by Sally E. Bahner | Jul 23, 2012 11:06 am
Tom Barron saw the powerful need for people to connect with their past when he created the “Growing Up in Branford” Facebook group just about a year ago.
Inspired by a similar group in Guilford, Barron started Growing Up in Branford on a Sunday morning early last August. “The growth was phenomenal,” he said. He was adding people constantly and people were adding people.
Growing Up in Branford has triggered a flood of memories for many Branfordites – current and former. With a click of the mouse they can connect with someone across town or across the country. Whether they’re native born or just lived in town for a few years, “… the best part of Branford is reconnecting with everyone and having the group help track down old friends,” writes Richard Lynch.
Barron has longtime roots in Branford. He comes from a very large family who farmed in Branford for years. He says that Branford was dotted with strawberry farms, including ones where the high school and Branhaven Shopping Center are now, and was known as the Strawberry Capital of the New England.
Now a Guilford resident, Barron is known affectionately by members as “The Chairman.”
Chip Stakes Viel, fondly known as “The Ambassador,” helps Barron (pictured) with administration of the group. He can be found exploring Branford with his camera.
“I found myself walking around town … remembering things that stayed the same and also noticing things that I allowed to go unnoticed. When Tom asked me to be a part of this I agreed, not even having a clue that it would blossom into what it is,” he says. “I started bringing my old camera on my walks and as Scott Abbotts [another member] puts it, the rest is his-story.”
He encourages support of local business by posting photos and talking to owners. Most recently he worked with Joe Martin of The Village Shop on lower Main Street to create Branford T-shirts with the different areas of town intertwined graphically on the front. Those who have moved away are kept up-to-date with photos of town happenings such as the Memorial Day Parade and the Branford Festival.
WHAT’S THE SUMMERTIME FOOD YOU MISS MOST?
What brings everyone together is the love of Branford and the memories triggered by just a simple question or a photograph: “What is a favorite summertime food you miss?” was posted by Lori Festa who lives in Salem, Ore. The responses – 70 of them – were distinctly Branford: Fried dough pizza, lobster rolls, white birch beer, fried whole belly clams, Italian bread, Hummel’s hot dogs, and blue fish were among those cited. Going a bit out of town, Pepe’s white clam pizza also made the list.
Along with Viel’s photos are those posted by group members documenting school days, the fires that changed Main Street, hurricanes, and scenes from different areas of town. Fran McMullen, a local photographer, often posts beautiful landscapes taken around town. Holly Lu Conant Rees, who now lives in Nashville, Tenn., visited Branford recently and posted photos from Short Beach.
Indeed, questions are frequently asked concerning people in town: Was your father…? Are you related to…? Does anyone know what happened to…? And, sadly, the deaths of old friends are also announced and mourned. Just recently, Bill Miller of Bill Miller’s castle died. Members shared experiences of attending gymnastics and after-prom parties there.
The collective knowledge of the group highlights the rich history of Branford in two ways.
First is the history of each individual.
Urs Shebear is a fourth-generation Branfordite. She writes: “My great grandfather, Charles F. Bradley, settled there; my grandfather, James A. Bradley was born there; my father, James A. Bradley Jr. was also born and raised in Branford.”
“BACK TO MY ROOTS”
But like many members, she moved away and sees the group as “a way to bring me back to my roots.” Her mom, Joyce Bradley is also a member; she moved to Branford in 1942 as a senior in high school. “I love seeing the names of people that were friends of my children and what they are doing today,” she writes. “Knew a lot of them when they were younger and find that many have talents that I never knew they had.”
Tony Lomartra is a third-generation Branfordite. His grandfather was a farmer, “who emigrated from Italy, got married, purchased a farm in Stony Creek and raised 10 children.”
Mike Knowlton’s parents and grandparents lived in Stony Creek and Indian Neck, but like many people they moved around to different areas of town. Others, however, were wedded to their neighborhoods. “I lived in Short Beach … Indian Neck … Stony Creek … Branford Hills … Damascus Road … Branford Point.”
Others moved to Branford from nearby towns such as East Haven and Orange, and one from as far away as Warrington, England. Samantha Barlow Moore writes that in 1967 Atlantic Wire recruited her father from the steel mills there. “Arriving when I was 3 and my brother was 5, we landed in Branford where I lived until 1991.” After 11 years in California, she returned to Connecticut with three children and a new puppy. She adds, “I was totally amazed at how our town had grown up and yet hadn’t really changed.”
Some people arrived at different stages in their childhood, stayed through high school, then moved away, but they retain a special connection. “Moved to Sunset Hill Dr when I was 5 and lived there until I was 18,” writes Lucinda Marcavage. “Moved to West Haven and then New Haven and then moved to Texas, where I now live. Sure do miss the down home flavor of Branford.”
Second, on a broader scale, members have explored the history of Branford. Their collective knowledge and sharing of resources have served to magnify its rich history. Several members, including Joyce Bradley and Solar Pete (Pete Sabine) have shared their collections of old photographs, maps, historical links, and postcards, and have provided links that have assisted members in learning more about Branford’s history.
Members have been able to view maps of Branford from 1699, 1710, and 1868. The layout of the town and names associated with pieces of property are identifiable today. There’s also been a guessing game in which a photograph of an old house is posted and members guess where it is. The Sansone farm (pictured above) on South Montowese Street stymied several members, including this writer. The farm is still active and sells produce in the summer.
A 1950s photo of the town center shows the same layout with the green, the churches and town hall, but many buildings across the street are gone, most often as a result of the many fires that dramatically changed the face of Main Street across from the Green. The types of businesses, often cited nostalgically, have changed, from grocery stores, department stores and hardware stores to small shops and boutiques.
Many of the old postcards shared are of familiar locations such as Branford Point (also a favorite with photographers), the Blackstone Library, and the old St. Mary’s Church, but there are many of the old hotels that once drew tourists to the shores of Stony Creek, Short Beach, Indian Neck, and Branford Point. The cards emphasize that Branford was a major resort destination in the 1800s and early 1900s.
Catherine Bocciarelli Brown just posted about finding two boxes of Branford postcards in a small antique shop in Las Vegas, New Mexico. She said they were published by C.J. Lounsbury & Son, Indian Neck, Branford, Conn., estimating they were from 1911 or the‘20s’. Among them were renderings of Limewood Avenue in Indian Neck and the Owenego Inn.
Growing Up experiences aren’t complete without stories of where people went to school. Up until the 1970s, Branford had a patchwork of neighborhood schools, in addition to St. Mary’s. Of course for those who attended them that didn’t mean they stayed in the neighborhood – kids were shuttled all over town. “Schools for me were Branford Hills K-3, Short Beach for 4th, BIS 5-8, BHS 9-12,” wrote Bert Garritson.
Fascinating, indeed, to see what has changed and what has stayed the same.
A SPIRTUAL HOME RUN
What shines through all the comments received for this article – and there were about 50 in all – is the love of Branford.
Writes Doug Whelan, “Like many of us who have grown up in Branford and moved away, I long for my hometown and appreciate it more now than when I was younger, It’s the discussions, pictures, memories, friendships rekindled and new friends made that make this page the gem it is. Every time I visit this page it’s like taking a pleasant walk to Branford Point or the center of town…”
Many members were quick to thank Barron and Viel for their efforts. Says Galene Nedjoika, “Thank you Tom and Chip for allowing me to get reacquainted with some of the best friends I ever had, learn so much of Branford’s history, and be able to click a picture and read a comment and feel like I’m back home. Kudos to all of us for keeping it going and growing!”
But Viel is modest about the success of the group. “It’s a spiritual home run if you can post a picture that can trigger a memory and bring a smile to someone’s face whether they’re across the street or on the other side of this great country.”
To view the group’s activities and treasure trove of photos, go to your Facebook account and search for “Growing Up In Branford.” To join the group, message Barron or Viel or a member you might know.