Who doesn’t like daydreaming about what it would be like traveling back in time to experience how ancestors went about their daily routines? Imagine shopping for groceries, traveling through our town center, or spending a day at the shore 100 years ago. Was it really a simpler time, or do today’s luxuries leave us wanting something different?
Let’s take a trolley ride back in time and look at those so-called simpler days that many of us yearn for. We’ll take a scenic trip through the historical city of Milford, crossing the tracks from Stratford over the old iron Washington Bridge. The “Devon Bridge,” as it is routinely called, is a favorite hangout for groups of kids called “Bridge Rats.” On a warm summer day between the changing of high and low tide, the Bridge Rats can be seen climbing the bridge’s concrete barriers only to disappear over the side into the cool deep dark waters of the Housatonic River. (The old iron bridge rock and concrete foundations can still be seen today on the south side of the current Washington Bridge.)
Riding the trolley further into Devon—once called Naugatuck junction—passengers can’t help but notice a building boom on streets like Ellis, Orland, and Spring Streets, not to mention the five and dime store between Ellis and Spring, and Harrison & Gould’s satellite hardware store (now the home of Pete’s Deli.) As the conductor takes a right onto Naugatuck Avenue, the Frisbee Pie Company is making a delivery at the Devon Restaurant next to the Ideal Ice Cream Parlor (later known as Paul’s and then The Butterfly Net.) Continuing south, we notice a group of youngsters playing kickball in a grassy field to the right and, further down, two young boys hang fishing poles in a small stream. Our first destination is approaching around just around the bend past Paul’s Convenience Store—the Walnut Beach Amusement Park can now be seen to the left of a large group of Walnut trees. Our mouths start to water thinking of a bag of fresh roasted peanuts and a soda pop before enjoying a few hours of amusements. (In the later years, the park became Smith’s 17 Acre Park before redevelopment began in the 1960s.)
We hear the conductor’s whistle while enjoying our ice cream from Tinkham’s at the corner of Naugatuck and Broadway. We board the trolley for the next leg of our journey, riding along Milford’s shoreline past Silver Beach, enjoying the warm breeze through our hair as our eyes gaze into the warm water with Charles Island in the background.
Traveling through Fort Trumbull (named after the early Connecticut governor and once one of Milford’s most notable landmarks) we pass the stately Clapp house with its Revolutionary War cannon and imagine the thunder of cannons and muskets defending our shores from a British war ship.
Heading further east on our trolley ride, we enter Milford’s center. We stop on the corner of Broad and High Streets to make way for a coal truck heading to Milford Harbor. An older gentleman can be seen sitting on a bench in front of Harrison & Gould’s hardware whittling a piece of wood. He looks up to give us a friendly smile and a wave. As the trolley moves along River Street passing St. Peter’s Church, we notice well-dressed women exiting the church doors. To the left, Milford High School students are posing for a class picture on the steps of Milford’s silent movie theater.
We head onto Cherry Street and then the Post Road, turning right a bit before the Woodruff Seed grounds where we can see locals working the fields. We suddenly hear the conductor yell, “Next stop Woodmont!” A short time later, our destination approaches. Just passed the Sauter Hotel we see the much-talked mansion built by movie theatre magnate Sylvester Poli and ask the conductor to stop. Hoping to catch a glimpse of some Hollywood celebrities, we pear through the iron gates and glimpse Charlie Chaplin disappearing into an elaborate gazebo to the right of the mansion! We finish our evening overlooking the water on the edge of Anchor Beach before retiring to our room at the Pembroke Hotel.
No cell phones, no computers, no television. What it must have been like to live in those times?