Sunday, Sept 20, 2015, started off as just another Sunday, hubby and I sitting by the beach enjoying our coffee, contemplating a few tags sales to check out.
As we drove looking for a tag sale street address, I spotted a sign on a backyard garage. I grabbed my camera quickly, wanting a photo of the Armstrong sign I had just spotted. Between the car parked in the driveway and the house, I couldn’t fit the sign into my photo for it to show in its entirety. At that moment, I spotted a man in the back yard so we pulled over and I went to ask if I could take a picture. My husband told me later that he was really surprised that I even did that – but when you want something, well….
As I walked down the driveway, the man was coming out of the back gate with his head down – he hadn’t seen me yet. No sooner than I asked about taking a photo, I looked to see my husband coming down the driveway also; before we knew it, we were deep in conversation and had been invited into his garage and down in the cellar to see a few things.
I didn’t know what to look at first, and happy I had my camera, as I recorded all I saw. He had an older Ford car he was restoring, plus much West Haven and Savin Rock memorabilia from the area. There were even a couple of Forest Theater poster frames he grabbed before the local movie theater was razed.
I could tell he enjoyed preserving history and like me – hated to see the old pieces from his life-time destroyed. Everywhere I turned, my eyes caught some little piece of history wedged all around his cellar. I’m sure I could go back and still find more treasures I missed on the first trip; I definitely see another visit in the future with our new friend.
My husband spent most of his time talking, as I was busy with my camera. But when I heard our friend mention Armstrong Rubber, my ears perked up. He walked over and pulled out a frame that held an older photograph of Armstrong – one that I had never saw before. My father in law worked there, as well as my husband, several uncles, aunts and even my mother in law. Armstrong was where my in-laws first met.
This photograph was taken way before 1950 – how do I know – well the house (39 Wagner Place) on the corner was bought before 1950 by the Consorte family to build a bigger West End Market. That market was still in existence in 1971 when I came to West Haven.
If my father in law was alive today, he could probably tell me more information on this photograph as he began working there in 1941, before joining the Army Air-Corp.; upon returning home – he returned to work at Armstrong and remained until retirement in 1981 – 40 years of dedication! With him working there from 1941, it’s very likely that this is how Armstrong looked when he was hired. He would have enjoyed seeing this photograph!
As my husband studied the photo, he said… “See that tall smokestack by the smaller water tank (on left side of photo as you view it), well my father climbed up there to make a repair one winter night. He never told me directly, but one day at Armstrong (they both worked there), I overheard him telling another man this story. He was called at home one night because of some issue with the smokestack – it connected directly to the boiler room. Scaffolding was constructed for them to work up there – and at night – in the winter – with snow on the ground – he along with one other man climbed up that smokestack. The winds were howling and dad said he’d never been so cold in his life as he was that night, clinging to the scaffolding to make the repairs with the winds howling all around them. And knowing my father as well as I do, you can bet he made that repair; he wouldn’t have come down until it was done. There was never anything he couldn’t repair”
In looking at that photo, I can’t even imagine climbing it in the middle of the summer, much less the dead of winter, but in knowing my father in law – he loved a challenge and nothing ever bested him. They knew that whenever they wanted something repaired correctly – he was their man! Even in the family, he was the one always called to troubleshoot problems and make repairs and he never refused anyone. My husband still says today – “if only I could ask my father, he’d know how to repair this.”
Further questions from my husband to our new friend of, “do you know?” We soon discovered that this man was very good friends with my husbands cousin and even knew his uncles – small world! It already seemed like we were old friends – just having a conversation. He even offered to allow me to take the Armstrong photograph home to copy. He then asked me if I do family history as our cousin had mentioned a woman who did family research. Our new friend pulled out another framed print and asked me to take it and try to return it to its rightful owners. It was a framed and very worn marriage certificate of a Parson’s family from the Danbury, CT. area. It was very faded, but after photographing small sections, I made out Frederick L. Parsons born 1876 in Danbury; I quickly turned to Ancestry and found his parents and siblings, but no researcher on the line. I will pursue this more in the future.
Before leaving we were shown a few more goodies in the garage – I loved the enclosed fan, never saw one like that before. Also loved his 1916 car and the old peddle cars hiding in the rafters above us. Check out the Playboy car poster he rescued from someone who was throwing it out. He brought it home, unrolled it and built a frame to show it off; it looked perfect on the wall! Everywhere I turned, I found interesting pieces of history.
In the back of the yard my husband spotted a large metal dome and asked what it was… “that’s the top of a vent for a bomb shelter that was here in West Haven. It came from a private home off York St., and believe it not, the bomb shelter was just filled in less than six months ago when the house was sold. They were throwing out the metal dome and I scoffed it up to preserve.” Another piece of history saved!
We left with two pieces of history tucked under our arms and a new friendship that definitely will yield more conversations in the future. It just goes to show you – You never know what a cold call will bring you… Never be afraid to ask!