Friday, June 17, 2011

Our Lake Resorts

Many might be skeptical today, but East Hampton was one of the recreational hotspots for the central Connecticut area. Our town's livelihood depended, to a great degree, on the summer patrons and guests that made this community the vacation destination of choice. Weekends would see couple from Middletown, New Britain or Hartford jumping into the old jalopy to seek out dancing and entertainment. The recent deliberations by our Town Council to enact a noise ordinance have caused a certain degree of angst. And I guess analogous with the oft heard definaition of "what is art - art being in the eyes of the beholder," noise, or the level of noise, is relative to the individual experiencing the type and intensity of the sound. But throughout much of the 20th century, our citizens relished spring turning into summer and what it brought to our economy.

Looking back through town records, we find a much different community residing on Lake Pocotopaug. In the early 20th century our Lake was line by numerous, but sadly, now gone, summer resorts and restaurants. Beginning at the outlet of Christophers's Pond were the Lakeview House, followed by the Hathaway Inn (now Angelico's Lake House Restaurant) in operation, including outdoor entertainment, for over 100 years. Next came the Blue Bell CafĂ©, Ivy Inn, Edgemere Resort, Oakwood Stand and Cottages, and from there north around the lake several guest cottages such as Winchester’s ending at Pocotopaug Lodge at the head of Spellman Point. In those days only a handful residential houses were built on the west side or for that matter, anywhere else around Lake Pocotopaug. The south east side of the lake had other entertainment venues such as Strong’s Pavilion, Carriers Casino, the Terramaugus House, the Hillside Restaurant (which became the Heidelberg), the Duck Pin Bowling Alleys, Clearwater Lodge and the Candlelight Inn.

Resorts and restaurants lined Lake Pocotopaug up to the mid 20th century. From the Wm. Bevin house at the corner of Sears Place, only 8 homes dotted the Lake - North Main Street to Lake Drive to Mott Hill Road – most being occupied by the owners of a resort or guest facility. Others were strictly summer cottages on Spellman Point or farms distanced from the lake on Clark or Mott Hill. Building did not begin in earnest until the 1930s, and in fact it was the owners of the Hathaway, the Paonessa family, that subdivided and developed their land creating the Barbara Road subdivision.

The Lake establishments became a significant part of the economic livelihood of East Hampton, second only to the bell manufacturing industry. Bands and raucous entertainment were encouraged to attract summer visitors. Friday afternoons witnessed a steady stream of vacationers arriving by train, walking from the Village Center to their chosen resort or lodge - there to relax, enjoy sports and lake activities, and party to live entertainment. Some facilities had outdoor pavilions and band stands. Our Town leaders encouraged and planned for a “good summer season” and actively sought and advertised – “come to East Hampton for a good time!”

Those times have changed but we all want some resurgence of the Lake's vitality. Friends of the Lake and our Town Councils for many years have worked to bring the pristine water quality back. The noise factor has recently been a sensitive issue and I don’t mean to make light of what people experience. Is it possible that excessive amplification hides the talent or lack thereof of the performers? When my family and friends have patronized the outdoor garden and Tiki Hut at Angelico's Lake House, we seek to engage in conversation and dining without being drowned out by the music. Maybe the solution is in moderation and maybe, just maybe, other restaurants will locate to provide entertainment, dining experiences and economic vitality.