Historical Perspectives / Ed Chrostowski
Town attention focuses on health-care matters
Published 1:01 am, Thursday, April 8, 2010
Long before the current debates, health care issues rated top priority on the municipal agenda in New Canaan during this week 48 years ago.
A move to discontinue the dental health clinic for local school children generated some controversy and delivery of a "field hospital," capable of handling up to 200 patients in an emergency, caused some community anxiety.
The hospital, fully equipped with X-ray machines, operating tables, beds, medical supplies and electric generators, was assigned to New Canaan in the federal government's civil defense program at the request of Charlie Morton, local CD director.
Said to be worth $160,000, the unit was stored in the New Canaan High School basement, which had been altered at a cost of more than $2,000 to accommodate it. It was that $2,000 appropriation that was hotly debated, as were all appropriations in those days, but the hospital was readily accepted by Superintendent of Schools Albert P. Mathers as official custodian.
As several truckloads of supplies and equipment were unloaded at the school, the threat of a Cold War nuclear attack suddenly seemed real and jitters went up another notch in a town already somewhat on edge with home fall-out shelters.
Morton turned the hospital over officially to Dr. Charlotte R. Brown, public health director, and Dr. John Paul Gens, a physician and member of the Board of Education, volunteered to recruit and train all local health-care providers in the use of the hospital equipment. Fortunately, there never was any need for the hospital and it has long since been discarded.
Dr. Gens also was involved in the other public health matter. As a member of the school board, he moved to delete more than $5,000 from the budget for the dental clinic and his proposal was vigorously opposed by Dr. Robert O'Connell, president of the New Canaan Dental Society.
The clinic had been established by Dr. Harry Siemon and Dr. Otto Schlechtweg in 1931, the height of the Depression, and Dr. Gens argued that the number of indigent children who needed it in 1962 no longer warranted the expenditure. He said the few who still did need it could be cared for in other ways and he added that lessons in oral hygiene, also part of the clinic program, could be incorporated into the regular health curriculum.
Ultimately, the dental clinic, based then at Center School, was retained, though on a curtailed basis.
Elsewhere, police persistence and curiosity solved two crimes committed that week.
A spectacular midnight blaze destroyed the home of Stanley Miller on Pinney Road. The Miller family was away and a caretaker, who had been checking the property regularly, found that all was in order just a couple of hours before a neighbor saw flames rising through the roof and called in the alarm.
After the fire was out, Police Capt. Jim Corson and Chief Henry "Red" Keller decided to "poke around" through the ruins and they found evidence that somebody had broken into the house sometime that evening. Tracing some of the jewelry that had been stolen, police later arrested a 28-year-old New York woman who had worked at the house as a maid. She was charged with burglary, but there was no indication that arson also had been committed.
A couple of nights earlier, Police Officers Paul Torpey and Gene Ready, patrolling separately in two different parts of town, saw a carload of teenagers at 2:30 a.m. Suspicious, each of the officers independently made a note of the license plate.
At headquarters later, they learned that a safe had been cracked open at the New Canaan Fuel and Lumber Company offices on Elm Street and $400 in cash had been removed. Det. Sgt. Fred Tiani was handling the investigation and the information garnered by the two officers led him to arrest four local boys.
Also on the police scene that week, Officer George Cogswell was dispatched to an Elm Street alley where a wild muskrat was on the loose. Like Frank Buck, he brought it back alive to its natural habitat.
Observers speculated that the animal had fled the pond in Mead Park, where a major dredging project was underway. The $10,000 job included construction of a new dam and spillway.
In Washington, D.C., the Federal Communications Commission came word that it had received applications for two AM radio stations in New Canaan. There also were reports that an FM station with a tower in nearby Vista was contemplated as well.
A previous plan for one of the AM stations, filed by Robert Pauley of the New Canaan Broadcasting Company, called for a tower on Smith Ridge Road and had been rejected by the Town Planning and Zoning Commission.
Back home, an oil painting of God's Acre by Jim Barbarite, the Elm Street barber who had studied art at Cooper Union in New York as well as in France, was turned over to the Congregational Church by an anonymous donor who had purchased it at a New Canaan Library exhibit.
At Town Hall that week, the Board of Finance approved a town budget of $3.8 million, necessitating an increase of about a mill in the annual tax rate. The board noted that more than $2 million of that was for the school system and about $1.7 million for all other town departments combined.
It was the week also during which a building committee, chaired by Elmer Shumaker, officially dropped the idea of trying to adapt the West School architectural plans for the new East School. He announced that the firm of Sherwood, Mills and Smith had been retained to draw new plans.
One of New Canaan's oldest landmarks, Silliman's Department Store, technically changed hands. Mr. and Mrs. Alfred Wilson and their son, Roger, sold the controlling shares of stock to Mitchell Kellogg and William Corry of New Canaan, and Robert Moat of Pound Ridge, N.Y. Mrs. Wilson was a member of the Silliman family.
Founded in 1867, the store had sold everything from farm tractors to housewares over the years at its locations on the corner of East Avenue and Main Street. Kellogg was the grand-nephew of the store's founder, Joseph Silliman, and had been with the store for 25 years, and was continuing as vice president and treasurer. Mr. Corry, who had worked there for 15 years, was named vice president and secretary and Mr. Moat, who had been an executive at Macy's and Montgomery Ward in New York, was president.
Contact Ed Chrostowski at email@example.com