Historical Perspectives / Ed Chrostowski
There's cause for alarm in firehouse technology
Progress inched forward in New Canaan again during this week in 1962 when modern technology replaced the old-fashioned horn at the firehouse.
The raucous horn that had been blaring for more than 30 years to summon volunteers when there was a fire in town, was being replaced by a two-way radio system and receiver sets were installed in the homes of 20 firemen.
Traditionally, a series of differing blasts on the horn, some long and some short, was a sort of well-publicized code that informed everybody of the general location of the fire. Sometimes as many curious people as firemen answered the call. Loud and startling as it was, the horn was nevertheless generally popular for the bit of community news and small-town folklore it seemed to represent.
Firehouse officials noted, however, that the horn was not always heard by firemen in their homes or jobs in all parts of town. They said also that the radio system would save response time because the dispatcher at the firehouse could relay more information to volunteers who could go directly to the fire scene rather than going to the firehouse first for details. Fire chiefs didn't complain publicly, but they really were getting annoyed at the numbers of spectators who showed up and got in their way at fire scenes.
Reluctant to let another small-down tradition fade, people agreed nevertheless that it was time for a change and a frugal town meeting grudgingly appropriated $5,000 for the new radio system.
Meanwhile, Fire Chief Harry Karl filed his final report before handing the white helmet to his successor, Fred Pickering. Chief Karl said that the department had answered more than 180 calls in the past year and that property damages caused by fire had totaled more than $225,000. Responsible for most of that were the blazes that destroyed the brand-new houses, still unoccupied, built by John Cretella on Cross Ridge Road and Robert Gilroy on Stonehenge Drive, and another that all but destroyed the home of Stanley Miller on Pinney Road.
It was the week also in which Police Officer Paul "Huffer" Torpey brought a series of purse snatches to a halt. Several women had reported that their handbags had been stolen from their parked cars in town lots and Torpey, on patrol, saw a man in the act. Recognizing the culprit, a 37-year-old resident he knew had mental problems, Torpey went directly to the man's residence later and arrested him there without incident.
Elsewhere, Superintendent of Schools Albert P. Mathers declared that the space pinch was especially tight in the first grade at South School. He said there were 99 children in that group and that it would be necessary to add a fourth class for them, requiring use of the school library for a classroom and hiring another teacher.
Also on the education front, Carl Shapley of Greenwich announced plans to open a private boarding school for boys and girls from elementary through college preparatory grades. According to plans filed with zoning authorities, the new office building at the corner of Main and East Maple streets and Anne Mattiello's former store on Locust Avenue would be used for classrooms and students in "local inns" beginning next fall. Ultimately, classes and living quarters would occupy a large house at the corner of Hemlock Hill Road and Oenoke Ridge, owned by Frederick Gould and Frances Rudge, according to the proposal. Shapley, who had been a teacher in Greenwich and Litchfield, said the standard curriculum would be "Bible-based" and there were indications of a protracted zoning struggle ahead.
There was a warm welcome in town for another newcomer, however. The Rev. Wayne Johnson reported that renovations, including a new heating system, had been completed in New Canaan's oldest church building and that his newly organized Lutheran congregation would begin worshipping there soon.
Lutherans, naming their new parish in honor of St. Michael, had purchased the 128-year-old building at God's Acre from St. Mark's Episcopal Church after that parish moved into its new edifice on Oenoke Ridge.
On the political scene, the Republican Party's preparations for the November election included a gathering of candidates at the opening of campaign headquarters on Elm Street. On hand were Carl V. Nelson, running for judge of probate; Eleanor Weed, registrar of voters; Bob Bliss, State Senate from the 26th District (Darien, New Canaan, Wilton and Norwalk), State Reps. Mary V.Z. "Molly" Cunningham and Richard Brinckerhoff and Robert "Buck" Jordan, chairman of the Republican Town Committee.
A new season at the "Teen Alley Canteen" also was launched by the New Canaan YMCA in the basement of a building (since renovated and now housing the Plum Tree Restaurant) across from the Town Hall on Main Street. Phil Rose, YMCA director, said the canteen would be open Friday evenings for junior high school boys and girls and Saturday evenings for the senior high group. He added that there would be adult chaperones and a strict dress code would require girls to wear skirts. Shorts and dungarees were banned for boys also.
There was a new touch of culture in town as Joan Brainerd, and opera and concert soprano, established the Delphi Studio for the Performing Arts at her home on Stonehenge Road. Opening night featured a concert presentation of Verdi's "La Traviata" and a "petite art gallery."
It also was the week that Nancy Cole opened her New Canaan Children's Theatre, Inc., offering acting classes in the Masonic Hall at the corner of Main and Church streets with professional performers as instructors.
It was a week, in short that had a bit of everything. That's the way we were in the early autumn of 1962.
Ed Chrostowski can be reached at email@example.com.