Sunday, December 27, 2015

General Henry Champion

Have you ever discovered something in plain view yet you never really noticed it?   I found such a situation,  a road sign, as you turn onto Rt. 16 towards Colchester entitled “Henry Champion Highway.”  Some questions – who was Henry Champion and why is a highway named for him?  There seem to be at least four Henry Champion’s, the most prominent being father, Henry, Jr., aka Colonel Henry Champion, and his son Henry III, an officer in the American Revolution.

Henry Champion III was born in Westchester (the western section of Colchester) at his family’s magnificent Federal style house (located near intersection of Rt. 16 on Rt. 149).  Although not an East Hampton resident, Westchester, a part of Colchester, had close ties locally as the Champion's owned various properties in Chatham.  The Champions also owned several parcels in Chatham.

Born in 1751, Champion entered into service in the Continental Army at the Lexington Alarm, served as Ensign for 22 days before being promoted to 2nd Lieutenant of Eighth Company, Second Regiment on April 26, 1775.  In May in became a 1st Lieutenant and was one of the men who fought at Bunker Hill.  Promoted to Adjutant on the staff of Col. Samuel Wyllys, he became of the First Connecticut Line.  In July 1779, Champion was detached from his old regiment and appointing Acting Major of the First Battalion Light Brigade, organized by General George Washington to attempt the capture of Stony Point on the Hudson.  This corps was composed of men picked from all regiments and under direct command of General Washington.

Major Champion continued his military career until the close of the Revolutionary War, returning home to Westchester and entered life in politics. The designation “General” was likely an honorary title of respect conferred for the meritorious service during the Revolution.  Champion, with a partner, Moses Cleaveland, dabbled in land development in the Western Reserve and founded current day Cleveland.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

CCC Camp Jenkins Secret Society - 1933

During the Great Depression, the Civilian Conservation Corps, had two locations in East Hampton - one at Salmon River on Gulf Road near the Comstock Covered Bridge and a second, the 181st Company at Camp Jenkins, north of Cobalt near Great Hill. The CCC program, which local resident Martin Podskoch has written extensively, was founded by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to provide work opportunities for young men in a wholesome environment. Organized work initiatives, including stabilizing embankments along the Salmon River or clearing brush in our State Forests, were some of the many projects tackled. For two years, CCC members encamped only a few hundred feet from the Cobalt mine sites, and working in conjunction with the State Forest and Park Commission, cleaned up forest debris and underbrush that had accumulated for years, building tables, benches and cement fireplaces for picnickers and cleaned out the longest of the two horizontal mine shafts still easily found in 1933. Although no longer accessible, for years visitors could walk on logs on the muddy mine floor to its very end, approximately 75 feet in length.

During their work experience, sixteen of the men, CCC members at Camp Jenkins, banded together to form what was believed to be the first secret society of the forest recruits in the U.S. The society, known at I.D.K. Sunset Lodge, No. 1 with officers' stations named after trees, adopted by-laws and elected officers. A prerequisite to admittance in addition to being a member of the CCC was "good character" and the society, advanced by many standards of the era, was open to any race, creed or denomination. The first officers were Great Oak, A. G. Kamm (recreation directors of the camp); Small Oak, Albert Budrow; Sturdy Elm (secretary) Frank Wodin; Tall Pine (historian and publicity agent) Henry Kunz; Hemlock (treasurer) Michael Reynolds; Walnut (outside guard) W. H. Bartlett; Hickory (inside guard) William Kruger; Spruce (guide) Joseph Perkowski; and, Willow (chaplain) Archie L. Brown.

The purpose of the organization was to promote goodwill, entertainment, recreation and the welfare of the majority of young men working at the camp.

The society had six committees including investigators (known as the Birches); membership (Ashes); grievance (Cherry); board of inquiry (Poplars); athletic (Brush) and refreshments (Tall Timber). The right and left supporters to the Great Oak were known as Cedar and Chestnut.

Lodge meetings were held in a log cabin constructed at the camp (no longer standing). Its entertainment committee planned a dance inviting the local public to tour the camp. The first "Sapling" to be initiated was Al Kuchl of Hartford. Ritual included three degrees performed by a team of officer members and regular meetings were held on Tuesday evenings.

Walking tour Edgewater Hill

Remarks by Dean Markham

Sunday April 19, 2015

Chatham Historical Society Walking Tour of Edgewater Hill

Many thanks to Mary Loos for sharing the background of her father John Weinzierl and history of the family and this property here at 140 East High Street;  and to Steve and Lisa Motto for including me today, as I've found from some of my research that I also have some personal and family ties to their property here at Edgewater Hills.

One of the iconic landmarks dotting the countryside as Americans ventured forth to explore this vast country and recreate from their toils was the wayside inn or hotel, or what we fondly call the motel. East Hampton, through the likes of a Bavarian immigrant, John Weinzierl, saw his dream come to fruition in 1952 when he started the White House Motel that until a year ago, stood on this site.

Let’s jump back, however, to 1673. Middletown was awarded additional land by the General Assembly on the east side of the Connecticut River - what was called the second Three Mile Division. This tract started at the boarder of East Middletown, what is now Portland, running north-south about 9 miles and east 3 miles to the Colchester line. The Selectmen in Middletown impaneled a surveying or proprietors committee in 1714 headed by Captain Cornwell and later William Whitmore whose task it was to survey the 3 mile division and lay out parcels of land. This process took over 20 years. The term "lots" derived from the lottery process that Middletown land owners were able to select a parcel in the new territory. They drew lots or numbers that entitled them to receive one or more of the predesignated parcels. There were 273 - 40 acre - parcels. Depending of your assessed property value in Middletown, you received rights to full or partial shares. One had the option of paying the per share price for the lot, selling or trading it. The wealthier or more enterprising drew multiple lots. My ancestor, John Markham, had the fortune of selecting the equivalent of 2 1/2 lots or 100 acres. His draw, as it happens, included the land from Pocotopaug on the point, along the shore of the bay and eastward to this site. Originally known as Markham's Point, it is now Meek's Point, after Arthur Meek acquired most of it in the late 1930s early 1940s. The first Markham home, constructed around 1750 is a Cape style home just across the way on Old Marlborough Road, owned by Steve and Rhonda Kissinger. John Markham also acquired land to Bear Swamp including this Edgewater Hills site. And I guess my family surrounded this site as my Great-Great Grandfather, Edwin Baker, owned what is now the Lake Vista Condo's - it being referred to as Baker Hill.

John Weinzierl, as an 18 year old with $10 in his pocket, and a cousin, Joe Rankl (Marlborough) as a sponsor, came to the United States. Enterprising, John did odd jobs - worked in the bell foundry, did haying and bought land from tax or estate sales - piece by piece. He married at St. Andrew's Church in Colchester in 1935, living on the lake but planning to build a house at 138 East High. John saw the design of a house he liked in Southington while driving his truck, and commissioned Ralph Strong to put his saw mill here on the property (Steve Strong now operates the mill) who cut the lumber. In 1937, Al Knotek (my Grandmother Rose's brother) built the house. John did the bulldozing and excavation and sold wood and fence posts from the lumbering.

Many people who visited our Lake Resorts desired rooms with private bathrooms, so in 1952, to meet the budding demand, John built the White House Motel with 8 rooms. He added efficiency apartments and finished the office on June 24, 1955 in time for his daughter Mary's wedding to George Loos. The old garage at 140 East High was converted to a house in 1965. George and Mary bought the motel in 1966.

In 1989 they sold the White House to their daughter, who in turn sold the property to Steve and Lisa Motto. I think John Weinzierl would have been very impressed and proud of what has developed here, beginning with the entrepreneurial aspirations of a young man seeking his fortunes and opportunity in America to a new generation carrying on the tradition.

Speaking at Town Meeting concerning Purchase of New Ladder Truck

Public Remarks by Dean Markham to the East Hampton Town Meeting, December 21, 2015 concerning the purchase of a aerial ladder truck produced by Pierce Manufacturing.

I rise to support the replacement of a 30 year old ladder truck in use well past its functional prime with no reasonable expectation of continued cost effective maintenance. Its replacement probably should have occurred 5 or more years ago. It's significant replacement cost has annually put such consideration on the back burner - until now.

A year ago the only option available was a dual rear axle ladder truck that probably would have cost equipped near $1.5 million. Our fine and dedicated Fire Commission, Chief Greg Voelker and Company Members did the due-diligence to present to the town a superb alternative with significantly improved features and capabilities at nearly 50% of that original estimate.

One of our highest priorities as citizens is protection of the public health and safety. Often overlooked are the dedicated volunteers who jump to the call to battle fires and other emergencies. This piece of equipment provides safety to them as they serve us. There are also hidden savings that we rarely think about. For example, one increase in the ISO (insurance rating) of our town would cost each homeowner and businesses substantially more annually than any tax increase to pay for the vehicles and equipment appropriate for our firefighters. And, there is an unmentioned expense that would pale this apparatus purchase. How much do you think a full-time paid fire department would cost? We should all be standing and applauding these dedicated volunteers.

The rub tonight is that we are faced with a damned if we do - damned if we don't situation. Our new Republican majority council (Patience Anderson, Ted Hintz, Jr., Mark Philhower, Josh Piteo and Melissa Engel)  has decided, for lack of any understanding on my part, to punish all our taxpayers for bringing this expensive piece of equipment before us. They have totally disregarded the recommendation of our Finance Director and a unanimous vote of the Board of Finance to lease-purchase the truck over 10 years (citing what would be a savings of approximately $8000 a year) by robbing the budget referendum approved capital reserve fund to pay cash for this major item. How many of you would pay cash for a new automobile?

Our capital reserve fund, voted by you, was to smooth the impact of the High School renovation project. I can only surmise that our Council is also punishing all of us for approving that project. Under this plan, you will see a significant mill increase, far, far beyond what is reasonable and what prudent Boards of Finance and prior Town Councils had planned. The current rationale evades me because we all pay. Considering the near record low of interest rates, it would behoove our town to take advantage using the power of our AAA Standard and Poor Rating. We've all heard the rumblings that the Federal Reserve intends to begin raising rates. Now is an opportune time to finance this long-term asset.

So what's the solution? Our public safety or our wallets. You could vote the resolution down. But does that really make sense? NO. The better solution is to adopt the Resolution, and, if our Town Council is wise, in the next few weeks, they have the power to reconsider how the ladder truck is acquired. The bid remains in place until February 7th. Seems like plenty of time to do the smart thing.

I hope you will support the Ladder Truck purchase this evening. Overall it is in everyone's best interests.

Note - The resolution passed by unanimous voice vote of the nearly 250 townspeople in attendance and was declared approved by Moderator Red (Robert) McKinney.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Technology Infrastructure Initiative - Board of Finance

From comments and remarks by Dean Markham to Board of Finance - March 30, 2015

We as a Board of Finance have been evaluating over these past several weeks, the thoughtful requests and needs by our Department Heads, Town Manager, Board of Education and Superintendent. I believe all of us are impressed by the professionalism and creativity of all who testified before us and believe our Town is fortunate to have serving, so many very capable, dedicated and quality personnel. This is a major plus as we face enormous challenges on so many fronts. Regardless of our personal views as elected officials on how best to deliver, we do all agree that we want a better future for our citizens and community.

As we've listened to all these presentations, one overriding theme permeates almost every message - building or improving our infrastructure. That infrastructure takes on many forms - roads and bridges, an environmentally sound lake, facilities such as police station, town hall, schools, fire or public works equipment - much of which we are providing some funding or which the Town Council has begun addressing, and finally, an infrastructure of a different sort - our students ability to excel.

It is this last item - our children's ability to excel - that Mr. Turner, Mr. Hurst and I have been pondering and asking what could we do to provide a "game changer" in the equation and how do we reasonably fund it. As we listened to various presentations, several key elements to what we would like to propose emerged. Common Core State Standards has changed the educational outlook and presented more unfunded mandates. Technology is a key component and will be ongoing in our schools, as it is and will be within business, government and throughout our society. But we have constantly been behind the eight-ball, in many cases a day late, a dollar short and chasing the pack, rather than leading. We have so many talented students, and with the right tools, could make the opportunity for all.

It is with this in mind that we propose a major Technology Infrastructure Initiative for the Memorial and Middle Schools with an estimated cost of $750,000 - a program on the scope of that included for the High School technology component of the rebuilding program. Obviously the High School will have the programs. We exclude Center School at this time because of the RFP the Town Council voted on last week. A solid direction must be established for that facility.

The cost would entail a $750,000 addition to the Capital Program and Budget to be financed with a capital lease. First year lease payments are provided for the initial $250,00 of work under a 3 year capital lease / purchase. Leasing or short term notes provides rational funding during the life of much of the equipment. This initiative is not just a "hand me the money!" It will take a comprehensive plan that the three major Boards - Education, Finance and Town Council must agree to. But as I said - this could be a "game changer" for our community.

With such an initiative comes challenges and a bite of reality. Studying our Student Enrollment Projections, East Hampton has experienced a 13% reduction in student population over the past 10 years and NESDC projects another 14% reduction in the next 10 years, even taking into account several significant building projects such as Hampton Woods, Edgewater Hills and Skyline Estates. The Board of Education must face the reality that reductions of instructional staff must be addressed. The immediate implementation of this Technology Infrastructure Initiative will put East Hampton well ahead of our pier communities - maybe into the elite school systems in our state. And to our many parents who may have struggled with a decision to send or not send their children out of district to a magnet school for instance, we are proposing the changes for excellence.

In closing, our citizens and taxpayers demand the best but at a reasonable cost. The challenge to our Board of Education comes quickly - redesigning and reducing the budget with the radical changes implemented.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Married Teachers Dismissed - 1933

Almost daily, reminders of discrimination permeate media reports, but at one point East Hampton witnessed a situation that would seem by 2015 standards a bit draconian – the dismissal of female teachers – because they were married!  On May 11, 1933, with four of the ten members absent, and Chairman Charles Torkelson abstaining, the Board of Education passed a resolution on a 4-to-1 vote to dismiss (terminate) four married teachers and reduce the salaries of eight others one-third percent (about $50) due to “economic conditions,” effective upon the expiration of teachers’ contracts in June.  The resolution, sponsored by Mrs. Howard W. House, included a provision to fill the positions with un-married teachers. Mrs. House, explained that it was presented “to save money and to open jobs for competent, single and unemployed teachers.” Joining Mrs. House in support were Mrs. Samuel Stewart, Leon Voisin and Richard J. Wall with Deaconess Harriet G. Hyde opposed. 

Two of the married teachers, Alice S. (Mrs. Ralph)  Thatcher and Regina Cheney began a campaign to fight the dismissal, threatening court action, if necessary.  Backed by a strong community effort, a petition was circulated calling for the Board to hold a special meeting to rescind its action.  Other teachers affected were Beatrice H. (Mrs. Raymond) Thatcher and Dorothy Parker. All four had taught for several years and were regarded as experienced and capable teachers. Commenting as President of the Taxpayers’ Association, Hubert Hodge stated that he was thoroughly in accord with any action taken by the Board, or any other official group, to reduce the town’s expenses, and so reduce the heavy burden now resting on the general public.

The Board of Education resolution and action to dismiss four married teachers spurred considerable community debate. The petition had a mixed results - 71 supporting reinstatement of the teachers and 75 against.  It was however enough to bring the issue back. The depression, then in its fourth years, had engendered many ideas for cost cutting and what many thought - fairness. If the husband, the primary breadwinner, had employment, why not give positions to unemployed single teachers? It would give more townspeople at lease some income.  At a Public Hearing and Special Meeting of the Board of Education on May 31st, the action previously taken was rescinded on a 5-to-4 vote after lengthy discussion.  Opposition to the dismissal was led by A. D. Williams who challenged the “economic issue” as “petty,” and was supported by the Rev. Edwin C. Field, Dr. John D. Milburn, Mrs. Milburn and Achille Cozzi.  Mr. Williams noted that the possible minor saving was estimated to be  $900 or less than 75 cents per taxpayer. 

Members Edward H. Wilkins, Mrs. Nellie Barton, Forest G. Thatcher (not husband of either of the dismissed teachers) and Mrs. Ethel Butler joined in the vote to overturn the previous action.  Speaking at the public hearing, Mrs. Regina Cheney, one of the teachers to be dismissed  “deplored the method and secrecy of the Board action in dismissing her.  She noted that she was informed by one of her pupils the following day.  She thought it most unfair to ask her to move to town and to transfer her from one grade to another with the implication that she was to remain, and then dismiss her.”  Mrs. Cheney even suggested that she would be willing to consider a reduction in salary if the economic conditions of the Town warranted it. Mr. Field pointed out that it was more to the point to consider the competence of teachers than to put a premium on the "M-R-S" in front of a woman's name and stressed the fact that children should be considered before economics.  The final outcome actually surprised many.
After being reinstated with the Board's rescission of the Resolution, Beatrice Thatcher, Alice Thatcher and Dorothy Parker tendered their resignations shortly after the close of the school year.
At the end of July, Mrs. Regina Cheney's contract was not renewed by the Board of Education, thus ended the East Hampton teaching careers of four married teachers.