Wolcott Historical Society News - June 2016
By Florence Goodman
This month I will share the memories of a very special resident who has lived in Wolcott for 100 years. So often while driving around town researching an article, I try to imagine the town in those early years. My knowledge of growing up in this town only dates back to 1949 when my family moved to town, but Loretta Nigro Leonard's memories of Wolcott span 100 years.
Loretta was born on May 11, 1916, the oldest of four children. Her family moved to Wolcott in September of that year. She had a sister, Beatrice and two brothers Jesmond and Dante. Loretta's father built their house, which still stands on the lower end of Woodtick Road. That house and twenty-five acres of land is where Loretta grew up. Their beautifully wooded land spanned from Woodtick Road to the end of Finch Road; it was a great place to work and play. Her family grew many vegetables on the land, especially greens as well as cultivating wild dandelions on the property. She was of Italian heritage and her family always served "beans and greens" as she stated. They had a dairy cow that Loretta milked each morning before she went to school. She had other chores when she returned home.
Loretta's memories of attending the old Stone Schoolhouse on Nichols Road are vivid, even today. She began school in September of 1922 at the age of six and graduated from 8th grade in 1929. One of the advantages of attending a one-room schoolhouse was that if you were a bright child you could easily learn lessons that were being taught to the older students. That was the case with Loretta because she skipped third grade. She attended this school for 7 years and then went on to high school in Waterbury.
Loretta's first grade teacher was Miss Lonergan, but the following year she was gone. The next year and for the duration of Loretta's elementary school years Miss Loring was her teacher. Miss Loring was from Maine and in 1929 she married Chauncy Somes. In those days when a female schoolteacher married they had to stop teaching. Loretta loved her days at the old Stone Schoolhouse. They had no days off so they attended school in all kinds of weather walking from the lower end of Woodtick Road to the schoolhouse on Nichols Road. There was no indoor plumbing, but there were two outhouses, one for the girls and one for the boys and the well pump was just outside the entrance door. A wood-burning stove heated the building and the older you were the further away from the stove you sat. The younger children were smaller so they sat closer to the heat. Loretta remembers wearing gloves on some winter days because it was so cold in the classroom. All the students had jobs to do before and after school and sometimes during recess. School was in session from 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. Monday through Friday.
The daily walk to and from school with friends and siblings was always a great adventure. The landscape along Woodtick Road was quite different than today because the original Woodtick Road ran very close to the Mad River down behind the houses that are built on the northwest side of Woodtick Road today. Garthwaite Road was originally part of old Woodtick Road and Finch Road began at that intersection. A narrow wooden bridge took you across the Mad River when traveling on old Woodtick Road. The kids could stop at the river and find many interesting creatures in the water. In 1928 improvements began on Woodtick Road; they moved the road and bridge away from the Mad River and out of the flood zone and a new cement bridge replaced the wooden one. Just watching that construction was an education in itself.
Most of the land along both sides of Woodtick Road up to Nichols Road was part of Bock's farm. As you got closer to the reservoir, the land ownership changed to Mr. Gustave Cornelis, a prominent businessman in the Woodtick section of town. Loretta remembers him as a grouchy man who would chase them off his property, but they always found a way to return because there was so much to do there. There was the swinging bridge that ran over the Mad River; the boys would swing it and scare the girls as they crossed. Then there was the half-mile trotter track located where the baseball field is today. Mr. Cornelis loved racing his horse and sulky around the track and they loved watching this on their walk home from school.
There were many friendly neighbors that the kids encountered on their daily walk to and from school. The Bergen family lived on the corner of Nichols and Woodtick Roads and Mrs. Dorothy Cole lived across the street from Frisbie School, that house and the beautiful Cornelis house are no longer standing. The Cornelis house was located where the parking lot of the Woodtick Recreation area is today and the kids passed it daily before crossing the wooden bridge below the dam. The Moss family lived across Nichols Road in the old Upson House. Loretta remembers how nice Mrs. Moss was to the neighborhood kids. She loved to bake and many days Mrs. Moss shared her baked goodies. She had two daughters, Edith and Dorothy that attended school with them. Mr. Moss sold potato chips in little bags to the kids at school and that was the first time Loretta had every seen potato chips. She also remembers Mr. and Mrs. Badger who lived on the corner of Nichols and Wolf Hill Roads. Mrs. Helen Thomas Badger would help the teacher if any children got hurt. She also came to school and taught the girls how to sew and embroider after school. Loretta remembers Mrs. Badger as a very kind lady.
The children played many interesting games during recess and lunch break. One game called "kick the ricket" was like baseball only the "ricket" was a stick that you kicked and ran around bases that were made of piles of stones. They also played "haily over" where they threw the ball over the roof of the school and someone had to retrieve it while you ran the bases before they returned with the ball. Everyone loved to play basketball at the hoop up where the path to the outhouse is today. In the winter they played "fox and the geese" or went sledding down the hill across from the schoolhouse.
Loretta will never forget the day she was punished for chewing gum in school. Someone gave her bubble gum and she thought it was "just wonderful" until she got caught and got her hands slapped and had to kneel in front of the stove. She never did that again. Another incident she remembers was when a little black snake that visited their classroom regularly decided to slither under her desk. She jumped up on the chair and the teacher said, "Now come, come Loretta you've seen one of them before!" The schoolhouse floor was dirt.
It's obvious that Loretta had a great childhood growing up in our town and as she grew older she worked at several jobs in town. In high school she was a waitress at the pizza place called "Aunt Jenny's" which was located next to her house. She was also one of the first dispatchers to work for the police department when it was located at the old Center School. Loretta lived quite an interesting life in our town. She also traveled five days a week to Naugatuck to work at Peter Paul Mounds for over 30 years.
Loretta was always active in local organizations, but especially the Grange and the Historical Society where she was a lifetime member in both organizations. Each spring when the elementary school students would visit the museum Loretta enjoyed sharing her own school memories with them. We are fortunate to have such a wonderful resource still with us today. Thank you Loretta and Happy 100th Birthday!!
Information for this article was taken from a June 4, 2010 interview with Loretta Nigro Leonard.)
Happy 100th Birthday, Loretta.
The home on Woodtick Road where Loretta grew up.
Loretta sharing her school experience with students.
The outhouse that remains at the school on Nichols Road.
Remember to behave in school.
The students of Wolcott's Old Stone School (Woodtick School) line up for traditional photograph on May 9, 1927. Front row from left to right: Edgar Duhaime, Richard Snow Jesmond Nigro, Charlie Snow, George Goodson, John Knise, Gregory Boulanger, Charles Sharp, Kenneth Garthwiate, Philip Boulanger, Frank Webber, unknown, Andrew Washenko, Judson Towne, unknown. The three in the second row to the right: Thelma Boulanger or Nadya Passuck, Beartice Nigro, Anna Snow. Rear row: Edith Moss, Helen Garthwaite, Dorothy Moss, Nancy Goodson, Genevieve Garthwaite, Mildred Snow or Alice Passack, Mary Rozdilski, unknown, Loretta Nigro, Violet Dingwell, Gertrude Duhaime, Nellie Rozdilski, Mary Garthwaite, unknown, Mrs. Ethel Loring Somes of Mt. Desert Island.
Loretta was vice president of the Historical Society and curator of its museum; here with Stan Horzepa, Florence Goodman and Bob Wooding.
To view past installments of the Wolcott Historical Society News, click here.