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.
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.”