Thursday, March 25, 2021


Connecticut’s Historic Gardens

 Announces Winner of 2021 Poster Contest

Connecticut’s Historic Gardens is pleased to announce artist Peter Kokoszka of Meriden, CT as the winner of the eighth annual Historic Gardens Day Poster Art Contest.  “The Magnificent Garden” is a 16” x 20” acrylic and oil painting. Mr. Kokoszka states: “The painting is a tribute to the Historical Florence Griswold House, Barn, Garden and the flowers and wild life found within Gardens of Connecticut that have inspired artists throughout generations to express their creative ideas of our beautiful state.”

This contest gives local artists a chance to showcase their talents while advertising CT Historic Gardens Day, an important, statewide event. The group began the contest to encourage Connecticut artists to visit and capture these historically significant homes with beautiful gardens. They hope that these sites will provide inspiring subjects for their art.

Along with a cash prize, the winning artist receives widespread exposure – at each of the 15 Connecticut’s Historic Gardens throughout the year and at Connecticut’s Historic Gardens Day, an event that attracts garden lovers from throughout the state and beyond. This year’s Historic Gardens  Day takes place on Sunday, June 27, 2021 from 12-4 pm; visit for details on activities offered at each site.

Mostly a self-taught artist from central Connecticut, Peter graduated from Waterbury State Tech with degrees in Computer Aided Drafting and Design. Peter has worked as an aerospace draftsman, mechanical process engineer, plant manager and inspector but his true passion in life has always been creating artwork.  Peter states: “In an attempt to break away from the usual things I drew and to expand my horizons I began meddling with oil paints and other mediums such as acrylic, pastel and watercolors. I love the use of color and I love the spring and summer time so my current art tends to reflect this.  Some of my favorite subjects to create are nature, ships, architecture, animals, abstract and technical illustrations.  I like to do works of extreme detail as well as impressionistic works of art.”

Friday, February 19, 2021

Squabble Hollow- A Repository of Curios!

Squabble Hollow pre-1960

Residence at Squabble Hollow

The unusual buildings located at 660 Killingworth Road have a somewhat story- book history. Known by many in town as Squabble Hollow, the older of the two buildings was built in the late 19th century by Frederick W. Wilcox as a simple domestic house. It passed through several local families until Maxwell Lee purchased it in the mid-20th century.  “Mac” was described as an “art connoisseur, importer and gourmet” and decided to leave the corporate world behind and devote his pursuits to hunting and presenting the unusual. He opened Squabble Hollow in 1953 as a shop to share his love for uncommon objects. He also sold gourmet items such as herbs, spices and other delicacies and visitors could always find something cooking on the old black stove.

He is quoted as saying “I made quaintness my life’s project”.

A Hartford Courant article from 1960 interviewed Mac and toured the property stating that his private quarters were resplendent of antiques, art and extraordinary curiosities including hundreds of candelabras and candlesticks. His rooms were full of strange knickknacks and furnishings that produced a “home of non-conformist decoration.”

Mac’s business sold antiques and curios in his Christmas room and the highly decorative chapel which he added in 1960.  Lee was fascinated by churches and in particular Connecticut churches which had “dignity, beauty and practicality.” He studied and admired them, although not religious, and built his chapel from pieces of dismantled or demolish houses of worship. The end result was a highly embellished, some may say over the top, architectural wonder of quaintness and fantasy.

Squabble Hollow catered to tourists, as well as, locals and called movie-stars Gloria Swanson, Joan Crawford, Joan Fontaine and Ethel Waters as repeat customers.  The story of how Squabble Hollow got its name has never been substantiated but supposedly there was a Swedish shoemaker who lived on the property and argued with his wife all the time and when neighbors need shoes repaired it they said it was time to bring them to “Squabble Hollow.”


 Maxwell Lee was a native of New Brunswick, Canada and settled in Haddam to open Squabble Hollow after working at Bunce’s Store in Middletown. He was well known in the area and relished in his “unending project of expanding Squabble Hollow to glorify the off-beat.” He died in 1974 and the premises continued as an antiques shop for many years.


Maxwell Lee-The Creator of Quaintness
Hartford Courant, 1960



Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Clarkhurst Resort, Haddam Neck


Brooklyn Dailey Eagle

This post features items from the Clarkhurst Resort which was located in Haddam Neck between the late 1920s and early 1940s. The property was originally the Clark family homestead and farm and was the birthplace of Thomas J. and George M. Clark, the brothers who owned and operated Clark Cutaway Harrow in Higganum. They were also responsible for building the Higganum Dam.  Their younger brother, Henry Lee Clark, remained in Haddam Neck and operated a successful farm and grew tobacco.

In the late-1920s Henry’s daughter, Cora and her husband, William “Harry” Brown, opened Clarkhurst Resort on the family farm. Guests could come for a day visit or spend an entire week. The resort catered to large corporations and civic organizations in Hartford that would hold employee picnics and outings at Clarkhurst. They also advertised heavily in New York City hoping for longer stay visitors. The grounds had a number of guest houses and dormitory buildings. Weekly rates ranged from $20 to $30 all inclusive.

The resort offered a nine hole golf course, tennis courts and handball courts. Boating, swimming and baseball were advertised, and there were miles of horseback riding trails. In 1934 you could golf all day and have a chicken dinner for just $2.00. The resort was so popular that Starlin Hartford River Line chartered boats to Clarkhurst on a regular basis.  By the late 1930s the name had changed to “Clarkhurst Ranch” and advertised dancing every night with complete bar service.

By 1940 the Browns had relocated to Middletown, and in 1942 they sold the property and the resort closed. It remained in private hands until 1960 when the State of Connecticut purchased the site of over 300 acres with money donated by George Dudley Seymour.  A number of foundations remain as a reminder of the resort’s heyday.


Postcard showing Clarkhurst Resort
HHS Archives

1927 Advertisement for Clarkhurst
Brooklyn Daily Eagle


1927 Advertisment
Brooklyn Daily Eagle

Hartford Courant

HHS Archives

Carlson Family Collections, HHS Archives


East Hampton News 1939

1938 Clarkhurst Advertisement Hartford Courant

1935 Clarkhurst Ad, Hartford Courant


Thursday, February 11, 2021

Railroad Bridge Higganum

 This small drawing, titled “Higganum 1884,” shows the railroad bridge crossing the Higganum River at Higganum Cove. The view is looking north towards Middletown, Portland, and East Hampton.  Just to the right of the bridge is the Higganum Cove Wharf along the Connecticut River. The river features four sailing ships and a steam boat. The drawing was purchased by the Society after a successful fundraising campaign in 2006. The artist is unknown.

The Connecticut Valley Railroad was organized in 1868 and headed by James C. Walkley of Haddam. The line ran 45 miles between the shoreline in Old Saybrook and Hartford. On July 31, 1871 the first passenger train operated along the completed track to much fanfare and celebration. Haddam had five train stations at one point in time, including Higganum, Walkley, Haddam, Arnold’s Station and Goodspeed/East Haddam.

The first bridge at Higganum Cove was a covered wooden bridge, built in 1871. The structure was covered to protect the oak wooden frame of the bridge. According to train historian Max Miller, wooden bridges were popular in the early years of the railroad, but by 1900 trains were heavier and larger, and the wooden bridges could not support them. In 1903 the wooden covered bridge was replaced with a steel bridge.

Thursday, February 4, 2021

Three Oaks Restaurant -Dancing for Your Pleasure

 Three Oaks Restaurant
Dancing for Your Pleasure

The property at 415 Killingworth Road, known as the Three Oaks Plaza has a long colorful history that dates back to the late 1930s. It has been home to a popular restaurant, nightclub and bar as well as numerous dinner theaters. Today it is professional offices.

The earliest known establishment on the site was the “Rustic Hall” owned by Josephine Mashinda who rented it to Joseph Havelin of Middletown for $300 a year in 1938. It is believed Mashinda built “Rustic Hall” between 1936 and 1938 shortly after her husband died and left her the property. She took out a couple of mortgages on Rustic Hall and was later sued by a local lumber company for work done on Rustic Hall. Not much is known about Rustic Hall or what services and entertainment they offered.

In 1940 Frank Hrbek of New York City purchased the property and relocated to Higganum. Hrbek was born in New York City to “Bohemian” immigrants from Austria/Czechoslovakia. As a young man he operated an ice wagon in the city, selling ice to restaurants and other commercial establishments.

Hrbek bought the “hall” and took out a liquor license and opened the restaurant by July of 1940. Three Oaks offered dining for lunch and dinners and entertainment including modern and old fashion dancing, polish hops, waltzes and floor shows. It was a popular location for parties, weddings and banquets.  Frank was assisted by his wife Betty and their son Frank Jr. and his wife Helen.

Hartke Family Collection

For many years the Haddam Volunteer Fire Department held their annual Ball at the restaurant to raise funds for the organization. The Higganum baseball team, “Higgies” would hold banquets and fundraisers in order to buy new uniforms. In the early years there were even boxing and wrestling exhibitions. Music was provided by a variety of entertainers including the Karaucyzk Orchestra.

Frank Sr. died in 1952 but his family continued to operate the successful restaurant until the early 1970s.


In 1972 the hall became known as the “New Three Oaks” and offered Rock and County Music. There was a devastating fire in 1973 and owner Ray Kavarsky rebuilt the place as a dinner theater to hold over 400 people.

The name was the Four Seasons Dinner Theater and featured buffet dining with “the highest quality productions and one of the best menus in the state.” Dinner theaters which offered reasonably priced “dinner and a show” to area residents peaked in the 1970s and other Connecticut venues included The Coachlight and The Chateau de Ville in East Windsor. It was a full- service evening of entertainment catering to the middle-class who wanted to dress up and have a night out on the town.  The Four Seasons only lasted about a year but produced such shows as “Promises, Promises”, “Last of the Red Hot Lovers” and the “Odd Couple”.

Next was the short-lived Higganum Hall which operated for six months followed by the Pine Brook Dinner Theater which ran from 1976-1977. Pine Brook “lends itself to the man-about-town, the seasoned theatre critic, or the newly awakened theatre-goer and combines top rate show with an international buffet.” Usually productions were a month long with a tried and true musical to replace it. The Pine Brook Theater, however, did have an Opera Night where fully performed classics were enjoyed with the same buffet dinner.  Like the previous theater it didn’t last long and was shuttered within a year.


Camelot Theater opened in 1978 and the first production was “Shenendoah” but again the venture did not last a year. In the early 1980s a number of businesses tried to open nightclubs on the site but the Haddam Zoning Board of Appeals denied applications including one from “Mad Murphy’s” in Hartford and another called “Dallas East”. In September of 1984 a country western restaurant and music club opened up called Nashville II after considerable investment in cleaning up the damage building. The curse continued and by July of 1985, Custy’s International a renowned restaurant from Rhode Island that offered “all you can eat dinners” had opened up in the space. They advertised themselves as the “Eighth Wonder of the World” and “World’s Most Famous Buffet” and a Hartford Courant review of the restaurant said “check your moderation at the door.” They even went as far to have a display of “busted belts” in the lobby from those who ate too much.

Alas, in less than seven months later, a suspicious fire, later to be determined arson, caused minor damage and the business never fully recovered.

By the early 1990s the building had been renovated and turned into professional offices which still occupy the building today. 

Wednesday, December 30, 2020


The Stone Buildings of Haddam

Haddam is well known for its granite-gneiss quarries on both the east and west sides of the Connecticut River. The Allen Vein runs north-south across town from Haddam Neck to Great Hill then along Turkey Hill. The Brainerd and Arnold Families both operated successful quarries during the 18th and 19th centuries primarily selling curb and gutter stone to large cities along the east coast and New Orleans. The stone was also used as a building material and a few Haddam granite buildings remain.


The Haddam Gaol and Workhouse at 955 Saybrook Road was erected of local stone in three sections. The original section was constructed in 1845 by the Arnold Family with loadbearing walls of solid stone 15 to 24 inches thick. In 1855 the building was enlarged with help from the prisoners which saved $200 in labor costs. The mansard roof portion of the building was added in 1874 and housed offices, women’s quarters and Jailer’s apartment.


Just down the street, at 1005 Saybrook Road, is the David B. Ventres House commonly known as the “stonehouse.” Mr. Ventres built this house in 1825 at the time of his marriage and was involved in the quarrying business. The building once featured an ornate full façade front porch.


The final remaining stone building in Haddam is known as Brainerd Academy or Town Hall at 21 Field Park Drive. Built in 1839, this imposing building was built by brothers John and Nehemiah Brainerd as a private college preparatory school. It was originally three stories in height with massive central bell tower. The school closed in the 1890s and later became the Town Hall/Masonic Lodge in 1929 after the Courthouse/Town Hall burned (see below). The third floor was removed and an ornate fully pedimented projecting portico was added to the façade featuring 2-story Doric columns.


Haddam Gaol, David Ventres House, Brainerd Academy

We know of three stone buildings that no longer exist. The first is the Middlesex County Courthouse which stood at the intersection of Walkley Hill, Hayden Hill and Saybrook Roads. Middlesex County was formed in 1785 and Middletown and Haddam were both appointed county seats and each needed a courthouse. The stone building was erected in 1829 of Haddam gneiss and replaced an early wood structure. It remained an active courthouse until 1897 and then became the town hall and masonic lodge. A devasting fire in 1929 gutted the building and it was dismantled. The small stone wall surrounding “Courthouse Green” was constructed of the buildings stone.


The Old Stone Store stood at the foot of Field Park Drive and was a two-story stone building with ornate fan light in the gable end. At one time George Dickinson operated a store and post office out of the building in the 1880s. It was taken down by the early 20th century.


The Charles Smith House once stood along Pokorny Road in the Higganum section of town and was built in 1802 of granite slab veneer over a rubble masonry to make 15-inch load-bearing walls.  He left the house to his wife and grandson, Charles S. Wilcox, whose family remained there until the early 20th century. In the mid-20th century it was a weekend/summer home to the Briggs Family of New York, but was abandoned and fell into disrepair by the 1980s and was torn down.


Courthouse, Old Stone Store, Charles Smith House


Tuesday, December 1, 2020

 Over Thanksgiving Weekend the Haddam Historical Society hosted a history scavenger hunt where groups had to find examples of a building or site to answer the clue. Congratulations to all our teams!

Great Job!

We asked participants to submit pictures of some of the places they found and visited.

1. Find an example of granite used in a building, monument, architecture or landscapes:

                                                        Haddam Jail- The Cirillo Family

2. What power source did early entrepreneurs use to power their factories and mills?

Higganum River at Higganum Cove.
Site of Russell Manufacturing, Frismar, Frissell Company
Waller Family

3. Photograph a stone wall in town that marks a property or field boundary.

Field Park Stone Wall- Lecky Family

4. One of Haddam's one-room schoolhouses still standing.                                                                              

First District School House/Haddam Senior Center
Ashley Wiknik and Sarah Prue

5. Find an example of a Colonial era house.

The Thomas Church House, Russell Road, Haddam
Cirillo Family

6. Find a large rock or rock outcropping in town that is unique to Haddam.

Flag Rock, Candlewood Hill Road
Waller Family

Eagle's Beak (part of Mattabesett Trail)
Novak/Gifford Family

7. Find an early example of transportation.

Wagon Wheel AND train tracks
Cirillo Family

8. Find the location of a building that no longer stands.

Site of Higganum Union School, Higganum Green
Novak/Gifford Family

Site of Courthouse on Courthouse Green, Haddam
Waller Family

9. Find a building that has been adaptively reused from its original use.
Former Shad Shack, now used as a museum
Waller Family

10. Visit a preserve or state park.
Haddam Meadows
Novak/Gifford Family