History of Riverdale Farms

Although a lot has changed since the time when Avon, Connecticut was a farming community, the town still maintains its unspoiled charm. One local farm, known as the Case Farm in the 1600s, found new life as the home Riverdale Farms – “Shopping, The Way It Used To Be.” Today, Riverdale Farms Shopping features 49 specialty shops, restaurants, salons, yoga studios, professional offices, childcare and more.

There is a long history of hardworking families who occupied the land long before Riverdale Farms Shopping was born. The Holloway family purchased the 124.5 acres of property back in 1921. The 1870s Neville house, which once housed the one-room Avon Library, was purchased from the Town of Avon and moved to Riverdale Farms so the Towpath Elementary School could be built. The original 19th century Avon railroad depot was purchased by the Holloways for $1.00 and moved to its present site from Avon Center. You can still see the building’s deep eaves which were designed to protect waiting passengers.

Riverdale Farms continued to grow to over 600 acres. However over time, agricultural activity waned and homogenizing and pasteurizing of milk became costly so the Holloways began to sell pieces of their farm. In 1977, Silvio and Theresa Brighenti purchased the remaining 26 acres of Riverdale Farms with all the buildings on them, with the intent of preserving its appeal and history by transforming it into a new and exciting enterprise. Nestled in the gentle rolling hills of the picturesque property are ten original structures from the old dairy farm.

It took three years to put all of the utilities underground and begin to faithfully restore the buildings to preserve their architectural character. Silvio did most of the plumbing, heating, water and construction work himself with the help of his family. When there was a construction project beyond his specialties, he turned to his fellow Avon volunteer firefighters and contractors for assistance and resources. The town of Avon was excited to be a part of this new shopping concept.

Silvio and Theresa intended to keep the natural land contours and planted grass, trees and flowers and created brick walkways, instead of paving with asphalt. Though the buildings were built well, the barns were not intended for human use. For example, the barn where cows were kept in stanchions had low ceilings to help keep in the heat. Everything had to be removed and was successfully converted to give the barn a new useful purpose.

The first Riverdale Farms Shopping business opened in 1980, a bike shop. The next decade brought in a lot of retail business, a toy store, home décor shops, the equestrian center, a daycare, a dance studio and a travel agency – many are still here to this day. Six new buildings were added through the years as Riverdale Farms Shopping grew and prospered.

Many things have always stayed the same – a community of passionate local business owners who offer high quality goods and services, modern amenities, and old-fashioned values that put customers first. Our family, friends, customers and business owners all value the classic New England style setting that encourages wandering through the shops, enjoying the landscape, and meandering through the peaceful property.

Behind the property is a railroad trestle, an old dirt road, and the ever popular Rails to Trails. Hikers / bicyclists park at Sperry Park and walk right past Riverdale Farms, the perfect place to hop off and visit one of the restaurants or run an errand. Holloway fields is also situated behind the property, where pheasant hunting and training still occurs to this day.

Amid the lush surrounding countryside, with the backdrop of Talcott Mountain and the Heublein Tower at its summit, Riverdale Farms Shopping has an ambience all its own… and shopping the way it used to be.

If These Four Walls Could Talk…

Many of the structures at Riverdale Farms are historical in nature, and have a rich past full of fascinating stories. (Only 6 buildings were new construction.)

Here’s a glimpse into the past:

Building 2: Built C. 1805, Building 2 was the main farmhouse on the property. It is an old frame colonial with a central brick chimney and burial door on the south side of house. It was turned into three apartments for the Holloway families. The rear ell was a summer kitchen where canning was done; it also served as a woodshed. The basement still has troughs where cold water fed by a spring across Route 10 flowed around milk cans to keep milk cold. All of the stainless steel tanks and the equipment needed for cooling was kept here when the automatic milk system was put in the farm.

Building 3: This seven-room house as built by Mr. Crowley in 1925. It was always used as living quarters for farm hands; Aiden Goodwin being the first.

Building 4: First used as a horse barn and then a cow barn, Building 4 had milking stalls and a hayloft overhead. The outside peak of the barn has the original hayfork and track, still operational, used to take hay from wagons to the hayloft. The ceiling height on the lower level was only 6’6″ to retain heat for the cows and to allow additional room above for hay storage. Air vents and shafts still penetrate through the roof as a natural draft for air circulation in the summer. The original beams for structural support are still intact.

Silage was fed by conveyor belts and was blown in from the top of the silo by large blowers on a tractor. In the very early days, this was a hand operation; corn was chopped by a rope that was tied onto a cleaver and pulled up and down. The base of the silo led directly to the cow and horse barn for easier feeding of animals.

Building 5: The farmhands’ quarters were housed here in Building 5. The structure had a rough interior without any central heat.

Building 6: The old creamery was built and started operations in 1878. Now known as Building 6, the creamery had cooling rooms with compressors, plus two separate offices. The store entrance had a ramp so that delivery trucks could pick up the milk. There is steel set in the concrete floors, which is still visible today, to prevent the concrete from wearing down as filled milk cans were dragged across to load into the trucks. There was also a coal bin in this structure, which provided heat on the farm.

Building 8: The land on which this building stands was part of the Holloway farm pastureland. Approximately three acres were sold to a contractor who built two mansard roof buildings on them. In February of 1986, we purchased the front one-acre parcel with the building, and one year later, we began converting it. The structure was brought up to new building code standards and has all new steel beams for the second floor. The design was laid out with retail for the first floor and offices on the second floor.

Building 9: In 1988, we purchased the other two-acre parcel and immediately began converting it for Riverdale Farms Shopping, the large white building known today as Building 9. Our idea was to “bring the outside, inside.” The brick on the first floor was brought in from Kentucky and the “street lights” are from Indiana. Skylights along the entire roof provide natural light for the indoor gardens that were created by chopping out the old concrete floor.

Building 10: Building 10 was a wagon /carriage shed with four large bays for farm equipment, a silo for grain storage, and a loft above the first floor for storage. Hay from the fields was left in wagons and kept here if weather didn’t permit unloading into the hayloft. Pregnant cows were also kept here until calves were born. Before this building was converted for commercial use, part of it was used for a worm farm for customers like Yankee Stadium.

Building 11: Built in the early 1950’s, Building 11 was a calf barn; new calves were kept here and weaned. The barn also has a concrete silo that was used for grain storage.

Building 14: Used as a grain shed, blacksmith shop, two-car garage and even an apartment upstairs. Concrete was put in the wood walls between the bays to keep rodents from chewing through the wood to get to the grain. Butchered animals were hung here, you can still see markings on the walls with the prices of meat. Liver, bones, tongue and brains were listed as being free.

Building 15: Built in mid 1800’s, Building 15 was the old Avon Railroad Depot and originally stood in Avon Center. The Canal Line Railroad was built through Avon in 1848. The railroad station had both a freight and express office. Telegraph instruments were setup in December of 1884 – Frank Hadsell was the first telegraph operator. When the Holloways bought cattle, they were delivered in freight cars. The railroad station closed because freight trains stopped running through Avon, and it was offered to the Holloways where it still stands for $1.00, as long as they moved it. In April, 1955 it was moved to Riverdale Farms where it still stands.

An excerpt from the History of Avon book:

“The Canal Line Rail Road was built through Avon in 1848. In the late 1800’s it was really much better than it is now for anyone who had no private means of transportation. There were three daily passenger trains each way. The 8:00 A.M. train south and another at 10:30 A.M., gave a choice as to time to start a shopping trip into Hartford. At Plainville, you changed to either a “third rail” train, as it was called as power was furnished by an electric rail between the other two rails, or, if you were in no hurry, you took the trolley to Hartford. You could return either at 5:15 or 7:15 P.M. Those who owned horses, sometimes drove over the mountain to Hartford, but as the road was far from good, it was not a pleasant ride.

Going north, there was a train at 9:00 A.M, and one from the north at 6:30 P.M. These were the ones the pupils used in going to high school in Simsbury, unless they had other means such as horse and wagon or buggy or bicycle.

The railroad station was a busy place, having both a freight and an express office. Telegraph instruments were put in in December of 1884 and Frank Hadsell was the first telegraph operator.

After the railroad station was closed, it was moved to Riverdale Farms, then owned by the Holloway Brothers, about 1955.”