Meet our neighbors at Swift
Highlighting the people who have lived around, worked at or were impacted by the Swift Factory in some way.
Many people believe the guys parked along Waverly Street and Keney Park’s Waverly section are up to no good. They don’t realize what they are seeing is the survival of an organic North Hartford community institution.
The site is one of the few places in North Hartford where you have mostly men in one place, transmitting information and establishing a pecking order in holding each other accountable. The practice goes all the way back to Africa by the village elders. “We got 3 generations out here man. If you are messing up, we’ll let you know,” said Junior Turner.
At 82 years of age, Turner is pretty much Chief amongst the guys. Turner came to Hartford in 1959 from Abbeville, Alabama to escape the fields he knew were waiting for him after graduating from the Henry County Training School. “I had a high school diploma, but I knew it was not going to mean much in Abbeville,” Turner said.
His jovial manner betrayed the hard life he lived in the South. “I moved up here because I knew I would not have a good life working in them fields,” Turner said, His brother was already in Hartford, so he came up and lived with him. “We lived in Westbrook Village. White people still lived there when I came. It was really nice then,” Turner said, alluding to White Flight and the resulting lack of maintenance of Hartford’s public housing stock in the 1970’s.
Turner got to work immediately at St. Francis Hospital. But, his drive to make more money kept him moving. And, so it was with work at Swift. “My cousin told me about the job at Swift and it was better money, so I applied. He was hired in his first manufacturing job here at Swift. "I operated the roller machine I operated the roller that put the gold on the paper," Turner recalled.
But, his tenure at the Swift Factory was short lived. Turner worked there a mere 3 weeks before realizing money wasn’t everything. Turner said he just could not deal with the ritual of working there. “You had to bring a change of clothes with you to work because you had to take a shower after work and leave your clothes there for them to get all of the gold out. I know one thing, you couldn’t leave there with that gold,” Turner said.
Turner’s search for better pay continued, bringing him to work at Cedarcrest Hospital, a local foundry and then on to Pratt and Whitney where he worked for 28 years. “Swift work wasn’t that hard. I just didn’t like the process you had to go through to just work. But, he said, many others worked there for years. “It wasn’t a bad place to work. My cousin Jim Lawrence worked there for 30 something years. It was really a good opportunity to get a job that you could live a little better than working other places,” Turner said.