Wolcott Historical Society News - May 2021
By Florence Goodman
In this month's article, I would like to continue our ride back in time from the early to the mid-1900s of the Hitchcock Lake area. We pick up our tour at the corner of East Street and Meriden Road. George's Cleaners, owned by George Plantier, was located on the western side of East Street along with Tony's Barber Shop and a Pizza establishment. Carl Mattesen's Surveying Company was across East Street where the transmitter towers are located. The Matteson name is found on many survey maps of Wolcott. If you continued to travel down Southington Mountain Roger's Orchard was located on the right side of Meriden Road midway down the mountain and it is still there today. Now let's travel back up the hill and turn onto East Street to find out what else Hitchcock Lake had to offer in those early years.
If you drive to the end of Grove Avenue you will reach Grove Beach. It is located on the first lake or the south section of the lake and was established in 1945. In those early years, the lake was weed infested and many members spent hours trying to keep the lake clean; of course this was pre chemical times. Next to Grove Beach was Alma Avenue Beach and the French Colony. This property was called the French Colony because the early residents came to the area from the Fort Kent, Maine during the 1930s and 1940s to work in the factories in Waterbury.
Further on down East Street was Bethal Lane. In this area you would have found the Bethal Lane Amusement Park and Dance Hall also known as Morris Park. Many Waterbury residents would trolley out to the Park for a day of fun. It had shooting games and vaudeville entertainment. There were rental facilities for boats and fishing equipment. Another store in the area sold candy and cold drinks for all to enjoy. People could spend the day fishing and picnicking on the lake.
On the corner of East Street and Maple Lane was Theriault's Ice House. In the rear of this corner house a deep hole was dug and lined with straw and hay. The ice was cut from the lake and dragged up the road, buried and preserved for summer use. Many residents purchased blocks of ice for their "ice boxes". Later this became Theriault's Oil.
Across the street was Chase Country Club, a nine-hole golf course built by the Chase Manufacturing Company of Waterbury for their employees. There was a picnic and outing area to the rear of the parking lot. It was a popular gathering place in the 1930s through the 1960s. Later it was renamed Farmingbury Hills Country Club. Today it is called Farmingbury Hills and owned by the Town of Wolcott and serves as a public 9-hole golf course.
Further down East Street was Hemingway Avenue. On the corner of Hemingway Avenue and East Street was the Morris Park Hotel, which was owned by Morris Hemingway. As you drove up the hill on Hemingway Avenue on the left-hand side you would see the B.S.A. Summer Camp. It consisted of several wooden barrack structures similar to Camp Mattatuck. When you reached the end of the road you would find Doctor Mayo's summer cottage, which was located on the lake. Every 4th of July the doctor would have a huge fireworks display that could be enjoyed by everyone on the lake. Local youths were provided with hot dogs and sodas during the celebration.
Returning to East Street and heading back toward Meriden Road if you turned onto Central Avenue and headed down toward the lake you would come upon Kerwin's General Store and Gift Shop. Each neighborhood had a small local store to furnish their household needs and this was one of several located in the area. This long red barn-type building is still used today as a private residence owned by Joan Polowitzer who has been a great help with information for this article. Originally this barn was part of Samuelson's Farm, but eventually the farm was divided into building lots. In many cases Mrs. Samuelson would hold the mortgage and this served as her monthly income. Just beyond the red barn was Company I Fire Department. It was the first Fire Company to be established in our town in 1934 and called the Hitchcock Lake Fire Department. Across from Company I Fire Department the Fair Grounds were found. In the 1950s, the Fair would come to this area yearly. It would have a Ferris wheel, rides, cotton candy, shooting galleries and much more.
The Hitchcock Lake area was thriving in so many ways in those early years because of its easy access to residents from surrounding towns. The Green Line Trolley served as the main source of transportation for them. Next month I'll finish my tour of this much loved Hitchcock Lake area.
(Rich Plantier and Joan Polowitzer provided much information for this article; "1986 Historic Resources Inventory" by J.P. Loether Associates;" Wolcott Connecticut 175th Anniversary 1796-1971" by John Washburne.)
Morris Park Hotel on the corner of Hemingway Avenue and East Street. The date of photo is unknown. The people on porch (L to R): Ernest Prindle, Morris Hemingway (owner), Fred Shea (kitchen man), next 3 unknown, Edward Holmes (father of Mrs. Limmer, nee Jennie Holmes). Photo donated by Mrs. Limmer.
A 1915 photo of Morris Park that was located on the corner of East Street and Maple Lane. It had a dance hall (first building on the right), and an amusement park.
This is a 1916 photo of the Morris Park amusement area.
Kerwin's Gift Shop and General Store located on the corner of Central and Samuelson Avenues.
In the 1950's, the inside of the gift shop was remodeled.
The first Fire Company #1 located on Central Avenue.
Sign from Theriault's Ice House.
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