Wolcott Historical Society News - Januery 2023
By Florence Goodman
In the last edition I began a series about planes that crashed, landed or were placed in our town for various reasons that I wrote about back in 2017. Back then my search through 1930s, 1940s, and 1960s Republican American news articles and talking to residents helped enlighten me about two different planes that ended up in local lakes and one that landed in the high school field. This month I will continue the series, but first I'll share comments I received from several residents after I first wrote those articles. Churchelow's Spindle Hill farm landing strip brought comments from two residents. Tony Romaniello told me that he rented a house on the farm about 50 years ago and he remembered the remains of the old hanger. He also remembers a metal structure on the corner of Alcott and Spindle Hill Roads where a diner was located. Ed Tryniszewski who grew up in the area also remembered the remains of the old hanger there.
The hydroplane going down in Chestnut Hill Reservoir also brought comments from Dawn Smith Rolandi who told me that Walter C. Smith was her grandfather and Sydney Smith was her father. She remembers growing up on the Smith farm on Spindle Hill Road, which was new information to me because I was thinking of the Hock/Smith farm on Chestnut Hill Road. When she explained that there were two Smith farms in the area that solved a lot of my questions. I checked and found that the Hock/Smith farm was located on 6 Grilley Road (Chestnut Hill Road today) and that was where Willard C. Smith lived; while 6 Spindle Hill Road was where William C. Smith lived. Today the Johnson family owns the 1833 house at 6 Spindle Hill Road, which has gone through many changes and additions. The farmland was sold, and the Arrowhead Condominiums were built. A few people shared a story they heard that a plane was underwater in the reservoir, but I remember on numerous occasions when the lake was drained, never seeing any remains. I called Paul Cossette who grew up across from the Smith farm on Spindle Hill Road and asked him that question and he said he never heard or saw a plane either.
Another plane landing took place across town about ten years later than the first story. On June 25, 1942, an Army plane crash-landed on the shore of Hitchcock Lake. The newspaper article explained that three Curtiss P-40E aircrafts, which were part of the 65th Fighter Squadron stationed at Rentschler Field in East Hartford, were in a string formation following the flight leader. They dove low over the water and one of the planes flown by pilot, Lieut. Frank Huff, 22, of Woodstown, N.J. struck the slipstream of the plane ahead of him causing the propeller to touch the water. The propeller stopped spinning, but the plane's momentum swiftly moved it across the first lake. As stated in the Waterbury paper (June 26, 1942), "The plane ricocheted off the first lake, shot upward over the road that divides the two lakes, continued on without touching the water of the second lake to crash through a grove of trees and land on the Kleckner front yard." William Kleckner who lived at 48 East Street watched as the fuselage of the plane landed upside down in his front yard; the wings had been torn off during the crash. Mr. Kleckner who had been watching the three planes for some time stated, "They had been zooming around the lake and vicinity flying low. I was sitting on my front porch when the plane came plunging through the trees and crashed on my front lawn." Mr. Kleckner called the Waterbury police who sent a patrol car and ambulance to the scene. Francis H. Smith, Gerard Tuohy, Edgar Brown and Alfred Andrews rushed to the scene to help the pilot out of the plane; he sustained only minor injuries. Dr. Elliott R. Mayo who had a summer home on Hemingway Avenue treated the pilot's injuries at the scene.
Another eyewitness to the crash, John F. Brouker of Grove Avenue was fishing on the lake when the plane hit the water about 50 yards from his boat. He stated, "They were so low that I could see their numbers. They went to the end of the lake and turned and came back, this time right over the center of the lake. They were still very low. Just beyond my boat, one of them, the last swooped down. His motor was roaring. He hit the water. His motor stopped and steam arose. I could see the motionless propeller. He glanced off the water and zoomed upward with a dead motor, toward the road. The other two had gone on, but now they turned and came back. The plane that hit the water was out of my sight now, beyond the trees. The other two were gone also."
The article stated that there were three planes in the formation. The second pilot landed his plane on the golf course and hurried to the scene of the crash while the third pilot returned to Hartford. Soon after the crash a Civil Air Patrol plane circled the scene and spectators began to gather around the area. The State Police from the Bethany barracks arrived and helped the military to enforce "no photography" of the wreckage. A roll of film belonging to a spectator was confiscated and exposed by the State Guard. Later that evening Patrolmen Frank Leary and Joseph Tierney brought a three-foot section of machine gun clip, filled with live ammunition into police headquarters. It had been taken from the scene by a 12-year-old boy whose parents reported the finding to the police. The police warned that anyone taking bullets from the scene could be in danger because they might explode.
I also received a call after the first 2017 article from George Maher of Woodtick Road who told me about the above-mentioned plane crash. He explained that he was 7 years old when the plane crashed on Hitchcock Lake and his father brought him to the scene to see the plane. He stated that there was live ammunition on the plane and the area was guarded. George has since passed away but was always a wonderful source of local history. It's always great to hear from my readers who remember our early history and are willing to share their stories! Next month I will continue with some other Wolcott airplane stories.
(Information for this article was taken from Waterbury Republican-American article, "Army Probes Plane Crash in Wolcott," June 26, 1942, New England Aviation History, March 13, 2016, FaceBook conversations from Wolcott Chats on January 21, 2017, emails from Jerry O'Neill, conversations with Sue Johnson, Dawn Smith Rolandi, Marlene Tosun, Ed Tryniskewski and Tony Romaniello)
Pa Smith (Source of photo: Deb DuBois)
Ma Smith (Source of photo: Deb DuBois)
William B. Andrews in the forefront, but the house in background on the right-hand side of the photo is the Smith house. (Source of this photo: Andrews's family album.)
1833 Smith House located on 6 Spindle Hill Road. Today it is the residence of the Johnson family. (Photo by Flo Goodman)
Early photo of Chestnut Hill Reservoir from Smith farmland. (Source of this photo is unknown.)
2017 photo of Chestnut Hill Arrowhead Condominiums. (Photo by Flo Goodman)
P-40 Warhawk - A U.S. Air Force photo found on the internet.
To view past installments of the Historical Society News, click here.