiring in 1992, the family decided to close the gallery.
For a while, the family attempted to maintain the coop structures, but the forces of nature took over. Ken said it was then that he began talking to members of the East Haddam fire department.
For nearly 60 years, the Simon farm's 55,000 hardworking Rhode Island Reds provided farm-fresh eggs to local resorts, area restaurants, and grocery stores.
The rest of the story is now a chapter of Moodus history. Volunteer firefighters from East Haddam, East Hampton and Haddam Neck set up equipment and held a live burn on Sunday, June 4, in order to test a compressed air foam system fire fighting agent. The burn went off without a glitch.
"The foam was extremely effective," Ken said. "It saved and protected two other buildings that were very close to the burning chicken coop. The firefighters were great, very professional, and cautious. They had everything under control, and we're looking forward to working with them to burn the second coop."
Spectators, friends, family, and several airplanes buzzing overhead all watched as the Simon poultry farm took its place in history in a literal blaze of glory. The second coop was to be burned down a few months later.