Historical Perspectives / Ed Chrostowski
Old issues popping up again on town agenda
Headline news last week told of a new master plan that proposes to change the face of downtown New Canaan forever.
A prospective revamping for the future of the town's business center was presented in a different master plan suggested during this same week just 48 years ago. It was promptly shot down in a barrage of public protest.
The new plan appears, at the outset at least, to be far more attractive, however. It envisions a campus-like grouping of municipal buildings, including the Town Hall and a new library, around a green. With the idea still in its nascent stages, details like cost estimates and schedules are still skimpy.
In 1962, David Kirkbride's parking study committee suggested that the town should acquire the Vine Cottage and Red Cross properties, remove the buildings and pave the lots. Details were skimpy then, too, but never had to be worked out because the idea was dead on arrival.
The past also echoed again last week when the Board of Education pondered a policy aimed at helping students reach personal health decisions.
It brought to mind a stormy session of the school board during a May week 48 years ago when physicians, dentists, parents and the public health director, Dr. Charlotte Brown, pleaded for reinstatement of about $6,000 in the school budget to retain the dental clinic at Center School.
In a 6-2 vote that drew loud jeers from the crowd, the school board repeated its decision to delete the funds and discontinue the clinic. Voting for clinic funds were Don McGannon and Hudson Stoddard. Opposed were Bill Zucker, Paul Larcom, Dr. John Paul Gens, Mason Harlow, Warren Blossom and Henry Skeele.
Dr. Gens, a prominent physician, noted that the clinic had been established during the Depression to care for children from indigent families and said there no longer was a need for it. Other provisions could be made for children whose families still couldn't afford dental care, he said, adding that lessons in oral hygiene could be included in regular health classes for all students.
That week in May 1962, was marked by other resistance. In his first report as chairman of the Charter Revision Commission, Leslie B. Young said he was "not convinced of any need for change." The League of Women Voters and other civic groups called the town meeting form of government "outdated" and said it was "not properly functional." They favored replacing it with an elected legislative body.
Elsewhere, the community was stunned as tragedy stalked local roads during this week in 1962. Four New Canaan residents perished in three separate traffic accidents within a nine-day span.
Mary Clark of Park Street, 75-year-old clerk in the Probate Court, was fatally injured when the open door of her own car knocked her down and then the vehicle toppled over on her as it rolled down a sloping driveway off Richmond Hill Road.
A couple of days later, George Snell, 71, and his wife, Florence, 62, of North Wilton Road were killed when the car he was driving collided with another car at the intersection of Silvermine Road and Route 123. The other car was driven by a Norwalk teenager who was arrested on a charge of negligent homicide.
Two days later, Jane Glidden, 53, of Wing Road was killed when the car in which she was a passenger hit the rear of a truck parked on Old Norwalk Road.
It was the week also during which the cornerstone was placed in a new chapel building on the campus of Silver Hill Hospital, Valley Road. Dr. William B. Terhune, director, presided at dedication ceremonies and the invocation was delivered by Dr. John Bonnell, a Presbyterian minister from New York City.
Meanwhile, the Board of Selectmen reminded permit-holders that it was time to renew their annual permits for the 225 all-day parking spaces behind Town Hall, in the Park Street lot and at Talmadge Hill. The fee was $35.
Also at Town Hall, First Selectman Charlie Kelley announced that Attorney Bill Makepeace would be the grand marshal of this year's parade "because he was a colonel in the Army and has the nicest dress uniform that still fits." Kelley told that joke every year when he was asked about the selected marshal's credentials. Attorney John Sturges, a World War II veteran and a member of the Public Safety Commission, was assigned to deliver the principal address at the Lakeview Cemetery exercises after the parade.
On the political front, Kelley and Republican Town Committee chairman Bob Bliss endorsed John Davis Lodge, a former ambassador to Spain and once governor of Connecticut, for the U.S. Senate. The Democratic Party was expected to nominate another former governor for the Senate, Abe Ribicoff, to succeed the retiring Republican, Prescott Bush (whose son and then grandson later became presidents). At the time, Ribicoff was secretary of health, education and welfare in President John F. Kennedy's cabinet.
And that's the kind of week it was 48 years ago.
Ed Chrostowski can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.