Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Education in East Hampton

Among the most compelling reasons for a strong educational system are its impact upon our quality of life and progress in our community. On June 4th, citizens supported a monumental rebuilding of the 50 year old High School.  Although the vote was relatively close - 1,536 yea with 1,259 nay - I am comfortable in believing that the vast majority of all voters did not object to the goals to make East Hampton's educational system among the best in the State.  We all want our children to have the tools to excel in whatever endeavor, vocation or career they choose.  An exceptional school system brings other quality students to our community that add to the diversity, competition and challenges that hone the minds and talents of all. Among the several concerns raised, the most loudly articulated was the impact on property taxes. The other most discussed was that the plan was too plush - beyond the scope of needs cited by the New England Secondary Education Accrediting Board.  Similar concerns were expressed in the late 1950s when the current EHHS was first proposed.  Often the shock of a tragedy unites us for the greater good.  That happened in 1962 when a fire broke out in the then High School decimating the north wing.  Not only did the community come together to renovate and reconstruct that facility, within months, not unlike the actions of the current High School Building & Planning Committee, that building committee produced a plan for a new facility on North Maple Street.  Changing times or events have unthinkable impacts on people's moods and thinking.  In the 1760s succeeding from Great Britain was unheard of.  Ten years later the abuses and intolerance ran so high that delegates of the 13 colonies signed our Declaration of Independence.

Other events have impacted our views.  In 1958, the America was just beginning to get a taste of the "space race" when the USSR launched Sputnik.  I can remember watching with my dad the night sky.  The light from the Russian satellite orbiting earth was quite visible to the naked eye.  The next year John F. Kennedy was elected President, initiating a program for the US to send a man to the moon, land and return him safely by the end of the decade.  Education, especially science and math, was on everyone's agenda.  We couldn't let the Russians beat us.  Had we as a nation and community not invested in our children, think what might be missing from our daily lives - personal computers, the internet, teflon, and product after product.
In 1937 the Town faced a huge dilemma.  Up until this point EH students attending High School took the train to Middletown, until daily service ceased in 1931, with private vehicles making daily commutes thereafter.  Still in the height of the depression, the Town came together to approve building the high school at a cost of $120,000 (can you believe that?). The special committee appointed at the town meeting on January 31, 1938, was charged to obtain architect's plans and estimate of the cost for a new school, were: Edwin W. Markham and Loyd E. Cone, named by the Board of Finance; Robert Starr, Robert Ostergren, Charles E. Torkelson and Percy P. Markham from the Board of Education; Samuel Stewart and Lewis T. Evans from the Board of Selectmen and Morris Lanzi and Leon Voisin from representatives of the general population .  Times changed! 

The special building committee for the first East Hampton High School had a rocky road during the years of the Great Depression. In 1935 the entire Board of Finance rejected the plan to build a high school.  The times dictated frugality and cautious spending.   Three short years later in January 1938, the six member Finance Board, in an about face,  voted unanimously to approve a new high school and sent the resolution to Town Meeting.  One might think the Board of Education would also be in unanimous support - a driving force for education.  Not so!  Only seven of the nine members voted affirmatively. Key support, however, came from the EH Chamber of Commerce with not a dissenting vote among its 45 members.  Although conscious of the impact on taxes as they struggled in their own businesses, these enlighten citizens understood the importance of a well educated and trained workforce and the long term benefits to society and ultimately our tax base. 
Today, as we embark on the “re-build and renovate as new” high school project, none of us,  now or in the past, want  hard earned dollars to be misspent or foolishly applied.  In proceeding with this significant project, our citizens expect that those on the special building committee and, thereafter, the office of the superintendent, school administrators and educational staff be frugal and conscientious, as if in their own households, in administering the education budget.  With an eye toward preventing wasteful or unnecessary spending - simple tasks such as turning off the lights in unused classrooms or air conditioning in classrooms after school has recessed for the summer - should become a priority. The precious dollars remaining can then go for their intended use – quality education for our children. Our townspeople expected that in 1938, 1962 and do today.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Old Home Day 1934

Old Home Day 1934 marked the 2nd year the event had been sponsored by Treadway-Cavanaugh Post No. 64 American Legion and Auxiliary aided by 9 other Legion Posts from around Middlesex County.  Billed the 17th annual OHD,  it actually had been suspended for five years beginning in the late 1920s before our very active Legion members stepped up to revive this important community event.  Similar actions by member of the EH Fife and Drum Corp in the late 1970s revived the modern OHD now in its 35th year.


As now, the biggest day of the year for EH and its former residents who wandered far and wide from their childhood homes, the combined OHD observance and the Middlesex County American Legion Fair arrived with it thousands of townspeople, former residents, friends, visitors, guests, and the curious to partake in the huge celebration.


Then as now, the colorful and lengthy parade, still acknowledged as one of the largest in Connecticut, featured snappy colored uniforms of many state Drum Corps, each competing for viewers attention.  Interspersed between marching units were picturesque floats designed and staffed by local organizations, each depicting the parade theme of "name a song." A baseball game between the East Hampton Bombers and the Middlesex County All Stars followed.  (Maybe something our current OHD Committee might re-institute).


The evening held a variety show with dance and song performers such as Clara and Sidney Bradley, a one-man act by Harry Bolden, and strong-man stunts by Richard Vintour, who had appeared at Radio City Music Hall.  Later, a fireworks display on the school grounds followed by dancing and other activities at Carriers Casino and other venues such as Clearwater Lodge on Lake Pocotopaug.


Event officials included Paul Voelker, Chairman, Mrs. Phyllis Thatcher, Vice Chair, Mrs. Mary Garvey, Treasurer. 

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Train Wreck on the Air Line Trail

On April 25, 1873, East Hampton (then Chatham) lost its distinction of being a backwater community as the Air Line roadbed opened rail service from New York to Boston. Although not entirely backwater, Chatham did have the benefit of travel and commerce on the Connecticut River and in its height had launched over 300 sea-going ships from the yards in Middle Haddam. Otherwise travel by road was limited and limited shipment of freight. The completion of tracks and trestles and bridges opened our town to passenger rail service with several trains running daily in each direction. Of greater importance, and something we desperately need to expand our economic base today, was the freight service that enabled our bell industry and emerging silk industry to become industrial powers. There was now an economical means of shipping the millions of bells produced by Bevin Bros., the Gong Bell, Starr Bros. and N. N. Hill among others, along with silk and thread throughout the world. Although the bell industry achieved its heyday in the early 20th century, some of those fabled companies such as Bevin Bros. continue manufacturing today. The fire at the Bevin Bros. Manufacturing Co. last May ignited (no pun intended) a renewed interest in our towns history and of the importance the bell played in it. Plans for the railroad line, running from Portland onto Willimantic were started in 1862 with construction commencing in 1867. For years, high school students took the train daily to Middletown through 1931 and was pressed into service once again after the great hurricane of 1936 when roads were washed out. During WW II the line carried strategic materials and troop trains to lighten this type of loan on the shore line which was vulnerable to submarine attack. And then August 2, 1962!

We often take for granted our accomplishments. Great buildings and other monuments to our design creativity seem indestructible. We all remember the somber reality of their vulnerability on September 11, 2001. Here, on August 2, 1962, the end of East Hampton as a manufacturing hub came to a screeching halt as three diesel engines and a freight car derailed at the siding switch about 200 feet east of Watrous Street. New Haven Railroad engineers and mechanics brought in a 250-ton crane. None of the engines or the car overturned so the task of righting them back onto stable track went quickly. A report at the time indicated that the lead engine went over the switch on the main line and two other engines and head car went into the siding at the Gong Bell spur. The heavy engines plowed into the ground like a garden plow, pushing dirt on both sides of the track and ripping ties over a 100-foot area. At the time, railroad investigators and the local EH police department consisting of Sgt. George Fowler, had two theories on the derailment. One was a poorly maintained switching mechanism. The other a vandal placing some impediment in the switching mechanism that caused a malfunction. The answer was never conclusive, but with the New York, New Haven and Hartford bleeding financially, the decision not to repair the tracks ultimately resulted in the discontinuance of the line by the Interstate Commerce Commission in February, 1965. The decision left many residents with bitter feelings over the town’s inability to either have the line revived or to acquire the roadbed since the town had underwritten $112,500 of costs of the line between 1867 and 1891. The initial investment would have been worth millions at the time the line was abandoned.

It took 4 short years after the August 1962 derailment, but by the spring of 1966 the rails from Colchester to Cobalt had been removed leaving a winding trail of rotting ties becoming overgrown with brush. This last sad act closed the final curtain on a colorful era in the town’s history, the age of the railroad in East Hampton. We reverted somewhat to an industrial backwater with the loss of rail service. Only with the advent of more versatile trailer trucks were our few local bell industries able to survive and distribute their production. Since then, East Hampton has not been blessed with any reasonable semblance of means for transporting goods as our closest highways are five miles to our east on Route 2 or ten miles our west on Route 9. As State Representative, I was able to secure the area of the trestle and abutment in the Village Center which was removed for parking. Then, after years of abandonment, the state in its “rails to trails” program in 1996 proposed the rehabilitation of the rail bed as a multipurpose trail and linear state park. The Air Line Trail is now part of 22.95 miles of recreational use walking-jogging-biking trails extending from East Hampton center to Lebanon and Willimantic. Recently, First Selectman Susan Bransfield from that spun off portion of Chatham (Portland in 1841) announced plans to begin the process of seeking funding and grants to rehabilitate the Air Line trail, connecting it to East Hampton in the hopes of extending the recreational use and park another 10 miles. Not the ending we would have liked for rail serve, but not bad either.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Eulogy of Donald P. Markham

Words by Dean P. Markham eulogizing Donald P. Markham at his funeral held on April 30, 2013, at Spencer Funeral Home in East Hampton.

On behalf of my Mother, Pauline,    and our family I welcome you today as we celebrate the life of my dad, Donald Markham. The printed obituary chronicles in a neat package the "what" one accomplished but fails to capture the essence of the individual - the qualities of character that define the "who.".

To some Don had a rather gruff exterior, and even at times could be slightly abrasive, but underneath, he was really caring, loving and committed, with a sense of humor and devotion to family, friends and community - especially his grandchildren Nicole, Danielle and Gregory.  I would like to share just a few stories about the "who" that made up my Dad.

Cherished family times often revolved around his stories growing up in East Hampton, particularly with his compatriot in crime, Bobby Dix.  Once, probably when he was in the 3rd or 4th grade, he was sent to detention in the cloak room for talking in class.  Knowing my father, it was probably for doing something much more heinous, like snapping elastic bands.  Center School you see, had,  room the length of the front of the class for storage of coats, lunches and the like, but not visible by those in class.  He thought he had not been the perpetrator and that others rightfully should be equally punished.  As Flip Wilson used to say, "Here comes the Judge!"  On that particular day it either rained or snowed and his classmates, all of whom walked to school, wore artics.  For those of you who aren't familiar, artics were rubber boots that went over your shoes and had buckles or clasps to tighten them.  Don came up with a stroke of brilliance.  He proceeded to buckle the boots - not just to fasten the fronts, but one to each other.  And if that weren't enough, he mixed different boots.  When the dismissal bell rang, he raced out,  hightailing it for Miller Hill (Spencer's is on Miller Hill) as his classmates struggled to unclasp and match their boots.  He said he really enjoyed his afternoon snack of milk and cookies that day.  Now, in spite of this episode, my father remained in very close contact with his classmates, planning, communicating with and attending class reunions every 5 years.

Politics - Democratic Politics - played a significant part of Don's life.  He experienced first hand the traumas growing up during the Great Depression.  He was a Roosevelt Democrat.  With a twinkle in his eye he would say he spent 4 terms in the 2nd grade - Roosevelt's!  That was just one of the many corny jokes he told and we'd all groan.  He fondly reminisced about the few Democratic triumphs in this very Republican Town at that time.  In 1948, while building their house from an old barn on East High Street, we lived with Ed and Jeanette Barton, my mom's sister and brother-in-law. That election day, Ed, a very very Republican, came home from the J. C. Barton Co, sporting his patented Cheshire cat grin,  rocking back and forth on the balls of his feet, proceeded to turn on the radio news reports and taunting my father, as every newscaster predicting a Dewey landslide.  The next evening, after the final tally was announced, my Dad secured a copy of as different newspaper as he could, some of which carried stories "Dewey Wins",  but with the afternoon papers correcting the story line of Truman's come from nowhere Democratic victory.  My Dad, placing a copy on every chair in the entire house and then sat quietly in the corner as Ed arrived home.  I understand Ed wasn't quite as jovial that evening.  Regardless, they remained good friends and as was typical, worked together on many many projects for the good of our town.
Donald Markham and High School Friend Governor William O'Neill at Governor's Mansion.
Korea changed my Dad.  Watching NCIS, we know about the character of Marines - the duty, commitment, pride, honor and patriotism - hallmarks of those who serve.  Tom Brokow wrote about men like my Dad in his book "The Greatest Generation."  They did their duty, not believing themselves to be special nor wishing to be pointed out for the obvious.  They just quietly did the job that needed to be done. My Dad rarely talked about his war experiences.  A few years ago, he shared with my son Gregory a different picture of Korea.  In one particularly severe battle, his entire squad, the men he was closest to were killed by a mortar barrage, leaving him wounded. Call it fate. Call it coincidence (I've learned from experience there is no such thing as coincidence) Or call it the hand of God.  There were things that still needed to be done and I think that day the Lord had Don in mind to do a lot of good for a lot of people.  He did not shurk from that duty.
Donald Markham with Squad before mortar attack. Circa 1950.

Discharged, Don jumped into the life of the community he loved.  He was a product of the Great Depression.  People didn't have much then, but here, they gave of themselves as they could.  Old Home Day had been an anticipated annual event but during WWII, it had been suspended.  Revived briefly to welcome home the Vets, it didn't continue as people were too busy rebuilding lives after 20 years of depression and war.

In 1953, my Dad, along with other Veterans such as Dennis Erickson and Bill O'Neill decided to revive Old Home Day. He served as Co-Chair for a couple years.  He also knew it would take more than one or two people to make it a success.  It took a team - which he recruited - to oversee, plan and execute. My Dad was able to get the best out of people and recognized their special talents.  In those days and years later in the Bicentennial Celebrations of our Town and Nation, all the marchers and band performers were fed after the parade.  Time and time again he called upon a lady who seemed to have a special knack to organize and feed the troops - Mrs. Emma Prince who performed splendidly.  My Dad knew how important this was to the success of Old Home Day and in 1976 asked the Bicentennial Committee to recognize Emma for her outstanding contributions.  They dedicate the historical brochure of the town's history to her.  Emma was truly surprised to be so honored ... didn't feel she had done anything special ... but confessed, her hat was a little too small for her head that day.   What struck me about this was the importance my Dad placed on recognizing the team.  It wasn't about him.  It was about the many.  No job was too small and every cog of the wheel was a critical component.

Pauline and Don liked to travel and had many adventures planned until poor health curtailed these excursions.  Like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, he always wanted to go home.  A little excessive compulsive, the day of return would normally see him packed and at the hotel front desk by 6 am, even if check out and departure weren't until 4 in the afternoon.  He had to get home to his family.

Pauline and Don on Cruise to Alaska.

I guess I'd like to sum it up.  My Dad was extraordinary in many ways, but deep down, just an ordinary guy, who was committed. Just ask my Mom - how else would you stay married for 65 years? 

On a date at old K of C Hall on Newfield St. in Middletown.

 He loved his family, this town and Nation.  He fought for the freedoms we enjoy.  He donated at every Blood Drive and he prided himself on always voting.  Not bad attributes for any of us to emmulate.

Dad, we will miss you.

Former Town Council Chairman Donald P. Markham

Donald Prescott Markham, 85, beloved husband of Pauline (Lindquist) Markham, passed away Friday April 26th after a long convalescence.  A life-long resident of East Hampton, Donald, born November 5, 1927, was the son of the late Percy P. and Rose (Knotek) Markham.  Family, community, service and commitment defined him.  Donald, who preferred to be called Don, upon graduation from East Hampton High School in 1945, enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps. WWII ended during his basic training, but he was placed as a member of the inactive reserves.  He worked for the FBI in Washington, DC from 1946-1947, and in 1949 was called to active duty, becoming a decorated Veteran of the Korean Conflict.  Upon returning to East Hampton, he worked for Thatcher Drug and then the Sisson Drug Co. of Hartford until 1961, at which point President Kennedy appointed him East Hampton Post Master; a position in which he proudly served for 26 years. 
Don was actively involved in the life of the East Hampton community in various capacities.  He was a Master Mason for over 50 years and served as Master of Anchor Lodge No. 112 AF & AM during the 100th Anniversary (1971), as well as serving on the Masonic Temple Association Board.  He was a founding member of the East Hampton Lions Club, Inc. in 1957.  Don served as Commander of American Legion Post No. 64 and was a life member, and, along with other veterans, revived Old Home Day, serving as Co-Chair in 1953 and 1954.  He was a Charter member and first President of the Chatham Historical Society, and was honored as Chairman of both the East Hampton Bi-Centennial Committee in 1967 and the local Bi-Centennial Committee celebrating the founding of our Nation in 1976.  He was also a board member of the Lake View Cemetery Association. 
Serving his fellow citizens in town politics, Don, a lifelong Democrat, was elected to the Board of Education in 1956, and from 1969 to 1976 was an appointed member of the Water Pollution Control Authority.  From 1952 through 1960, he served as the Democratic Town Committee Chairman.  Don was elected to the East Hampton Town Council in 1995, serving as Chair, and was reelected to 4 more terms (serving through 2005). 

Donald Markham - Town Council Chairman with (l-r) Chris Goff, William Farrell, Thomas Distefano, & Jane French.
Don is survived by Pauline, his wife of 65 years, and sons: Dean P. Markham and his wife Debbie of East Hampton, their children Nicole F. Markham of Newport, RI, Danielle P. Mathias and her husband Greg and great-grandson Desmond of Phoenixville, PA, and Gregory D. Markham and his wife Kira and great-grandchildren Sandra and Alexander of East Hampton; and Allan N. Markham and wife Sharon of East Hampton, and their sons David A. Markham of East Hampton, and Stephen P. Markham and his wife Colleen and great-grandson Chase of Pembroke, MA.  The family sincerely thanks the caring and loving staff of Middletown Health Care who provided for his well-being and comfort.  Friends are invited to call at Spencer Funeral Home 112 Main Street East Hampton on Monday April 29th between the hours of 5-8 P.M.  Funeral services will be conducted by The Rev. Michelle Madsen-Bibeau (Haddam Neck Covenant Church), at Spencer Funeral Home on Tuesday April 30th commencing at 11 A.M.  Burial will follow at Lake View Cemetery.  Pall Bearers were Robert Lanzi, Robert McKinney, Evan Rea, Philip Visintainer, Gregory Mathias and Gregory Markham.
In lieu of flowers, the family would appreciate a donation in Don's memory to a local charity or organization such as the East Hampton Food Bank, 20 East High St.,  the East Hampton Ambulance Association at P.O. Box 144, or the Lake View Cemetery Fence Restoration Project at P.O. Box 71,  all in East Hampton at 06424, or give the gift of life - become a blood donor with the American Red Cross.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Blizzard of 1934

The 1934 Blizzard, although stranding many in town for a week or more, made for some interesting experiences as people passed the time and adapted to the situation.  Supply and demand ruled.  Snowshoes and skis were greatly desired articles.  Stanley Bevin and Wayne Denman walked to work on snowshoes and Ed Barton and Avery West made good use of skis, carting bread to the First Nation Store at the Four Corners from the Sanitary Bakery in the Village Center.  Down at the Pocotopaug Pharmacy, which many knew at Thatcher Drug Store, the clerks engaged all comers at setback.  “All comers” were few and far between however, with seldom enough customers to play four-handed. And the electric company fared no better.  Several breaks in the 4600 volt power lines supplying Haddam, Haddam Neck and Higganum on a “ring feed” circuit were caused by the heavy snow, which bent tree branches over the wires (sound familiar to the hurricane and early snow in 2011).  As soon as the breaks were reported, Charles Beyer, Albert Anderson and Stanley Nichols (the father of school bus contractor Charles Nichols), local trouble-shooters, were sent out a 2 am on Feb 21st.  Proceeding by auto, it took them 12 hours to reach Haddam by way of Moodus and East Haddam.  Haddam had power restored by 5 pm but Haddam Neck remained powerless for a couple more days.  That morning another work gang, headed by Charles Jones, started for Leesville on the Skinnerville Road with a horse and sleigh and a pair of horses and bobsled.  Neither could get father than Skinnerville Four Corners (intersection of Rt. 16 and 196), the drifts averaging four feet in depth.  The horses just floundered about, so efforts were curtailed.

Some things never change.  President Obama talked about tackling the issue of global warming and climate change in his inaugural address Monday.  Severe weather and storms are hardly a recent phenomena. On February 20, 1934, the northeast was struck by a storm that rivaled the famous Blizzard of 1888.  Headlines "Blizzard Buries Community, Highways Blocked By Snow" written three days later report of our town whose roads were still unploughed and the community isolated as multiple plow trucks broke down becoming stuck.  Whipped by wind gales in excess of 35 mph, drifts up to six feet formed effectively blocking all highways and cutting the town off from all but telephone and radio communications with the outside world  as temperatures hovered at 10 degrees above zero . With roads blocked, buses, trains and private cars were all useless.  The State Highway Department began plowing at 10 P. M. Monday.  By 6 o'clock the following morning, both plows got stuck at the south end of Lake Pocotopaug. Heavy wind, blowing snow soon froze the engines.  The men, Timothy and Joseph Wall and workers Frank Pelletti and Charles Anderson finally abandoned the trucks and fought their way through deep snows to their homes.  A relief plow was sent from Portland and it too became stuck in the deep drifts and required a tow truck to extricate it from its predicament.  The second Portland truck reached the EH Four Corners at 10:30 Wednesday having left Portland at 3 P. M. Tuesday.  Some of our citizens made due with the situation.  "Fred" Fitch, "Bub" Wall and Ed "Wynn" Barton enjoyed a new sport on the snow -covered ice of Lake Pocotopaug. Fred drove his car round the lake with the others being towed behind on ski’s.

Certainly, we experienced a significant storm with blizzard Charlotte. The advancement of media coverage and instantaneous on-the-scene news enables us to glimpse first hand conditions from around the state (unless of course you were without electricity), and, based on these experiences, many viewed this storm historic, yielding the most snow from one storm in their lives. From my recollection, the 1978 blizzard equalled this present storm and from what I read, none come even close to the great blizzard of 1888; but regardless of which has bragging rights, I'm ready for summer sun, 90 degree temperatures and even some humidity. Accounts I've studied of the 1934 blizzard noted one significant difference from today. In spite of the inconvenience and adversities, people seemed to enjoy the situation. Sure, roads were not passable nor cleared for nearly a week. Food was scarce, mail service curtailed and travel limited, but people did not take themselves quite so seriously or were not so demanding as I observed in several situation after the recent storm. It seems the "now generation" requires "instant gratification." If parking lots or walkways were not cleared immediately, demands to know why were voiced. "Why" was quite obvious. But in 1934, our citizens seemed to do what needed to be done. For instance, "Jacob Day of (Old) Marlborough Road, on his way to Day and Hansen's Garage (now the home of Jack & Janis Solomon)
found his path blocked in front of the garage by a six-foot drift. Walking proved ineffectual, but Mr. Day declined to be stumped by such an obstacle, while so near his destination. The solution! He laid down in the snow and rolled to the garage door! Just one of the unusual incidents of an unusual storm..."