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Branford

Revival

by Susan Tamulevich

 

            Years ago, when I moved away from Branford where I was born, I had some ambivalent feelings about the place. While there was still much for which I felt great affection, I had witnessed the demise of many beloved town features. There was the Sliney Stables out on West Main Street; and the marshes which flourished along the road, east past the High school, were filled in and “developed.”. Properties were sold off to real estate developers and converted into more and more condominiums; the stately, yellow- brick Romanesque Catholic Church was devoured by flames; and the downtown area and the village green languished. Soon my worst fears about our town were confirmed: we had earned the title of Condominium Capital of the United States.

            This past year I moved back, in part to rescue a house that had been built for my great grandparents in the 1930’s. But I also came back because it appears that some of the destructive trends I had seen in my youth are finally being addressed.

            The most obvious evidence of our town’s new self respect is the renovation of the downtown area and along Main Street, to the west. This work, which was done in the 1980’s provides a coherent, attractive setting and makes evident Branford’s long history as an industrial center. With its brick walks, reproduction lighting and bench fixtures, and its careful landscaping, the town’s center looks cared for. And this, I learned is only a first step.

            Other important initiatives were taken to help ensure the preservation of our town’s past. First, the Branford Historical Society leased and began to restore the Nathaniel Hawthorne House, circa 1724, on Main Street, both as a house museum and a center for the Society. This was especially heartening as my forebears, among the first settlers, lived in that house for more than 100 years. Next, in 1986 citizens formed the Architectural Preservation Trust, Inc. of Branford to prepare a thorough study of the town. Its report entitled: Branford CT: A Survey of Architectural and Historical Resources, is the first step in having structures of historical and architectural importance in the town identified as such, in the hope that they will be placed in the National Historic Register. Says a member of the team that wrote the survey, “We wanted people in town to be aware of what older buildings are worth saving, as well as to put these buildings within the context of the distinct neighborhoods that have evolved in Branford.”

            There are two other studies of Branford’s historic architecture: Available Source Material o nthe History of Branford CT, 1644-1800, by Dorothy Barker Feld, gives detailed descriptions of, and fascinating stories about, some of the town’s oldest residences. The other survey, Photographs of Houses in Branford, by H. Rossiter Snyder, is a two-volumed set of photographs of the town, many of which were taken 1917, these two books give a good sense of what has been lost to “progress.”

            Of course the town of Branford is not a museum. New buildings and new architecture give needed life and texture to the community, while bringing in new blood, new jobs, and new resources. The hope is that we have learned to save the best of the old with the new. Sadly, significant old buildings continue to be “picked away.” For better or for worse, every new building has its impact. Our 350th anniversary serves as a reminder that the things we build today may very well be around for a long time. Let’s hope that new buildings of quality and sensitive renovations help to preserve the essential character of town.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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