New Canaan residents gathered Tuesday night at the Historical Society to remember the good old days.
The event, titled "The New Canaan Cracker Barrel," was hosted by long-time New Canaan Advertiser Editor-in-Chief and former New Canaan News columnist Ed Chrostowski. Joining him were longtime residents "Fizzie" Tomaselli and Jim Bach. Even through tornado-watch conditions, around 40 people attended the event.
Chrostowski started the meeting with unabashed nostalgia.
"I have a longing for the good old days, I really do," he said. "But some of the values laid in those days form the town we know and love."
He introduced Bach, whose grandfather, and then father, owned the Melba Inn, where he grew up, on Park Street. Bach recalled days gone by: the Great Depression; the war; and New Canaan's changes through the years.
Bach remembered that the inn was a gathering place for town groups like the Kiwanis, Lions and Rotary clubs. He recalled that in those days there was not yet a town council, and that many of the decisions made for the town were discussed by those clubs, frequently in his dining room.
"That was a time when zoning first became a real issue," he said, recalling discussions about 4-acre zoning plots and restrictions on the height of buildings.
"I'll always remember my grandfather getting a hold of me and saying, `Jim, if we don't do these things now, this town's going to look like Mamaroneck in no time at all,' " he said to a roomful of laughter.
Thomaselli remembered the days when townspeople would gather in Mead Park on Sundays to play sports.
"There was always a baseball game," she said. "There was a man with ice cream. In the fall there were football teams, then as there got to be more kids, there were two teams, the Maroons and the Zebras."
Bach remembered the hard times of the Depression, where men would come to the back of the kitchen of the Melba Inn.
He said that his grandfather would always feed the men, asking them to do dishes or to sweep the walk.
Eventually, they learned that the men had a system in town in which they'd chalk certain houses or businesses that were charitable to them and mark ones that were not.
He also recalled some of the various people who lived at the inn, including many of his grammar school teachers, as well as a former army general.
"General John T. Thompson, the inventor of Tommy Gun," Bach said. "He had been in the Spanish-American War. He wanted to have a hand-held machine gun. When he left the army he came to New Canaan and bought a house on Bank Street near where the Karl's live now. But before there he lived at the Melba Inn. We liked to say that he designed the Tommy Gun on the third floor."
Chrostowski recalled that the town used to be surrounded by farms and that in place of the posh restaurants that now line Main and Elm streets, there were five-and-dimes and A&Ps.
An audience member shared that he grew up on a farm.
"We had hens and cows and pigs. The farm was between Oenoke and West Road. My father bought it around 1905 and dug a couple of ponds. Our haywagon was a Studebaker wagon, and you'd drive it up to the barn," he said.
Chrostowski recalled a different dynamic in the old days.
"It was a sort of Norman Rockwell small town. The tradesmen and policemen and doctors and shopkeepers and lawyers and dentists all lived together," he said. "Everyone knew one another. We had a complete composite community here. That made us pretty well self-sustaining, but also pretty well insular, I think."
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