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 chickens housed in four
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, son of Joyce and Max, 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
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.
said it was then that he began talking to members of the East Haddam fire department. 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 take care of 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 blaze of glory. The second coop was to be
burned down a few months later.