The Best of Historical Perspectives / Ed Chrostowski
Housing project took a long time coming and going
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When the Millport Apartments were completing their first decade in about 1961, Edwin H. Bouton confided that he still had "mixed feelings" about housing veterans there.
Bouton, a New Canaan native popularly known as "Bowler," was chairman of the Town Housing Authority then and the 16 units erected on Millport Avenue seemed to be a singular achievement after his years of effort. But in conversations with friends at a Poinsettia Club dinner during that October week 49 years ago, he acknowledged that he had been hoping "for something much better."
There weren't enough apartments and rooms were small, Bouton felt, and he worried about how the flat-roof brick buildings, erected on concrete slabs and crammed into an undersized hillside lot, would stand the test of time.
Still, he pointed out, they did provide some housing for returning World War II veterans who were getting on with their lives, marrying and raising families. Bouton conceded that the Millport units were an improvement over the "temporary" housing that already had been in use too long.
In those immediate post-war years, six to eight families were housed in a big wooden apartment building behind the Town Hall and in former Army barracks set up on a tract of land bounded by what is now New Street (off Summer Street) and Locust Avenue.
The apartment house was razed to make room for the town garage, now the site of the teen center, and the barracks were cleared away for what became the Home Oil Company's "tank farm" and is now the location of several condominiums.
When it became apparent that something more permanent would be required, Bouton attempted to convince the town to acquire and build on what was known as "the Fisher tract," several acres off Locust Avenue. After that attempt failed, the Heritage Hill Road condominiums were developed there a decade later, initially as rental apartments. In a quirky coincidence, it was Bouton's sister, Isabel, who years later suggested "Heritage Hill Road" to win the street-naming contest conducted by the developer, Charles Cornell. The prize was $500 donated in her name to the YMCA building fund.
Over the years, Bouton prophecy about the deterioration of the Millport buildings came true. Speakers and letters over the past decade have routinely described the condition of the complex, neglected for half a century, as "a disgrace" and town officials repeatedly talked about refurbishing the buildings.
Headlines last week indicated that redevelopment, using state and federal stimulus funds, is finally in the planning stages, though long-time tenants remained skeptical. "We've heard all this talk before, but we never have seen any action," one woman resident told this writer.
But during this week in October, 1961, there was some action on other downtown improvements.
Edwin Hoyt, owner of the huge nursery bearing his name, donated 10 mature red maple trees to be planted along Cherry Street between Park Street and South Avenue. First Selectman Charles F. Kelley hailed the gift as a "blessing," saying it would prevent a "raid" on construction funds for replacement planting. A dozen trees had been removed to widen the roadway.
Other excitement at the nursery that week was generated by the "emergency" landing of a Piper Club. The pilot told police he was flying his light single-engine plane from Spring Valley, N.Y., to New York City and when he was warned of "bad weather" ahead, he spotted an open area at the nursery off Route 123 and decided to land.
At the shooting range off North Wilton Road, Police Officer Anthony "Dinny" Lapolla won the Commissioner's Trophy in pistol marksmanship competition. The award was presented by Carlton S. "Pete" Raymond of the Commission on Public Safety.
Also that week, Kelley announced that the Board of Selectmen had decided not to move some offices out of the crowded Town Hall into rented space in the former Silliman's Department Store on Main Street or in the Rudge office. Instead, he said, it was likely that a second floor would be constructed within the Town Hall auditorium.
There was news also from the Board of Education. Members unanimously approved a 20-acre piece of the Hoyt Nurseries as a building site for the town's fourth elementary school (East). South School had opened a decade earlier, West came along in 1959 and Center was still in use.
Meanwhile, classes in all schools were dismissed early one day that week in 1961 so that teachers and administrators could attend an in-service training program on "Thermonuclear Defense As It Affects New Canaan."
At New Canaan High School, Headmaster Harold Kenney announced that David Dapice had been named a semi-finalist in the National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test. Other seniors winning commendations were Brooke Maddux, Lois Muraro, Richard Olson, Betsy Reid and Angela Suffredini.
Excitement in town that weekend also included the crowning of Frank Blod and Debbie Smith as "homecoming king and queen" during half-time ceremonies in a football game at Stanley P. Mead Field, South Avenue. To make the day complete, the Rams defeated Brien McMahon of Norwalk, 20-6, as Jim Saunders scored two touchdowns and Marshall Walker added another.