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.