At a recent gathering of the Coosa River Riders, an Indian riders group hosted by Big Number One in Birmingham, AL, I learned one of the men involved raises Katahdin sheep and, since I want to eventually own a few, I was pretty interested in his operation. Perhaps a discussion on raising sheep was a little out of place at a lunch for motorcyclists, but then again, maybe not.
While most everyone with any interest in Indians knows that George M. Hendee was an award-winning bicyclist and the founder of the company that eventually launched Indian Motorcycles, but perhaps few know that Mr. Hendee was also a gentleman farmer and involved in animal husbandry during the early 20th century.
The Hendee Manufacturing Co. became the Indian Motorcycle Co. in 1923. His hugely successful career wound down with the announcement of his retirement in 1916. “The desire on the part of George M. Hendee to retire from the activities of the Hendee Manufacturing Company has been known among his associates for the past three years, but only recently was the desire made possible through the larger interests hinting that they would not be adverse to further increasing their holdings in the Hendee Manufacturing Company”. That verbage referred to the purchase of Hendee’s stock by his successor in the company, John F. Alvord.
“This gave Mr. Hendee the looked-for opportunity which would allow him to retire and enjoy to its full extent his beautiful estate in Suffield, Conn., with the result that a deal was consummated, not only for the sale and purchase of his entire holdings in the Hendee Manufacturing Company, but also he was to be relieved from active duties to become effective not later than August 1”. – “Motorcycle Illustrated. July 27, 1916.
He expressed a desire to remain active in his life and not to, “lie down and die”, after his retirement saying how much he valued each employee who had been loyal to him and to the company. With those sentiments he also said, “I am very much in love with my farm down in Suffield, and we are doing some interesting things there. We have a herd of about 70 Guernseys that cattle experts say are first class; we are growing alfalfa and the first cutting this year shows it to be a success. I have about 265 acres down there and I am going to get all the pleasure and value out of it I can”.
Hendee then retired to the farm which eventually consisted of 500 acres with a 17 room manor house. His prize Guernseys became known as Hilltop Butterfats and his poultry plant for breeding white leghorn chickens was quite successful making Hilltop Farm legendary for milk, dairy products, and poultry products. He, and stock that he sold, can be found in numerous publications including the Guernsey Breeders’ Journals of 1921 and 1922.
He built a barn which was equipped with state of the art sanitary features. The barn survives, however, the home was torn down in 1961 and the land gobbled up by the campus of St. Alphonsus College which was later known as the Lincoln Culinary Institute. The barn is 18,700 square feet and is so striking that upon first seeing a photograph this author mistakenly assumed it was the home. It is a sprawling two-story white Colonial style facility complete with silo “turrets” on each side of the entrance and numerous gables. It has been referred to as the “Monster Barn” and “Connecticut’s Agricultural Cathedral”.
Hendee was 50 years old when he made this change in his life and lived on his beloved Hilltop Farm until 1940 when his health prompted him to sell the farm and move into a smaller home in Suffield. He died in 1943 at the age of 76.
Born Oct. 2, 1866 in Watertown, CT, died June 13, 1943 at Suffield, George Mallory Hendee was the son of William Goodell Hendee and Emma Dwight Upton Hendee. He is buried at the Springfield Cemetery in Springfield, Mass. Today the barn is open to tours operated by the Friends of Hilltop Farm. A number of events are scheduled at the site annually including Hendee Day and Motorcycle Rally which will be held July 23rd this year.
© Victoria (Rumble) Brady, vrumblesramblingbikerblog.wordpress.com