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.