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Highlights from Recent Events




Avon Historical Society Presents “AVON to INDY: History of Midget Car racing

at Cherry Park Fairgrounds, Avon, CT from 1946-1954” 

December 3, 2013

            The Avon Historical Society will host a presentation talk on the history of midget car racing on the former Cherry Park Fairgrounds in Avon on Tuesday, December 3, 2013 at 7:00pm in the Community Room of the Avon Free Public Library.

            “Avon to Indy” will be presented by local car racing historian Rusty Pinney, whose family lived on Lovely Street, very near Cherry Park which was in use from 1883 through 1959 for everything from horse racing to 4H Fairs to balloon landings and take offs.  People from miles around would visit the fairgrounds annually to display their best produce and animals, to show off farm items or kitchenware and children would be given a day or two off from school just to attend the many events.  It is said that 8,000-10,000 people would attend the annual events at Cherry Park coming from towns all over the region.   Due to the large number of events held there, grandstands were built sometime before 1898 and patrons were charged 20 cents for the first day of the fair and 25 cents for the second day. Harness races were held on the half-mile track which became famous for trotting and pacing races prizes reached up to $500.    

            The park closed in 1911 and reopened in 1920 for more events of the time.  Professional midget car racing came to Cherry Park in 1946 and took place from April to November on Sunday and Wednesday  nights.  Many racers used it early in the season as a training ground for preparation for running the Indianapolis 500 which started as early as 1911.  Up to 12,000 spectators came to see racers such as Bill Schindler who, with only one leg, raced midget cars all over the East Coast, including Avon, before dying in a crash in Pennsylvania in 1952 at the age of 43.  Other midget car racers from the Cherry Park Speedway days were Shorty McAndews who won his only race in 1942 in Philadelphia and Len Duncan who raced from the 1920’s to the 1980’s and was credited by Mario Andretti for positively influencing his racing career.  At this time in the history of car racing in America, the Cherry Park Speedway was considered a premier venue for midget car racing, which was also at the top of its league for car racing across the country.  Today midget car racing is somewhat of a hobby but is also a step toward professional drivers in today’s NASCAR and Formula 1 circuits.  Mr. Pinney plans to provide a presentation full of photos and displays on this particular time in the long history of Cherry Park.  Volunteers from the Marian Hunter History Room of the Avon Free Public Library will also have a display to show the early years of the Park from the fairs to the balloon rides.

            Cherry Park Fairgrounds was located west of Secret Lake in the present-day subdivision of Craigemore Circle and Andrea Lane near the Canton town line.  Today there is nothing left of the famous fairgrounds.


Avon Historical Society Presents “The Farmington Canal through historic Avon” 

March 16, 2013

The Avon Historical Society will explore traveling the Farmington Canal with a talk entitled, “The Farmington Canal in the Farmington Valley,” by Carl Walter, local leading expert on the 87-mile hand dug Canal, to coincide with an exhibit about the waterway in the front exhibit case of the Marian Hunter History Room of the Avon Free Public Library.  Mr. Walter will share some background about the canal and why it was built and then focus on various canal sites between northern Farmington and West Suffield.  He will describe topographical problems that were encountered during the building of the canal together with the engineering solutions that allowed the canal’s completion.  The Farmington Canal was a hand dug canal with horse drawn canal boats that ran from New Haven, CT to Northampton, MA from 1829 – 1847.  In Avon Center it ran north and south behind houses on the east side of Old Farms Road, crossing the Albany Turnpike (currently Route 44/East Main Street) where daCapo’s Restaurant stands, through the grounds of the Avon Post Office and from there ran approximately along Route 10 and at times where the Rails-to-Trail is now.  There was a large canal warehouse in Avon Center as well as other buildings that served this important transportation route.  Avon Center was busy with a church, post office, businesses, school, etc.  Some of these buildings still exist today extending north/south/east/west at the intersection of Route 10 (Simsbury Road) and Route 44 (East and West Main Street).  Last summer, to commemorate the crossing in Avon, the Avon Historical Society placed two identical bronze plaques on red sandstone markers- one at the entrance to daCapo’s Restaurant on the south side of Route 44 and one at the former Living Museum on the north side.  The sandstone markers are the same material used in the Canal and many of the 19th century buildings in the area, including the old Climax Fuse Factory buildings which are today’s Avon Town Hall complex.  The plaques on the sandstone markers read:  In 1829 the Farmington Canal opened in Avon and operated until 1847.  The markers, here and across the street, show where it crossed the Albany Turnpike, now Route 44. They are made of the same sandstone used in the Farmington Canal construction.  These markers were made possible by People’s United Bank, Old Avon Village and Mystic River Foundry, LLC.  “The Scenes of the Farmington Canal” exhibit in the glass display case at the History Room will feature drawings, photographs and illustrations to give an overview of the Canal.  The adjoining display area exhibit ‘Words Tell Story of the Canal’ will show how the Canal impacted Avon.  There will also be posters, maps, and a 3D visual display that together will bring the Canal history to life once again.


On June 3, 2012, the Avon Historical Society held a ribbon cutting for the
opening of the restored historic early 20th c. one seat outhouse at the Pine Grove
School House. Restoration was done by J&A Construction LLC of New Haven and
Avon which donated time, materials and labor. Other donations for this effort came
from Farmington Ready Mix for a poured cement slab and, thanks to a grant by
People’s United Bank, the structure was moved from behind the building to its present
location. The Society is grateful for all the contributions made to this effort. It is part of
an ongoing mission of the Society to preserve Avon’s past for future generations to
Pictured holding the ribbon are Ben Isaacson, Liz Neff, Alona Tarlowski of J&A
Construction and Terri Wilson.


On March 16, 2013 the Avon Historical Society hosted a talk by Mr. Carl Walter, local
leading expert on the 87-miles hand dug Farmington Canal entitled, “The Farmington Canal in
the Farmington Valley.” This was held to coincide with an exhibit about the waterway in the
front exhibit case of the Marian Hunter History Room of the Avon Free Public Library. Mr.
Walter shared extensive background about the Canal and why it was built and then focused on
various canal sites between northern Farmington and West Suffield. He described
topographical problems that were encountered during the building of the Canal together with
the engineering solutions that allowed the Canal’s completion. Over 150 people attended the
event. After the presentation many visited the exhibited entitled “The Scenes of the
Farmington Canal” at the History Room which featured drawings, photographs and illustrations
to give an overview of the Canal. The adjoining display area exhibited ‘Words Tell Story of the
Canal’ will show how the Canal impacted Avon. There were posters, maps, and a 3D visual
display that together that brought the Canal history to life once again. This exhibit was
researched and mounted by Janet Connor and members of her Special Projects Committee of
the Society.


September 17, 2011 - Cow Chip Raffle Sale at Walmart. Avon Historical Society was out in front of Wal-Mart selling tickets on what was a busy Saturday for local residents, judging from all the visitors that day.

In what has become a tradition for Avon Historical Society, Society Members were out in force selling raffle tickets on what was a beautiful Saturday. Thankfully, ticket sales were brisk, but best of all, members were able to touch base with locals and old friends. You would be surprised at whom you meet in front of Wal-Mart on a Saturday.... From left to right, Naomi Wright, Jeannie Parker, Lesley Mancini and Terri Wilson.


July 23, 2011- Book Signing Event at Barnes & Noble. Peter Wright, Author of Avon Then & Now, hosted a Book Signing Event at Barnes & Noble at the Shoppes at Farmington Valley in Canton from 3-5pm.

On a hotter than average Saturday in July, a higher than average number of people visited Barnes & Noble Booksellers, if only to get out of what will likely be remembered as "Heat Dome 2011?" Peter Wright had an opportunity to meet with several locals, including Avon Resident, Barnes & Noble Bookseller and Nook Expert, Amy Arlin, photographed above. Peter Wright was pleasantly surprised by the turnout, and wishes to thank Barnes & Noble Booksellers - especially Katie, thank you Katie, for putting this all together. Thanks to their efforts, the event was a great success for all concerned.


June 25, 2011 - Results from the Avon High School Photography Contest. Avon Historical Society wishes to thank everyone for submitting for this, our long talked-about, first annual endeavor at an Avon High School Photography Contest. There is so much talent and focused energy at Avon High School, and we received only a small glimpse of it.

It should go without saying; all the Judges would agree that the hardest part was narrowing the choices down to 3 images to be converted into postcards. We ultimately had to complete the selection process by “secret ballot,” for fear of carrying on hours longer than expected. It was no easy task selecting from the submitted images. We thank everyone for their sense of adventure and experimentation.

The comments following each image posted are those of Peter Wright, author and photographer of Avon, Then & Now. If anyone has questions or comments, please feel to contact Peter Wright directly via our AHS Feedback Page. We hope the students enjoyed the "process of discovery" as much as we did.


The following 3 images are to be converted into Postcards for 2011: Countryside Park, Derrin House, Pine Grove Schoolhouse.

Countryside Park - Gigi DiGiuseppe’s image from inside the covered bridge at Countryside Park tells a compelling story of a trail leading from the bridge into the woods beyond. Her choice of taking this shot from a low vantage point captures the four surfaces of the covered bridge from a unique perspective while emphasizing the trail. Gigi also seems to have brightened up the image with software, which may have helped to highlight the bridge’s construction - especially the roof structure - while bringing the trail beyond into much clearer view. Gigi should be commended for handling so many "variables" all at once.


Derrin House - Jeff Lewis’ image of the Derrin House is a powerful composition. Ansel Adams was once quoted as saying, “A good photograph is knowing where to stand.” In the age of digital photography, with access to virtually limitless amounts of “film,” that means experimenting with multiple viewpoints. Jeff picked his point of view carefully with farm equipment, signage, trees, shadows and miraculously, even clouds - all lines seemingly converging on and framing the Derrin House so well. Jeff also managed to capture the Derrin House in one of those rare "full sunlight in New England" moments making the image even more surreal.


Pine Grove Schoolhouse - Ellen McNeill was the only one of the photographers who chose to experiment with interior views, in this case Pine Grove Schoolhouse. It’s interesting to note how Ellen’s choice of a shallow depth of field makes the schoolroom beyond appear larger. Isn’t this how we remember the world around us being “bigger” when we were young, our classmates in the seats next to us in full focus and the larger space beyond less clear?


Saturday, June 18th, 2011 - Snapshots from the Waggin For Wheels Event at Miller Foods. Avon Historical Historical Society was in attendance at Miller Foods / Mitchell Auto Group Waggin' For Wheels Event. The Fundraiser was organized to raise the needed money to purchase a new Animal Control Vehicle for the towns of Avon & Canton. Both the earlier Dog Walk and the later Main Event were well attended.

If you were not able to make it, but you still want to donate for Avon-Canton’s new Animal Control Vehicle, you can mail your tax deductible donations to:

“Town of Avon/Waggin’ for Wheels”

Avon Police Dept. Attention: Sharon Dau

60 West Main Street

Avon, CT 06001


Pam Fahey, Avon Historical Society Vice President, took these images of immaculately dressed Ben Isaacson, Avon Historical Society Board Member, greeting Newfoundland Dog "Goliath."

It appears as if Ben is inspecting "Goliath's" teeth.... Who couldn't love that face?

In conjuction with the Miller’s Event, Ben Isaacson and Peter Wright conducted guided tours of Avon Historical Society’s Horse Guard Barn, which is just north of the Miller Property along West Avon Road. Visitors were offered a rare glimpse inside this 1880’s bank barn and an opportunity to pose next to one of J. Maxon’s sulkies found on the property.

View of the Horse Guard Barn from the Miller Property.


Avon Girl Scouts designed and planted period working gardens for the Derrin House. A 7th grade Avon Girl Scout Troop planted two period working gardens in the garden beds out in front of the Derrin House. The girls researched plants appropriate for a working garden in the 1800s and designed the layouts over the winter.

Summer 2011 - The plants were generously donated by Sunnybrook Farms Garden Center in Avon. Materials to frame out the plots were donated by Moore's Sawmill in Bloomfield (Please see each organization's mention on our "Friends of the Society" Page). The water supply system was designed with ingenuity by Derrin House Curator Len Tolisano of the Avon Historical Society - a holding barrel with a spigot is fed by a natural spring from up on the hill behind the house.

The Derrin House Museum is open to the public on Sundays from 2-5 pm June through October. Yet if you happen to be in the neighborhood, the gardens are available for viewing at any time!


Sunday, June 5th, 2011 - Snapshots from the Book Signing at the Living Museum. Having coordinated this season's re-opening of all 3 Avon Historical Society Museums with a local Geocaching Event and an Avon, Then and Now book signing at the Living Museum, a number of Geocachers stopped by the Living Museum following their searches.

Among the attendees were Avon High School Student Initiative Leaders, Matthew Howard and Michael Staroselsky.

Matthew and Michael are working on a unique Student Initiative, "Reintroduce Children To Nature." The High School Students' Mission is to improve accessibility to local trails, hosting activities, events and hikes for local children while teaching them fun and useful information in a natural setting. Freelance Writer Gabriel Sistare was also in attendance, composing a story about the Geocaching Community and today's Geocaching Event, which culminated at the Living Museum.

From left to right, Matthew Howard, Gabriel Sistare and Michael Staroselsky.

What suprized Wendy, Liz and Peter, Avon Historical Society Board Members running the event at the Living Museum, was how this "Geocaching Thing" was so well attended by so many people from all over the state.

From left to right, Geocachers Zoe Diamond, Michaela Freedman, Shari Diamond and Rachel Freedman (seated) reviewing Peter Wright's new book, Avon, Then and Now at today's book signing event.

Geocaching "Savants," Sue Drobinski and Damien Drobinski explain how geocaching works, to Liz, Wendy and Peter, while reviewing Peter Wright's new book, Avon, Then & Now.


May 28th, 2011 - The Derrin House Brick Walkway Is Now Installed. With material donations from local concerns, notably Deming Construction for providing several tons of stone bed and an anonymous brick donation - all 5 x 33’ of it - Len Tolisano, Derrin House Curator, Peter Wright, and Bristol AIC, please see our Friends of the Society Webpage, completed the brick walkway last Saturday, May 28th, 2011.

Kevin Del Biondo, Bristol AIC Community Service Coordinator, and Peter Wright, Avon Historical Society Board Member, stand over progress.

The completed walkway - a brownstone step and a concrete slab found on site, along with several cut bricks, were incorporated into the walkway design.


Len Tolisano stands over completion of the new Derrin House Walkway. Len Tolisano, Derrin House Curator, wishes to thank all those who helped to make this project possible and all those who helped bring it to completion.


New Sign at Horse Guard Barn. Some of you may have noticed a small sign that has been placed in front of the Horse Guard Barn. While working on a larger sign to be hung in the near future, we learned a lot in creating this sign, and should anyone be thinking of creating a sign, we recommend 2" Text Size or larger, as ours seems to require at least a few drivebys to figure out what it says.

As many of you may already be aware, we are seeking help from the community at large to help us restore this circa 1880's English Style Bank Barn, a.k.a, "The Horse Guard Barn." If you were thinking of ways that you could help, more information can be found on our new "Horse Guard Barn" Webpage. Maybe you would like to help us with our "sign challenge...?"


February 8, 2011 – “The Shady Art of Silhouettes” at Carmon Family Center.

The Avon Historical Society sponsored a talk on the history of the silhouette, presented by antique dealers, appraisers and researchers, Lee and Joy Hanes of Old Lyme, CT at the Carmon Family Center.

This one-hour lecture entitled “The Shady Art of Silhouettes” covered the history of silhouette cutting and painting from the 18th century to the present. Silhouettes were a universally popular form of artistry in Europe and North America prior to the advent of photography.

Thanks to Mary Harrop for organizing, arranging and putting the event together. Thanks to all the bakers for the wonderful desserts. And special thanks to John Carmon who made sure the venue was set up appropriately and the coffee was hot! Here are a few photos from the event.

Mr Hanes explaining the "Shady Art"   Mr Hanes speaking with guests   Mr Hanes showing samples from his collection


January 2011 - Avon Historical Society Signs Lease to Restore the Horse Guard Barn on West Avon Road

The Avon Historical Society has signed an amendment to a lease agreement of the Derrin House at 249 West Avon Road, from the State of Connecticut Department of the Military to include the Horse Guard Barn, across the street at 232 West Avon Road.


Horse Guard Barn

Last year the Avon Historical Society was approached by the Department of the Military to consider extending the Derrin House lease to include the c. 1880 New England Gable Entry Bank Barn just across the street, located on First Company Governor's Horse Guard Property.

A tour by Avon Historical Society Board of Directors in late spring revealed timber frame construction which was made according to the “square” rule using circular sawn lumber. The barn and surrounding property was in private hands until sold to the First Co. Governor’s Horse Guard in 1954. The barn was used for horses until the State built a larger adjacent facility years later.


January 2011 - Donation of Reed Organ by St. Ann's Church. The photo below is of the Smith American Organ Company of Boston, MA reed organ being donated to us by St. Anne's Church. The Church received it from the daughter of the original organist for the church when it was located on Mountain View Avenue.


Reed Organ


New Contributions to Avon's History: Anthony O'Neill made his mapping of Avon's Town Center available to the public for the very first time. AHS has made photographic reproductions of his map of Avon Center available for all. We will soon be revealing a copy of this historical record on our website. Please check our Gift Shop in the very near future for a better glimpse at a piece of not well understood Avon history.

Just when you thought you knew how the canal and rail ran through town, Anthony O'Neill's Map will set you straight.

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