Wolcott Historical Society News - October 2009
By Florence Goodman
In this month's article, I would like to continue our ride back in time through the mid 1900s to 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 mid 1900's in Wolcott.
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 were Alma Avenue Beach and the French Colony. This property was called the French Colony because the early residents came to the area from 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.
Further down East Street was Hemingway Avenue. As you drove up the hill 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. Each neighborhood had a small local store to furnish their household needs. This long red barn-type building is still used today as a private residence and an antique shop. Originally this barn was part of Samuelson's Farm. 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 was 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, etc. Continuing past the Fire Company you would have found Pendy's Restaurant, an early restaurant, which was quite popular. Frog legs, caught by local youths around the lake were available on the menu. Later Jim McCarthy and Jack Schmidt purchased the property and renamed it Long Acre Inn. Jimmy owned a package store near Walsh's Market and Jack was a salesman. As you continued down Central Avenue between the lakes you would approach a street named College Place. We've been told that this area had many cottages that were owned by a doctor and leased them to Yale students (hence, its name). Further down the road you would see Midwood Avenue. Toward the end of Midwood Avenue is the Whipperwill Club. It started out in a tent around 1922 as a local clubhouse for lake area residents. It grew into a permanent structure and was used for stags, showers, weddings, etc. and it still functions today as a private club.
I am sure there may be other interesting facts about the Hitchcock Lake area that I have left out and I am always looking to update our records, so if you would like to share information that you might have, please feel free to contact me at 203-879-9818. I'd love to hear from you. It can be about any part of Wolcott, not just the Hitchcock Lake area. I am presently working on the old farms of Wolcott and would appreciate any information residents might have. (Rich Plantier provided much of the information for Hitchcock Lake articles.)
Fall is membership time for the Society and we are always looking for new members; please consider joining our organization. You can support us even if you can't make the monthly meetings. Our annual Dessert Card Party will be held on Friday, November 6th at the Reitdyke Senior Center from 7–9 P.M.
Our Schoolhouse Museum is open on Sunday afternoons from 1-3 P.M. during the fall months. Anyone interested in visiting the Museum at a different time, please call Loretta Leonard at 879-4310 or Flo Goodman 879-9818. Our meetings are held on the first Thursday of each month at the Old Stone School on Nichols Road at 6:30 P.M. If you arrive at 6 P.M., Carl Hotkowski will appraise one article for free.
Hitchcock Lake area map
Wolcott's first firehouse
Hitchcock Lake shooting gallery
Morris Park, the Hitchcock Lake amusement area
Fire Company 1 in 2009
Kerwin's General Store, now a private residence and antique shop
The Whip Poor Will Club
To view past installments of the Wolcott Historical Society News, click here.