Historical Perspectives / Ed Chrostowski
A new era begins for an old church
With his pastoral staff, Episcopal Bishop Walter H. Gray knocked symbolically and the massive teakwood doors of the new church swung open for St. Mark's Parish to enter still another chapter in its 250-year history in New Canaan.
A procession led by Bishop Gray, the Rev. Grant A. Morrill, rector, and area clergy filed into the sacristy on that crisp October Sunday afternoon in 1961 to dedicate the magnificent new edifice on Oenoke Ridge. After the blessing, a brief prayer interlude and a choral recital, visitors toured the building and were especially impressed with the soaring reredos, a ceiling-to-floor metal mesh screen behind the altar adorned with biblical figures sculpted in bronze.
Before the afternoon was over, an estimated 1,200 people had visited the $1.5 million structure designed by the architectural firm of Sherwood, Mills and Smith and attended a reception arranged by a parish committee with Mrs. James H. Eddy as chairman.
This was the parish's third church. The first was at the corner of West Road and Weed Street (still the site of the old parish cemetery), where it was not unusual to see Indians from Chief Ponus' tribe in the congregation, according to parish historians. In 1830, St. Mark's moved to a new building on Main Street, facing God's Acre, and remained there for about 130 years. That church, the oldest church building in town, is now occupied by St. Michael's Lutheran Parish, established here about 45 years ago.
During that week in 1961, there also were "open house" guided tours at all town parks, the town hall, the incinerator, the highway garage and the water and sewerage plant in observance of "Public Works Week" in New Canaan. Sponsored by the Kiwanis Club, the program was headed by Norman A. Lucas, town administrative officer.
Public Works Director Clarence Dougal chose the occasion to announce a shift in the maintenance program for New Canaan's 121 miles of public roads. Instead of oiling roads annually, new black-top would be applied to about five miles each year, he said.
There was action on the political scene as well. The Fairfield County Republican Organization, with Bob Bliss of New Canaan as chairman, held "The Elephant Swing," a fund-raising dinner-dance at the Longshore Club in Westport. At the head table were Congressman Abner Sibal of Norwalk and First Selectmen Charles Kelley of New Canaan and Thomas Kerrigan of Darien, both up for reelection.
Meanwhile, results of the week's voter registrations were announced at town hall. Of the 92 new voters sworn in, 73 registered as Republicans and six as Democrats while the other 13 remained unaffiliated. The numbers were described as "typical." There was news also on the education front. After the state cut funding for driver education classes in public schools, the Police Athletic League announced it would sponsor the program for 16- and 17-year-olds here. Sgt. Chet Lewis, the police department's safety officer, was named to conduct the 30-hour classroom course.
On another tack, the Board of Education scheduled evening classes in English for the foreign-born. Instruction was offered in separate classes for beginner, intermediate and advanced levels.
A teacher also took her bows that week. The United Methodist Church held Miss Frances MacIntire Day to honor her for heading the Christian education program after retiring from the Saxe Junior High School faculty.
The school also welcomed three foreign exchange students: Ellen Anagnotis of Greece, hosted by Mr. and Mrs. Sidney Sweet; Cengiz Nayir of Turkey, living with Dr. and Mrs. Alan Fraser, and Ursula Schmelzer, staying with Mr. and Mrs. Curry Ford.
Two zoning matters were on the agenda at town hall. A 50-acre tract off South Avenue was subdivided to provide 7 acres for a YMCA building and 35 housing sites. The property was owned by William T. Benedict and his sisters, Mrs. Eric Lundberg and Mrs. Harold Wilser.
Some controversy was expected in the other case, however. The Silvermine Guild of Artists applied for a zoning permit to expand its sculpture and ceramics studio and the neighbors were not pleased. Opposition was anticipated at a hearing.
At the post office, carrier Joe Spadaccini received a $25 award for his suggesting ways to improve the handling and sorting of mail. The presentation was made by Postmaster John H. Murphy and Superintendent of Mails Edwin "Bowler" Bouton.
And, long before recycling became a buzz word, the Lions Club set 100 tons as the goal for its scrap metals drive and Al Roles, chairman, urged residents to get their old kitchen appliances out to curbside for the first pick-up since 1951.
All things considered, it was a week made memorable by the way a resourceful community again provided for its own desirable programs like driver education and lessons in English when support programs were discontinued.