TEN in­ter­est­ing STO­RIES from South­east­ern CON­NECTI­CUT

The Day - Sound & Country - - Ten interesting stories from southeastern connecti - By Dirk Langeveld

There are plenty of well-known at­trac­tions and his­tor­i­cal sto­ries re­lated to our re­gion. It’s hard to visit New Lon­don with­out hear­ing about its whal­ing his­tory or Bene­dict Arnold’s dev­as­tat­ing at­tack on the city dur­ing the Revo­lu­tion­ary War. And few guide­books for the re­gion will ne­glect to men­tion pop­u­lar sites such as the Mys­tic River Bas­cule Bridge or USS Nau­tilus Mu­seum in Gro­ton.

Other sto­ries about the area aren’t quite as well-known. They may be com­mem­o­rated by a faded road­side plaque, or not at all. Here are some such tales about the south­east­ern Con­necti­cut re­gion.

John McCain’s Fam­ily Car is Wrecked by A Sub­ma­rine At Gro­ton

John McCain, the Ari­zona se­na­tor and 2008 Repub­li­can nom­i­nee for Pres­i­dent, spent some of his child­hood in New Lon­don while his fa­ther was sta­tioned at the sub­ma­rine base in Gro­ton. Dur­ing this time, the fam­ily car was in­volved in a rather un­usual ac­ci­dent.

In his me­moir Faith of my Fa­thers, McCain re­calls how John S. McCain Jr. fre­quently had ju­nior of­fi­cers bring the sub­ma­rine he was com­mand­ing into port. In do­ing so, he hoped to let them gain valu­able ex­pe­ri­ence.

Un­for­tu­nately, on one of these oc­ca­sions McCain’s fa­ther wasn’t pay­ing close enough at­ten­tion to the of­fi­cer at the helm. As McCain and his fam­ily watched from ashore, the en­sign wound up send­ing the boat straight into the pier. The col­li­sion knocked over a lamp­post, which fell onto the fam­ily’s car.

McCain said his fa­ther di­rected the young en­sign to bring the sub in again, then be­gan “a long and dif­fi­cult ar­gu­ment with his in­sur­ance com­pany over the cred­i­bil­ity of his in­sur­ance claim for a car de­stroyed by a sub­ma­rine.”

The Buried Bridge of Colchester

A tow­er­ing rail­road bridge crosses

Dick­in­son Creek in Colchester, but you’d be hard-pressed to find it to­day.

Why? The en­tire span is buried be­neath an earthen em­bank­ment.

The Bos­ton and New York Air Line rail­road, backed by busi­ness in­ter­ests in Mid­dle­town, was com­pleted in 1873. The line stretched into the east­ern part of the state, where it had to over­come a va­ri­ety of steep grades and ridges. Un­de­terred, the rail­road’s pro­mot­ers fi­nanced the con­struc­tion of a num­ber of stout bridges, in­clud­ing the Ly­man Viaduct.

Con­tem­po­rary pho­tos and il­lus­tra­tions show just how im­pres­sive this bridge was. Iron col­umns sup­port­ing the rail­road rose 137 feet over the creek, and the span ex­tended for a length of 1,112 feet.

Un­for­tu­nately, the high costs of the rail­road’s con­struc­tion and com­pe­ti­tion from other com­pa­nies led to the Air Line’s fi­nan­cial down­fall. Af­ter 10 years, it was sold to the New York, New Haven and Hartford line.

In order to up­grade the viaduct to carry newer lo­co­mo­tives and rolling stock, the rail­road opted to bury the bridge be­neath a fill of sand and cin­ders be­tween 1912 and 1913. The same treat­ment was given to the Ra­pallo Viaduct, a 1,380-foot-long Air Line span in East Hamp­ton. The rail­road was used for an­other 30 years un­til the line was aban­doned.

Vis­i­tors who walk along the for­mer rail­road in what is now Air Line State Park might have no idea that a bridge is buried be­neath them on one sec­tion of the trail. The bridges are listed on the Na­tional Reg­is­ter of His­toric Places as the only sur­viv­ing ex­am­ples of first gen­er­a­tion iron viaduct con­struc­tion.

No, Not THAT Sal­ton­stall…

Even in death, a New Lon­don cap­tain is in­tent on let­ting vis­i­tors know that he wasn’t to blame for a dis­as­trous Revo­lu­tion­ary War naval ex­pe­di­tion.

Nathaniel Sal­ton­stall was the first com­man­der of Fort Trum­bull and served in the Bat­tle of Gro­ton Heights. It’s un­der­stand­able that he could be con­fused with an­other mem­ber of the Sal­ton­stall fam­ily, Dud­ley Sal­ton­stall, who re­ceived one of the first com­mis­sions in the Con­ti­nen­tal Navy. Both men were in­volved in pri­va­teer­ing and spent time in com­mand of the War­ren, one of the 13 frigates orig­i­nally com­mis­sioned by the Con­ti­nen­tal Congress.

But Dud­ley’s rep­u­ta­tion was se­verely tar­nished in 1779 when he led an at­tack on a British fort in Penob­scot Bay in what is now Maine. The War­ren joined 41 other ships in an at­tack on the fort, but the Amer­i­can ves­sels were nearly wiped out by a re­in­forc­ing British fleet. Dud­ley was court-mar­tialed and dis­missed for this fail­ure, although he was later able to re­join the war ef­fort by tak­ing part in raids on British ship­ping.

Nathaniel moved to Ohio, and is buried in Ma­ri­etta. His grave­stone names two ships he com­manded dur­ing the Revo­lu­tion­ary War, but stresses that he “was not Com­modore of the fleet burned at Penob­scott.”

The Na­tion’s First Con­ser­va­tory, in the Hills of Salem

It might seem odd that a man whose fam­ily was in the busi­ness of mak­ing pianos would ob­ject to his three sons learn­ing mu­sic. But the story goes that Rev. John Whit­tle­sey dis­ap­proved of such a ven­ture, forc­ing the boys to learn pi­ano by qui­etly plink­ing away on the keys at night.

One of Whit­tle­sey’s sons, Or­ramel, went on to es­tab­lish what has of­ten been cred­ited as the first con­ser­va­tory in the United States. The Mu­sic Vale Sem­i­nary in Salem started out with mod­est num­bers, and its found­ing date has been given as any­where from 1835 to 1839. But en­roll­ment soon climbed to 80 stu­dents, with in­struc­tion in top­ics such as mu­sic the­ory, pi­ano, and gui­tar.

The Con­necti­cut His­tor­i­cal So­ci­ety says there has been some de­bate on whether the Mu­sic Vale Sem­i­nary was truly the first con­ser­va­tory in the na­tion, since its stu­dents may have re­ceived teach­ing cer­tifi­cates in­stead of of­fi­cial de­grees. Still, the con­ser­va­tory has been rec­og­nized as one of the ear­li­est in­sti­tu­tions in the U.S. to fo­cus solely on mu­sic in­struc­tion.

The Mu­sicVale Sem­i­nary suf­fered a sig­nif­i­cant drop in en­roll­ment as a re­sult of the Civil War, which saw many of its stu­dents from the South re­turn home. In 1868, Or­ramel ac­ci­den­tally burned down the school when he lit a pan of gun­pow­der to cre­ate a thun­der ef­fect for the stage. The con­ser­va­tory was re­built, but ceased op­er­a­tions af­ter Or­ramel’s death in 1876. The build­ing burned down again in 1897, but an orig­i­nal barn re­mains on the prop­erty.

Zippy the Pin­head Vis­its South­east­ern Con­necti­cut

Read­ers of the sur­real comic strip Zippy the Pin­head might oc­ca­sion­ally spot a fa­mil­iar lo­ca­tion. The ti­tle char­ac­ter is a fre­quent vis­i­tor of clas­sic din­ers and strange road­side at­trac­tions, and he’s found sev­eral can­di­dates in south­east­ern Con­necti­cut.

In sev­eral strips, Zippy con­verses with the large bowl­ing pin sign for Nor­wich Ten Pin Bowl. He also chats with the Civil War mon­u­ment in Pre­ston and frets about the leap year in Norm’s Diner in Gro­ton.

Per­haps most no­tably, one strip has a char­ac­ter ask­ing Zippy where he can find “eter­nal bliss and a com­plete aware­ness of life’s pur­pose.” He an­swers, “Route 82, two miles out­side Nor­wich!”

It’s no won­der that Zippy showed up in the re­gion a lot around the turn of the cen­tury. Zippy’s car­toon­ist, Bill Grif­fith, moved to East Had­dam in 1998.

Con­necti­cut’s First Rail­road Makes Tracks in Ston­ing­ton

Five years af­ter the Bal­ti­more & Ohio

Rail­road be­came the first rail­way char­tered in the United States, a line in

Ston­ing­ton be­came the first of­fi­cial rail­road in Con­necti­cut.

The New York and Ston­ing­ton Rail Road Com­pany was in­cor­po­rated in May 1832, be­com­ing the first rail­road char­tered in the state. It was quickly folded into the New York, Prov­i­dence & Bos­ton Rail­road, but Ston­ing­ton re­mained the site of the first Con­necti­cut rails. In Au­gust 1832, this com­pany broke ground on a line to bring pas­sen­gers and cargo to the bustling in­dus­tries and wharves of the penin­sula.

Two his­tor­i­cal mark­ers com­mem­o­rate the rail­road to­day. One is lo­cated on Main Street near the Union Bap­tist Church, while the other pre­serves some of the old rail route in La Grua Park.

An At­tempted Pres­i­den­tial As­sas­si­na­tion in Nor­wich?

South­east­ern Con­necti­cut has proven to be quite the draw for U.S. Pres­i­dents, who have stopped by to give the com­mence­ment speech at the Coast Guard Academy or at­tend the fa­mous In­de­pen­dence Day par­ties at Rose­land Cot­tage. But one story sug­gests that a Com­man­der-in-Chief was tar­geted by an as­sas­sin here.

Pres­i­dent William Howard Taft trav­eled to Nor­wich in July 1909 to cel­e­brate the 250th an­niver­sary of the city’s found­ing. Mel Ay­ton’s book Plot­ting to Kill the Pres­i­dent says that Taft was greet­ing peo­ple in the crowd when a woman sud­denly screamed and fainted. Af­ter she re­gained con­scious­ness, she told the Se­cret Ser­vice and lo­cal po­lice of­fi­cers that she had seen a man con­ceal­ing a re­volver. The Pres­i­dent’s guards searched for the would-be as­sailant, but failed to find him.

Gard­ner Lake, Home of Con­necti­cut’s Small­est State Parks

There are more than 100 state parks in Con­necti­cut, some en­com­pass­ing thou­sands of acres of land. But the two small­est state parks in the state are both lo­cated on Gard­ner Lake.

Min­nie Is­land State Park, the only is­land in the lake, is a mere 0.88 acres. Ac­ces­si­ble only by boat, the is­land is named for a niece of Or­ramel Whit­tle­sey, founder of the Mu­sic Vale Sem­i­nary (see be­low). The se­cluded state park is split be­tween Montville and Salem.

Gard­ner Lake State Park in Salem is also minis­cule, mea­sur­ing only 9.75 acres. Lo­cated on the south shore, the state park was cre­ated in 2001 as a point of ac­cess to the lake. It in­cludes a boat launch as well as a pub­lic beach.

The Marines Suf­fer their First Ca­su­al­ties off Block Is­land

The United States Marines lost their first men not on the shores of Tripoli, but just off the shore of Rhode Is­land.

Dur­ing the Revo­lu­tion­ary War, the Con­ti­nen­tal Navy and Con­ti­nen­tal Marines launched a raid on Nas­sau in the Bri­tish­held Ba­hamas. Re­turn­ing to New Lon­don with sup­plies cap­tured in the ac­tion, they en­coun­tered the HMS Glas­gow off Block Is­land on April 6, 1776.

Although the Colo­nials met the Glas­gow with a fleet of seven ships, their can­nons were not as strong as the British ship. The Glas­gow suf­fered con­sid­er­able dam­age, but was able to es­cape.

Among the Amer­i­can losses were seven Marines killed and four wounded. These were con­sid­ered the first ca­su­al­ties of the Corps.

The In­va­sion of New York, via New Lon­don

The is­lands on the east­ern end of Long Is­land Sound are lit­tered with the rem­nants of old for­ti­fi­ca­tions, orig­i­nally es­tab­lished and main­tained as a way of coun­ter­ing en­emy at­tacks on the vi­tal water­way. De­spite these pre­cau­tions, the re­gion’s his­tory has been marked by oc­ca­sional fears that a de­ter­mined foe could tar­get south­east­ern Con­necti­cut as part of a broader at­tack on New York City.

One per­son to en­vi­sion such a sce­nario was Henry L. Stim­son, the Sec­re­tary of War un­der Pres­i­dents William Howard Taft, Franklin D. Roo­sevelt, and Harry S. Tru­man. In De­cem­ber 1914, Stim­son wrote a “his­tory” for Harper’s Weekly in which he imag­ined an at­tack on New York City.

In­stead of mak­ing a di­rect at­tack on the city, the un­named en­emy in the piece lands 150,000 troops on the shores of New Lon­don, then marches through Con­necti­cut to take Man­hat­tan. The ar­ti­cle was one of sev­eral at the time urg­ing bet­ter home­land de­fense prepa­ra­tions, based on the ar­gu­ment that a large en­emy force could eas­ily oc­cupy a large swath of the United States.

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