Monday, October 12, 2015

The Growth of My Wolcott Neighborhood – 1954-1961

This is a continuation of my earlier blog that showed how the neighborhood I grew up in was formed. The focus of that earlier blog was on the streets, homes, and occupants. But this one is more focused on my experiences during my elementary school years. That’s why it starts in 1954 instead of 1955 when the earlier blog ended.

Prior to going to school my “world” just included the small neighborhood around me. I was too young to travel beyond it. We only had one car, so when my mother needed to go shopping we all got dressed and rode with my dad into Waterbury where he got out at the main gate of Scovill’s and my mother drove us home. There was only myself and my sister, a year younger, so it was fairly easy for my mother to take us shopping. We had a large garden next to the house which supplied us with peas, beans, carrots, beets, asparagus, rhubarb, cucumbers, two kinds of squash (yellow crookneck and butternut), musk melons, corn, swiss chard, tomatoes, and perhaps a few other things. We also had a couple of peach trees, a few apple trees, two pear trees, and a grape arbor. And there were abundant blueberries growing next to the pond and in the woods beyond it. Some of these items we ate fresh in season, and the rest was canned or frozen for use during the rest of the year.

Milk was delivered right to our back door. So the only things we needed to shopping for were baking products (flour, sugar, etc.), meats, cereal (Wheaties!), snacks (Hydrox cookies!), and a few other things. Our favorite place was Pat’s Superette (before it became an IGA), especially when hamburger was on sale – 3 lbs for $.99! The only other times we went out was for church on Sunday or to visit relatives on occasion. So my world was pretty small.

That all changed when I started school in September of 1954. Alcott School only had one classroom per grade in those days, but that was sufficient to house all the school children from the entire north end of town. The south and west ends of town had three schools at the time, Frisbie School being the largest. The others were Lewis School (the former South School) and Woodtick School. These smaller two schools only had a few rooms each, but together with Frisbie School were sufficient.

My first grade class at Alcott had perhaps 20 students in it, but new students would join each year until my final year there in 1960-61 (I went to Wolcott High School for my 8th grade year). So meeting new kids my age, learning where they lived relative to me, and eventually being able to meet them outside of the classroom setting greatly expanded my world. Here are some of the ones I still remember from 60 years ago:

·         Jackie Markot – Wolcott Road (the only one from my original neighborhood)
·         Jimmy LaFrance – corner of Spindle Hill and Cedar Ave
·         Gary Booker – up the street from Jimmy (he was the class artist)
·         Jay Pikell – Wolcott Road down around the corner from Woodtick Road
·         Louise and Marie Clement (twins) – Allentown Road
·         Louise Clement (cousin of the above) – Spindle Hill Road
·         Don Therkildsen – Center Street
·         Jann Lindsay – Catering Road
·         Karen Wooster – Ranslow Drive
·         Bob Schrager – Janet Drive
·         Al Forte (Alfred Anthony John Forte III!) – Boundline Road
·         Jeannie Wilson – Woodtick Road
·         Bobby Fehrs – Woodtick Road
·         Cynthia Harrington – Averyll Ave (and just one day younger than I)
·         Chuck Hoadley – Long Swamp Road
·         Darlene Petosa – Woodtick Road

Most, but not all of these were part of my 1st grade class, a few came in the years following. For example, I believe that Darlene moved to Wolcott around my 3rd grade year. But as you can see, the students came from all over the northern half of Wolcott. Although the population of the town was perhaps 4000 in those days, only a quarter or so if the people lived in the northern portion. So our friends might be somewhat scattered, but we were close knit nonetheless. Since we spent every school day for seven years in the company of the same group of kids, most of us remained close even through high school when we had different classes and moved around the building all day.

Of course my circle of friends was not limited to classmates the same age. Since my best friend in the neighborhood was my cousin Dave and he was a year behind me in school (but only 6 months younger), we had a neighborhood group of guys that included some of his classmates as well such as Bobby Merchant, Roger Norton, and others.

Before I started school, my small neighborhood and my small circle of friends were essentially the same. Now I had in addition a larger neighborhood and a larger circle of friends, as well as my group of classmates and the entire northern end of town as the outermost circle.

The growth in Wolcott was very uneven. If you look at a map of the town, new roads and neighborhoods in the south end of town (such as Garrigus Court and all the other roads off of Todd Road) and in the west end of town (such as the large group of streets between Laurel Lane and Lancewood Lane) were all being built in the 1950s. New streets in the north end of town (such as the Cancellaro Drive group of streets) tend to date from the 1960s and later. So our group of North Wolcott kids tended to be pretty stable and cohesive throughout my elementary years. But those of us who were a part of it developed friendships some of which still last until today.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

The Growth of a Wolcott Neighborhood – 1935-1955


For this paper, I’d like to meld together a variety of sources (see a complete list at the end) to paint a word picture of how the neighborhood I grew up in was formed and grew during my early years. I have chosen the beginning date for two reasons. One is the existence of a 1934 aerial view of Wolcott that shows what roads and houses existed at the time. The second is that 1935 was the year that the first paved road in Wolcott was built. Route 69, also known as Wolcott Road, or at the time the Waterbury-Bristol Road was created, partly by improving some existing roads, and partly by pushing through undeveloped land. But this new road opened up the northern reaches of the town (which is where I grew up) so that people (other than farmers) could have homes there and still be able to commute to jobs in Waterbury. I chose the ending year, not because it was a convenient 20 year period from the start, but because further developments in my neighborhood changed its boundaries (more on that below). This paper also turned out to be much longer than I envisioned, partly because I discovered some things that I had never known before that are exciting (at least to me).

Defining my neighborhood

The period of this paper covers from the year I was born (1948) until completion of my first grade year at Alcott School. Since I was hardly walking around the neighborhood on my own much before I was three, and I wasn’t roaming the streets of Wolcott even at age 7, my neighborhood was fairly limited. Therefore, I’d like to define my neighborhood as (a) the stretch of Wolcott Road from the intersection with Long Swamp and Woodtick Roads up through the intersection with North Street (but only the eastern side of the road), and (b) the then unpaved roads on the east side of Wolcott Road consisting of Witham Road, Seery Road (which only existed as a road as far as Barclare Lane, and Barclare Lane (which only ran back to my Uncle’s house and the Bristol Radio Shack at the time).

The years until my birth – 1935-1948

As the 1934 aerial view shows, there were almost no buildings in my neighborhood at the time. There were a few farm houses on the west side of what was called (in the 1930 census) “Central Bristol Road”. Homes still existing from before 1935 include the one which is now 1583 Wolcott Road built in 1883, and the small farm house at 1543 Wolcott Road built in 1880. (Note that I am giving these homes their current house number, but no such numbering system existed back then.) According to the 1930 census, there were only a total of 5 dwellings all the way from Long Swamp Road to the Bristol line. But in 1935 that all changed! The construction of the paved “Waterbury-Bristol Road” opened up the north end of Wolcott to those who had jobs elsewhere as it was now an easy (and paved) commute. (Note that I’m going to refer to this road as Wolcott Road in the below to avoid confusion.)

The first homes constructed were those right on Wolcott Road. Before the end of the decade, there were about a dozen homes built on the east side of the road. The earliest was built in 1934 (but after the aerial photographs were taken), and the newest was built in 1945. I’ll go through these houses one by one in the next section. I’m also going to ignore all the homes on the west side of Wolcott Road, partly because these homes did not have any children around my age and partly because crossing Wolcott Road was not something that my parents allowed me to do at such a young age. Even walking along the shoulder of the road was something to be done cautiously. In contrast, all the homes on the east side of the road could be reached through their backyards from Seery Road.

The new side road of Witham Road was built to give access to the home of Mr. Witham and a short section of Seery Road (built to give access to the property holdings of Tom Seery, who lived at 1584 Wolcott Road, the first house built in that section of the main road). The following homes were built on these new unpaved roads: 70 Seery Road (the home of Mr. Witham) (1941), then 58 Seery Road (1943), followed by 12 Barclare Lane (1947), and 62 Seery Road (1948).

My Early Years and My Neighbors

The Side Roads

My parents bought the home of Mr. Witham in 1946. He had built it in 1941 and I’m not sure why he decided to sell it.

Down a short right-of-way next to us was a tarpaper covered sawmill owned by “Otto”. His mill was powered by an old car engine sitting outside the building (to prevent fires) that ran a pulley system inside for saws, planers, etc. The sawdust was blown out pipes on the backside that actually piled the woodchips on the edge of our property. I never knew him by any other name but Otto. In later years the mill was torn down and the property (which turned the corner and had frontage on Barclare Lane as well) had a house built on the Barclare Lane side.

In 1948 the Chartier family built a very small house (only about 600 square feet) next door to us. They were very reclusive and I can only recall being in their home one or two times all the years they were there. They had one daughter, Ruth (called Ruthie), who was four years younger than I, so she being both younger and female was not part of the group of kids that I ran around with. They also had two older children, Janice (who became a nun), and David, but they were enough older that I had little interaction with them. (In later years the family finally added on to the house - and more than tripled the square footage of it. Ruth and her husband later purchased the family home and still live there.)

Next to Chartiers and on the corner of Barclare was a small house which had been built in 1943. I don’t recall the original owners, but do recall that a family with the name of Gracie bought it in the mid-1950s. I seem to remember that they were friends of the Merchants who built a house across the street in 1955. The Gracies had two boys younger than I and were never part of the group of kids I played with.

Apparently after Mr Witham sold his house to my parents he bought another piece of property and began building another house in 1947. My uncle and aunt bought it from Mr Witham in 1948. When they went to the town hall to register the sale they were told that the road needed a name, so they had the opportunity to name the “road” running back from Seery Road to their house Barclare Lane after themselves (“Bar” for Barbara and “Clare” for Clarence).

The only other structure on that road was a 12’x12’ tarpaper shack that was used by the Bristol Radio Club for their shortwave radio setup.

Wolcott Road

I’m going to go through these homes from north to south. Since I’m trying to describe things that are now more than 60 years ago when I was seven or younger, I may have some facts incorrect. I’ve tried to check things out by referring to the census data of 1940, but trying to correlate the names with the houses when some of them had not yet been built has been challenging. So please bear with me and forgive any mistakes you may notice. I’m going to list these homes by their current house numbers, but as I said before, these numbers didn’t exist at the time.

1660 (built in 1934) – this is the oldest of the homes, it was apparently built after the aerial photograph of 1934. The Lewandoski family lived here and they were the only ones who on the 1940 census when asked where they had lived in 1935 replied “same house”. Their house abutted the far corner of my father’s property which ran behind all the houses from Witham Road as far as North Street. They were an older couple who had been born in Poland.

1652 and 1642 – these were a pair of bars, not homes. It always intrigued me that the only two bars in our entire end of the town were located right next door to one another.

1624 (built in 1941) – the home of the Pearson family. In the 1940 census this family was renting the house at 1612, but that appears to have been a temporary situation until their home was completed. This was a couple with 5 children in 1940, but they had even more children later. One of them, Jimmy, was about my age. They moved to Wolcott from Waterbury.

1618 (built in 1939) – the home of the Greene family. I seem to recall that the Greenes and the Pearsons were related. They also had a large family with 6 children in the 1940 census with more later. They also had a son about my age later. They also moved to Wolcott from Waterbury.

1612 (built in 1939) – was being rented by the Pearsons in 1940, but later was owned by another family with no children (that I can recall).

1600 (built in 1940) – see section on the Seery Farm below for why this one was not sold until 1940. My sister remembers the name as something like Bikulcius. They did not have any children.

1596 (built in 1944) – see section on the Seery Farm below for why this one was not sold until 1944. Was owned by the Levine family. They had identical twin boys, Ronnie and Richard, who were several years older than I was.

1590 (built in 1938) – Initially owned by Robert Seery, the older brother to Tom Seery. Robert moved back to Plymouth in 1942 and the house was sold to the Carnein family who lived there when I was growing up.

1584 (built in 1935) – See section on the Seery Farm below for more information. This was the home of Tom Seery, his wife and three children. The oldest son, also named Tom, was 14 years older than I was. Barbara was about six years older and was often our babysitter. She was friends with my cousin Carolyn as they were the same age and went to school together. The youngest son, Paul, was a couple of years older than I was. It was he who taught me how to ride a bicycle.

1576 (built in 1939) – was owned by the Boynton family from Maine. They did not have any children my age, so I know little about them.

1570 (built in 1938) – was owned by the Markot family from Bristol. Jackie Markot was my age and I am still friends with her on Facebook.

1556 (not sure of the original date of construction as the original building is now torn down) – Martin’s gas station and store. This is where all the neighborhood kids would go every time they had sufficient spending money and buy candy. A popular place to be for sure.

Schools and Busing

When my parents married and moved to Wolcott in 1946 the town was still operating with a group of mostly one-room schools in individual school districts (see references for a map from 1868 that shows them all). But the town was beginning a period of explosive growth and that era was about to end. The residents had voted the prior year (1945) to authorize the building of a new multi-room school on Woodtick Road, Alcott School. This was initially a six-room school, but two more rooms were added a short time later. The school opened in 1947(see italicized note below) and all the students from the one-room school on North Street (the North District), as well as the one on Beecher Road (the North East District) were transferred to this new school.

In 1948 Daniel Goffred and his wife began the Goffred School Bus Company and began the first school bus services in town. The first three buses were 1948 48-passenger Internationals (that’s 8 rows of seats). They were distinguished by having different interior paint colors (as I recall they were powder blue, pink, and light green). Bus 3 was the one used in the northern part of town. Busing only became necessary because of the change from the walking-only district schools to regional schools. After Alcott, Frisbie School opened in 1950 but three buses were still sufficient. Bus 4 was added in 1954 and was a 54 passenger Ford with dark green interior. More buses were added in later years with the opening of Wolcott High School in 1957, Wakelee School in 1961, and Tyrrell School in 1964.

 (I am unsure of the exact dates here. In the 1946 map of Wolcott it is obvious that Alcott School does not yet exist. And the Goffred Bus Company was definitely not started until 1948 – as confirmed both by the buses he used and the date given in his wife’s obituary. So while the 175th anniversary booklet for Wolcott gives a year of 1947 for when Alcott opened, I tend to think that the school and the busing both began in the fall of 1948.)

When I began school (which started with first grade in those days), I got the bus out on Route 69 (Wolcott Road) with all the other students who lived on “the highway”. I was the only school-aged student back in our little collection of unpaved roads. So I rode the bus with Paul Seery and we waited right alongside the highway. Route 69 was much less traveled then than it is these days, so it was perfectly safe, but still having a bus stop (without the crossing arm and the extended stop sign on the side of the bus as they have these days) on a main road was less than ideal.

As a side note – Danny (that’s what he was called) ran the school buses from 1948 until 1988. He never had any problems and the town gladly renewed his contract every few years. Danny had always been a political independent, but one year in the late 1960s someone convinced him to register as a Republican so that he would have a vote in the primary as well as in the general election. Then, the following year, when the new administration was elected in town and they were Democrats, they are said to have let someone else know what Danny had bid for the next contract and then let the other company just slightly underbid him so they could award the contract to a fellow Democrat instead of to a Republican. Many people in town were somewhat upset since Danny had always acted in a non-partisan way and always had the best interests of the town in mind. Danny kept his buses and was able to regain the contract again a few years later, but the "dirty politics" of the situation forever left a bad taste in my mouth.

A new neighborhood and the end of this era

Development of other streets outside of my early neighborhood happened at not quite the explosive rate that the homes were built on Wolcott Road. Development on Long Swamp Road lagged the building on Wolcott Road by 5-10 years. There were one or two homes built in the late 1930s, the lots on the north side of the street were built on in the early-mid 1940s and those on the other side of the street during the 1950s. (If you look at the 1946 map of Wolcott on the Wolcott History website, you can see most of this.) In the late 1940s a dirt road was pushed through to a single home on Idlewood Road. The rest of the homes on this road were not built until it was paved in 1953.

But it was in 1955 that the change that forever changed “my neighborhood” happened. Tom Seery, who owned much of the land surrounding us, completed the rest of Seery Road, changing the narrow path that went through the woods and across the small swampy area into a real road. He also opened up the remainder of Barclare Lane to its present size and added Catherine Drive as well.

All of these changes meant that when I started second grade in 1955, there were several more school-aged children in the neighborhood (my sister, my cousin Dave, Dave and Bobby Merchant in their new home on the corner of Seery and Barclare, and others), but my bus stop was now at the corner of Seery and Long Swamp with other students from the several homes on Long Swamp. And with all these new friends and me being a year older and allowed to roam farther from home, the little neighborhood that I had enjoyed was now greatly expanded.

If you look at the map of Wolcott from 1953/55/56 on the Wolcott History website, the top section is from 1953. You can see all the homes on Wolcott Road and on Long Swamp Road. Barclare Lane has not yet been pushed through and Seery Road is still an unpaved path. Just two years later all the homes on Barclare Lane and Catherine Drive were being built. The number of homes in “my neighborhood” grew by a factor of 3-4 in just a few years. But that also increased the number of friends I had to interact with and my own personal worldview would be expanded as well.

The Seery Farm

When I started writing this paper I did not envision this section being part of it, but there were too many miscellaneous facts that were disconnected at the time that all came together when I found that the house next to Tom Seery in the 1940 census was being lived in by Robert Seery. In checking to see if they were brothers, I looked at their entire family and the census records from 1900 to 1940 for each of them. I saw that their father (also named Tom) was a farmer in Wolcott. In the 1900 and 1910 census he was renting the land, but in 1920 he owned it. And where was this land? In the left hand side of the page of the 1910 census was written vertically and very faintly, “Plumb Street”. But where is Plumb Street? Again, the key was that many of the early street names in town were the names of the original families who lived on them. In the 1868 map of Wolcott, there are four Plumb families, all of them in the North District and along what is now the northern end of Woodtick Road and its continuation all the way to the Bristol line, i.e. the current Wolcott Road. This meant that the Seery family was living in the area for several decades and farming with their large family of nine children – it must have been a sizeable farm.

I am almost certain that the Seery family farmhouse was the house currently at 1583 Wolcott Road – the only one large enough to hold a family of that size – and coincidentally right across the street from the home that Tom Seery built for himself at 1584 Wolcott Road in 1935. But in 1922 the older Thomas Seery passed away and the family gave up farming. In the 1930 census Tom is living in Bristol with his wife and his mother (who lived until 1950). However, they did NOT sell the family farm, they only stopped farming. Here is the most probable order of events.

In 1934, the construction of the Bristol portion of what would become Route 69 began. You can see the new swath of road curving up the hill from Bristol all the way to the Bristol-Wolcott line. Since this was a paved road, there would have been a need for sand – and Tom knew where to find it. He began “mining” the sand next to the home where I would eventually live and having it trucked to the construction site (for a profit I’m sure). You can also see the active sand pit on the 1934 aerial photo.

Realizing the potential that the construction of such a road would bring to Wolcott, Tom, probably with the consent of his mother, also began subdividing that portion of the property that abutted the only two existing roads at the time – Plumb Road aka Center Bristol Road aka Wolcott Road aka Waterbury-Bristol Road aka Route 69, and Long Swamp Road. The Seery property ran all the way along Long Swamp Road as far as what is now 125 Long Swamp Road. The first house built was in the very corner of the property and was for the Lewandoski family. But why them? Because they were actually neighbors of the Seerys in the 1920 census and had nine children of their own. But because most of their children were grown and had moved away they were looking to downsize. The second house that Tom built was his own – right across the street from the original Seery family homestead. He continued this same practice with all the lots facing Wolcott Road (which was completed in Wolcott in 1935), as well as with all the lots on the northern side of Long Swamp Road. He left space for Seery Road – a paper street that ran behind all the properties on Wolcott Road and for connectors at each end – one on to Long Swamp Road and one on Wolcott Road. The only properties he did not develop initially were 1596 and 1600 Wolcott Road as that is where the access to the properties in the back (both the sand pit and the saw mill) were located.

In 1940 Tom had his first offer to buy property in the interior of his property – from a Mr. Witham. Initially it appears that Tom’s plans were for one access point to Wolcott Road at the proposed northern end of Seery Road where it would bend and come out between what is now 1624 and 1642 Wolcott Road, i.e. after the last house and before the two bars, and a secondary access point that would directly connect with the right-of-way leading back to the sawmill. But Mr. Witham wanted a connector that would come right to his front door. So the second access point was moved right next to what is now 1612 Wolcott Road and was called Witham Road. The two undeveloped lots between 1612 and Tom’s brother’s house at 1590 were shifted 50’ to the south. The lot at 1600 Wolcott Road was sold that same year (1940) and the lot at 1596 in 1944. Mr. Witham bought a 23 acre parcel that extended all the way to the northern edge of Tom’s property and back to where the property began to drop off into the swampy area to the east of Tom’s property. This still left Tom with sufficient internal property to complete Seery Road (although the section to the north of Witham Road remains a paper street even to this day since it was never needed to give access to any other properties), and to push through Barclare Lane and Catherine Drive in order to develop all the internal lots.

With this last piece of the puzzle, a lot of my unanswered questions have a solution:
·         Who initially built what is now known as Russell’s Pond? Tom Seery the elder in order to have water supplies for what stock and/or crops he was growing on his extensive farm.
·         Who operated the sand pit? Tom Seery the younger in order to sell the sand to the company who was constructing the new road – both the Bristol portion initially and likely the Wolcott portion as well.
·         Why is the northern portion of Seery Road still a paper street? Because once Mr. Witham bought such a large piece of the Seery Farm it was not needed for access to any other internal lots at that end of the farm.
·         Who was responsible for all the subdivision in the area? Tom Seery the younger who sold off a total of 19 lots along Wolcott Road and an additional 19 lots along the northern side of Long Swamp Road (in addition to 52 internal pieces of property). Only much later was the Russell property divided into 11 parcels including the Russell Preserve.
·         Why did Tom Seery choose the particular piece of property for his own family? Because he could see the farmhouse where he had been born out his front window and see straight down Barclare Lane to the end of his property out the back window.

There is probably more to the story of Tom Seery, but the above will suffice for this paper. I still have a few unanswered questions as well such as (1) who was "Otto" who owned the sawmill, and (2) where did Mr. Witham come from and where did he disappear to just a few years later.


·         Aerial Survey from 1934 –
·         Wolcott History –
·         Wolcott GIS Survey –
·         Wolcott Property Records –
·         1940 Census Records –
·         Wolcott School Districts –