Friday, December 14, 2012

Birdman Locates Still

Front page news: "Birdman Ferrets Out Still Skillfully Hidden in Wilds of Marlborough; Jail Owner." The article began "Great are the possibilities of the airplane. It remains for the State police to employ aircraft for detecting crime of the bootlegging brand."
Just a couple years earlier on January 16, 1920, the 18th Amendment to the Constitution instituting Prohibition began. Ironically, the people of Connecticut never ratified that Amendment, but as a nation and a union, we became obliged to recognize and carryout the law. We think of moonshiners as "southern good old boys," but reality is, the illegal manufacturing of alcohol had no state boundary limits. Sounds a bit like illegal drugs today. Enforcing the law in 1923, however, landed Jacob Rogers of Marlborough a 30 day sentence in Hartford County jail and a fine of $434.75. The still was found, by the help of an unidentified aircraft and pilot who sketched a map of the location, pinpointing on a sequestered nook in the wildest part of Marlborough converging near the point where East Hampton, Colchester and Marlborough converge.
Apprehended by State Police and Grand Juror Henry Cordes, they found a full still at work and Rogers bossing the job. The State Police took the still, destroyed the mash and confiscated what little liquor was about the place. Justice was swift. Rogers was taken to a local Justice of the Peace where he pleaded guilty and was immediately transferred to jail. According to police, Roger had so skillfully concealed his movements that the officers could not find his still without the assistance of the birdman whose map directed them to the still.
Last Wednesday, December 5th was the 79th anniversary of the ratification of the 21st Amendment to the Constitution - Repeal of Prohibition. As reported in the November 11, 1932 edition of the The East Hampton News, East Hampton citizens voted 560 yes for repeal, 113 no.
The great moral experiment, a failure of monumental proportions, ended with joyous celebration.

The Cost of Running for Office

Our annual ritual is over - election of those who will represents us. Some may question that statement, but that's cannon fodder for another day. Dominating media broadcasts were reports of this, 2012,  being the most costly election in U.S. history, often overshadowing the ideas and platforms the various candidates espoused.
Hundreds of millions spent by candidates and Super-Pac's probably should make us all shutter. Connecticut was not immune with the Republican candidate for U.S. Senate, Linda McManon,  spending nearly $40 million of personal wealth  unsuccessfully seeking this office - all for a position that pays $165,000 annually.  Democratic Congressman Chris Murphy whose campaign, although well funded, raised probably a tenth of McManon's funding.
I know the barrage of negative or attack ads was sufficient incentive for me to read a good book. We also see the cost of State Senate and Representative races significantly more expensive since the introduction of public funding. A Senate candidate can qualify for approximately $90,000 and a House candidate $29,000.
I think back to my first campaign for State Representative in 1978. Our campaign cost about $2,100, and we raised money in a lot of creative ways.  One of our successful and fun events was a spaghetti dinner - $5.00 a family - all you could eat or drink. 
Looking over some old East Hampton records, various candidates reported their expenditures in the 1935 local town elections. First their were no public funds. At the time were were in the midst of the Great Depression. Makes me wonder why we have all this spending for campaigns while we are in the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. However, in 1935 the two parties supported their candidates - the Republicans incurred $53 while the Democrats $35.  Personally, unsuccessful First Selectman candidated, N.B.A. Carrier (D) spent no money while winner Ralph G. Sellew (R) spent $19. Raymond S. Thatcher (D), candidate for Town Treasurer spent a whopping $8. His opponent Arnold A. Simonson reported no expenditures. Thatcher won. I guess that's the effect of big money spent in a campaign.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Where Were You When?

This past week many of us were reminiscing and playing the game “where were you when?”  This was particularly significant since November 22nd was the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. 
Over the Thanksgiving weekend, I came across tickets dated November 21, 1985.  Where were you on what may be recognized as one of the most important dates in history? That evening, Debbie and I were seated in the House of Representatives gallery  We took a trip to tour our Nation's Capitol and when we visited with our good friend Congressman Sam Gejdenson, he asked if we’d like to attend a rare joint session of Congress, quickly convened that morning for an address by the President.  I remember the event vividly.  To this day I’m somewhat dismayed at what I perceived the lack of respect some of the stalwarts of my Democratic Party displayed prior to the President’s arrival.  Senators such as Ted Kennedy, Chris Dodd and Gary Hart, bantering and joking amongst themselves – I could almost read their lips as they downplayed the significance of the joint session called to report the meeting between the President and the leader of the Soviet Union.  Up until that time, I can honestly say I wasn’t a fan of the President, but when the Sergeant of Arms, in his gravelly voice pronounced, “Mr. Speaker (then Tip O’Neill from our neighboring Massachusetts) the President of the United States,” I saw the face of victory, President Ronald Reagan’s, beaming like a Cheshire cat.  Several minutes later, smug faces and jaws dropped and a bi-partisan cheer erupted as Reagan announced he had stared down the Soviets and Mr. Gorbachev had blinked.
That evening, the doomsday watchers turned the nuclear clock back an hour and from there we have witnessed the collapse of the Soviet Union and Communism, the dismantling of the Berlin Wall and fall of the Iron Curtain.  So in a small sense, East Hampton was there!  Oh - as for my initial question – Mr. May’s American History class.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Late Summer Tradition - Haddam Neck Fair

Innovations Feature Haddam Neck Fair - Baby Show, Snapshot Contest Among Attractions headlined the 1932 news. Locally with 2012 being its 101st year, Labor Day weekend has meant one thing - the Haddam Neck Fair.
Begun to showcase local agricultural products and livestock from our area farms, the fair has seen a variety of changes especially in recent years as farms, once so prevalent to the landscape have been replaced by housing subdivisions and shopping centers. Although still attracting prize vegetables and livestock, the numbers of exhibitors and variety of produce has greatly diminished. Some old standbys continue - entertainment, outside attractions, blue red and yellow ribbons for best canned goods, flower arrangements, poultry and rabbits, and of course, the baby show for cutest or best smile.
And some things never change. As reported in 1932, "Despite threatening weather Labor Day morning, nearly 1,500 persons attended the annual Haddam Neck Fair Monday. This year the weathermen (and ladies) were predicting Monday would have downpours and the tail end of Hurricane      made its way from the Ohio Valley east.  Fortunately, weather patterns don't always act as the prognosticators predict.  Monday turned into a spectacular sunny day.  Tuesday ended up differently, but after the patrons and livestock and tractors and horses had all gone home for another year.
During the four-day event of 1932, hundreds of prizes, totaling nearly $500 were awarded by the association." In 2011, as you may recall, the aftermath of Hurricane Irene left a great many of us without electricity. The fair provided a pleasant respite and for many an opportunity to get a cold drink or warm meal. 80 years ago oxen and horses would show their prowess.
Although still popular, the tractor and truck pulls now seem to capture a larger following although many believe the heavy breathing of the cattle as they pull stone a few yards is more pleasant than the roar of unmuffled trucks or tractors.
 In 1932 a highlight was the association's famous turkey sit down dinner. I'm not sure when it stopped, probably sometime in the late 1950s,  but the Haddam Neck Covenant Church chicken BBQ certainly makes up for its loss. And food is one of the major attractions.  A variety of vendors roam the Fair Circuit but the real treat are the local organizations such as the Church, the Lions Club with burgers and fryes or the Haddam Neck Volunteer Fire Department with sausage, pepper and onion sandwiches.
Regardless of your preferences, take some time this weekend with family or friends to experience a tradition where everyone smiles.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Bevin, Bells and the Fire

Dozens of stories and tributes emerged in the aftermath of the horrendous inferno that destroyed the Bevin Bros. Manufacturing Co. factory beginning Saturday night May 26, 2012 - the last of the nearly 45 bell manufacturers that operated in East Hampton since 1807. Matt Bevin, the 6th generation family President, who has become an impassioned advocate of the company's history and its tie to East Hampton, took valuable time from his hectic schedule to tour the remnants of the 130 year old factory with me on June 6th and discussed the tedious process sifting through rubble in hopes of recovering the key component that could enable Bevin Bros. to be the Phoenix that rises from the Ashes - the dies and molds of the fabled bells for which this town identifies itself. Many factors contributed to the success of the bell industry and with some good old Yankee ingenuity, a bright future may emerge yet. The growth of the bell industry can be traced to a myriad of factors, but I believe several most important. First and foremost, William Barton, the founder and first bell maker laid the ground work for the industry's future. It was Barton, in his small foundry just east of his home on the crest of what is now Barton Hill that took so many of the young men of Chatham into apprenticeship and taught them the trade and encouraged them to venture out on their own. Many of the apprentices also worked in Cairo, New York before coming back to East Hampton. It was this freely given training and information that ultimately served the impetus for growth. Among the many apprentices were Barton's sons Hiram and Hubbard and grandson William E. Barton and two young men, William and Abner Bevin, who learned the trade and in 1832 with brother Chauncey, established Bevin Bros. Manufacturing Co.

In the aftermath of the recent fire, many have recounted the importance the bell industry, and in particular Bevin Bros., has had on our community. I doubt that William Barton had any idea how significant and extensive his teaching would extend, and it is only with the destructive force of nature, sparked by lighting, that we seem to appreciate it. In 1832 when Bevin Bros. formed, East Hampton would hardly be considered a suitable location to develop a product or industry that would stretch to the far corners of the world - but it did. William Barton's generosity to train the men of Chatham was the first key factor. The second factor that propelled the industry into national prominence was the railroad. In the 1860s, tracks were laid for the New York and Boston Railroad (which went through bankruptcy and was reformed as the New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad Company) through East Hampton over the Airline which was dubbed the shortest route between New York and Boston. The introduction of mass transportation enabled East Hampton products to be distributed inexpensively throughout the country and ultimately the world - a fact that did not go unnoticed locally as other entrepreneurs created sister companies. In 1866, H. H. Abbe, E. C. Barton, E. G. Cone and A. H. Conklin formed the Gong Bell Manufacturing Company. Based on a design by Elijah Barton, the company created revolving chimes in bell toys on wheels. Some of these toys were among the earliest promoting Disney cartoon characters such as Mickey Mouse. Bevin Bros. as you may remember, specialized in sleigh bells from which the town became known as the "jingle bell town" due to the distinctive sound they created in the horse drawn carriage era. N. N. Hill Brass Co. became the first to stamp bells from sheet metal.

The success of the East Hampton bell industry, which started with limited capital in one or two man shops or barns, is a microcosm of so many other industries that developed in America and elsewhere around the world by enterprising entrepreneurs. Three key components melded small artisans into the world's largest producers. The first was the education and training young apprentices from Chatham received from William Barton as they learned how to blend base metals - iron, tin, silver and nickel - into alloys that would produce those sweat sounds and chimes from the forged bells they crafted. The second, the development of rail service through our community enabled cost effective distribution throughout our nation. But the third and often overlooked component for the transformation of small handcrafted bells produced in charcoal fired foundries to mass production of millions of bells, was inexpensive energy. For our bell industry that energy source was water. Still in use at the time of the tragic fire on May 26th, water power was used to operate the presses and machinery at the factory. A water turbine powered shaft, pulley and belt system drove many machines with safe, clean and non-polluting energy. The flow of water from Lake Pocotopaug powered not only Bevin Bros. but the other factories along Pocotopaug Creek, and, water power may yet be part of the salvation of Bevin Bros. and the bell industry in days to come. Until the early 1960s, mill ponds dotted the landscape as Pocotopaug Creek tumbled from the lake's outlet and dam near the American Distilling Plant (our other major industry and the world's largest produceer of Witch Hazel) through the center of town exiting our community through the great meadows between Young Street and Chestnut Hill.

Tranformation to world's largest bell producer required an inexpensive energy source. The water flowing from the lake became essential, and with a bit of Yankee ingenuity, a constant flow or head was maintained. The "Head", defined as "a body of water kept in reserve at a height; the containing bank, dam or wall; a mass of water in motion; and the difference in elevation between two points in a body of fuid," quite simple explains how water pressure drove the turbines that powered the machinery that produced bells, bells and more bells. To provide a constant water flow, retaining ponds, beginning with Bevin's Pond were created enabling constant flow regardless of weather conditions as Pocotopaug Creek descended nearly 100 feet from the lake's edge until exiting town. Although most have been reclaimed over the years, I remember the mill ponds situated near each factory as Pocotopaug Creek headed toward the Salmon River. A small pond remains between Bevin's and the Summit Tread building and a parking lot now exists in front of Sal Floridia's small engine repair shop that was once the reservoir for Starr Bros. Mfg. Co. The J. C. Barton building on Skinner Street was built on the former retaining pond for N. N. Hill Brass. Others existed as well. Bevin's Pond is also but a small remnant from my youth. After the disasterous rains and flooding in June 1982, the State DEP, at the direction of Governor William O'Neill, performed a complete inventory and comprehensive evaluation of all dams throughout the State. Owners were required to upgrade the dams to comply with 100 year storm standards or dismantle the dam for safety reasons. Because of the significant cost to reconstruct these private dams which held retaining ponds, many owners, including Bevin Bros., opted to dismantle rather than rebuild.

The mill ponds, important storage reservoirs to maintain a constant water flow year round to power turbines, have become another vestige of our once prominent bell industry here in East Hampton. Perhaps when Matt Bevin and Bevin Bros. Manufacturing Co. rebuild their plant, plans will include repair and reconstruction of the dam and revival of the once prominent Bevin Pond. Although a small pond remains, I have visions as a small boy casting my fishing line into much grander expanse. Over time, memories fade. I always thought the pond was 10 or 12 feet deep, which one might expect when you see the back side of the dam, or what remains of it. When it was drained in the mid 1980s, I was amazed to find the pond never reached a depth of more than 3 or 4 feet. It also occurred to me that until the notoriety of the Bevin Bros. fire a few weeks back, only a small number of residents actually knew where the Bevin Bell Factory was and far fewer had actually ever visited it. Tucked behind the old Summit Thread Mill on Summit Street and shielded by trees, one would hardly know it existed or that millions of bells were manufactured there and shipped throughout the world.. Even when thousands return to East Hampton for Old Home Days festivities at the Center School grounds, I suspect few have been aware of the 1880s factory only 500 feet away, nor do we think about the generous gift by the Bevin family of those very grounds we tread upon while partaking of hamburgs, cold drinks, pizza, baked potatoes, a dozen other treats and enjoying the variety of entertainment organized by the Old Home Days Committee

Friday, May 25, 2012

Six Degrees of Separation

The concept six degrees of separation, that everyone is, on average, approximately 6 steps away by way of introduction from any other person on Earth, was popularized in a game tying any movie, actor or actress to Kevin Bacon or one of his films.  This concept really hadn't occurred to me until recently when I came across an article from 1937 in the Middletown Press.

East Hampton has had a long and active tradition of community performances and amateur performers.  In recent years Podium Players, YPPCA or Epic Arts, but in the past more informal groups where church choir singers and others from the community would participate in a local production. Often such productions developed through organizations such as the Odd Fellows, Masons, Eastern Star or church fellowship clubs and were choreographed  for community events such as Old Home Day.

That 1937 article's headline Minstrelsy To Be Given on Saturday - Rehearsal of Large Cast is Held Under Mrs. Duryea"s Direction began "Chairman Percy P. Markham (my grandfather) was satisfied with the rehearsal last night of the minstrel troupe which will present a show in the open air on Saturday evening at 8:30." Reading further, many familiar names appeared - Jane Gorin, who was performing a tap dance; song and dance by Margaret Butts and Ruby Dureya; a magic show by Lou Schwartz; a number by Claude West and his girls; and a concert by Stan Johnson and his Kay Rock Inn orchestra. Soloists included Dorothy anderson, helen Nelson, Peggy Roberts, and the end men were Francis O'Collell, Pat O'Connell, Wayne Denman, Jack Roberts, Bill Nelson and Gerald Wall.  The chorus included Gordon Bevin, Eleanor Purple, Inez Smith, Alice Daly, Julia Vondrich, Marion Bransfield, Claude West, Emil Nelson, Natalie Lutzsky, Buddy Fiegel, but two in particular, Jack Krauth and Janet Green, struck a familiar cord. 

Two years ago, a gentleman from California, Tim Krauth was referred to me at Prudential CT Realty to assist him in finding a home.  We have finally find a beauty in Columbia so I'm please to welcome his wife Lorie and he back to the area.  You see, in our discussions, he talk about him visiting his grandmother's house in East Hampton as a boy. With a little detective work, I found the house on the corner of Edgerton Street and Main Street, now owned by Chip and Bonnie Goodrich, who graciously welcomed Tim into their home when he traveled east in December 2010. 
In some additional research, I found that Jack Krauth married Janet Green, and they were Tim's parents! I am constantly amazed on how small our world has become and how truly intertwined we humans are, here at the center of it all in East Hampton.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Life Changer - Joel West Smith

We don't often know or appreciate how events or actions in our lives impact others. The work of one East Hampton native, Joel West Smith, had a life changing impact on thousands, one being a young lady from Alabama, Helen Keller.  At the age of 2, Helen fell ill and was struck blind, deaf and mute. Blinded himself in 1860 at the age of 23 during a July 4th celebration by a prematurely exploding cannon, Smith started a remarkable career by entering the Perkins Institute for the Blind in Boston. His exposure to other sightless people awakened his ambitions for a life of achievement and drove from his mind the fear of a helpless existence. Within 6 years he rose to a supervisory position; later assisted in the administration of the London Academy of Music for the Blind and went on to help found the Royal College for the Blind in England. In 1872, Smith began a European tour to study teaching methods in schools for the blind, concentrating on methods used by the blind to repair and tune pianos, which became an important vocation.

Smith also developed of an improved system of Braille writing which simplified and made far less tedious the reading and writing by the sightless. He invented the first typewriter for Braille "letters" and helped found, and later managed and published The Mentor, the first magazine for the blind in America. During Smith's management of The Mentor, Helen Keller was inspired to learn to speak, an accomplishment which, according to Ms Keller's teacher Anne Sullivan, "singly justified its existence." 

Remembered by few today, Joel West Smith's indomitable spirit has served an inspiration to thousands and impacted us all in ways unimaginable 100 years ago thorough enactment of legislation such as American's with Disabilities Act. 

His family home is now Spencer Funeral Home on Main Street. He lies today in Lakeview Cemetery amongst the many great men and women who founded our Town and contributed their talents to make a better world.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Mt. Pleasant

This is a story that I might entitle, If It's Too Good To Be True, It Probably Is.

As a Realtor with Prudential Connecticut Realty, a 1929 Middletown Press article titled “SUPPOSED REALTOR ALARMS DISTRICT” caught my attention. Apparently, a strangely acting man terrorized folks in the Mt. Pleasant section of East Hampton leaving residents alarmed and disappointed, after visiting the homes of Mrs. Axel Cornelisson, Arthur, Einar and John Jacobson and John G. Johnson.   Mt. Pleasant is the area along RT 16, Cochester Avenue, Flatbrook Road, Tartia Road, Markham Road and now Jacobson Farms Road. 

Claiming to be from Massachusetts, the real estate man bargained to purchase their farms at prices asked by the owners, agreeing to return Friday to close the deals.  In the meantime, the sellers, who believed they had sold their property and were about to reap a small fortune, made preparations to move out and look for rents in town.  Friday came but the real estate man didn’t.  That evening, he showed up in the Flanders area and bought two cows from Mike Daley, Dairyman, and bargained for the Gates Farm. 

Witnesses report at no time did he appear to have money.  On Saturday morning, he returned to Mt. Pleasant, stopping at the home of John Johnson. Appearing excitable, he brandished a long knife and pointing a large caliber revolver to his forehead while drawing the back of the blade across his throat murmuring all the time in a foreign language thought to have been Polish.  Mr. Johnson became alarmed and notified Deputy Sheriff Ray Youngs and Constable Ellery M. Flood, who motored to Mr. Pleasant in hopes of capturing the man. The officers scoured the woods for several miles and learned from the Dill family on Waterhole Road that the man had stopped there for a time but had not been seen for several days. Late that Saturday, he reappeared in Mt. Pleasant, but without  consummating the purchase, left, never to be seen again.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Harry Barton Bailey - old friend!

In his 1998 book The Greatest Generation, Tom Brokow epitomized the the quiet, steady heroes that served, fought and sacrificed, not for fame and recognition, but because it was the right thing to do.  From this generation were the men and women who fought in WW II and then came back to build America as the great Superpower. The heroes the media or entertainment industry glamorize could not be farther from the truth! The real heroes are those among us who served, or as East Hampton recognizes now with yellow ribbons, those that serve today.

Last week, an old friend, one of those from the greatest generation - Harry Bailey - passed away. I'm sure not many of you knew Harry even though he lived his entire 89 years here in East Hampton. Upon graduation from one of the first East Hampton High School classes, he became a tool and dye maker, his career interrupted by WW II. Enlisting in the U. S. Marine Corp, he served in the Pacific Theatre and was awarded the Purple Heart for wounds sustained in combat. Coming home, he resumed his trade working at the J C. Barton Co. for 47 years.  Most of us don't realize the skill or significance of the tool and dye making profession.  Virtually none of our consumer products - automobiles, refrigerators, cell phones or what have you - are possible without their talent. But that's another story.
He raised a family - his son Barton, one of my best friends! Harry was one of those genuinely talented people who could make things with his hands. An avid surf fisherman, he turned a VW van into a beach buggy in the 1960s to travel far out on the sand dunes in Rhode Island or the Cape in search of the big striper bass. The trick to traveling over the beaches and sand dunes - deflate your tires. But what do you do when you get back to pavement? Long before compressors plugged into a cigaret lighter sockets, Harry retrofitted an old machine compressor to his VW engine. So successful was this, he assisted many of his fishing friends to install their own. I'm sure he was pleased with the success of rejuvenating the striper bass populations in recent years. He might even had said that this was something Government got right!

He became a certified pilot. My first flight was with Harry. Barton and I were passengers taking off from East Hampton's airport which is now Skyline Estates. In the 1960s it was the "hub" of the northeast. He remained active with his 3rd Marine Division comrades. Barton and I even attended one of their reunions in Washington D.C. I believe in August 1965. 

Harry and the men and women like him will be missed.  We salute him for a job well done and a life well spent!

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Aftermath and Rebuilding the Congregational Church

Adversity often brings people and communities together. We as a nation witnessed this phenomena after terrorist attacks on 9-11 and hurricane Katrina. After the devastating Congregational Church fire in 1941, one would naturally expect church members to join together in an effort to rebuild their house of worship, but the outpouring from greater East Hampton attests to the nobility and oneness which did and should prevail in a close knit community such as ours. At that point in East Hampton's 200 year history, it was reported to be the Town's Most Disastrous Fire inflicting $70,000 of loss as the Church was totally razed and the adjoining Parish House receiving extensive damage. In today's terms, the loss would be well over a million dollars. At the time, the building carried only $12,500 of insurance. I suspect that was an example of Yankee frugality.

The partition where the flames worked themselves to the attic were only a short distance from where the organist, Sidney McAlpine, sat. He was rehearsing selections for the Sunday service, but unaware of the situation until he heard a commotion outside where the smoke was first seen. The fact that he noticed nothing amiss bore out the painters' early belief that the fire was not of serious nature. The pastor, Rev. Mr. Lair reported and gratefully accepted immediate offers of assistance from members of St. John's Episcopal Chapel, St. Patrick's Church and the Bethlehem Lutheran Church including acceptance of the Lutheran Church as a place for worship for the congregation. The church was build in 1854, succeeding a similar structure constructed in 1748 that burned to the ground in 1852 and considered an outstanding example of fine colonial New England architecture. Described as "a picturesque setting among tall trees on a green overlooking the Belltown's trading center, it was the subject of many canvasses and photographs."

Within days of the 1941 church fire, Fred Gates, Chairman of the Board of Trustees, and Church leaders had begun the painstaking and laborious process to build once again. Architect, Arland A. Dirlam of Maiden, MA was engaged by the Building Committee. On November 30th, Dirlam presented preliminary building plans and advised the group that the parish house, constructed in 1905, could be reconstructed within two or three months and the present foundation for the sanctuary could be used for reconstructing the church.

When the Congregational Church was being razed by fired on Nov. 4th, one spectator who was not a member of the church approached the pastor, Rev. J. Edward Lair, and said "Well, there is only one thing to do. We've all got to help put it back." The community did rally in support! Members of St. Patrick's Catholic Church, St. John's Episcopal Church and the Swedish Lutheran Church asked for the privilege of contributing and organizations such as the local Odd Fellows lodge held a dance, donating the proceeds. Mrs. George Leewitz (Alice C. Bevin) East Hampton artist held a tea in her home on Barton Hill donating 2 of her paintings as door prizes.

Had the situation been normal, work would have begun immediately. Although the fund raising campaign jumped into high gear, actual construction and rebuilding would wait until 1948 before seeing completion and re-dedication with its lofty steeple the focal point of the Village Center. You see, Pearl Harbor was attacked just a month later. As every community across this county rallied, people, resources and efforts were dedicated to supplying the war effort. Building materials would not become available until after the end of WW II. In that interim, worship services were held at the Lutheran Church. Originally it was the Union Congregational Church erected in 1855.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Congregation Church Fire - 1941

The disastrous fire that decimated the 170 year old Somers Congregational Church on New Year's Day shows the frailty of our historic New England wooden structures. East Hampton has not been immune to such tragedies. On November 4th a month before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, the Congregational Church, a mainstay of our Village Center, erupted into flames. Unlike Somer’s fire, our own was not started from some unknown origin. Three painters from the Goodrich Construction Company of Cromwell were using blow torches to soften and remove old paint. Wood beneath clapboards ignited near the northwest corner of the church proper carrying undetected flames throughout the balloon framing. Their job was nearly complete when the workers noticed smoke coming from the belfry where the fire had spread into the attic.

Two of the painters ran across the street to the Barton Drug Company (now Devine Jewelers) to get a fire extinguisher. Paul "Pat" O’Connell, assistant fire chief, in his barber shop next door, went to the firehouse (located on Watrous St.) and sounded the siren twice. He drove the pumper to the church and went back for a second pumper, sounding a 12 alarm alert to which Middletown and Portland fire companies responded. Within 20 minutes the fire had spread through the roof of the north end of the church.

The judgment of the firefighters was to grab hold of ropes hanging from the steeple put up by the painters. With assistance of the gathered crowd, they were eventually able to pull the steeple into the church and away from the parish house; quick thinking that saved the parish house as a steady stream of water from the local mill ponds poured onto the north wall of the church. In 1976, I had the opportunity to climb into the church attic and inspect the Chestnut beams and charred wooden girders that remain not only rock solid today, but a tribute to the firemen who were able to preserve them 70 years ago.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Off to War - December 1941

Typical holiday festivities changed abruptly after the attack of Pearl Harbor followed on Dec. 8th by a declaration of war after President Roosevelt made his memorable address to the joint Congress "this day in infamy.".  Although instituted during the prior year, the "draft" began calling men for active military duty.  After my last article, a dear friend, Rita Clark, called to talk about those days. She told me her brother Bill Clark and Francis O'Connell were the first two locally called to active duty and were to report for training somewhere in the Carolina's.  Rita's mother inquired as to where that was?  We forget how small our world has become as media take us live to interview troops in Afghanistan, see the wedding of a future British Monarch, or witness the stirrings of Democracy in Cairo or the overthrow of a dictator in Benghazi, Lebanon. Bye the way, Mrs. Clark was informed that where the boys were going, they wouldn't need snow shovels! Locally a Defense Council was formed to prepare our community should military attacks occur.  Harlan Hills, First Selectman, was appointed General Chairman with Teresa Valli our Town Clerk as Secretary; along with chief air raid warden, Howard Engel; fire protection, Merton Weir and Paul O'Connell (fire chiefs); police protection, Samuel Wallis, Roy Hallberg and Gustave Dotzauer.  (Notice no police chief participated?  EH didn't have a police department unitl 1963.); women's activities, Maude Clark and Mrs. Theodore Thomas; medical and health, Dr. Norman Gardner, transportation, Clement Wall and Reuben Ostergren, publicity, Albert Ellis, emergency housing, Meritt Cornwell; evacuation, Herbert Wall and Mrs. Samuel Wallis, volunteer defense bureau, Mrs. Paul Garvey; communications, Al Romane; welfare, Ruth Hopkins; nutrition, Mabel Colson; recreation, Ernest Olson; child day care, Mrs. Ralph Thatcher; and civil defense units John Kane and David Enegren.  If Great Britain, Japan, Germany, Italy and the US  can all become staunch allies, there is certainly hope for our future! I wish you and your families well and may this season of peace prevail.