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The History Beneath the Trees
by Ann White Lombardi

I have encountered many hikers who have grown up in the shadow of Peter’s Rock, in the district known as Montowese. From my bedroom window, my view stretched from East Rock to Sleeping Giant. I remember watching the unending black ribbon of migratory birds as they followed the Quinnipiac River and marshlands. I searched the midnight sky for a glimpse of that elusive Santa’s sleigh and fell asleep to the clicky-clack of the freight trains. The decade was the 1950s and it was a time when only one car was parked in the driveway and if you wanted to go anywhere you walked.

Montowese consisted of the area between Four Corners and Sackett Point Road. Starting at the intersection of Quinnipiac Avenue and Middletown Avenue, at a time before Covidien, US Surgical or even the Mammoth Mart Shopping Plaza, a variety of small businesses provided local residents with goods and services. There was the automotive service garage, the bakery, and the general store where they would cook your Thanksgiving turkey. The drug store, where you could buy a Timex watch or school supplies, had a soda fountain. There was a farm market, a liquor store and a restaurant to name a few.

Heading down Quinnipiac Avenue you passed by the old cemetery surrounded by a manicured wall of hedges. Worn headstones barely readable to a passerby, reached out of the ground. Across the street was the Montowese Convalescent home, which occupied the old Brocksieper homestead. This was once a stately showplace with icehouse and skating pond in the cold winter months and a lovely gazebo to sit under and have lemonade in the scorching summer heat. I found it ironic that the convalescent home overlooked the cemetery.

On down the avenue stood the two churches, Montowese Baptist Church and St. Therese Catholic Church. The latter was destroyed by fire and relocated to its present site on Middletown Avenue. Across the way on Village Street was the Montowese Elementary School, which housed Kindergarten through eighth grades until the Junior High was built. The dusty playground had metal swings, jungle gym, seesaw and slide, all of which would be considered too dangerous for today’s children. On down to the intersection of Montowese Avenue and Quinnipiac Avenue. A corner building was the location of an old General store with wooden floors, penny candy and a pickle jar. Adjoining the store was a Barber Shop where men and boys visited frequently. If you were well behaved and sat and waited patiently, you might come away with a lollipop. A small gift shop completed the trio of stores. The bus stop was directly in front of the building and a covered alcove afforded one a place to wait in inclement weather. Another gas station and then surprisingly a Bowling Alley sat on the adjacent corner. Community Market was next and had a bright red coke-a-cola machine sitting out front. It cost a dime for an ice-cold bottle of the tasty beverage. Next-door was Smitty’s Restaurant, which had another soda bar and also offered grilled hot dogs and a diner menu. Little tables with checkered tablecloths sat in front of the jukebox.

On down the line we come to the Montowese Fire House, which housed Big Moe and Little Moe. The firehouse had a meeting room upstairs and a playground behind where Carl Veith ran a summer program for children under the tall oak trees. He was a warm and friendly face to all the kids. The Martha Culver Library was next door. It’s small rooms held volumes of books. Then it was a good distance to Sackett Point Road where another General store stood. Small neighborhoods were popping up in between.
Despite having an abundance of grocery stores there were also traveling wares. There was a bread man, a fishmonger, a milkman, an egg man, the Fuller Brush man and the ragman who could be heard yelling from his truck as he made his way through the neighborhoods during the early morning hours. In the summer the Good Humor man pedaled his ice cream on a bicycle. The back roads contained small farm stands and swimming holes good for a refreshing dip. Harten’s Pond was the favored skating pond and an excellent spot for dropping in a fishing line in the spring. I remember hunters returning with their catch and the awful smell of drying muskrat pelts hanging in the garage. I heard of the migrant railroad workers catching turtles along the Quinnipiac River for turtle soup. Backyards contained fruit trees, berry bushes, and beehives. Vibrant flower gardens sprouted here and there. Life was what is was, simple compared to today’s standards.

Back to the present. As I stand upon the summit of Peter’s Rock Park, where the trees hide the changes of the past fifty/sixty years, I can still see East Rock and Sleeping Giant in the distance. I can’t fathom what changes will take place in the next half century, but I am confident that the summit will still be there to standstill and reflect back on the yesteryears of a place called Montowese.

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