Historical Perspectives in New Canaan / Ed Chrostowski
Old issues burn anew in doubts at firehouse
Concerns about the adequacy of New Canaan's firehouse headlined local news last week like an echo from a generation ago.
During this week in February 48 years ago, First Selectman Charlie Kelley suggested that the New Canaan Fire Company would be needing a new truck soon and anticipated appointment of a committee to study potential expansion of the building at the corner of Locust Avenue and Main Street to accommodate it.
Tentative plans called for an addition to the rear of the firehouse with doors to the truck bays opening onto Locust Avenue. While there was general acknowledgement of the need, there also were doubts and even some outright opposition to what was planned.
Skeptics said it would make more sense to establish a second firehouse, a "satellite" perhaps in the distant northern regions of town. They called the Locust-Main corner one of the busiest and most congested traffic intersections in town and said the turning ratio in either Locust or Main was too tight for fire trucks. Expanding the firehouse and adding more trucks would make a bad situation worse, they insisted.
They noted also that the Locust Avenue site would require condemnation of a private home at the rear of the firehouse. (The town ultimately did take the home of Sylvio DeRosa in an eminent domain case settled in the courts.)
Others said a firehouse in the heart of a community is traditional and insisted that centrally located men and equipment could reach any place in town within minutes. The building, staffed almost exclusively by volunteers for many years, also was a kind of social center for the volunteer firefighters who staffed it almost exclusively for many years and were best served at a location right in town.
At any rate, the plan prevailed, but just a few years ago, the portal at the right had to be raised to provide more overhead clearance for a new truck. Except for the addition in the mid-1960s, that was probably the biggest change in the firehouse since it was built about 70 years ago.
Last week, Assistant Chief Jack Hennessey characterized the building as old and tired and said it is too small to accommodate new fire trucks which, by federal mandate, will be longer and heavier. A new firehouse definitely will be needed in the near future, he said.
While talk of firehouse adequacy dominated civic dialogue a generation ago (and may soon again), there were other building plans on the drawing boards in town.
The YMCA released drawings of the first home of its own in New Canaan. Slated for a South Avenue site, the building was to include an auditorium and a gymnasium and was to cost a million dollars. Claiborne Carr was named chairman of the fund drive and George R. Johnson succeeded Police Chief Henry Keller as president. Two New Canaan residents who were directors of the National Council of the YMCA, Dr. Carl Smith and Sam Nock, joined the building committee.
At the same time, the YMCA was offering 18 night classes, ranging from dancing to investing money, in rented space at the high school.
Elsewhere, Civil Defense Director Charlie Morton strongly urged the East School Building Committee to include a fall-out shelter in its plans. While the town would not have to commit to building it immediately, having plans ready for a shelter would qualify the town for federal aid "if and when it becomes available," Morton said. He suggested a shelter as a "dual use" space that could double as a kitchen or lavatories.
Also on the school front, the Board of Education said two Center School classes would be housed next fall in the "old telephone building" (now a privately owned office building across from the New Canaan Library on Main Street, but then owned by the town). The move would relieve crowding at Center until the new East School was finished, the board said.
There was room enough at Center, however, for students to demonstrate their physical education prowess for a crowd of parents. After the children awed their admirers by climbing ropes dangling from the gym ceiling, mothers, headed by Mrs. Northam Warren Jr., hospitality chairman, served tea. Charlie Milot of the Center faculty led the program.
Meanwhile, New Canaan was warned by the State Board of Education because summer school operations here last year had made a profit and that was against state law. Superintendent Albert P. Mathers explained that it had been difficult to set an exact budget in the summer program's first year. He said profits would go into a scholarship fund for the coming summer.
It was the week of a couple of important appointments. Local insurance executive Pete Emmons was named executive vice president of the Mutual Agents Association of Connecticut and the Rev. James McCaffrey became the superior of the Holy Ghost Retreat House at the corner of Elm and Weed streets. He had been director of retreats there since 1959.
At the same time, an unusually large flock of New Canaan Boy Scouts, six, soared simultaneously to Eagle rank, the highest in Scouting. Rising to lofty perches were David Loomis, Richard Kenyon, David Sydnor, David Spletz, Sandy Bardes and Lawrence Creedon.
Things were less harmonious in local politics. It was during this week in 1962 that an old bugaboo, long dead and presumed buried, came back to haunt local Republican leadership.
Foes of the 1959 proposal to move the railroad station from Elm Street to Fairty Orchard off Old Stamford Road (now the site of the Old Studio Road homes) led a coalition challenging endorsed candidates for the Republican Town Committee. Led by two Fairty foes, Mike Barnett and Howard Stocker, the group charged GOP Chairman Bob Bliss with "bossism" in pressing the Fairty plan even after it had been rejected by voters in a referendum.
In filing slates of its own, the group was joined by members of the Young Republican Club and others, led by Howard Long, who opposed the Kelley administration's support of New Canaan membership in a regional planning agency. Led by John Langhorne, the Young Republicans favored State Sen. John M. Lupton of Weston for governor because "he is against liberalism." The Town Committee endorsed John Alsop of Avon. At the convention several weeks later, the nod went to Ed May of Hartford.
But while politics were hot, the weather was frigid. The area also experienced its biggest snowfall of the season, 11 inches, during this week a generation ago.
Otherwise, there had been little snow, only 16 inches all winter, and the town's plowing budget was running a deficit of only $2,700. That contrasted with the previous winter when snow totaled more than six feet and the white stuff put the budget more than $25,000 in the red.
Despite the snow, horseshoe pitchers in the local league continued to compete at the New Canaan Country School pits. Bill Orpet led all the pitchers with 63 percent of his shoes going for ringers.
Elsewhere in sports, New Canaan High's basketball team defeated Brien McMahon of Norwalk, 72-49, to win the division championship in the County Conference. Gary Liberatore with 24 points, Gorton Wood with 11 and Don Overbeck with 10 led Coach Bill Murphy's Rams.
And from Storrs came news that Steve Gravereux of New Canaan had scored three goals as a center on the University of Connecticut's varsity ice hockey team.
To top it all off as the week closed, New Canaan High Headmaster Harold S. Kenney received his orders to report in March for active duty at Westover Field, Mass. Kenney was a major in the United States Air Force Reserve.
Ed Chrostowski can be reached at email@example.com.