Powder House Day To Awaken Spring On The Green With A Bang

Allan Appel PhotoThe next gunfire you hear on the Green — if you’re lucky enough to be there — will be intended to illuminate history, mark the beginning of spring, and trigger loads of fun.

That was the message from Anne Calabresi and David Newton, two members of the The Committee of the Proprietors of Common and Undivided Lands at New Haven, from Major Commandant Richard Greenlach, Jr. and Captain Bob Devaney of the Second Company Govenor’s Foot Guard, and from Carol Ross, past president of the Greater New Haven Garden Club.

Their groups have come together for the first time to coordinate New Haven’s unique Powder House Day ceremonies. In the process they aim to call attention to the arboreal glories of the New Haven Green, aided by tree plantings by the garden club.

The new day has been dubbed “Wake Up The Green.”

The event takes place this Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. It will include carriage rides, woodcrafts and potting shed programs for kids, and tours of the new cherry, dogwood, and magnolia trees planted this year on the Green’s diagonals.

At the heart of the day ceremonially, Devany and Greenlach, Jr., will help lead a group of more than 50 members in reenacting the events of April 24, 1775.

That’s when Benedict Arnold was not only still a good guy, but also the hero of the not yet Elm City (none had yet been planted), as we threw our lot in with the rebels who had taken arms against the British only days before at Lexington and Concord to trigger the American Revolution.

Why the “second” Foot Guard and not the first? Greenlach asked rhetorically as the organizesr gave a reporter a preview of the day.

Simple. The colony of Connecticut had two capitals at the time. The first Foot Guard unit — militia without horses — was organized in 1771 to help protect Gov. Jonathan Trumbull. But in those contentious times who would guard the governor when he came to New Haven? Thus the second Foot Guard formed in 1775.

When word of the fight in Massachusetts arrived and hot-headed Arnold wanted to take the Foot Guard north, he needed powder, which was kept in the locked powder house. Arnold sent an officer to the tavern, now approximately where the restaurant Ordinary is located; that was the locale for the seat of government. He asked for the keys. He was refused. Arnold sent again and this time he was informed by an adjutant, Colonel David Wooster that the keys were in possession of the mayor, then called the first selectman.

Wooster commended Arnold’s spirit, but asked how the keys could be given without a vote or permission of the selectmen..

Arnold scared them a bit, it seems, and the military power prevailed over civilian rule, actually a scary notion for the country coming into being.

With the keys in hand, Arnold got the powder and his Foot Guards marched north to join the fight.

All that, with marching, prepared script, and guns being fired, will be at the heart of the April 21 proceedings, a ceremony enacted on the Green annually since 1905.

Why link that to the waking up of the Green to spring?

Longtime Proprietor Calabresi said event celebrates the city’s 380th birthday (technically April 24) and its founding location, the Green.

Earth Day, April 22, also happens to be nearby on the calendar. That is more than propitious, as the Greater New Haven Garden Club is marking its sixth decade of collaboration with the Green. Ross, the club’s past president and currently its liaison to the Proprietors, said that after the 1938 Hurricane wiped out so many trees, the club established gardens at the Pardee-Morris House on the East Shore. It used plantings from there to begin replanting Elms and other trees on the Green.

This year, at the urging of landscape designer Diana Balmori, the club members have also put in undergrowth: smaller trees like cherry, dogwood, magnolia, and red maple along the diagonals. During the April 21 full day of events, tours of those plantings are being offered.

“The Yale Band is coming, and we’re going to parade through the ‘alles’ [diagonals] and enjoy the beauty of the days,” Calabresi said.

The organizers bemoaned how few New Haveners attend or even know Powder Day, especially unfortunate as it is New Haven’s unique Revolutionary story.

Longer term, the Proprietors are working on plans to improve drainage and irrigation and perhaps to create a program to light the trees on the upper Green, said Calabresi. The purpose of the latter initiative: to bring out their beauty and enhance safety, especially in winter.

The commitment of the groups to continue working together to wake up the Green with a boom is long term, they concurred.

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posted by: JayC on April 19, 2018  2:21pm

As an interesting footnote to the story, there is a wonderful painting of the Powder House event in an alcove on the second floor of City Hall, showing Benedict Arnold demanding the Powder House keys. It was commissioned from the artist Mort Kuntsler by the late Derby attorney Harold Yudkin, and was donated to the City of New Haven by Selma Yudkin, Harold’s widow, during Mayor DeStefan’s time in office.

posted by: CHDlugo on April 19, 2018  3:20pm

The day will be full of free activities for families and children immediately following the Powder House Day reenactment at 12 noon. After the brief program recognizing the Garden Club of New Haven and other partners, the Yale Marching Band will lead the spring parade. There will be plant sales by Sound School, Pardee Rose Garde and the NH Land Trust;  horse drawn carriage rides and a petting zoo. N.H. Parks and Recreation will be providing the art bus and Nature on the Green rangers.  N. H. Free Public Library will provide preschool story time and arts at 1:30. 2:30 and 3:30.  Massaro Farms will do seed art, City Bench will provide woodcraft.  Non profits information tables and demonstrations will be available.Follow the sound of the Caribbean Vibes Steel Band.  Abate’s Pizza truck will be there too. 
The Friends of the Green start the day with Ben and Jerry Ice Cream staff in a Green Cleanup. at 10 am.  So, you can do the Wake Up Walk at 9, help with the cleanup at 10 and then enjoy the day of fun.