Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Premiere Wine Producing Region

Of all the superb wine producing regions of the world – Bordeaux, Napa Valley, Tuscany – I’d probably floor you putting East Hampton among them! No not the Easthampton at the tip of Long Island – the other East Hampton. Yes on water like that Easthampton, but more like a lake – Pocotopaug - than an ocean or sound.

Anyways, at least in 1962, we gained notoriety with a tremendous but limited production of wine. Throughout that hot summer, it was my job to weed the family garden. I grew up on Barton Hill in the house owned by the first sleigh bell maker in America, William Barton.

Our house on Barton Hill currently owned by Ms Kimberly Widmann

An over abundance of our Burpee Big Boy tomato crop had my parents perplexed on what to do with the surplus after the obligatory gifts to family, friends and neighbors. Even after my mother’s numerous culinary creations of tomato casserole, sliced tomatoes and cucumber salad, etc. etc. etc., Julia Child would have been taxed. In short, the harvest bounty became overwhelming in the days before farmers markets. What to do?

Burpee Big Boy Tomatoes introduced in 1949

Apparently our neighbor Graydon Rich had the perfect solution. He produced an old family recipe and the Markham’s became wine producers!

After commandeering an old 40 gallon ceramic crock, we cleaned and cut and crushed what seemed like a ton of tomatoes, putting the mix in our cellar covered with cheese cloth and the secret ingredients. There the concoction sat, bubbling away, fermenting. After several weeks, the vintage was ready for bottling. Filtered through new cheese cloth, the nectar was hand ladled into assembled RC Cola bottles. A hand crank capping machine sealed the light amber fluid and typed labels were affixed to the bottles. The results – tomato wine!

1962 Barton Hill Tomato Wine bottled in an RC Cola Bottle

I still possess several bottles of vintage 1962 Barton Hill Tomato Wine. One might think this has the consistency of Campbell’s Tomato Juice or V8, but oh contraire. The wine is actually quite nice. After 47 years, it is now mostly dark amber with a little sweetness that probably emulates a brandy or desert wine.

Oh I almost forgot to explain why we had so many tomatoes in the first place. Two reasons! The previous summer, my father replaced the aging and leaking asphalt roof shingles of our 1775 gambel roofed Dutch Colonial with cedar shakes. Desperate to dispose of them, and certainly not “green” or “environmentally conscious” as today, he burned them in the garden. The billows of black smoke covered our neighborhood skies for a couple weeks, much to our neighbor's chagrin. The ash residue, however, became a magnificent fertilizer. And as for the tomatoes – the previous fall when we cleaned up the garden, my brother and I had rotten tomato fights.

Burpee Big Boy Tomatoes first introduced in 1949

Today kids or not so grownup adults might go to a paint ball range, but in the early 60s you made your own entertainment with whatever you had available. The seeds from those Big Boys spread all over the garden. The next summer, combined with the unusual fertilizer, saw an overabundance of plants and what I believe a very edible use of the produce. As an old New England Yankee family, nothing ever went to waste!

Since those days of my youth, I feel like I've been in a Frank Sinatra song - a pirate, a poet, a pawn and a king. In my case however, I've been a CPA, a State Representative, a Lobbyist, a Financial Consultant, a Business Manager with an Indian Tribe, but now am enjoying life as a Realtor in East Hampton and the Central Connecticut Area affiliated with Prudential Connecticut Realty.

Our recipe for Tomato Wine

6 lbs. - sugar
6 lbs. - tomatoes cut up small
1 lb. - seedless raisins
1 yeast cake (dissolve in warm water)
2 Oranges cut up
1 gal. Boiling water

Mix and let stand for 15 days. Then put in jars and in about 3 weeks siphon into bottles and cap.

Makes about 2 gallons which can be doubled, tripled, or 20 times the quantity ( like us! )depending on size of crock or pot mixed in.

Imogene Coco

The other evening, I was watching a movie on TV, Summer Vacation staring Chevy Chase. One of the actresses was Imogene Coco who played the character Aunt Edna – the crotchety old lady who expires on the trip and so not to ruin the already disastrous vacation, is carted on the roof of the family station wagon to her home in Phoenix and left on the door step as the Griswold’s head for Wally World.
Seeing Imogene Coco reminded me of my neighbor Alice Bevin who resided across the street from us on Barton Hill. Mrs. Bevin was an accomplished artist who owned the 3 story Second Empire style house on the crest of Barton Hill as well as an apartment in the famous Gramercy Park section of New York City. From her wide social network, Alice met many Broadway and nightclub entertainers who were summer weekend guests in East Hampton – one being Imogene Coco!
I also remember their being a nightclub singer/owner who stayed frequently during the summer - (please excuse me as I’ve forgotten his name). One Saturday afternoon, Betty Benson, Alice Bevin’s daughter called my mother, Pauline and a couple of our friends and neighbors, Beth Hitchcock and Muriel Bailey, to come over the house. When they arrived, this swarthy gentleman began crooning a number of popular tunes – you know – the ones a Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett or Johnny Mathis would sing.
I find it humorous today that these ladies would be standing around the piano doting over this very worldly and handsome guy who had captivated 3 small town girls.

School Days

Schools Days are upon us – when those hazy, lazy, hot and often humid late August days roar toward Labor Day and of course, our children returning to school.

We all know our 4 current schools – Memorial, Center, the Junior and Senior Highs. But in the 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries, the Town was divided into 11 schools districts situated throughout the various sections of our community. It was a time when high school students went to private schools or years later took the train to Middletown with the construction of the Airline, until 1939, when our first high school opened as an addition to what is now the Center School.

All schools were within walking distance of a child’s home. of course, many comedians and I’m sure a few parents have told their children how they walked 10 miles to school everyday, uphill both ways, always in a blizzard! I did walk to school and I don’t believe it was more than a mile and those that walked farther did so because they could get home faster than waiting for a late bus.

In those earlier days of Chatham, the Chestnut Hill School House was located on Old Chestnut Hill Road. This had decayed into a state of total disrepair until the Chatham Historical Society undertook a project to dismantle and then rebuild it as their home and museum on Bevin Boulevard in the mid 1980s.

The Tartia School house still exists as a private residence as does the Clark Hill School located adjacent to the mobile home park.

The White Birch School on Brewer Road and Union Hill School at the end of Hog Hill were destroyed by fire.

The Northwest District School is the current rectory for Christ Episcopal Church in Middle Haddam. A new Middle Haddam Elementary School constructed on Schoolhouse Road replaced it and served the Town until the late 1970s. The North Center, Pine School and Flanders School were all sold prior to 1920.

Our current Board of Education Building located in the Village Center also served as our Town Hall from 1915 until 1974 when the current Town Hall on East High Street was purchased from the CL & P and renovated.
This Center School, which moved from Skinner Street, opened in 1866 housing 2 grades of high school as well as 8 grades of grammar school. A new Center Grammar school opened in 1914 at which time the Town voted to transport students from the outlying districts and close or sell many of the district school buildings.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

The Battle of "Jones Beach"

This Saturday, August 22nd, commemorates the 60th anniversary of the battle of “Jones Beach.” On that evening, with a crowd of 300 onlookers, a group of about 20 veterans, acting on orders from First Selectman Walter F. Jones, tore down a fence at the Hales Bridge Beach, erected earlier in the evening by Henry J. Carini, a Glastonbury real estate developer, who claimed ownership of the beach.

The Square Off

L - R Reporter James Costello, Alfie Royce (hat) Jackie Jacobson, First Selectman Walter Jones,
Attorney Bruce Manternack, Stanley Knotek peering over his shoulder, ??, unknow young lady,
Henry J. Carini, ??, William Knotek,Donald Markham

The fence was erected by Mr. Carini and several landowners in his development, located across the street from Lakewood Road on the beach of Lake Pocotopaug. Within a short time after the work was completed, scores of townspeople began to gather at the site. Within 30 minutes after the fence was up, carloads of veterans arrived on the scene.

First Selectman Jones, meanwhile, was in Niantic for a few days vacation and could not be reached by telephone. The veterans dispatched a messenger to him and he returned to town.
Upon getting out of his car in front of the beach, Mr. Jones shouted: “All right boys, take down the fence. I don’t care how many State Police are here or if Hickey (Resident State Trooper William Hickey) himself is watching.”

The "Fence"

L - R Alfie Royce, George Valli, Roscoe James, ??

Within a few minutes, the fence was torn down and thrown into the waters of Lake Pocotopaug. Mr. Carini and his attorney, Bruce Manternach of Robinson, Robinson and Cole, Hartford, approached Mr. Jones, who told them to “keep that fence down.” The Selectman warned Mr. Carini that he would remove any fence placed on the property in the future. State Police, under the direction of Sergeant Frank Leighton, acting commander of the Colchester Barracks, declared the beach area an emergency zone and order all cars removed from the immediate vicinity.

The Confrontation

L - R The crowd surrounds Henry Carini and First Selectman Walter Jones

A storekeeper near the lake, it was reported, called State Police during the proceedings and asked that the “riot squad” be sent to the scene. Later Captain Leo F. Carroll and others from the Special service Division drove to the beach area but found the gathering dispersing without further disturbance and no need for additional police was reported.

Sending the Crowd Home

L - R: unknown man and woman in car, State Trooper Joseph Sirkorsky , Selectman Jones, Jackie Jacobson

The encounter resulted after Mr. Carini had filed an executor’s deed on the property from the Hale family. Attorney Manternach claims that Carini owns not only the beach which has been the bone of contention but also that part of the road known as North Main Street (Lake Drive) which separates the Carini development from the beach and he contended there was unable to find any deed which ever conveyed the road to the town of East Hampton. [Personal observation - it is likely the road was part of the original partition of East Hampton as surveyed by the proprietors in 1721, thus would not have a deed.]

Onlookers Move On

L - R: Constable Joseph Sirkorsky, First Selectman Walter Jones, George Mack, foreground Willard Robinson, Jackie Jacobson

On August 13 approximately 100 men, most of them war veterans, claiming the beach belonged to the Town, dumped about 200 truckloads of sand onto the beach and place a sign reading “VFW and American Legion Beach.”

According to Carini the reason so many person think the beach belongs to the Town probably stems from the fact that for years the public used the beach. This was before there were any houses in the section and no objection was raised to public use of the beach.

Success - The Fence is Removed

L - R: ??, Jim Barton, ??, Joseph Porter, Selectman Hubert Hodge, Howard Engle (Council Chair Melisa Engel's grandfather), First Selectman Walter Jones, a very young but future Governor, William "Bill O'Neill, ??, Joseph Frontel,??, ??

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

McDonald's - 25th Anniversary in East Hampton

How many of you remember East High Street before Brooks Plaza? Do you recall Wiltsie Chrysler or Wiltsie Chevrolet or even before that Partyka Chevrolet? And how many remember Alan Battit in 1979 and 1980 dismantling the white house located just west of the car dealership – the one the “JayCee’s” used for many years as a haunted house in October celebrating Halloween. I spent many a summer weekend assisting Alan dismantle the structure along with a number of his other friends such as Mike and Bobby Olzacki. That post and beam structure stayed in storage thanks to Stanley Bevin and Bevin Bros. Bell Company until the members of the Joseph N. Goff House rebuilt it on Barton Hill 20 years later.

But in the early 1980s, the buzz circulating around East Hampton was that something big was going to happen on that East High Street site. Well, I guess something big for our small town did. 25 years ago this month, I had the distinct honor as State Representative of cutting the ribbon as John Kay opened the McDonald’s Restaurant. Hard to believe that it has been 25 years! The Kay’s have come and gone, moving on as I understand it to McDonald’s franchises in Hawaii. With less than 9,000 people in East Hampton that was a bold step, but the vision proved accurate.

L - R : partially blocked John Kay, Representative Dean Markham and Barbara Kay
and members of the East Hampton Junior Women's Club

Along with numerous other local businesses, McDonald’s has been a good corporate citizen to many worthwhile endeavors in our community from support of Old Home Day, our students’ activities, Sunshine Kids and numerous other fundraisers and projects. For that we should all applaud the owners and wish them another 25 years of success.

As reported in the Standard Bullet - August 25, 1994

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

More Summer Pictures of Lake Pocotopaug

The excursion boat on Lake Pocotopaug - the Vanovah.

View of Strong's Pavilion and beach. The Pavilion was used for dances and roller skating.

Beach side looking at Edgemere.

Carrier's Casino. This is now the Mallard Cove Condominium complex.

The Hotel Terramaugus - now the Chatham Apartments on East High St.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Remembering Summer

Now that summer seems to have finally arrived, these warm, lazy days reminded me of weekly occurrences – a parade of summer vacationers walking up Main Street for a stay at one of our local resorts. Our house was on East High Street where Citizen’s Bank is now located and I would watch from the sidewalk with great curiosity.

Back from the 1920s to 1950s,
East Hampton was the
home of several vacation hotels.
Not as grand as some of the famous
Catskill hotels such as Grossinger’s,
our Edgemere and Lakeview House
competed for New Yorkers seeking rest and relaxation and relieve from the city heat.

Every Friday afternoon throughout the summer, the train would deposit visitors at the depot (behind the Firehouse on Barton Hill). An old Mack truck would collect the luggage and cart it to the appropriate resort with the guests usually walking from the Village Center up Main Street and North Main to their final destination. On occasion, either the more affluent or those incapable of walking would call John Peterson who operated our local taxi service.

As interesting as Friday’s parade was, Sunday mornings were an even greater spectacle. The hub of activity was Thatcher’s Drug Store (the original location on the west side of the building) at the corner of Main Street and Route 6A (now Route 66). My weekly chore was to pick up the Hartford Courant and New York Journal American. Here I would hobnob and observe customers, townspeople, and these out of town vacationers alike as they picked up the Sunday paper or got a 10 cent cup of coffee or an egg cream. It’s almost unimaginable that upwards to 100 people could squeeze into the store with only 10 stools at the soda fountain. And there greeting this mob were Raymond “Deke” Thatcher (who was Comptroller of Connecticut) and Eaton Smith (Director of Food & Drug for the State) who manned the cash register.

It was a wonderful time.

We’ll unlikely never see a return of vacation resorts on Lake Pocotopaug, but maybe we will all experience a return of the crystal clear waters the Lake once had.