World War II Era

Korczak Ziolkowski and Chief Standing Bear

Originally appeared in West Hartford Life, July 2013

In June 2013, Conard High School Senior Emma Briggs travelled with Hawkwing to work on the Cheyenne River Reservation. She travelled to Thunderhead Mountain in the Black Hills of South Dakota to view the Crazy Horse monument. There, in the museum, to her surprise, she found this label under a photograph of Korczak Ziolkowski (1908-1982) and Chief Henry Standing Bear:

Ziolkowski is well known in West Hartford as the sculptor of the Noah Webster statue, completed in 1941. At age 32, Ziolkowski sculpted Webster as a monument for the town. Before he entered World War II in 1943, Ziolkowski met Chief Henry Standing Bear to plan sculpting Crazy Horse into the Black Hills as a poignant counterpoint to Mt. Rushmore (1927-41).

The US government sent Chief Henry Standing Bear, born in South Dakota, to the Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania to forcibly assimilate him into white culture. He liked learning English and the ways of white people but used this knowledge to stand up for his culture. He fought with his pen, writing letters to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, trying to assure Indians land ownership. In 1927, he ceremoniously inducted Calvin Coolidge into his Sioux tribe as “Leading Eagle.” Though he spent some time working on Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show, his focus in later life was Indian history and the Crazy Horse statue.

In 1939, Ziolkowski, at age 21, went west to help noted sculptor Gutzum Borglum sculpt Mt. Rushmore. Standing Bear asked Borglum to add Crazy Horse to Mt. Rushmore, but Borglum turned him down. Ziolkowski and Standing Bear must have met on that visit, because in 1939 Standing Bear sent a letter to Ziolkowski asking him to go out to Pine Ridge, South Dakota where they met for three weeks. There, Ziolkowski learned about the traditional Indian way of life.

Ziolkowski remembered: “Standing Bear grew very angry when he spoke of the broken treaty of 1868. That was the one I’d read about in which the President [Andrew Johnson] promised the Black Hills would belong to the Indians forever. I remember how his old eyes flashed out of that dark mahogany face, then he would shake his head and fall silent for a long while.” Originally Standing Bear believed that the entire Crazy Horse project had to be completed by Indians, but there were no Indian sculptors. Ziolkowski stepped in.

In early May, 1943, Chief Standing Bear (1874-1953) traveled to West Hartford and stayed with Ziolkowski at 216 Sedgwick Road, the house with the turret as Sedgwick turns into Mountain Road near the West Hartford Art League.

Standing Bear had two objectives on his speaking tour: he wanted to interpret the little known ceremonies and customs of his people to eastern audiences. And he wanted to firm up plans with Ziolkowski so that he could convince officials in Washington D.C. that he should sculpt his cousin Crazy Horse out of the Black Hills.

Ziolkowski planned two public appearances for Standing Bear. On Friday, May 7, 1943, the Chief spoke at the Annual Sedgwick Boy Scouts Parents Night sponsored by the Boy Scouts and the West Hartford Police Department. In his talk he said he was on his way to Washington D.C. to “promote a greater degree of understanding and cooperation between the two races.” Standing Bear claimed, “the Indian understands the white man as the white man has never learned to understand the Indian.”

Ziolkowski also planned for him to perform on Sunday afternoon May 16 at 3:00 at the Hall High School Auditorium in the center of town. He was to appear in full ceremonial dress under the auspices of the Noah Webster Fife and Drum Corps. Townspeople needed to get tickets to get in. Ziolkowski recorded a hitherto unknown ancient chieftains song for folklore collections. Standing Bear described in detail the ceremony followed in making a tribal chieftain.

Preceding the presentation, Ziolkowski scheduled the Noah Webster Fife and Drum Corps to play a concert on the green along with the Mattatuck Drum Band of Waterbury playing military pieces at 2:45. The bands and Boy and Girl Scouts planned to parade to Hall with the Chief in full regalia.

Standing Bear also conferred with Korczak Ziolkowski before he went into the armed forces about the prospective Crazy Horse Memorial to be carved by the sculptor out of one of the granite hills of South Dakota which Crazy Horse defended so valiantly. Standing Bear and his fellow chiefs’ dream since the late 1930s would hopefully come to fruition at the end of the war.

In his 1943 visit to Washington, Standing Bear did not get approval for the monument. Harold Ickes, Secretary of the Interior, proclaimed “I will not have my mountains defaced.” Ziolkowski replied “Sir, I will not deface your mountain, my work will serve only to compliment nature.” Ickes carried the day.

But Standing Bear and Ziolkowski continued their work. Ziolkowski built a model out of 300 pounds of Tennessee marble, working at a personal expense of $40,000. The war interrupted Ziolkowski’s work, but when he was discharged, he hadn’t lost the desire to work with Chief Standing Bear.

In March 1946, Ziolkowski traveled to Washington where he again tried to convince government officials in the Office of Indian Affairs and Under Secretary of the Interior Oscar L. Chapman and this time, got their “moral backing.” Ziolkowski never took any government money for the project.

On April 28, 1947, Ziolkowski left his West Hartford home at 5:30 a.m. with a five car caravan and a party of seven for the Black Hills to begin work on the 400 foot long and 300 foot tall sculpture of Crazy Horse on the 8,000 foot mountain. He had 4 ½ tons of tools and equipment and the blessings of his wife, Ruth Ross (1926-2014) from West Hartford, who would meet him in July after recovering from illness. He was joined by a family of four from Maine, a man from Burlington and Kenneth Farber, a 21 year old son of Max I. Farber, assistant managing editor of the Hartford Times.

As he began his 2,000 mile trip, he did not know where his financial backing would come from, but he hoped tourists would contribute to support the project.

His hope to build a museum from the used stone removed from the mountain to house the ancient treasures of the Sioux Indians has come true as witnessed by West Hartford’s Emma Briggs. But his dream to build an Indian University on the site has not yet come to fruition. As work on this monument moves into its 65th year, Ziolkowski’s family carries on the work to memorialize the courageous Indian leader who won in battle against the U.S. government. Ziolkowski’s project and his West Hartford connection live on.

Mobilizing for World War II

Originally appeared in West Hartford Life, May 2011

Most history textbooks analyze the decision to enter World War II as being a reaction to this singular bombing at Pearl Harbor, but in fact, the nation had been gearing up for war for at least a year and a half, not just on the federal level, but also in local towns like West Hartford. In 1941 in our town, men were signing up for the draft, factories were bulging with defense contracts, and local volunteers organized relief for those in war torn Britain. The economy and society were on a war footing before West Hartford’s Gordon Sterling was killed at Pearl Harbor. Once the United States declared war, those on the homefront responded.

In 1941, West Hartford’s mobilization for World War II was built on the fear of being attacked, building armaments, and helping those whose lives were already being devastated by war. West Hartford residents mobilized quickly for the war.

Since Germany’s invasion of Poland on September 1, 1939, the U.S. economy began to manufacture munitions and war supplies for the British, to defend them from, as President Franklin D. Roosevelt called them, “the aggressors.” Congress authorized a fivefold increase in the defense budget from $2 billion to $10 billion in 1940.

On September 25, 1940, FDR signed the first peacetime conscription law in United States history. This law required men between the ages of 21 and 35 to register with local draft boards. A maximum of 900,000 men were chosen through a lottery system and served for 12 months. Fifteen months later, Congress amended the law to include all men between 18 and 65.

On January 6, 1941, Franklin D. Roosevelt delivered a State of the Union Address that beckoned Americans to prepare for war.

In mid January 1941, the women of St. James Episcopal Church established a unit for British Relief to make layettes and children’s underwear to send to the British War Relief Society. The manager of the Park Road Department Store donated much of the raw materials needed to do the work. The women of the church set up to meet from 10 to 4 Monday to Friday. Women within the community helped out for the war effort before our country was officially at war.

The Lend-Lease Act, March 11, 1941, formally ended the U.S. pretense of neutrality. Hitler responded by ordering German subs to attack US vessels and the S.S. Robin Moor was sunk in May 1941. But the U.S. did not decide to enter the war militarily.

In 1941, the U.S. role was as an arsenal of democracy. On January 27, the War Department announced that West Hartford’s Pratt & Whitney Division, Niles-Bement-Pond Company won a $44,000 war contract to make gauges for the war effort. This factory, built in 1940, manufactured precision gauges and machine tools already in high demand from the Allies. Employment grew from 2,500 in 1939 to 4,600 in 1941. The plant ran 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

In April 1941, the federal government began the sale of war bonds. In May, the federal government built war housing in the South Meadows of Hartford and in East Hartford. In June, the United Service Organizations drive to raise $50,000 went over the top. In June, a congressional committee announced that Connecticut would need 50,000 more workers in six months to keep up with defense contracts. And U.S. Housing Authority Administrator who visited Hartford in June pushed to speed up defense housing construction. There was talk of building defense housing in West Hartford.

With the attack on Pearl Harbor, West Hartford lost its first soldier in battle, Gordon T. Sterling. Sterling had been serving already for a year when he engaged in battle. From his plane he shot down one of six Japanese planes before his was shot down and he was killed. This attack spurred local residents to prepare for attacks on the mainland.

Two days after the Japanese attack and Sterling’s death, the assistant secretary of the American Radio Relay League of West Hartford revealed that “tens of thousands of radio amateurs” were ready to assist in civilian defense of the West Coast. In the previous year, the league supplied the United States military forces with valuable radio operators, who had been trained by local leagues.

By December 11, 18 women drivers and six suburban cars of the Hartford unit of the State Defense Council’s Women’s Motor Corps reported for duty at the State Armory. The women were under the command of Captain Mrs. Thomas Sergeant of West Hartford and served to transport guardsmen from armories to their assigned duties.

The fear of attack was palpable. Three days after Pearl Harbor, concerned parents held a meeting at the Beachland Park Clubhouse to express their “great concern” over the proximity of Charter Oak School to Niles-Bement-Pond defense plant just ¼ mile away from the school across Flatbush Avenue. The parents proposed that students be transferred to the Elmwood School. Within a week, Superintendent Lloyd Bugbee had calmed down the parents so that they had voted “complete confidence” in the Board of Education concerning the policy for school children to remain in buildings in case of an air raid. Bugbee also provided sand bags for extinguishing firebombs for each school.

At the same meeting more than 60 people volunteered to be air-raid wardens. They had to train at the air-raid warden school to be held at Hall High. West Hartford volunteers would man the air raid post in the Trinity College tower.

Twenty residents enrolled in the auxiliary firemen’s training school. They feared that plants like Holo Krome, Jacob Chuck, and Niles Bement Pond making goods for the defense industry bombs would be targets and citizens needed to be ready to douse fires. These 20 residents and over 70 high school students learned how to control incendiary magnesium bombs, also known as firebombs. These bombs were used in night raids, where bombers could not see their targets, but the consequent fires caused destruction. Surely West Hartford residents had read about Germany’s bombing of London in 1940-41.

Leaders in the Town Hall established a Volunteer Bureau and four days after Pearl Harbor, scores of people registered to help with first aid, home nursing, canteen, nutrition, motor corps, air raid warden, group leader, auxiliary fire and police service and demolition squad.

Arthur N. Rutherford, the head of the town’s building department led the town’s demolition team. He sent letters to over 300 builders and contractors and in a month he had mobilized plumbers, oil burner mechanics, electricians, carpenters, and other skilled tradesmen. He organized the town into four areas with 36 sectors to help rebuild in case the town was bombed. Rutherford also surveyed local schools to recommend buildings that would be suitable for air raid shelters. By January 18, 1942, builders and contractors pledged 250 vehicles for defense use. More than 600 emergency workers volunteered to work with the Defense unit to be ready to demolish buildings if they were bombed.

This Memorial Day 2011, the parade committee is honoring veterans from World War II. The youngest veterans, now in their mid 80s will be honored during the parade and in the program. As our veterans are recognized on Memorial Day, we should also remember the sacrifices made by those left on the homefront who supported those who fought the battles.

The Arsenal of Democracy

Originally appeared in West Hartford Life, May 2002

At West Hartford’s May 1941 Memorial Day parade, Governor Robert A. Hurley, then a resident of 99 Outlook Avenue, declared:

Those rights which we enjoy today of freedom of religion, speech, press and assembly can be lost, if we do not throw the full weight of our resources and manpower against the brute forces of totalitarianism, and in their place substitute a state which forbids individual worship; flings us into prison without trial; confiscates our property without compensation; inters us in concentration camps and inflict[s] upon us the most cruel tortures ever devised… The forces of world chaos are no less threatening to our security than were the elements of disunion in Lincoln’s day. We can survive only if we meet them with the same determination that he and the common people of his day did.

Hurley’s interventionist rhetoric ran counter to U.S. public opinion. Nearly 90% of the population opposed entrance in an almost two-year-old European war.

On the other hand, by May 1941, West Hartford’s economy already reaped the economic benefits of war, as we threw the “full weight of our resources and manpower” against the Axis. Pratt & Whitney, a division of Niles-Bement-Pond, opened in 1940 on New Park Avenue, the site of Charter Oak Park, Luna Park and the Connecticut State Fairgrounds where Home Depot is today. Pratt & Whitney Machine Tool manufactured precision gauges and machine tools already in high demand from the Allies.

Pratt & Whitney built on the Charter Oak Race Track property and opened this factory in 1940. By December 1940 the factory ran 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and a year later employed almost 5,000 workers. The six CIO unions helped keep morale up through the war effort. Flatbush Avenue is in the foreground. The trees that lined the race track property remained. Source: Noah Webster House & West Hartford Historical Society.

By December of 1940, 3,586 employees worked 24 hours a day six days a week in capacity operations, a year before the United States entered World War II. Wages increased 27% between 1939 and 1940 and were 15% higher than they were in 1929, before the Depression. Prosperity crept back into town as Connecticut continued its role as the “arsenal of democracy” during wartime.

By December 17, 1941, just 10 days after Pearl Harbor, the workers at Pratt showed their unified support for the country’s war effort when they rallied at the plant. In a telegram sent to President Franklin Roosevelt, they said, “The employees of the Pratt & Whitney Plant… 4,600 strong, are unanimous in their support of your program and wish to assure you of their 100 percent effort in increasing production of machine tools, small tools and gages so urgently needed.”

According to President Clayton Burt, Pratt & Whitney produced three times as much in 1941 as their peak output in 1929. The machinists’ union leader said “We must pledge ourselves for more production. We must pledge ourselves for the complete defeat of fascism and triumph for democracy.”

From August 1940 to August 1942, the company expanded seven-fold. For this growth and production, the factory received the joint Army-Navy “E” flag won for excellence in war production.

The federal War Production Board, trying to maximize war production, encouraged companies to establish management-labor committees in early 1942. The Hartford Times featured Pratt & Whitney’s committee in an April 15, 1943 story. The committee, which included six CIO union men and six men from management, tried to increase production while maintaining a sane daily life for its workers. The committee dealt with a wide variety of problems including rationing, safety, and blood drives.

One of the main tasks of the committee was communication. They put up some 175 bulletin boards and plastered them with posters to induce each worker to increase his personal efforts in speeding up production. Twelve large informational bulletin boards posted war news, war maps, nutritional diets to maintain health, and cartoons to boost productivity and encourage a positive attitude toward war work.

The company instituted a suggestion box program. Pratt & Whitney gave a minimum prize of $5 for each accepted suggestion with no top limit. Management awarded prizes totaling $2,775 for 240 suggestions that helped make the plant more productive.

A subcommittee on worker transportation arranged carpools to save on gas and rubber. These committees also supervised war bond drives and Pratt never failed to go over the top on any of the drives.

With a seven-day week and 12-hour days, it was difficult to keep workers at work and absenteeism was a big problem and a joint subcommittee addressed that issue. A safety committee helped to reduce the frequency of injuries, thus increasing production. Hiring of a medical director and staff to take care of illnesses and promptly treat small injuries proved successful in keeping production going and helping the workers. These joint management labor councils served to keep the lid on labor demands during the war.

The local press and the federal government applauded production at Pratt and encouraged the joint union-management council through its War Production Board. However, it was an uneasy alliance. Workers and management believed what Governor Ray Baldwin pledged in his 1943 Memorial Day speech in West Hartford: “We must see that the materials and weapons needed are supplied to those who are fighting to maintain our liberty, who are beating down the forces of oppression and tyranny. We have a duty and a pledge to them.” But when the war ended, that common purpose no longer united them.

Just seven months after the Japanese surrendered in 1945, the workers at Pratt & Whitney went on strike to get their wages in line with production and inflation. The machinists struck for 20 weeks, from mid March until August 7. The company laid off over 4,500 workers from its peak production days to a low of 2,500. By the end of the strike, there were but 1,800 left at the factory. The Metropolitan News claimed the strike had “all the panoply of a ‘big league’ strike.” Workers were fined for picketing the homes of the business owners in town.

Governor Baldwin’s words on Memorial Day in 1943 were somewhat prophetic. He said that the Germans had misjudged us believing that “because we are a nation of many tongues and many kindreds we would disintegrate readily. But, we are held together indissolubly by a common bond of love of liberty and freedom.”

It was the common enemy in war that kept the Americans together. When the war ended, the “many tongues” spoke again for themselves, questioning personal sacrifices made in the war for the good of all. Workers in West Hartford, and around the country, spoke boldly for their individual and collective rights, which had been muted during the war. The federally imposed cooperation during the war improved life for workers only to an extent and when the forced cooperation imposed by the war emergency was lifted, the workers raised their voices once again.

West Hartford Émigrés: The Soviet Jewish Experience

Originally appeared in West Hartford Life, March 2005

Zhenya Tseytlin, a West Hartford immigrant from Odessa on the Black Sea, was in the fifth grade when the Germans invaded the Soviet Union during World War II. The Germans and Romanians drove the Jewish people out of Odessa and took them to a camp where they were to be killed. In March, 1942, the occupiers took mothers and children out in a field to be shot. Zhenya’s mother told her to run. Zhenya said, “I was crying. I didn’t want to go, but some force pushed me out of that mass. I started running towards the woods. Alone!” Zhenya heard shots and screams. She kept running and found a pile of grass in which she hid for the night.

The next day, 10 year old Zhenya wandered from village to village to find some help. She knocked on the door of a house in one village and a 24 year old woman with children took her in. Zhenya recounted, “I was starving… She was such a noble person… She didn’t ask if I was Jewish.” Zhenya stayed with the family for two years and her life was saved.

This is just one of the stories of Soviet émigrés to the greater Hartford area recounted in “Witness to War, 1941-5: The Soviet Jewish Experience,” an exhibit at the Noah Webster House for several months this winter. Dr. Betty Hoffman, from St. Joseph College, interviewed forty Jewish men and women who survived World War II in the Soviet Union and many settled in West Hartford. This exhibit depicts how Jews, both those who served in the military and civilians, survived World War II.

The Russian émigrés have stories to tell of survival in circumstances that were not as bad as those in Germany, but were stunningly depraved. Now on their retirement here in West Hartford, hoping for better lives for their children and grandchildren, these émigrés have memories that altered their lives dramatically.

Many Jewish families who emigrated to West Hartford in the 1990s felt as though they would be treated more fairly in the Soviet Union after the Russian Revolution in 1917. As Russian citizens adapted to a new secular order, the practice of religion was outlawed. The idea of equality promised by a Communist state drew many Jews from other parts of Europe. At first, the ideal of equality helped the Jews, but by 1932, they had to carry around a Jewish designation and it was used to discriminate against them in education, employment, and housing. Most protected themselves by dropping behaviors which marked them as Jewish.

When Hitler invaded the USSR in 1941, the Red Army retreated and Jews like Zhenya Tseytlin were at greater risk, but they were more able to survive than if they had been in Germany.

The Jews were controlled by the Einsatzgruppen, sent in by the Germans as part of the Nazi invasion force, whose job was to get rid of what they considered to be undesirables. Jews were sent to ghettos, forced to work, and killed outright. The Einsatzgruppen murdered one million Jews between 1941 and 1942. At Babi Yar 30,000 were killed in two days in September 1941.

Lida Prokopets, another Odessa resident, worked in a Jewish infirmary as a nursing aid when the war began and she worked through the 79 day siege of her city. The Germans and the Romanians occupied the city and looked for Communists and Jews. She remembered a hanging pole set up in each marketplace where Jews and Communists were publicly hung.

Prokopets, a West Hartford resident who emigrated in the early 1990s, related that neighbors would not take them in because they were Jewish. They secretly moved to the shed in their backyard that had been used for firewood. Four members of her family stayed there. A woman in the neighborhood gave them food. One day a car arrived with Romanians who had come to find them. Her mother “took off her wedding ring and another ring she had hidden. She said “let us go,” gave them the rings, and we went to my sister.” In one more month, the police came and took them. Pokopets survived.

Mark Aronov, another West Hartford resident, was a student at the Moscow Medical Institute when war broke out. Because there were so many casualties, Aronov, training to be a surgeon, became instead, a specialist in medical triage. Nina Aronov remembered fleeing town and traveling for two years. She lived in a village, and picked potatoes. She had no clothes. Her mother found a cotton bag, sewed it, and painted it to make her a skirt.

Sometimes Jews were confined to ghettos where the occupiers killed the Jews systematically by starving them, from disease or exposure, or from outright brutality and murder. West Hartford resident Frima Leykikh, remembered how the commandant of the ghetto “used to come in and ask how many corpses were taken out that day. He was told four, five wagons. He stated that it was not enough. They had to take out more.”

This exhibit is the brainchild of Dr. Hoffman and was funded by the Jewish Historical Society of Greater Hartford, the Connecticut Humanities Council, the Jewish Federation of Greater Hartford, and the Fisher Foundation. It originally opened two years ago at the Greater Hartford Jewish Community Center in West Hartford and has traveled as far as Nashville, Tennessee. Its opening at the Noah Webster House signals a new collaboration with the Noah Webster House and West Hartford Historical Society as they try to reach out to a wider public and make it known that they want to represent the history of all West Hartford residents.

The history of West Hartford is also a compilation of the many stories of those who live in town. This exhibit will open your eyes to the breadth of experience, suffering and hope of an important segment of our population and its offspring.

Recalling 140 Who Gave Their Lives During World War II

Originally appeared in West Hartford Life, May 2005

Of the 225 total West Hartford war casualties, 140 of them died in World War II (1941-45). Two men died in 1941, six in 1942, 22 in 1943, 54 in 1944, 51 in 1945 and 4 in 1946. The 139 men and one woman who gave their lives in war, give us a chronology of World War II. Their family stories tell us who was left behind on the homefront. Here is a glimpse at 14 of the 140 service people who sacrificed their lives for their country.

West Hartford’s first casualty, Gordon Sterling, aged 22, died in the attack at Pearl Harbor. He was in the Air Force and was one of the only people to engage the Japanese. From his plane, he shot down one of six Japanese planes before his plane was downed and he was killed. The playing field behind Charter Oak School was dedicated in May 1943, and named after the first West Hartford casualty. It is now known as Sterling Field.

Lt. Gordon Sterling (1919-1941) grew up on Argyle Avenue. His father worked at the Underwood Typewriter factory. Gordon was a Boy Scout. He, graduated from Hall High School and enrolled at Trinity College in 1937. He took private flying lessons, and in September 1940 he enlisted in the Army Air Corps. He died at Pearl Harbor. Used with permission from “Together We Served,”

In March and October 1942, two men were killed in the Pacific, Lewis Davis who was missing in action south of Java and Adam Fahnestock in New Guinea. Fahnstock of Pilgrim Road was 32 at his death. He was a member of the Air Force. Davis, of Lincoln Avenue was 27 when he was reported missing in March 1942 but was not declared dead until December 1945.

The first casualty in 1943 was in North Africa. The United States engaged the Italian African forces in 1942 and 1943. Two men, William G. Hale and James W. Hatch were both killed in plane crashes in January and April in North Africa. Army Air Force Second Lieutenant Hale of North Quaker Lane was 23 when his plane crashed. He left his wife of five months in West Hartford, and two older brothers in the service. Hatch, of Norwood Road, was 24 when his pursuit plane crashed in Tebourba, Tunisia in April 1943. Hatch was a graduate of the Kingswood School and Yale University. Hatch’s father was president of the Bush Manufacturing Company and had employed his son on his graduation in 1941. The VFW Hannon Hatch Post is named after him.

After the allies defeated the North African armies, they invaded Sicily and then the mainland of Italy. Rodney MacGregor and James Hannon were killed in the Italian campaign. MacGregor, age 23, was the pilot of a troop transport plan that was shot down. Hannon, of 32 Vera Street, was killed in action in Italy in November 1943. He worked at Colt’s before he enlisted. He left his mother, a brother in the Air Force, and two sisters. (He is the other half of the Hannon-Hatch Post.) Seven more West Hartford men were killed in the assault on Italy.

During World War II 140,000 women served with the Women’s Army Corps (WAC). The only woman casualty from West Hartford was Mary O’Dell, aged 27, a member of the WACs. She was employed at Aetna when she enlisted in early 1942 and probably performed clerical work in the service. O’Dell received her training at the Fort Des Moines Officer’s Candidate School. A graduate of Hall High, she left behind her parents at 82 Griswold Drive.

In 1943, more men died in the Pacific islands: New Georgia Isle, Solomon Isle, Gilbert Isles, New Hebrides, and the Philippines. The men who died were in the Army, Air Force, and Marines. Lieutenant George J. Bolles, of 273 South Quaker Lane was West Hartford’s 30th casualty. According to the Metropolitan West Hartford News, Bolles “heard the news of the Jap treachery at Pearl Harbor on Sunday December 7th and enlisted on Monday, December 8th.” He was killed after his B-24 Liberator had “inflicted heavy damage on enemy shipping” when his plane was returning to its base in New Guinea and the plane disappeared.

The invasion of France at D-Day in June 1944 included many West Hartford men, 14 of whom were killed in that country from June to December. The first West Hartford man killed in France was Richard S. Kuehner, 749 Farmington Avenue, of the Air Force. He was killed “in action during the invasion of Normandy” after D-Day. He was a fighter pilot of a P-47 Thunderbolt. Radioman Wilbur Allen, aged 21 of 1478 Boulevard, was killed in his minesweeper on his way to the invasion of France. He had been employed by the Hartford Times and left his mother and two sisters.

William J. Stone, age 20 of Edgemere Avenue, was killed in the Battle of the Bulge on November 15, 1944 in Belgium. Stone had been missing since September. His Golden Lion 106th infantry battalion held back the full weight of Germany’s Von Rundstedt’s breakthrough to give the Army command time to regroup. This battle was, according to the Metropolitan News, a “saga of courage seldom equaled.” It was the heaviest bombardment ever witnessed by the armed forces. Over 8000 men were either killed or captured in the Battle of the Bulge. Stone, who graduated from Talcott Junior High and completed two years at Hall, left his parents, a brother and three sisters.

Frank J. Concatelli, aged 25, a private in the army was the first man to be killed in Germany. He was killed at Puffendorf on November 17, 1944. Concatelli was one of the first seven members of an armored division to enter Germany during the American invasion of Germany on September 18. He lived at 69 Hillcrest and left his parents and four brothers, two of whom were in the service, and two sisters.

In the Pacific, many men were killed in the Philippines starting with Sanford Perkins, Jr. of the Navy on December 18, 1944. Six more men were killed on the island of Luzon in 1945. Perkins was part of a bombing squadron with the USS WASP, operating against enemy Japanese airfield in South Luzon. He braved relentless fire from the Japanese anti- aircraft guns. Perkins deployed his division of fighter bombers to “execute a vigorous and successful attack on the target fighting his plane boldly to score a direct hit on a large airfield building and repeatedly strafing hostile anti-aircraft positions. He was a graduate of Yale Univesity and the grandson of the former editor of the Hartford Times. He lived at 82 Van Buren Avenue.

The Carey brothers died in their plane over Indochina in 1945. They were inseparable, going to Loomis together and then Amherst College playing on the same football team. They each married a woman named Jeanne (and Jean) three days apart. They withdrew from college in 1940 and joined the army on the same day. They also died the same day as pilot and copilot.

West Hartford streets, schools, parks and buildings are often named after local men and women who made a difference to the town. I wonder if veterans who walk into the Hannon-Hatch Post realize that these two men died in a World War II battle. How many soccer, football and softball players know that when they play at Sterling Field, it is in memory of the first West Hartford casualty from World War II? Town leaders who name these public places want people to remember the deeds of those who went before them, and in this case, people who gave their lives for a cause bigger than themselves.

World War II Victory Gardens in West Hartford

Originally appeared in West Hartford Life, January 2011. Sources included news article scrapbooks compiled by the Recreation Department from its inception in 1940, currently in possession of the author.

It isn’t so much what the gardener gets out of the garden as what the garden does to the gardener. — Lloyd Bugbee February 1, 1943

Sustainability and eating local are the bywords of the 2010s. One might think we’d invented something new! We have much to learn from World War II Victory Garden Program run by West Hartford’s Recreation Department in the 1940s.

When Japan bombed Hawaii on December 7, 1941, the United States went on war footing. The federal bureaucracy worked well in the 1930s to mobilize the economy and when war broke out, departments shifted to get the citizenry involved in the war effort.

From 1942 to 1945, Victory Gardens produced more than 40% of all the vegetable produce consumed nationally. Nearly 20 million Americans planted these gardens in backyards and empty lots. This was almost 60% of households. Victory gardeners harvested an estimated 9 to 10 million tons of vegetables, an amount that equaled the value of all commercial production of fresh vegetables.

The program played a key role in feeding Americans, but it also had an important psychological effect. It was a way for people to feel like they were doing their part on the homefront and a way to build community spirit. The Recreation Department wanted the Victory Gardens to be viewed not just as directly aiding the national defense. They were also important for developing the resourcefulness and initiative of those interested enough to make a reasonable effort.

In April 1942, West Hartford’s Recreation Director Jacob Feldman appointed Mrs. Howard D. Wilcox of South Main Street to supervise the West Hartford Victory Garden program. She worked directly with landscape expert Peter J. Cascio of 2600 Albany Avenue who chaired the Victory Garden Campaign. Most volunteers came from the Little Garden Club and the West Hartford Garden Club. These volunteers supervised students in the Victory Garden program from Hall, Beach Park, Center, Charter Oak, East, Elmwood, Morley, Sedgwick Elementary and Seymour Schools.

Wilcox recruited 50 volunteer leaders to supervise and inspect student gardens and neighborhood gardens. They helped solve gardening problems. Both Cascio and Wilcox were perplexed with how to supervise this many newly minted farmers, but the program went forward.

They started by having students draw garden plans in early April. They established a timetable to have the gardens spaded by April 20.

Wilcox and Cascio set up a rating system for each garden to be sure that food would be produced. They rated vegetable gardens on location, arrangement of rows, cultivation and care of the plants. For flower gardens, they considered landscaping, neatness, weeding, health and vigor of the plants.

A report on July 26, 1942 showed that 370 students were growing vegetables. Mrs. Hazel McCrampton replaced Wilcox as the Garden Supervisor and she inspected all the gardens and rated them. The gardens were very successful. Some of the more advanced gardens fed an entire family.

When the Town of West Hartford takes on any project, it wants to excel. Rudolph Whaples, Hartford County agent for the 4-H Club, said that “West Hartford has a larger number of children and more successful and better organized Victory Garden program than any other city or town in the state.” Similarly, in the 1942 report on the summer playground activities, the Director of Recreation said that the town’s Victory Garden project was hailed as the most outstanding in the entire state.

By July 30, 1942, the Metropolitan News, the forerunner to the West Hartford News, trumpeted that “Children’s Victory Gardens Successful; Leaders Praised.” The News reported that the average size of a garden was 8 feet by 12 feet but some were as large as 25 by 50 feet. The vegetable gardens supplied the family needs and in some cases they also had enough to can. They raised green beans, beets, cabbage, corn, cucumber, peppers, tomatoes, as well as unusual crops like tobacco, soybeans, celtuce (combination of lettuce and celery), kohlrabi, romaine, and okra. According to the News, Italian children raised “unusual greens for salads.” The children made up to three plantings on their plots of land.

In mid September, the Recreation Department and the West Hartford Defense Council sponsored a Victory Garden Harvest Show at Hall High. This Harvest Fair was just one among over 20,000 held in 40 states to celebrate their harvests and raise money for the Army and Navy Emergency Relief. The government sanctioned these shows. For West Hartford, this was the first Harvest Show in years.

The hope for the fair was not just to show off produce, but also to create a “better neighborhood spirit and increased interest in gardening. It is the patriotic duty of every gardener in the town to exhibit.”

By show day, volunteer farmers entered over 500 products in the fair. Several hundred people attended what was named “the first annual Victory Harvest Show.“ Judges awarded prizes for flowers, artistic arrangement, vegetables, fruits, houseplants, children’s flowers and vegetables, and children’s artistic arrangements.

In January 1943, the town was already planning for gardens for the next growing season. Recreation Director Jacob Feldman and Superintendent of Schools Lloyd Bugbee had been working on the program for weeks and they believed that they were the first community in the state to be so far ahead. For the 1943 season, the Recreation Department agreed to hire a professional market gardener to advise and guide gardeners throughout the season. They planned to put seeds together that were varieties suitable for this area and had good productivity. They also planned to supply a bi-weekly bulletin on gardening including dates for planting, reminders on tending the crops, warnings about pests and instructions on how to deal with them.

By February 1943, 800 local school children from every school in town had pledged to grow Victory Gardens. Representatives from West Hartford’s Men’s Clubs including Civitan, Hayes-Velhage Post, Exchange, Beth Israel, Kiwanis, Chamber of Commerce, Elmwood Community Church, and St. Patrick’s all agreed to promote victory gardening. The program more than doubled in participation in one year.

Superintendent Bugbee again encouraged local farmers saying “by cultivating, in typical Candide fashion, their own gardens, they will be able to realize a security, a creative satisfaction and a sense of “belonging,” so essential during this period of war created insecurity.”

The 2010s sustainability and locally grown movements include those same sentiments. Not only do they suggest that we gain more control of our food sources but we also build a sense of community that comes with a Community Supported Agriculture share or by visiting a local farmer’s market. Even better, grow your own garden and share with your neighbors.

Resistance to Public Housing and Integration during World War II

Originally appeared in West Hartford Life, April 2002. Much of this information comes from Katie Winterbottom’s research in Spring 1998. She won the Freeman and Mary Meyer in West Hartford History and her article was published in the Fall 1998 edition of The Spectator.

On September 12, 1943, a West Hartford resident worried that their town would be “overrun by blacks much like what happened in the north end of Hartford.” What prompted this remark in the middle of World War II?

Many families migrated to the Hartford area during the war to get defense jobs. Nationwide, over four million workers, plus five million family members, migrated to defense plants. Hartford was a big draw for workers. Colt’s Firearms by 1941 was the largest private munitions maker in the United States and the only one that made machine guns. Billings and Spencer, Pratt and Whitney Tool, all prompted the Army and Navy Munitions Board to place the city on a list as one of the 14 most vital strategic industrial areas in the country. In West Hartford, New Departure, Abbott Ball Bearing, and Whitlock Coil and Pipe all received war contracts.

An estimated 18,000 people migrated to Hartford in 1941 alone, lured by jobs whose incomes rose from an average of $2,207 in 1938 to $5,208 in 1942, an increase of 136%. The housing shortage grew as the war progressed as more people moved to the area. Private developers could not get the materials to build because all building materials were controlled by the government and went to the war effort.

To address the housing crisis, the federal government awarded West Hartford $1,000,000 in 1943 to build housing for war workers and their families. West Hartford made plans to build 256 dormitory apartments and 72 single-family homes by June of that year.

When West Hartford received the subsidies for housing, citizens and public officials expressed their concern. The chief of West Hartford’s Housing Authority said he wanted “no slums in West Hartford.” He agreed to the project only after he was assured that the structures would be torn down at war’s end. Residents expressed concerns that this housing would bring people from the city and West Hartford seemed concerned about its reputation as a homogeneous, upper class suburb. The West Hartford Housing Authority imposed eligibility restrictions on housing residency: residents had to be from more than 50 miles away to qualify. West Hartford residents believed that this would insure that they would move back to their hometowns when the war was over.

When the two apartment complexes were finished, by September of 1943, only about 20 out of 300 apartments were rented in Oakwood Acres (on the present day site of Kennedy Park) and only 14 of 300 in Quaker Lane Acres (near where Quaker Lane and Trout Brook Drive meet). African American defense workers applied to live in the apartments but the town authorities refused to let them rent. A realtor believed that real estate values in the area would decline sharply “if Negroes in any considerable number moved into town.” The few people who had rented the government-subsidized apartments also expressed concern, arguing that they would move out if blacks moved in.

Residents looked to their U.S. Senators, Francis Maloney and John Danaher to establish whether blacks had to be allowed in. The Federal Housing Authority then investigated the situation and gave West Hartford an ultimatum: it was unconstitutional to exclude black war workers from the projects, and if the town authorities would not let them in, the federal government would take over the management of the housing.

Local residents continued to fight to exclude African Americans from the government housing. They evaded the federal orders by establishing that only African Americans who worked in what they called “essential industry” in West Hartford would be allowed to live in the new government housing. Only six blacks fit this criterion and none of them wanted to move into West Hartford. No African Americans lived in this housing during World War II.

The housing was never fully occupied during the war. Some West Hartford residents continued to be concerned with what they deemed to be “slums” and wanted them immediately demolished at war’s end.

However, millions of veterans came home at the end of the war, and high inflation, a continued housing shortage, and many veterans who got low paying jobs needed this housing as much as the war workers had.

The government aided the veterans by allowing them to move into the public housing developments occupied by war workers during the war, and the federal government paid 3/7 of the rent. In the late 1940s, the waiting list for the West Hartford housing stood at 1,500. Arguments to tear down the housing were countered with cries of patriotism and support of the veterans.

But, by 1951, the campaign to rid the town of the housing began. First, no new occupants could move in. Over the next five years, residents left by choice and through pressure. On April 1, 1956, the town demolished Oakwood Acres and South Quaker Terrace housing.

Elmwood Acres, the single-family homes on Elmhurst Drive were sold to a private owner. Rents increased $40 to $60 per month for the same house and some families had to leave town for economic reasons.

Because of the influx of people to the Hartford area caused by the dislocation of war production, the town of West Hartford had to make decisions about racial integration that it had not had to make before. When historians study war, they evaluate to what extent social dislocations resulting from wartime emergencies bring lasting change to society. They particularly look at the lives of African Americans, women, and the poor to see if they gained a bigger piece of the American pie in terms of social, economic or political status. In this particular case, those in political power and the citizenry in West Hartford resisted change by hanging on to local control. It was not until the turmoil of the civil rights movement in the 1960s that West Hartford directly addressed these issues again.

High Ledge Homes and Restrictive Covenants

Originally appeared in West Hartford Life, June 2010. See expanded version in a book chapter, co-authored with Vianna Iorio and Jack Dougherty, in On The Line.

West Hartford’s construction business boomed near the end of the Great Depression. Over 1,800 homes were built in town between 1937 and 1940, attracting city dwellers to the suburbs. But in at least one West Hartford neighborhood, the ability to buy one of these new homes depended on your race.

On July 23, 1937, R. G. Bent and Company purchased the 47-acre Wooley Estate on South Main Street for $30,000. The property was bound by Trout Brook to the east, South Main Street to the west, and Beach’s Vine Hill Farm to the south and the Hanson property to the north. During the Depression, the area became more valuable as a real estate development than it was as farmland.

Bent quickly hired land surveyors Osterling and Samuelsen to subdivide the land into 100 building lots across from Rockledge Golf Course. The first tract of land, that would become Bentwood and Ledgewood Roads, included eight house lots along South Main and eight along Webster Hill Boulevard. Between ten and twelve house lots ran along each side of the street for a total of 49 lots.

The R.G. Bent Co. built 34 homes on the property in 1938 and 1939. Less than two years after purchase in March 1940, the Bent Company sold the land to High Ledge Homes and established an “Agreement Concerning Building Restrictions” which can be found in Manuscript Volume 152 in the land records at the West Hartford Town Hall. Edward Hammel, President of High Ledge Homes, bought the property, and submitted an “Agreement Concerning Building Restrictions.”

The corporation wanted “to create a uniform plan of development” and it imposed nine restrictions on houses built on the property. Restriction (e) read:

No persons of any race except the white race shall use or occupy any building on any lot except that this covenant shall not prevent occupancy by domestic servants of a different race employed by an owner or tenant.

According to the Agreement, homeowners could prosecute any person “violating or attempting to violate any such covenant…” The document established what could be considered a democratic body in the neighborhood in that the majority of property owners could prosecute others for violations. They could also vote to end the restrictions in 25 years (1965) or the restrictions would automatically extend every 10 years.

View the interactive map of restrictive covenants filed in West Hartford town records during the early 1940s. Source: On The Line

This restrictive covenant, based on race, is the first I have seen in writing in West Hartford. By word of mouth I had heard that in the 1930s and 1940s and into the 1950s, no Roman Catholics could live on Stoner Drive, the first street developed on “the mountain.” No Catholics could buy on Wood Pond or Sunset Farms or West Hill or Sunnyreach. According to another resident, the address of a house on the corner of Foxcroft Road and Fern Street was changed to Fern Street because no Jews were allowed on Foxcroft Rd. But how many of these restrictions actually appear in West Hartford in writing and on legal documents? They have been hard to find in writing.

When and why do these restrictions come about and when do they end? My friend Professor Jack Dougherty of Trinity College is studying just this question in his book-in-progress, On the Line: How Schooling, Housing and Civil Rights shaped Hartford and its Suburbs. His research on Hartford, West Hartford, Bloomfield and Avon is a fascinating comparison of development in these four towns, all of which have different characters, in part dependent on these restrictive covenants.

The right to have a restrictive covenant stems back to a Supreme Court case Corrigan v. Buckley decided in 1924. In 1921, after a neighborhood was built, white property owners in a District of Columbia neighborhood formed a white property owners association. The homeowners wrote a restrictive covenant that prevented the sale of property to African American citizens. But, when white owner Corrigan, within this neighborhood chose to sell her property to an African American, white neighbor Buckley brought suit to enforce the covenant and stop the sale of the house.

The District of Columbia Federal Court upheld the covenant and the Supreme Court, in a 9-0 decision, affirmed the decision by refusing to hear the case because, Justice Edward T. Sanford argued, the Supreme Court lacked jurisdiction in the case.

Sanford argued that under the Fifth Amendment’s phrase that no person should “be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law” limited the federal government, not individuals. The Thirteenth Amendment, he argued, did not protect individual rights of blacks. The Fourteenth Amendment referred to actions of the state, not of private individuals. The Supreme Court case, Corrigan v. Buckley reaffirmed the right of property owners to have restrictive covenants. This ruling allowed developers and neighborhoods to stop racial integration in housing. The 1917 case Buchanan v. Warley had opened the door to integration.

In 1948, the Supreme Court case Shelley v. Kramer found the restrictive covenants to be valid between parties that agreed on them, but argued that they could not be enforced because that would constitute a discriminatory state action, which the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment prohibited. Private parties could voluntarily follow restrictive covenants, according to the ruling, but they could not seek judicial enforcement because that would mean the state would have to take action that would be discriminatory.

The result of this case was that restrictive covenants remained in deeds, but were not enforceable. According to a West Hartford resident, when she bought her home in 1970, the real estate agent told her the restrictive covenant existed, but he properly reported that it could not be enforced.

This restrictive covenant helps to explain the town’s public willingness to try to restrict African Americans from living in the war housing built during World War II on Oakwood Avenue, Quaker Lane, and Elmhurst Drive. West Hartford’s small African American population in 1950 was not just by chance. And attitudes about Caucasians and African Americans living side by side in the 1940s may not have been so different here than they were in the south.

Note: Thank you to Mary Everett, who formerly lived on Ledgewood Road for bringing the restrictive covenant to my attention. Thank you to Jack Dougherty and Katie Campbell for finding the restrictive covenant at the Town Hall. Also see the website “Seattle Civil Rights and Labor History Project” at for information on how Seattle has addressed restrictive covenants in their city. Anyone who knows of restrictive covenants in their deeds, most likely written in the 1920s, 1930s or 1940s, please contact me.

About this book

Copyright © 2018 by Tracey M. Wilson. Life in West Hartford is freely available online at and distributed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. Readers may share the work for non-commercial use, by including a source credit to the author.

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Print copies of this book are available for sale from the publisher, the Noah Webster House & West Hartford Historical Society, in West Hartford, Connecticut. Proceeds of sales benefit the Society