Saturday, December 25, 2010

Christmas 1945

It seems hard to believe that WW II ended 65 years ago. The surrender of Japan in August 1945, however, didn’t mean the immediate return to normalcy. With millions in the armed forces, the logistics to de-militarize and bring the troops home were as challenging as preparing for battle.
But around Christmas 1945, many, many families were rejoicing as husbands, sons, neighbors and certainly some daughters were discharged from active duty. It was such a marvelous Christmas present both to the soldiers who in many instances hadn't seen their families and friends since Pearl Harbor.
Discharged during that 1945 Christmas week were Cpl. Tech. James Russell Nichols, Jarvis Stewart Barton MoMM3-C, Byron Mitchell Clark MM2-C, Cpl. Tech. Frederick Houghton Galvin, P.F.C. Alfred Henry Royce and St. Sgt. Warren Lee Hedrick which brought the total to 119 – not quite half of our local men and women from East Hampton who had been in active service in the armed forces.

Returning Vet's - Christmas 1945

This was also a bittersweet time for several families whose sons paid the ultimate sacrifice in combat. East Hampton was not immune and had seen directly the loss of 6 young men and a score of others with relatives here, and all were mourned with a solemn respect for their sacrifice and for the battle waged against tyranny, dictators and atrocities against mankind.

As American’s we are blessed in so many ways. Often taking for granted our liberty and lifestyles, we remain the envy of oppressed and downtrodden throughout the world - the best hope for freedom and peace! A blessing yes, but also a curse, as American’s sons and daughters still rise to defend those freedoms so many others long for. So please, let us not forget those many on active duty in far off places like Afghanistan, Iraq, or South Korea as we gather with family and friends at this time of year.

From me and my family, I truly wish you and your families and people everywhere the best in this Holiday Season. May joy, good health, happiness and prosperity reign, and, may peace prevail.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Christmas Season in East Hampton

Nightly, television newscasters and live eye reporters show the hustle and bustle of shoppers at each of the malls or other locations around Connecticut, all speculating how well retailers will fare during the Holiday gift buying season.

It reminds me of a time before malls and all the discount retailers when holiday shopping meant going to the G. Fox & Co. department store in downtown Hartford or to main street Middletown. More likely however, many from our community did their gift buying locally at establishments such as Clark’s Corner Store, Muller’s Jewelers, Ravis’ Home Supply or Thatcher’s Drug Store.

The Christmas season was special. It didn’t start before Halloween which seems to be an annoying trend of late. It was after Thanksgiving when the air filled with excitement. Working behind the soda fountain at Thatcher’s, people always seemed much more pleasant, outgoing and engaging in that season. The drug store or what was the community gathering place, always took on a different appearance as well. Raymond “Deke” Thatcher meticulously placed his Christmas Rexall order in the late summer. He would wait with anticipation to receive box after box loaded with all kinds of odds and ends, some arriving in late October. We’d probably call most of the items stocking stuffers today.

The unending orders and boxes contained a full array of cosmetics, compacts, lipstick tubes, knickknacks of all sorts, pipes, cigars, special tobacco blends such as Amphora, and item after item that would tax the store’s shelving capacity. Special displays were positioned at the head of each isle as it captured the patrons who parked along West High Street or on the side of the building at the corner of Main Street. Back then, the store seemed gigantic. I can remember as a young boy Eaton Smith telling me as I picked up or Sunday newspapers that it was going to be the biggest drug store east of the Mississippi! Today, in retrospect, it is hardly one quarter the size of CVS or Rite Aid. But it had something all these locations now compete for – a buzz of customers eager to buy the latest the store had to offer.

And what was even better? You could sit on a counter stool, have a hot cup of coffee, hot chocolate or a milk shake and take a few minutes to unwind.

No, not a bad place to be. Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Why East Hampton is a Great Place to Live.

Our Town has lately been shaken to its core over actions of the Town Manager, the Chief of Police, the Town Council and strident outbursts at numerous citizens at public meetings. None of these actions has portrayed us in a particularly positive light. The media feeds on infighting and negative actions. Quite frankly it sells, as it always has, newspapers which drives advertising. Just business as usual.

I believe it is time to change the direction of our Town with our citizens working together, getting past what are often petty differences. Leaders have done this in our past. As a first step, I've compiled a list of 50 things that make East Hampton a great community inwhich to reside. There is nothing magical about this and I'm positive others could think of many other things and reasons that make this a wonderful place to live.

But here are my thoughts................

1. A vibrant, activist community, strong and opinionated, whose energy could be channeled to make this an even better place in which to reside.
2. A modern Library and Community Center
3. Lake Pocotopaug
4. Sears Park
5. A modern grocery store – Stop & Shop
6. Home of William Barton, founder of the bell industry
7. American Distilling & Manufacturing Co. – successor of the Dickinson Witch Hazel Company – largest producer in the world - article publicizing company in Yankee Magazine
8. EH Little League – lighted fields – among the best in Connecticut
9. The Airline Trail
10. Bevin Bros. Mfg. Co. – last remaining bell maker – articles in Yankee Magazine ( 1975 & 2010 )
11. Comstock Covered Bridge – one of 3 remaining in State
12. Old Home Day Annual Celebration
13. The Chatham Historical Society
14. Friends of Lake Pocotopaug – privately raising funds to support maintain health of the lake

15. Active Rotary Club
16. Active Lions Club and Village Lions Club
17. Food Bank staffed by numerous volunteers with strong community support
18. Citizen fundraising to support the creation of a high school football team jointly with Vinal Tech of Middletown
19. The Joseph N. Goff House
20. Volunteer Ambulance Corp
21. Volunteer Fire Department – 2 companies EH & Cobalt and 3 firehouses
22. Active Masonic Lodge
23. An owner source of water for a town wide water system
24. Home of Former Governor William A. O’Neill
25. Pumpkin Town – annual Fall attraction
26. Christmas Tree Farm and Farmer of the year – Peter Bergan
27. School System
28. Village Center
29. Rich History of the Town including Legend of the Princess
30. Laurel Ridge – an active Adult 55+ community of talented, experienced, successful people who specifically moved to EH and want to contribute to its culture and activities
31. A town dump and recycling center
32. An active VFW – Veteran of Foreign Wars Post
33. 2 camp grounds promoting family values and entertainment – Nelson’s and Markham Meadows
34. A Veterans Group raising money for a World War II Memorial
35. Numerous churches with an ecumenical council of pastors and priests
36. Numerous Day Care Providers
37. Salmon River State Park, Meshamosic State Forest, Hurd State Park
38. Epic Arts Programs
39. EH Art Association
40. Active Seniors / Senior Center
41. An attractive gateway into the community East High St. – West High Street
42. A public sewer system
43. 2 Elderly Housing Complexes – Bellwood Court & O’Neill Drive
44. Participants in the Regional Health District
45. Even after the Probate Court Reorganization and Consolidation, we maintain the smallest (and thus most personal) probate district
46. Active Girl and Boy Scout Troops
47. Numerous Park and Recreation programs
48. The Belltown Antique Auto Club and its annual car show
49. Convenience to major cities for work & health care
50. Half way between New York and Boston

May this holiday season bring peace to all and new beginnings for our Community

Monday, November 29, 2010

EHHS to 1965 State Soccer Championship Game

On November 13, 1965, our High School soccer team found itself in a position opposition and pundits alike (Fred Post of the Middletown Press) never thought possible – heading to the State Class C championship game against Washington High after defeating Lyman Memorial of Lebanon in a replayed final quarter of the semi-final round. On November 10th, which East Hampton nipped Lyman 1-0, their Coach, Bob Corlett protested the game officials’ misinterpretation of the rules of soccer claiming a foul in the penalty area committed by an East Hampton player with 3 minutes left in the match should have entitled Lyman to a penalty kick. The officials had awarded Lyman a drop kick outside the penalty area. The CIAC committee agreed and ruled the game to be commenced from the point of the foul with 3 minutes to go. In the rematch, Lyman scored on the penalty kick and the teams played two overtime periods ending in a tie. The tie breaker came with a penalty “kick-off” in which East Hampton outscored Lebanon winning the game 4-2.

Under Coach Gary Avedikian, a skilled player himself, a regrouped and recast Bellringer team was headed back to a State Championship game – the last appearance being in 1959, when the team was coached by Lou Mager, who had taken a position with rival Bacon Academy of Colchester.

Prevailing strategy then was to position players according to speed. The fastest fielded the front line. Midfielders were good athletes, and backfield capable of a strong foot, but not necessarily the team’s fastest players. Often big, they provided a lot of cover for the goalie. Although conditioning, endurance and speed were expected of all, Avedikian positioned some of his fastest players such as Bernie Bachleda, Don Davis, and Dick Valli in the backfield. With their speed, these talented players could push the play well past the half field line keeping the ball predominantly in their opponents end. And if a breakaway, our fullbacks could recoup to match the fastest opposition linemen.

Talented and experienced, the team included Larry Lawrence, goalie, suburb midfielders, Tom Bazar, Pat Dickenson, Paul Stringer, Scott Johnson, Mark Condon and a quick and tenacious line of Bill Dennehy, Steve Kissinger, Bruce Tolhurst, Joe Kagerer and Fred Walton who overwhelmed the opposition.

Maybe it was karma after so many close encounters. EH lost the championship game 1-0 in a doozie of a game. Disappointed? Of course! But the camaraderie, hard work, persistence and character that propelled this team has carried all of these men through out theirs lives. I have much respect for these friends who gave such excitement to our close-knit Town one Fall 45 years ago.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Oakwood Stand - Last of a Breed

You may have noticed that a small piece of our past, the Oakwood Stand, disappeared from the landscape in May. Not to say its hadn’t seen better days, because frankly, it was falling apart as were the adjacent guest rooms and dining hall, but it was a wonderful reminder of small town America long before Ray Kroc purchased a dairy bar from the McDonald brothers.

Oakwood was owned and operated beginning in the 1930’s by my great aunt Hazel Markham Coe Gilmore. At Oakwood, you could get a sizzling burger or hotdog, hand cut French fries, a shake or an icy Coke while you relaxed at a picnic table overlooking Lake Pocotopaug. The only historical culinary experience comparable in the area still operating is Harry’s in Colchester. Oakwood also had guest cottages and rooms available for an extended stay and it was, in its heyday, one of nearly a dozen locations on Lake Pocotopaug such as Edgemere, Lakeview House, Pocotopaug Lodge, Clearwater, and the Terramaugus House providing accommodations to the city dweller seeking refuge from the summer heat.

Thinking about the demise of the vacation resorts and camps is somewhat maudlin but also a bit poetic. As the walls were crushed and crammed into dumpsters, it signaled and vividly portrayed the end of an era on Lake Pocotopaug. Although unrelated, within days, Helen Condon, Hazel’s daughter, passed away peacefully in the night. Helen and her sisters, Dorothy Peterman who had died just a few years ago, and Marion Roberts, worked summers at the stand and guest cottages as did my Dad, Don Markham during his high school years.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Where Do You Put the Rocks?

When we think of New England, much comes to mind – a driving force for the creation of our Republic and participatory democracy, leaders who created the Declaration of Independence and Constitution; renowned higher educational institutions such as Harvard or Yale; but in a more earthy sense, we are also known as the land of steady habits and, rocks! Over 10,000 years ago, glaciers spread across our northern hemisphere.

This moving, massive ice sheet scraped the landscape bare, pushing gravel, sand and stone as if a giant bulldozer, depositing this mixture as the ice retreated. Where? In our back yards! As enterprising Yankee farmers cleared fields, gray ribbons of granite began outlining property boundaries.

Robert Frost, in his poem “Mending a Wall” suggests good fences making good neighbors. East Hampton certainly has its fair share of stone walls – ones we see throughout our neighborhoods and many jutting through the landscape of woods and fields. Just walk the Airline Trail from Cranberry Pond towards Salmon River and you can experience the remnants of long abandoned farms and the ribbons of gray walls outlining former pastures.

But East Hampton farmers had another method of dealing with rocks, especially those in close proximity to Lake Pocotopaug, or as my great grandfather, Newton Markham, used to call it, “The Pond.” It seems our enterprising forbearers developed a rather novel approach to disposing of them. With oxen, they, in the dead of winter, would drag the rocks out onto the ice. With the spring melt, magically the stone would disappear, much to the chagrin of our present day recreational boaters. The remnants of those deposits appear along much of Pocotopaug’s coast line, in some areas more than others. Any of us can see “Rocky Island” on the east side of the lake off Day Point Road. Not a natural island – just an accumulation of rocks. Elsewhere they become nuisances or as when I was growing up, things to explore on a warm summer day.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Spellman Point

In July 1925, headlines in the Middletown Press pronounced “Spellman Point Jumps in Value over Sixty Fold – Remarkable Advance in East Hampton Land in 15 Years.”

In 1910 Mrs. John Spellman had purchased the land for $1,500. In the early summer of 1925, Mrs. Spellman, however, had received and offer of $100,000 from Dr. Fred Swartz, owner of Camp Wopowaug. One might remember that Camp Wopowaug closed in the early 1960. It was one of the many facilities that graced East Hampton, East Haddam, Moodus, Haddam Neck and Colchester which many called the little Catskills. Although none of these camps matched facilities like Grossinger’s Resort, they were a welcome vacation and treat for numerous New Yorkers or those escaping cities for fresh country air. The camp was located at the end of Wopowaug Road near Route 196 and is now State Forest Land abutting the Salmon River at the old Leesville Dam and Power Station.

As for the property and the offer, Mrs. Spellman planned a meeting with the nearly 100 cottage owners who leased sites on the Point. She was willing to give them first option to purchase, provided they could match Dr. Swartz’s offer, which eventually they did. Those early cottage owners and subsequent land owners came from New Haven, New Britain, Derby, Hartford, Middletown and a number of other communities from around the state. In fact several families, relatives of the original owners still own cottages or homes there.

Today, there are approximately 42 homes or cottages on Spellman Point and their gross appraised value by the Town Assessor is approximately $19.4 million. The appeal of Lake Pocotopaug and land values attached to it certainly haven’t changed.

Friday, September 24, 2010

A Class Above Itself

East Hampton has been a special place to reside and its citizens, in most cases, exemplify integrity, moral character and convictions, reverence, patriotism, tolerance and respect of others. These traits have been nurtured from a number of role models – parents, pastors, teachers and community leaders. The 1947 Senior Class at EHHS faced head on their resolve of character and moral conviction. Like so many others, the class had planned its senior trip to tour our Nation’s Capitol. After hotel accommodations had been arranged, the Principal, Everett A. McDonald, Jr. received a call from hotel staff inquiring if any attending were “colored” because if so, separate accommodations would have to be made. As a matter of fact there was a member “of color” – Class President Charles “Sonny” O’Neil. Not only was he Class President, he had been elected by his class President all four years of high school.

An accomplished athlete, leader and future businessman, he represented the finest of this community. Mr. O’Neil’s family had actually resided here long before there was a “here!” Among his ancestors were the Wangunk Indians. But to the issue! The Class members rebelled at the indignity and racism, unanimously voting to cancel the Washington trip. A hastily scheduled new senior trip to visit a neighboring city to the north, Montreal, was arranged.

There all were welcomed as EH’s finest matured to young adults and lifelong friends. It took many years for segregation laws to change and many of us remember the tumultuous 1960s. There is no doubt we still encounter racism and intolerance today. But at a time when it was uncommon to stand up against such practices, 26 “adults” (the total Senior class) stood tall in solidarity and just said NOT US!

The Beginnings of EH Police Department

The recent uproar over the elimination of the position of Police Chief have prompted several people to asked how a small town like East Hampton got a police department in the first place.

With a change in administrations in October, 1961, the newly elected Board of Selectmen composed of Helge Palm (D) and Forrest Thatcher (D), and William Hughes, Jr. (R) began discussions, research and hearings about the Town’s police coverage. Up until that time, East Hampton police consisted of part time, unpaid, elected constables and on various occasions Railroad Detectives and US Postal Inspectors.

The Selectmen’s analysis presented three options for permanent police coverage: (1) a Resident State Trooper; (2) a full time Constable using his own vehicle and paid for mileage; or (3) a full time Constable with a town owned vehicle. Inquires were made with the Commissioner of the State Police as to the application process to obtain a Resident State Trooper. After due discussion, option (3) was selected and on December 13, 1961, George Fowler was appointed Sergeant at a salary of $4,500 and a cruiser was purchased from Partyka Chevrolet for $2,153. Our town at that time had a population of about 4,500 people. On October 15, 1963, a Town Meeting created a Police Commission electing Marion Fargo, Leon Voisin, John Wall, Charles Nichols and Russell Clark as founding members.

On October 21st, as the first act of the Police Commission, George Fowler was sworn in as the Town’s first Chief of Police. The Police Commission, elected positions, oversaw the Police Department until 1989 when, by revision of Town Charter by referendum in November 3, 1897, it was abolished, at which time the Town Manager was empowered to “appoint, based upon merit and fitness alone, all other department heads and employees, except employees of the board of education.”

An Artist?

For the record. I have painted with water colors and been an avid photographer for a number of years, but no one has ever studied with me, nor have I studied with any other artist. I suspect the reference was to Dean Waite, a very renowned local artist.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Hub of the Northeast

The other morning my neighbor, Pete Burch, out walking his yellow Lab, Bailey, and me for my morning constitutional with our dog, a “Benji” look alike named Corky, stopped me to inquire about East Hampton’s airport terminal. His hobby is to search old sites of interest with a metal detector and wanted some directions and history.

Many of you have flown out of there – correct? It was very important important in the history of aviation. Or would it be safe to say you are probably not acquainted with our airport? It served as a hub for the northeast for many years as I recall!!!

Created in the mid 1960s, the airport was the brainchild of a group of flight enthusiasts, including Ed Barton, Stanley Warzecka, and John Wall, who contracted with Conrad and Roland Lindquist to construct a runway on their Clark Hill land. Now the site of some fairly upscale homes in the Skyline Development, the property for about 6 years was a working airport at which Cessna’s and other light single and twin engine aircraft landed or were housed off the tarmac. Nothing like the major airports we all travel from, this former hayfield had grass edges to the macadam.

From this airport with my uncle, Ed Barton or Harry Bailey, father of my best friend Bart Bailey, I took my first plane rides. Accelerating from the North end of the property, near the terminal, a metal garage with an office and repair hanger, the runway slopped somewhat downhill, from which the plane effortlessly became airborne, revealing a stunning view of Lake Pocotopaug to our port side.

Landing was equally interesting as the pilot approached from the South “uphill” to a runway that appeared out of nowhere. The effect certainly tightened one’s stomach and chest as the pilot and plane decelerated with flaps down.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Boy Scout Island

Lake Pocotopaug’s Laurel Island, as named by its current owner, Jack Solomon, is recognized more appropriately as West Island, or by me growing up, as Boy Scout Island. Today the Solomon’s use the island as a retreat and rent cottages to summer visitors and vacationers, as did its previous owner Bob Weiss who acquired it in 1962.

Up until the 1940s, the island was know as West Island and owned by the Purple/Buell Family since their forbearers acquired it and the “twin” East Island in colonial times. For several summers when I was a boy, I visited my friend Bruce Tolhurst for a week on East Island staying in one of the cottages owned by his mother, Eleanor Purple Tolhurst.

But back to West Island which had another distinction. Purchased on June 8, 1944, by the Central Connecticut Council, Incorporated, Boy Scouts of America, it was the annual summer camp for boy scouts from the MeridenSouthington – Cheshire area. A mess hall/pavilion and cabins were erected at Camp Terramuggus where numerous boys escaped city life for the wilds of East Hampton and its fabled Lake Pocotopaug - among them my friend, Warren Cyr. Warren’s initial visit to this town which he now calls home was as a Boy Scout.

A picture from 1954 depicting the scouts who attended that summer. Warren Cyr is 3rd from left in first row.

While researching the history of Sears Park, I located a letter dated March 3, 1935 from Executive Director John Roberts to Sears Park Trustees requesting “the privilege of erecting and maintaining a temporary dock and roadway to said dock for a term of 8 years,” which was granted by Trustees Ernest G. Cone, Albert Starr, J. Howell Conklin, Lewis T. Evans, Carl Terp, Fred H. Barton, Secretary and Chairman Mertin Weir. West Island, or as we’ve always know it locally, Boy Scout Island, was rented for at least 10 years prior to its purchase by the Scouts.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Mom's Birthday Present

The other evening, I was watching a movie on TV, Summer Vacation staring Chevy Chase as Clark Griswold. Included in the cast was comedienne and actress Imogene Coco as Aunt Edna – the crotchety old lady who expires while being returned to her home in Phoenix. So as not to ruin the already disastrous vacation, Aunt Edna is carted seated on a chair on the roof of the family station wagon to her home and left on the door step as the Griswold’s make tracks for Wally World.
Seeing Imogene Coco reminded me of the summer days of my youth and our neighbor Alice Bevin. Mrs. Bevin, as I have previously noted, was an accomplished artist who owned the 3 story Second Empire style house on the crest of Barton Hill. She also owned an apartment in the upbeat Gramercy Park section of New York City. From her wide social network, Alice met many Broadway and nightclub entertainers who were often summer weekend guests at her home in East Hampton – one being Imogene Coco!
I also remember there being a nightclub entertainer / owner Hugh Shannon, who stayed frequently during those summers. On one of those lazy Saturday summer afternoons, Betty Benson, Alice’s daughter called my mother, Pauline and a couple of her friends and neighbors, Beth Hitchcock and Muriel Bailey, to come over to the house to meet a guest. When they arrived, this swarthy gentleman, Hugh Shannon, asked them to join him by the piano where he began crooning a number of popular tunes – you know – the ones a Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett or Johnny Mathis would sing.
I still chuckle today at the vision of these ladies hovered around this singer, cigarette smoke curling about his head, and the captivated small town girls who couldn’t have bought a ticket for a better show. Happy Birthday Mom!

Post Script - Hugh Shannon, born 1921 in De Sota, Missouri, died 1982 in New York City. While attending the University of Southern California, he played in a campus club. After military service in the US Navy during World War II, he would up in New York City where he met Billie Holiday, who encouraged him to become a singer. He took her advice and began working in bars, gradually developing his skills until he was able to find work at leading New York nightspots including the 22 Club and Le Perroquet, before travelling to Europe to take a job in Capri. From there he went to the south of France, then Paris, where he worked in a club owned by Ada "Bricktop" Smith. During the late 40s and through the 50s, Shannon became hugely popular with the smart set, numbering millionaires, film stars and royalty among his fans. He became a regular in clubs in the Virgin Islands, alternative with Capri and occasional appearances in New York. For the rest of his life, he continued working in fashionable resorts for audiences of the rich and famous. An engaging and idiosyncratic style and an enclyclopaedic knowledge of songs, helped make Shannon one of the leading cabaret artists of his generation.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

How Old Home Day Came About

The concept of Old Home Day in East Hampton dates back to the “Village Improvement Society” which began in 1912 under the suggestion of Mrs. Mildred W. Hughes. The small committee that formed was dedicated to the improvement of the village of East Hampton. This could best be achieved, the committee decided, uniting all of the local societies (these were the church districts of East Hampton, Middle Haddam and Cobalt) to work together.

In Carl F. Price’s Postscripts to Yankee Township the history of Old Home Day goes into further elaborations. “The society’s adventures in raising money by entertainments began as a meeting on April 1226, 1912, when the president was authorized to appoint all present at that meeting to serve. At the June meeting, the committee reported in favor of holding a bazaar, such as had been conducted by the Methodist Episcopal Church since 1910 in the summer, with booths and stands on the Congregational Church lawn. This 1912 fair, however, developed eventually in a carnival, the famous “Push-Car Carnival” that flamed along the sidewalk of Main Street for nearly half a mile. It yielded a profit of over $200, and was such a social success that its repetition was demanded for the next year.

Mrs. Mildred H. Hughes was chairman of the carnival for 1913 and 1914, which conformed more nearly to the typical carnival of subsequent years, with a colorful parade, competing floats and sales booths at the fair’s terminals (in later years, the Green at the Center). Subsequent carnival chairman of the society’s records were: Mrs. Carrier, Mrs. W. E. Day, Mrs. Cornelia Strong, Mrs. Carrie Barton, Mrs. Marion Strong, Dr. Frank Luntz, Hubert C. Hodge and Gordon D. Bevin, with many other towns people chairing the event in succeeding years.

All of the carnivals were memorable attracting thousands of visitors, as increasingly the fame of those carnivals spread East Hampton’s fame throughout the state and beyond. Some of these events can be recalled by their titles: 1917, “Carnival of Allied Nations”; 1922 “Mother Goose Carnival”; 1923, “Advertising Carnival”; 1924, “Book Carnival”; 1925, “Carnival of Songs”; 1927, “Carnival of State”; 1929, “Carnival of Painting”.

Old man depression brought about an interruption in the series of carnivals, under the Village Improvement Society, but in 1933, the Treadway-Cavanaugh Post No. 64 American Legion, petitioned the society for permission to hold a carnival on the first Saturday in August, which was granted, and this became the “The Seventh District American Legion County Fair and Old Home Day.” The carnivals under the Legion in succeeding years took on a different character from those in the 1920s, but they enriched the coffers of the Legion. The profits of the carnival of 1944 were given to the Welcome Home Fund of the Military Service Committee. The carnival of 1945 became the last of the series of carnivals. No carnival was held in 1946, one of the reasons recorded in society’s minutes being “the shortage of meats” (An interesting commentary on the etymology of the word carnival).

Old Home Day was revived in 1953 with Donald Markham representing the American Legion and Dennis Erickson representing the Veterans of Foreign Wars serving as Co-Chairs. In the Proclamation from the Board of Selection, Milton W. Nichols, Carl Terp and James F. Wall, it stated,

“We proclaim Saturday, August 1, 1953, as OLD HOME DAY. Acting under the Board of Selectmen, this proclamation is designed to perpetuate the remembrance of past Old Home Days when former resident and old-time friends returned to pay homage to our town. This day should act as a rallying call to ask the leaders of our community government, our churches, our veteran, fraternal, service and business organizations to help make this Old Home Day one of general acclaim to foster and create good will in our community. In keeping with the spirit of east Hampton we urge everyone to help make this day a happy one and one to be long remembered.”

In 1954 the 26th Old Home Day celebration was held with Donald Markham and William O’Neill (who would become Connecticut’s 84th Governor) Co-Chaired the event. Old Home Day was held sporadically thereafter in 1956, 1961 and in conjunction with the Town of East Hampton’s Bicentennial in 1967. Nothing occurred until the celebration of the United State Bicentennial in 1976. Shortly after, Mr. Morris “Moe” Lanzi, Drum Major of the East Hampton Fife and Drum Corp. began seeking interested citizen to reinstitute Old Home Day annually. This revival occurred in 1979 and has continued uninterrupted since. This coming weekend will mark the 32nd annual Old Home Day Celebration since its revival.

During the 1980s when Bill O’Neill was Connecticut’s Governor, he took special pride in his home town and made it an annual affair to not only march in every parade (until his health declined) when he road in an antique vehicle, never missing the annual event. Because the Governor loved a parade, any parade, but especially Old Home Day, many groups, such as the Governor’s Foot Guard, march in the parade, and continuing to do so each year. Other bands such as the Ancient Mariners have never missed an Old Home Day Parade. They provide a wonderful show, great music and entertainment that the kids love.

The Old Home Day Committee runs the 4-day event which includes numerous musical groups or performers, totally on contributions. Among its many benefits has been the raffling of 50 new bicycles to children. The tickets are distributed without cost throughout the weekend and any child is elegible.

Since 1979, Old Home Day has had only two Master of Ceremonies - Eaton E. Smith and Robert "Red" McKinney who maintain a lively exchange throughout the festivities.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Middle Haddam Post Office Robbery

One would usually think very little excitement occurs in the bucolic village of Middle Haddam. Occasional outbursts over the boundaries of the Historic District, traffic when a refueling was being performed at Yankee Atomic, or church bells marking Sunday service or a holiday being the norm. But in August 23, 1923, a State Police officer was shot during an attempted burglary at the general store and post office. The Post Office is still in the same location, but a local realtor has the space once occupied by the general store.

The perpetrators of the break-in, John Bay, 24 years old from Pittsfield, MA and Steven Bubrowski, alias, Larry Richards, 17 years old from Northampton, MA were apprehended on the Air Line railroad tracks in Portland after fleeing the scene. The two were being held in Middletown but because the attempted robbery occurred in the Town of East Hampton, the accused had to be taken before an East Hampton Justice, EH like many towns then having its own court system. Bail had been fixed at $1,000 which neither man could secure.

Bay confessed to police to being ringleader of a gang that had terrorized lower Connecticut River Valley towns from Middletown to Old Saybrook, had attempted two previous break-ins in the Middle Haddam village. From Northampton, Bay and Richards made their way to Boston, leaving the Hub by train to Willimantic, secured an automobile ride to Middle Haddam. They wandered around town, waiting on the river bank until 11 P.M., whereupon they went to the store. They had just broken the glass of a rear window when surprised by state police. Bay immediately opened fire, wounding John Gondek in the upper right forearm. The two were apprehended when an informant spotted them on the railroad tracks cleaning their guns. Unnoticed, he tiptoed back to safety and immediately called the state police who arrived on the scene with the capture occurring without trouble.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Indian Remains

Today, if construction workers unearthed a Native American grave site or camp site, work would halt immediately and the State Archaeologist would perform an extensive survey under the Native American Graves Protection and Reparations Act. If determined a significant site, construction would be stopped. If just antiquities such as pottery and arrow heads or points were discovered, work and excavations would be halted until artifacts were fully recovered. If a burial site, work could stop permanently - this to honor our Native American predecessors with the proper respect – until the remains could be fully located and reburied in a safe cemetery site conducted with a proper Native American ceremony.

However, long before the Federal Legislation was enacted, things were markedly different. For years, people have found arrow heads and points around the perimeter of Lake Pocotopaug. One summer day at Sears Park with my son back in the late 1980s, I spotted a perfect arrow head, but alas, a young boy was sitting next to it and pulled it from the waters edge.

But years earlier, in late August 1923, George Walton, Maurice Galvin and Bartholomew Cavanaugh, while working on an excavation for N. B. Carrier near his casino at Lake Pocotopaug (now the location of the Mallard Cove condominiums), unearthed an Indian grave. According to the report at the time, the skull was complete - skin, bones and bones of the lower arm were unbroken - and also found in the grave were several arrow heads. Mr. Carrier gave the skull to a New Haven man. Other summer guests at the lake colony secured the other bones as souvenirs. Quite a travesty by today’s standards!

This prompted further excavations of ground near Carrier’s Casino and speculation that the skeletons of Chief Terramugus, after whom the twin islands were named (as well as Marlborough’s Lake) and also the beautiful maiden Pocotopaug (Princess Namonee) might also be unearthed. Fortunately no other graves were discovered or desecrated.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Sears Park Through the Years

The Gift

Nestled on the westerly shore of Lake Pocotopaug is our beautiful Sears Park. In the summer of 1909 Sears family members, Dr. Cushman A. Sears, Mrs. Mary S. Gillette and Miss Carolyn “Carrie” D. Sears, approached the Selectmen offering to gift 3.93 acres of land situated on Lake Pocotopaug for the establishment of a park. The three were the surviving children of Stephen Griffith Sears who had resided in Chatham.

A study committee comprised of the Rev. H. E. Brown, Joel W. Smith and Fisk Brainard, was empanelled at a Special Town Meeting on October 4, 1909, to evaluate terms of the proposed gift. The Committee reported back to the Selectmen in late December 1908 and at a Special Town Meeting held January 8, 1910, the Town graciously voted to accept the gift, with the property and its care and maintenance to be held and administered by Trustees of Sears Park – a 9 person committee, 3 of whom would be the members of the Board of Selectmen (Ex-officio) and 6 others named in the title transfer. Title formally transferred on May 26, 1910.

Terms of the Gift

Among the terms of the gift in the “Memorandum of Organization” were:

Ø The first Board of Trustees was: Selectmen Fred S. Hall, Charles F. Shepards Jr., and William N. Markham, Ex-Officio, and Augustus H. Conklin, George W. Goff, George N. Lawson, Carl O. Johnson, Fred H. Barton and Ernest G. Cone Voting Trustees.
Ø The six non selectmen will have staggered terms of 1 to 6 years and successors will be elected by the remaining members of the Board with due notice to the towns people of the meeting date.
Ø Trustees to have the care of the Park with power to grade, plant, construct walks or Buildings or otherwise improve the grounds and structures as may be deemed by them best, providing that no moneys are expended or contracts entered into in excess of the appropriation for the park by the town, or are received as gift or from other sources or to contract any debt or other obligation except by special vote of the town.
Ø Said Trustees shall have the power to make such rules or regulations for the management of the park and the conduct of the people as seems to them best and to provide penalties for their violation, providing such rules and regulations are approved by the town at a regular town meeting and are posted conspicuously on the park.
Ø Said Trustees to have the right to let concessions for boating, restaurants, amusements or for other purposes which in their judgment are for the pleasure, comfort or convenience of the public, or may themselves purchase and let for hire such board, public amusements and conveniences providing that under no conditions shall alcoholic drinks, cigarettes or injurious drugs be sold there. (Notice this does not stipulate consumption)
Ø Said Trustees to submit annually to the town a report of their doings, giving in detail full statement of their receipts and expenditures and such other matters as may be of interest to the public.
Ø Said trustees shall have power to employ such landscape architects, engineers, superintendents, foremen and workmen or any other help as they may require on such terms and for such time as needed provided the compensation for service or amounts paid shall not be in excess of the income of the park for the year and whenever such expenditures seem liable to exceed such income said trustees shall discontinue services of all employees or as many of them as may be needed to prevent an excess of expenditures over income.
Ø The trustees shall serve without pay and shall not be interested in any of the financial transactions of the park or in any concessions or privileges given for a valuable consideration.
Ø The town shall appropriate not less than $100 a year for maintenance
Ø The trust may be transferred to a Board of Park Commissioners wherever the town provides such by a two-thirds vote at any regular called town meeting in conjunction with a two-thirds vote in its favor by the said trustees but in case such transfer is made the name of the park is to remain “Sears Park” and no and no alcoholic liquors shall ever be allowed sold on the park.

Ironically, the property that encompasses the park is part of the original 640 acres granted to James Wright who was the first land owner in Chatham in what was to become the East Hampton Society - this predating the creation of the second three mile division known as East Middletown.

Facilities at Sears Park

In 1914, the Casino was built at a cost of $1,409 by John A. Rich with the Village Improvement Society – the forerunner of the Carnival and then Old Home Day Committees – gifting $700 towards its construction. Those of recent memory recall that this original Casino or Pavilion as it has been known by for many years, burned to the ground on Saturday night, March 15, 2003; the fire being of suspicious origin. The Town Council [Donald P. Markham, Chairman, Christopher Goff, James E. “Pete” Brown, William Farrell, Jr., Thomas DiStefano, Jr., Melissa Engel, and Thomas Cordeiro, with Town Manager Alan Bergren] voted to rebuild the Pavilion at Sears Park at a cost of $301,000 from insurance proceeds along with a donation from the East Hampton Rotary Club of $26,000 for enhancements to the Pavilion. This was a three year project honoring the Centennial Anniversary of Rotary International. The new pavilion was dedicated May 1, 2005.

On May 11, 1961 the Trustees of Sears Park voted but failed to obtain the required two-thirds vote necessary to turn ownership, maintenance and operation over to the Parks and Recreation Commission created by the Town. At the adjourned meeting on May 18th, the Trustees in a second vote adopted a motion that turned “the Trust Land and Assets over to the Park and Recreation Commission of the Town of East Hampton.”

On March 16, 2004, the East Hampton Lions Club donated a 20’ by 40’ Gazebo / Picnic Shelter at an estimated cost of $15,000.

For many years, an excursion motor launch was docked at the Park. Other minor buildings – concession stands - stood on the easterly boundary but were demolished after the first land addition in 1968 from the Nichols Estate. Shortly thereafter, in 1970, the Town constructed both new public restrooms which are located near the entrance and tennis courts. In 1974, the boat launch area was graded and improved and rock obstructing the channel was removed from the water.

Under the auspices of the Town Council, and Board of Selectmen prior thereto, and Park and Recreation Commission have overseen the operations and maintenance of the Park and have made numerous upgrades to this pristine location used by so many for recreation, boating and swimming in our Lake.

Park Expansion

The Park has been expanded five times since 1910. Today it encompasses approximately 6.53 acres. From the first gift in 1910, the Town has taken advantage of other properties which have become available to expand it boundaries.

First, as approved by Special Town Meeting on June 26, 1968, .22 acres of land adjacent to Sears Park from the Estate of Mary K. “Mae” Nichols that was bounded by the Lake and Sears Park at a cost of $6,000.

The second, as approved at Special Town Meeting on August 8, 1972, appropriated $10,000 to acquire 1.29 acres of land from Marian R. Dunham, Charles B. Stone Sr. and the Estate of Florence Blau bounded by North Main Street, Sears Lane and Sears Park which is now the site of tennis courts and a parking area.

The third piece approved at Special Town Meeting on January 28 1986, acquired .74 acres on the northerly boundary of Sears Park running from North Main Street to the Lake from Richard and Maria Davilla with an appropriation of $132,000.

The fourth piece approved at Special Town Meeting on June, 1996, acquired .11 acres on the northerly boundary of the Davilla parcel running to the Lake from Edith Anderson as a gift to the Town.

The fifth piece approved at Special Town Meeting on October 7, 2004, acquired .14 acres on the northerly boundary of Sears Park running from North Main Street to the Lake from he northerly boundary of the Davilla parcel with an appropriation of $310,000 from Florence Smith.

Through the Years - Notably Events

At the February 22, 1933 Trustee Meeting, it was voted “to appropriate the sum of $100 for the purpose of clearing the park of surplus trees, bushes and rocks to provide work for the unemployed,” this being the height of the Great Depression.

At the September 11, 1934 meeting it was voted that “the Trustees accept the proposition of Selectman Merton Weir to build suitable Pillars at the entrance and Wall to extend along the front of Sears Park, the labor to be paid for by F.E.R.A. [the Federal Emergency Relief Act] and material and truckage to be paid from the Trustees of Sears Park. Provisions to be left are the right hand Pillar on which be placed a Bronze Tablet as a memorial to the heirs of Stephen G. Sears.” The tablet with anchor bolts made by the Bradley and Hubbard Mfg. Co. cost $87.50.

At the April 22, 1935 Trustee meeting, resolution passed that “granted the Central Connecticut Council Inc. of Boy Scouts of American the privilege of erecting and maintaining a temporary dock and roadway to said dock as per Scout Executive John D Roberts letter dated March 7, 1935, such privilege to extend for a term of eight years.

At the same meeting, the Trustees voted to accept Mr. Eugene Nichols gift of $200 and thank him for the services to the park for the many past years. The Trustees then voted that they would grant no concessions in the Park for a term of two years. Mr. Nichols operated his own concession stands from his property which was eventually purchased by the Town.

At the July 8, 1946 meeting, the Trustees voted to increase the insurance coverage on the Pavilion not to exceed $4,000.

At the May 25, 1948 trustee meeting, voted to charge a fee of 25 cents for parking cars in the Park on Saturdays, Sundays and Holiday in order to provide extra revenue for the Park. On June 15th, a short meeting was held with William and Milton Nichols at the Park. The Nichol’s Brothers offered the Trustees a donation of $200, which was accepted. In view of this gift, the Trustees decided not to charge parking during the 1948 season.

At the June 7, 1951 meeting, the Trustees continued the policy of no concessions after receipt of a $125 gift from Mr. William Nichols. The Trustees also voted to reject the request from the Village Improvement Society for a “Merry Go Round” or similar amusement devise at their Carnival to be located in Sears Park.

At the July 8, 1952 meeting, Mr. William Nichols was not reappointed a Superintendent as he was no longer a resident of East Hampton. Motion was made by Trustee Leon Voisin that Christopher Christopher be contacted to see if he would act as Superintendent. Following the meeting, Mr. Christopher was contacted and agreed to act as Superintendent for the year.

The Sears Family

Deacon Stephen Griffith Sears was born in Chatham September 27, 1803, married Emily Veazey, daughter of Eleazar and Elizabeth (West) Veazey on May 3, 1831 and died in East Hampton Society on October 12, 1874. Sears was descended from a long line of family in Yarmouth and Harwich on Cape Cod. They had four children: Mary Elizabeth, born January 12, 1835, who married Bennette Gillette; Clark Osprey, who was a State Representative in 18756-76 and appointed Postmaster in 1885, was born July 24, 1836, and married Charlotte Josephine Fielding; Cr. Cushman Allen Sears, born September 26, 1838 and married Evelyn Lay; and, Caroline Desire Sears, born April 24, 1843.

The eulogy delivered at the funeral of Stephen Sears from a book recorded on the Sears Genealogy was as follows:

“In the life of Deacon Sears, there were no striking events, nothing that could be called great or grand, yet the whole life, viewed in its course of seventy years, leaves the impression on the hearts of all who knew him, of completeness, of beauty, of harmony; his best eulogy is in the hearts of those who knew him best and longest.
One who knew him from youth to old age, testified, that he was never guilty of a mean action, even as a boy; that even then his conduct was irreproachable.
He was a perfect example of a man whose life was a continuous moral growth, and yet he sought for the deeper life based on faith in Christ.
His whole speech was a witness to the need of the Christ-life in the soul; but not only in words did his witness consist, it was in the course of his daily life, in the faithful performance of all his duties, that he gave testimony to Him who came to do His Father’s work.
Those who loved him well, tell how scrupulously he performed every little duty in the family, and how anxious he was to relieve his family, and make their burdens light.
Like a true Christian, his light threw a cheerful glow around his household hearth, and made his home one of happiness and content.”

Friday, May 28, 2010

Memorial Day 2010

Monday, May 31, is Memorial Day, or as my grandmother called it, Decoration Day. That designation emanated from the order of Gen. John Logan in 1868 that appointed May 30th a day “for the purpose of strewing with flowers the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion (the Civil War).” In the middle of every May, I would accompany her to Lakeview Cemetery where around all our deceased relatives graves the decorative bushes were trimmed and tidied and geraniums planted.

As former Gov. William O’Neill used to say, “Who doesn’t like a parade?” And here in East Hampton, we always celebrated Memorial Day with a Parade. Excited kids, streamers and American Flags affixed to bicycles, a Poppy Queen, VFW and American Legion Color Guards, the High School Band, our Town's elected leaders, Fife and Drum Corp., Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, Cubs and Brownies, and fire engines, organized in formation at the Congregational Church, stepping off at 9:15 sharp!

At Lakeview Cemetery prayers for the honored deceased veterans, an honor guard firing blanks in salute and trumpeters blowing the haunting, echoing, “taps” as all stood in silence and remembrance. Marchers would then continue on to the Congregational Church lawn and the Veterans Memorial.

More prayers, a salute to our Nations Flag and speeches. Following the reading of each veteran’s name laid to rest during the year, a snare drum would paralyze each in attendence as we remembered.

The High School band played stirring pieces such as the Star Spangled Banner or Battle Hymn of the Republic and students would recite “In Flanders Fields” and Lincoln’s unforgettable tribute that began, “Four score and seven years ago….” To this day my eyes tear up whenever I hear these words.

Monday, our National Holiday, is a time to drink in the importance remembering those who served so valiantly for all that we have. I invite you to join the parade.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

In Honor of Our Veterans

On May 31st, like thousands of other communities around our Nation, East Hampton will celebrate Memorial Day, in honor of those who so valiantly gave their lives for the freedom and liberty we all enjoy, but often take for granted. Probably very few have ever noticed or studied our first Veterans Memorial. It sits in the Village Center on the corner of the Congregational Church lawn. The annual Memorial Day Parade culminates their and a tradional service occurs, remembering those veterans who passed away during the year. Typically High School Students make presentations such as The Gettysburg Address and the poem In Flanders Fields with a guest speaker.

The Memorial's origins in the Village Center stem from a public meeting held at Carriers’s Casino attended by over 800 people on the first Armistice Day (Nov. 11, 1920) recognizing the end of World War I, after the organization of the local American Legion Post No. 64. Carl Price, author of Yankee Township, delivered an address about The Town in Seven Wars, and his “remarks were concluded with a taunting reproach for East Hampton's failure to erect a memorial to the men and women who had represented the town so valiantly in the several wars.” Present was Henry T. Sellew, Civil War Veteran, then over 80, who left the meeting “in high dudgeon, vowing that he would not rest content until such a monument had been erected, even if he had to go get the stone himself.” “This he did literally, with the assistance of Mayo S. Purple; and sixteen oxen bore the huge glacial bolder from Marlborough, where on the church green it was set up.”

Dedicated on Labor Day 1921, Thomas J. Bannigan, Vice Commander of the National American Legion and Governor Everett J. Lake unveiled the monument, which disclosed a rough monolith typical of the New England hillsides, and bearing bronze tablets inscribed “TO THE MEMORY OF THE PATRIOT MEN OF CHATHAM WHO BRAVELY BORE THEIR PART IN THE WAR OF THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION; THE WAR OF 182; THE CIVIL WAR; AND WW I,” with their names thereon inscribed.

Friday, May 7, 2010

"Play Ball" - The Arrival of Spring

“Play Ball” from bellowing voice of Umpire Martin "Bub" Daly signaled my official arrival of spring growing up in East Hampton. Little League season commenced.

East Hampton has had a famed and glorious baseball past, renowned in Middlesex County League play back to the 1880s. Its teams produced remarkable competitors who provided entertainment within our community and comradery between the players where factory workers or mechanics played along side the mill owners. Our baseball tradtions continue today involving nearly 500 boys and girls in this great American pastime. Saturday May 1st marked opening day at Seamster Park, named after my old friend Andrew Seamster, a man who had been deeply involved with youth baseball.

Most noticeable and evident Saturday was the lack of media attention. Here, enthusiastic kids involved in wholesome sport, with parents, grandparents and siblings rooting them on, didn’t even get a blip on the live eye evening news. If a drive by shooting had occurred or some kid was apprehended dealing drugs, news crews from Channel 8, 3, 30 and 61 would be competing to be first and live with the report. Such a poor commentary on what is really important and newsworthy!

But back to 1957 - remembering my first season – playing for the Cardinals. With my neighbor and best friend Bruce Tolhurst, we’d either bike or walk from our houses on East High Street just up from Thatcher's Drug Store, to Berwick Field or as known to the real oldtimers, Drury Field - now the location of Chatham Apartments behind St. Patrick’s Church. Governor William O'Neill Drive into the Senior Housing Complex was a mere walking path to our town's one little league field.

Our team's Manager, Ed Bazar or his eldest son Eddie, the Assistant Coach, would warm us up, hitting sharp grounders and deep fly balls before the games commenced. On that team were David and Tom Bazar, Bill Dennehy, Joey Kagerer, Alan and David Battit, Don Booth, Steve Clark, Bruce True, David Fortin, Frank Connolley, Harry McKinney, David Heckart and Batboy Jim McKinney, competing against the likes of the Dodgers, Giants, Reds and Cubs. Those summer evenings remind me of a time of innocence when the biggest trauma facing us was whether or not we would get a hit, or maybe get hit!

Maybe a prelude of my political career to come, I think they used my nick name in the caption above. Little League pitchers don't always have the most commanding control. I probably got on base more that year from being "beaned" than from hits.

I encourage you want to relive a little of that era. Some evening or Saturday morning, take in a game at Seamster Park next to Memorial School. With bleachers, announcer booths and food stand, it is a far cry from the wood plank benches of 1957. The surroundings have changed – these are among the premiere Little League fields in Connecticut – but the joy of the game has not.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

New Arrivals in Tradition of East Hampton

Since I began writing about East Hampton Past, dozens of people have very kindly told me how much they enjoy reading about our Town’s history. Whether it is in Stop & Shop (how soon we forget Shaw's), restaurants such as Angelico's or Governor's Tavern, at town meetings, or church, I appreciate the comments and positive feedback and will keep writing.

On April 12th, the Laurel Ridge Association invited me to speak about EH since so many were new to our Town. As you may know, Laurel Ridge is an over 55 community located on the East side of the Lake on Route 66 and is situated near Bear Swamp.

This was a very enjoyable evening and I’m pleased that this engaging group chose EH as their home. Since the early 1700s, tremendously talented people have settled here. From my prospective, these transplants are equally able and given the nod, will contribute to the vitality and enhancement of our Town. So, welcome!

Topics that evening included a discussion on the founding of the bell industry by William Barton in 1808, and its importance to many other industries including Henry Ford's Model T. I also discussed the the creation of Chatham and some of our illustrious citizens such as Gov. William O’Neill. We all remember fondly our friend and neighbor Bill O’Neill, but we forget, he almost never became Governor. Unsuccessful in the 1960 and 1962 elections, with 1964s postponed due to a reapportionment stalemate, Bill had little desire to run again in 1966! Only significant arm-twisting prevailed and from there, his meteoric rise to the Governorship.

East Hampton Fife & Drum Corp Major, Morris Lanzi, then State Representative and Majority Leader, William O'Neill, and Governor Ella T. Grasso at the signing of Legislation making Yankee Doodle Connecticut's State Song. In background, members of the Fife & Drum Corp including Thomas Distefano.

Fielding many questions that evening, one of which I wanted to expand upon was how did Hurd State Park come about? Named for an early family that settled at Knowles Landing at Middle Haddam (bottom of Knowles Road) the now 900 acre park, located off of Rt. 151 as you leave Middle Haddam towards Moodus and situated on the Connecticut River.

Among the first land acquisitions by the newly established Parks and Forest Commission in 1915, Hurd State Park began with 28 acres purchased from Frederick and Sophia Colson in 1916. Apparently after threats of litigation, the Eureka Flint & Spar, a New Jersey company, sold 90 additional acres to the State in 1923. Eureka had planned on mining Feldspar from the site as it did at other quarries in Chatham, Haddam & Middletown, but State pressure changed management’s minds.

Today the Park has scenic and panoramic views of the Connecticut River Valley and numerous hiking trails and recreational opportunities – all for free!

Knowing Our Past Gives Me Better Information to Serve You

WILLIAM BARTON House circa 1765 - located at the crest of Barton Hill

William Barton was the Founder of the Chatham Bell Industry. From has hands and apprenticeships, no less than 37 other bell maker companies were formed and operated in the East Hampton Society area.

Understanding the past can often prevent you from making an incorrect decision about your future - especially when buying or selling your most valuable asset - your home!

I have the knowledge of our Community's past and the proven experience and ability to serve your current Real Estate needs - whether you are marketing an antique or historic home or a house constructed last week.

Please remember, I'm never too busy for your referral at Prudential Connecticut Reality. I'm always available to take your call and can be reached at (860) 918-4400.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Aftermath of EHHS Fire

After assessing the damage and salvageable portions of East Hampton High School (our current Center School) which was nearly half consumed by fire on March 27, 1962, the Fire Marshall determined that only the auditorium/gymnasium was deemed usable and accordingly it was subdivided into 4 classrooms in addition to the stage becoming a fifth. The old grammar school section was not affected by the flames and continued to be used as classrooms. The Congregational Church, American Legion and Library were also used for classes as we began double sessions - a way less than half a usable facility could still accommodate the entire high school population.

For the remainder of the 1962 school year, I attended afternoon sessions. Depending on ones point of view, that could be good or bad. If you liked to sleep late in the morning, starting classes at 12:15 PM was probably wonderful. If you were a morning person like me, the afternoon really dragged.

In September, my freshman Class of 1966 was split - half attending morning session and the other half afternoon. That was the most devastating aspect of the fire and aftermath. My class was the only one split. The reason related to the number of teachers. The class was split according to those in the college preparation program versus students in the secretarial or industrial arts programs. Because teachers couldn't work both morning and afternoon sessions and foreign language or advanced math or science teachers mainly taught the upper classes, it was deemed most economical and effective to split our freshman class to follow the teachers.

Most distressing and something that still bothers me today was that at the one point where students and classmates need to bond and build relationships and a comradely with their peers, we became two different and distinct Classes of 1966. Some of those scars probably exist to this day, and I, for one, am truly sorry for what it did to isolate and maybe alienate friends and classmates from one another.

If a similar tragedy occurred today, parents and students alike would not stand for such treatment. At that point, the decade of protest had not begun. In 1962, we had not yet emerged from our sheltered cocoons and complacency of the 1950s. JFK was still President. Walter Cronkite was just beginning to report about race riots and freedom marches in the South and our biggest concerns centered on nuclear missiles from the Soviet Union.

Those last 2 months of the 1962 were dreadful. The late afternoons were hot and sticky and the buildings reeked of that musty smoke that permeated the whole downtown.

Many events shape our lives. I think the fire molded me and many others to appreciate what we had and to use our given talent for the public good.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Disaster - The High School Consumed in Flames

Have you ever had the experience of being woken from a sound sleep, being incoherent or not grasping what someone is telling or asking you? To this day, that is what I remember about the night of March 27, 1962.

Around midnight, I was woken by my father who informed me the High School (our current Center School) was burning! I probably made (know I did make) some inappropriate comment and continued to doze. As the reality finally sunk in, I sat up with a start and looked out the window. We lived on the top of Barton Hill and my bedroom overlooked the Village Center. Flames had enveloped the entire downtown illuminating the night sky. Normally at that hour it would have been pitch blackness. That night however, the Congregational Church glowed yellow as the flames danced higher than the perch of that pointed steeple spire.

The blaze as reported in the Middletown Press showing the second story engulfed in flames.

Near total destruction to 16 classrooms – the entire Bevin Boulevard wing –totaling $600,000, occurred. The auditorium/gymnasium and the portion known as the old Center Grammar School was saved. A couple days later, some of us were allowed into the school to retrieve books if our lockers had been on the first floor of the burnt wing. It was an amazing outpouring by members of all the classes. Then grades 8 – 12 attended the high school. A huge percentage volunteered to assist in whatever cleanup we could, salvaging books and organizing them to be redistributed. School was cancelled for a week as the Board of Education, School Officials, Town Selectmen and numerous organizations such as the American Legion, the Library Board and Congregational Church all pitched in.

Immediately, those portions of the Bevin Boulevard wing salvageable were cleared, cleaned and made ready, as normalcy, or the closest we could get to it, set in.

A New High School?

Like most communities in the late 1950s, growing pains struck East Hampto and with it some contentious issues. In rapid succession, the Town’s leadership began proposing and planning for a Sewer System, a Water System, formation of an Industrial Development Commission, a Parks & Recreation Commission which assumed oversight of Sears Park, and, school expansion.

The post WW II “Baby Boom” stretched facilities. In some instances class sizes ranged upward to 35 or 40 students per class. The Cold War with the Soviet Union was fully engaged, Spuknik had been launched and served as the first volley in our race into outer space. The emphasis of government and educators was in the sciences and East Hampton had pitiful class and labratory facilities. Today we would gasp at student levels of over 25 per class, but then, nearly every community was caught flatfooted.

Expanding the High School (now Center School) or building a new facility, pitted neighbors against neighbors and young parents against senior citizens, many of whom were on limited incomes. The senior citizens had weathered the depression years and were leery to be saddled with significant property tax increases.

But on December 29, 1959, a Special Town Meeting approved a High School Building Committee to investigate (a) expansion of the current high school, (b) constructing a new high school, and (c) finding a proposed site for a new high school. The Committee was composed of the First Selectman, John Paonessa, Board of Finance members Robert Ostergren and Barbara Hurley, Board of Education members Richard Burnham and Roy Nicks and 4 citizens elected at the meeting, Gladys Smith, Winfred Eilert, John Callahan and Newton Percy Clark, who began their work immediately.

The Citizens Committee for Good Government rumored 17 to 19 mill increases with any new school. Many leaders rebutted. Mr. Ostergren stated, “The rumor involves a failure to understand the tax system of EH,” or, “is a deliberate attempt to deceive the voters on a new school issue.” Fed up with cramped and inadequate quarters, the townspeople approved $1.45 million in March 1961, for a new high school. And believe it or not, at a Town Meeting on March 26, 1962, added $195,000 for an additional science lab, an auditorium and library. Today such amenities would be considered necessary to meet accreditation standards.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Gold in Cobalt Hills

There’s gold in them there hills! With the market price at record highs near $1,200 an ounce and Good Ole Tom and the new businesses of the decade telling us to bring our old jewelry to harvest excess cash, it reminded me of Chatham’s gold, or more precisely, Cobalt. Named for the ore mined there along the creek east and south of Great Hill, it was also the site of gold mining in Colonial times. Although the lure of gold attracted not the throngs California in 1849 or Alaska in 1896 did, there was enough interest by Governor Jonathan Winthrop (1651, 1659-76) of his belief of mines and minerals in Middletown. This area was granted in the formation of Middletown and designated East Middletown or the area east of the Connecticut River. Winthrop, so convinced of their (the minerals) value as to think seriously of setting up works for improving them is evident from the grant made to him after the initial settlement of Middletown.

By resolution of the Middletown Selectmen, “The inhabitants of Middletown for the encouragement of the designs of our much honored governor, Mr. John Winthrop, for the discovery of mines and minerals and for the setting up of such works as shall be needful for the improvement of them, do hereby grant unto our said much honored governor any profitable mines or minerals that he shall find or discover upon any common land with the bounds of our town and such woodland as may be convenient for the use of the same, to the value of 500 to 1,000 acres, as it may lie so that it be not nearer than two or three miles from the present dwelling houses of the Town, and as the Town shall judge to be lest prejudicial to themselves for their necessary firewood, provided the Town shall have free liberty of commonage, as far as our Town bounds go, until the improvers shall see good to impropriate the same with inclosures – provided further that said governor, and such as may be co-improvers with him, will set up the works to improve such mines and minerals as he shall find, within these 5 years and let us know whether he doth accepts of this our grant with two years; and so be it to him and his heirs and associates from the time of setting up such works, else at two or fives years, and to be in liberty of the Town to grant the same to any other. May 23, 1661.”

President Stiles of Yale College wrote, “1787, Jan.1, Mr. Erkenlen’s (developer of Cobalt mine) visited me, full of his Cobalt mine and China voyage. He some years ago bought the Governor’s Ring, as it is called, or a mountain in the N.W. corner of East Haddam (Middle Haddam), comprehending about 800 acres, or about a square mile area. Here he finds plenty of Cobalt, which he manufactures into smalt with which is made the beautiful blue on China ware, etc.” “Gov. Trumbull has often told me that this was the place to which Gov. Winthrop of N. London used to resort with his servant, and after spending three weeks in the woods of this mountain, in roasting ores and assaying metals and casting gold rings, he use to return home to New London with plenty of gold. Hence this is called the Gov. Winthrop ring to this day.

From correspondence of the governor with learned men in England, it is possible that some knowledge of this locality crossed the Atlantic in his time (Winthrop’s). Be this as it may, no considerable efforts appear to have been made to find gold or any other mineral in this hill, for about a century after this grant was made. But about 1762, Dr. John Sebastian Stepancey, a German, employed a number of men, and made a horizontal opening into the hill in search of hid treasures. He continued his exertions but a short time. About 1770 he renewed them, in connection with tow other Germans, John Knool and Gominus Erkelens; but at length it appears that he made over the management of the concern to his associates, reserving to himself only a portion of the profits, and there was an agreement that what metals and minerals were sent to Great Britain should be consigned to Knool’s friends, and those sent to Holland to Erkelens’.

Geologists and Professors from UCONN actually did some experimental mining in the late 1980s recovering a reasonable (maybe an ounce or two) of gold, but determined there was insufficient quanity to ever make mining a commercially viable enterprise.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Tony Bracha - Old Friend

My old friend, Anthony J. Bracha, passed away Wednesday at the ripe old age of 93. Known as “Tony” to one and all, he and his wife Ethel took up residence in the mid 1970s in their once summer cottage on Lake Drive in East Hampton, departing his home town of New Britain. Although retiring as an UAW Organizing Representative in 1977, life was just beginning for this affable fellow. Lifelong Democrats, Tony and Ethel became involved in local politics and within months, Tony was elected with his Democratic running mates, Eaton E. Smith and Rowland Beauleau, Sr. as majority members of our Board of Selectmen.

From East Hampton Democrats campaign brochure in 1977.

Tony at Democratic Headquarters.

Along with the likes of Gov. William “Bill” O’Neill, Raymond “Deke” Thatcher, Eaton E. Smith, my parents Donald and Pauline Markham, and some other friends such as William “Bill” MacDonald, John O’Neil, Charles Nichols and Anthony “Tony” Flannery, Tony Bracha was one of my early political mentors. As I look back at my own experiences and success, I am eternally grateful to the many, many people who worked for my campaigns, contributed funds, knocked on doors, and cooked or served meals for our famous “All you can eat for $5 - family spaghetti dinners!”

Paul and Elaine Puzzo cooking spaghetti in 1984.

Tony also played a very instrumental role that likely made a significant difference in my first campaign in 1978 and in the primary I faced in 1980. In 1978, Tony graciously took me to meet John Flynn, President of the United Auto Workers, lobbying him to support my candidacy. With Tony’s personal support, the UAW endorsed my candidacy, and that I’m convinced, made a significant difference in that first Legislative race.

Memorial Day Parade, 1979, l to r, Rep. Dean Markham, unknown, Selectmen Eaton E. Smith, Anthony J. Bracha, Chief Administrative Officer Eugene Shiller, Board of Finance Chairman James Standish, Selectmen Everett Breace and Mary Ann Barton.

Survived by a loving and caring family of his three daughters and son-in-laws, Patricia and Timothy Kaider who reside in Pennsylvania, Diane and Donald DeFronzo who reside in New Britain and our dear friends, Elaine and Paul Puzzo who reside in East Hampton, Tony also has four grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

Recognizing Tony's retirement from the Board of Selectmen as he and Ethel prepare to move to Florida. Held in Tony's arms is David DeFronzo, son of State Senator Donald DeFronzo and his wife Diane Bracha DeFronzo.

Tony loved to fish. In fact, there have been times when he ventured out upon Lake Pocotopaug as dusk and after several hours, and the pitch black of night enveloping the lake, Elaine would become a bit agitated, strongly suggesting that Paul take the boat out and tow him back to the dock. Inevitably, Tony would pull up dockside with a string of fish. All was well.

Tony’s family and friends will miss him. But we don’t shed tears, but rather smile at having the privilege having known him.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The Moodus Noises

The horrendous and tragic explosion at the Kleen Energy Plant in Middletown Sunday February 7th touched us all. Our deepest sympathy goes out to the families of those men who lost their lives and for a speedy recover to the many injured. And we can all be thankful and appreciative at the splendid and dedicated emergency response personnel – fire, police and medical – and the emergency crisis team at Middlesex Hospital and throughout our State for their swift and prepared action.

Each of us will retain our own memories of the blast and I’m sure they will become a topic of conversation, probably not on the same scale as where were you or what we you doing when you heard John F. Kennedy had been shot, but important in a local sense. As for me, I was engrossed in Pastor Shelly Timber’s sermon at Haddam Neck Covenant Church. The Church, located on Haddam Neck Road high over the Connecticut River Valley is just a few short miles away from the River Road site. With a momentary lull in the sermon, I and others winced, looking out the windows and speculating as to what might have occurred. To my wife Debbie and me, the blast reminded us of a natural phenomenon periodically experienced in our town - the Moodus Noises!

Long before colonial times, the rumblings emanating in the area where East Hampton, East Haddam and Haddam converge at the Salmon River, probably put the same fright into the populous that the gas explosion caused, albeit without the same loss of life or property damage. Named “Matchitmoodus” by our Native American predecessors, the rumblings surely caused them to ruminate on what they perceived as the voice of the supernatural. Literally translated as “Place of Bad Noises,” the area was supposedly the dwelling place of Hobomoko, their sinister god who was forever plaguing mankind and spoke to them in tones of thunder. Today, geologists explain precisely what occurs. As rock solid as this New England area is, we sit on a geological fault line. As such, periodic shifting of the earth’s crust results in small, but at times loud, tremors that have been thought to amplify from a local cave on the hillside to the east of the Cave Hill Camp.

The last significant shake occurred in the mid 1980s where numerous residents reported picture frames falling off the walls.

I also find that my great, great grandfather, Francis W. Markham (b. 1836 in East Hampton) had studied the “Moodus Noises” since he was a young boy and had been quoted in an article on “Volcanic and Seismic Disturbances in Southern Connecticut,” which appeared in the Connecticut Magazine Vol. IX, pp. 68-74 in the 1890s. He says of the “Moodus Noises”:
“It has long been a belief of my own, which has come to me after some years of study, that the famous ‘Moodus Noises’ was a result of, and connected with, the great volcanic eruptions and seismic disturbances in ancient days. Not a few people in our State today will pronounce these noises to be a myth; a tradition which has no foundation in fact, but simply a superstition of the fathers. Such persons are wholly wrong. The did exist and are matters of record in history, and many now living can testify to having passed through experiences with them……”
“I may be pardoned from mentioning I was about eight years old, when living in southern Chatham, East Hampton Society. It was a black, stormy night in January. My father and mother [Hiram and Laura Markham] were making an evening call on a neighbor and the boy was alone with his grandmother. Early in the evening, without a moment’s warning, there came what seemed to be a tremendous rattle of stones on the southern wall and roof of the house [this is the same house sited in my previous blog article located at 95 Young Street]. Chairs and other furniture were dancing about; dishes were tossed up and down. Every instant those stones were expected to break through. Consternation prevailed and the frightened lad sought the protecting arms of his paternal relative. She, good lady, did not say a word, but her face whitened, lips tightened and she was frightened, as well as myself. The discharge lasted only for a minute or two and suddenly ceased. After only a small space of time the battery opened again, but now it was not so loud, so fierce in its attack and soon died away altogether. The next hour we spent together was a miserable one, expecting at any minute a reappearance of the apparent deluge of stones. One central idea in a boy’s brain remains at the present, and that was the end of the world was at hand.”
“Soon after nine father and mother came home, and the still agitated old lady questioned her son, ‘Did you hear those dreadful noises an hour ago?’ ‘Certainly mother.’ ‘And what were they?’ ‘Why, don’t you know?’ ‘Those were the Moodus noises.’ Immediately gentle peace descended and rested upon that disturbed household.”

Francis Wells and Mary Elizabeth Ackley Markham at the celebration of their 50th Wedding Anniversary on February 14, 1908, at their home at 95 Young Street.