2020: I – April A to Z… Family Stories
I’m back in 2020 for my fifth year of participating in the yearly April A to Z challenge… and as usual I racked my brain scribbling ideas on paper since the end of last April. It wasn’t until January, that the light bulb finally went off in scrolling through the 85+ of unfinished blog posts in my draft folder. Bingo… there was my A to Z topic…
Family Stories as told to me… mostly by my husband!
From the moment I married into this Italian family… I fell in love with their stories… their memories… and the family. My husband grew up in West Haven, Connecticut… where there was so much to enjoy as a young boy… especially a place known as Savin Rock… although long gone now. It somewhat resembled Coney Island… but was even larger when his parents, aunts and uncles grew up. They had stories… and I was always an eager listener whenever they told those stories… remembering, and scribbling down to preserve, just as I did with the family recipes that had once only been in their heads. 2020 has became the year I’m telling many of those stories… along with my husband’s memories to preserve for the generations to come. Many of those who told me their stories, are no longer with us… and I hope to keep their memory alive in these stories… as they are now my family also… and I love them all!
My previous years of A to Z Challenges are:
- 2016: A to Z Southern Foods and Memories… they said write what you know… and being a girl born in the South… well this was what I knew.
- 2017: A to Z Conversations with Mama… it was a somewhat easy one for me to write as I’d journaled our conversations for years… I researched favorite topics to write.
- 2018: A to Z All About Nancy Drew… this one has been my favorite topic so far, and I don’t know if I’ll ever come up with another one to equal it
- 2019: A to Z Italian Famiglia Foods and Memories… I felt it was time to finally write the favorites of my husbands family foods.
Come sit a spell and enjoy!
I-95 Cut Through Sawmill Road
“Sawmill Road was still a dirt road even when I was young and living there – nothing was around our house… I-95 had not come through yet.”
“In looking at this photo I can visualize Exit 42 North exiting off I- 95. Every time we exited there, it almost circled around where our house had once stood. A tree grew up later almost where the center of our house had once stood… I always looked at that tree as marking where our house had sat! Aunt Catherine is standing next to my father’s 1956 Oldsmobile Rocket 88 – our house sat above; my father built our house on land given them from my mother’s father.”
“Not long after my father finished building our house, and we moved in… the building of Interstate I-95 began. Little did we know at that time that it was designed to come straight through our property. I remember the men surveying near our house and the day they came to see my father. From this photo you can visualize how high up our house was… it sat above Sawmill Road.”
“The first day I saw men surveying our land was in coming back with Aunt Nancy from food shopping at the Food Basket; it was a Saturday afternoon. As we pulled into the driveway we saw them surveying our property line, and Aunt Nancy said, “if the old man sees them he will have a fit… he’s going to be so mad.” Nancy had probably already read about I-95 coming through, but no one had dared to tell the old man that it might come through his property.”
“It wasn’t long before my grandfather was contacted by the state to buy his land… or seemed to rather take his land. He wanted to fight, but everyone told him you can’t win… they will take everything from you and you’ll get nothing in the end. He eventually sold his land to the state for $12,000… prime Sawmill Road property today… all 100 plus acres.”
The state later burned the farmhouse when they began the construction for I-95. Every time I drive by, even now, I can still visualize where our house and Grandpa’s farm was.“
“The surveyors later came to our house and spoke to my father about buying his land… telling him that I-95 was going to be built straight through his property… and he had to sell. He knew better than to try and not sell… as they’d take it anyway. My father made the deal that the state would buy him a parcel of land and pay to have the house moved; our house was newly built. He was not going to have it demolished like the farmhouse was destined, as it was older and not worth moving to another property. They bought land he chose and moved our house to a lot on Edward Street – not far from where we were living.”
“I still can visualize the burning of my grandparents farmhouse… watching it slowly go up in flames and seeing the center cave in. Not everyone wanted to stay and watch, but I wanted to see.”
“Even though Sawmill Road was a main road, only about twelve or fifteen cars went by daily. Further up the road was a large chicken farm called Vansack’s… those chicken houses were torn down later and replaced with apartment houses. The apartment houses were later torn down in 2006 when they redid the I-95 exits on Sawmill Road and a Walmart was built in 2007. Sawmill Road has seen many changes since I was a young boy.”
One day while driving on Sawmill Road, I asked questions… “Long before Sawmill Road was paved, it was covered with pea gravel, then oil and sand… and that was still the way it was covered even after I-95 first opened.. and continued to be maintained in that way for quite awhile. It would bounce all under your car when it was first put down… and last for a few weeks until it became packed down from the cars. Roads weren’t smooth back in the late 50’s… they were bumpy wherever you went; I don’t remember when it was finally blacktopped. On the old Sawmill Road cutoff, I remember two old gas pumps sitting in someone’s front yard… I believe they were still there in 1971 when you came here.”
“One day a truck carrying live chickens and eggs ran off I-95 and crashing on the South-side… there were dazed chickens were everywhere…! I happened to have been over at my friends house at the corner of Moloy and Sawmill Road… so we saw it happen. Everyone who lived close-by came and gathered up the chickens and eggs. My friend and I took several to my grandfather’s house on First Ave. as they had a freezer. Grandpa put them all in the garage… later I helped him kill them that afternoon; he cut their heads off with a pair of scissors while I held them. Everyone ate chicken over the next few days.”
“Within a year of first seeing the surveyors, I was standing in my grandparents yard watching our house being prepped for moving. The state bought my father a lot nearby at 30 Edward Street and moved our house to its new location. It took about a week to secure and prepare our house to sit on top of huge beams… the house was pulled by a large moving truck. We didn’t have to pack anything – even the kitchen dishes in the cabinets were secured and the cabinets tied shut. As far as I can remember, nothing broke. It was quite a site for a young boy to watch your own house lift off its foundation, and move slowly down the driveway toward its new home.”
“I still hung around Sawmill Road even after moving to Edward Street. Our ball field was across from the motel, which was behind the Mobil Station on Sawmill Road… near the old 42 exit off I-95; I played many games there with my friends. If a home run was hit… it went over the 42 exit off the highway… now it’s where the exit-42 entrance is. We played both baseball and football there.”
“All the many waterways around West Haven eventually make their way out to Long Island Sound. Beginning by Greta Street is a running stream that follows under I-95 via a large metal tunnel. It continues under Sawmill Road to where you see a sign saying Cove River, and then into what we called Voss Pond on Sawmill Road. Behind Voss Pond were two house where the Voss families lived. The water flowed around their houses, under Edward Street toward the factories, and then into Turtle Pond before flowing into Phipps Lake… then through Painters Park and finally emptying out into Long Island Sound where the once Scotty’s stood at the Cove dike bridge; I used to fish off that cement dike.”
“There wasn’t really any fish in Voss Pond, but there were turtles. Eddie Voss had built a concrete walkway all around the pond area… enabling him to be able to walk completely around the water pond. One day, as he was walking around, he yelled at us to quickly get out. We watched as he took a pitch fork and felt all around until he felt what he was looking for… he had spotted a large snapping turtle. Just under the diving board, he jammed the pitch fork down and came up with a wiggling turtle… probably weighing 20 lbs and about 18 inches across. I remember Eddie Voss as a very strong man… and he had no problem that day in pulling up that turtle with one hand. If that turtle had bitten one of us… and we swam there daily… it would not have been good. About every three years, he would drain and clean the water pond there with his backhoe.”
“I enjoyed sitting on the Cove River bridge by Voss Pond… just car watching… especially on race nights at the West Haven Speedway. My friends and I liked to watch the cars exiting off I-95… often counting the many out-of-state license plates. At times, there would be car after car exiting off… heading down to the pits at Savin Rock Speedway.”
“Our house on Sawmill Road sat about where Exit 42 once was (old exit)… exiting from the South. As you came down and around the curve, that was where our house had sat. For years I remember seeing a large tree in the curve there – it had actually been a really small tree in our front yard. The new entrance they have now, goes directly over our old basement.”
“In thinking back today, I wish my grandfather would have fought the government when I-95 came through… and not let them take his land. His farm and our house would still be on Sawmill Road… and Freddies old junked cars might still be sitting way out in his somewhat junkyard. I can’t imagine how my grandfather and father must have felt when he was told they were taking his land – he loved that farm.”
“It was something to see when the state moved our house around 1957… and it wasn’t just moved in one day… it took days. Actually it took days just for the trucks to lift our house and sit the foundation on the steel beams; large rubber bags were inflated under the house to keep it steady and not bounce around as it moved. Once the beams were in place, they proceeded to lift our house off the cellar foundation and lower it down our steep driveway… I was so amazed at how it remained level at all times. It wasn’t easy coming down our driveway… as it wasn’t very level. Even when they reached Sawmill Road, they didn’t block traffic… as back then there weren’t many cars coming by. We lived in the sticks there… it was still a wooded area, not developed like today. Our front yard was full of rocks and crevices, and even though we’d been living there about three years, we still didn’t even have grass. To build up our front yard and make it level would probably have taken over 12 truckloads of dirt. ”
“The same moving company moved all the houses that needed to be moved out of the way of I-95 coming through. They worked ahead of the construction to clear the way.”
“Another favorite place we explored near I-95, which originally was called the Connecticut Turnpike, was a large, 8-foot diameter metal open pipe that ran under I-95; it looked like a corrugated tube. As a kid, my friends and I often walked through it, jumping side to side to keep out of the water that ran through the middle. Who knows what was lurking in the water, and I wasn’t about to find out. As we jumped from side to side, we held onto huge metal bolts which held the pipe together. The water flowed under the road and into Voss’s pond across Sawmill Road. Of course my parents never knew I went through the pipe under I-95, but back then parents didn’t keep track of their kids like today. Once I left in the morning, I was usually gone all day until supper… unless I came home for lunch. I was never questioned as to where I’d been, just as long as I was out of my mother’s hair.”
“I was always told to not cross the RR tracks, which was not far from our house, but I crossed them all the time… sometimes we’d even put pennies and sticks on the tracks to see what would happen. Then we’d later look for the flattened pennies, but I don’t remember ever finding any.”
“I rode the school bus in high school, along with friends, Ralph Camputaro, Ronny Kessler and my best friend Louie Albarella. We were picked up every morning on Sawmill Road, and always sat in the back of the bus. More than once, Ralphie dropped cherry bombs through a hole in the bottom of the bus… always when it went under the I-95 bridge. The bus driver never said a word to us, but one day, I guess he’d had enough and pulled over… yelling for us to get off his bus… and never come back. He never reported us, and we never rode his bus again. We didn’t really care as we were all turning 16 soon… and I was getting my license and a car. Until I bought my car, we walked to school… we never cared. Back then, kids didn’t run and tell their parents everything like they do today.”
In passing through Waterbury on I-84, and seeing a company blasting… “I remember when Eddie Voss dynamited the area where our house was moved to… lots of rock underneath there. It was interesting to watch him dig the hole with the jackhammer… plant the dynamite and line up all the wiring. Then he’d lay heavy metal blankets over the area he didn’t want affected; they weren’t as noisy as the ones we saw today. I enjoyed watching that process of setting the dynamite.”
“When we lived next door to my grandparents on Sawmill Road, I was there every day. I idolized my uncles – Johnny, Frankie and Freddie. Johnny and Frankie were more like brothers to me… being closer in age than Freddie. I remember watching my favorite TV show “Superman” with Frankie in the evenings. They had a TV set before we did, so I went there often. Frankie was funny to watch TV with… he liked to tell me how things worked as we watched the show and make fun of how they did tricks and stunts on the program… telling you it was a “crock” and it wasn’t really done like that. He’d say, “look, see the strings pulling Howdy Doody, you’re not suppose to see them.” Freddie liked to mostly watch movies; I watched many old classic’s with him.”
“Behind our house on Edward Street… after it was moved… was an open woody area… originally part of a farm called Staley’s Apple Farm. When the state came through building I-95, they also bought his land… splitting the farm in half. Mr. Staley’s house was where American Steakhouse sits now. Behind our house were still a few of apple tree’s left from the split of his property… I could see them from my yard. I even remember seeing part of an old truck body discarded there that was eventually engulfed with weeds and vines. We sometimes picked apples from those left trees. There was also a few small ponds of water back in the woody marsh area… it was where I often caught turtles, frogs and sometimes snakes. All that was still there even when Jeanne came in 1971, but on a much smaller scale; it was then more just a marshy area with still a couple of apple trees, but they didn’t really produce apples anymore.”
“The house on First Avenue that Grandpa Joe bought was a large one-family house built around 1860; it sat next to the West Haven Yacht Club; it needed a lot of work to accommodate their large family. The 1st floor was very open, only a couple of rooms… my grandpa, along with his sons and my father remodeled it into more rooms. They changed the bottom floor into a complete one-family, and turned the 2nd floor into another separate floor to rent out. Later, after Aunt Nancy married, she and Uncle Gene lived upstairs.
The Connecticut Turnpike, officially the Governor John Davis Lodge Turnpike, is a controlled-access highway and a former toll road in the U.S. state of Connecticut. Construction on the Connecticut Turnpike began in 1954 and the highway was opened in 1958.
One day while checking the newly advertised CT. site of unclaimed property owed to citizens, I found my mother-in-law’s name. In contacting the state, I discovered that she was owed over $700 dollars from the state… in regards to the original tract of land the state took from them. I wish I could have found out why… and how that came to be… over fifty years later discovering they still owed her money… but I just took the money for her… asking no questions.
© 2020, copyright Jeanne Bryan Insalaco; all rights reserved