NEW BRITAIN - Some would like to travel back in time to live for just one week in New Britain, circa 1972.
City Historian Jimmy Golon entertained a small crowd Sunday with photographs and insight into New Britain as it was before the construction of Interstate 84 and the redevelopment that followed. They gathered for a slide show in the New Britain Police Department’s community room in the early afternoon.
“People still debate whether the highway helped or hurt New Britain,” said New Britain Industrial Museum educator Andrea Kulak, who helped Golon put on the program.
Golon has used the museum’s resources to build on his personal collection of New Britain history.
“People who live in New Britain like to reminisce about the old days and also share their stories with the younger generation,” Kulak explained. “The people who came today are people who can remember what the old downtown looked like.”
The group was captivated by an image of Main Street when it was known as “Furniture Row,” as furniture storefronts lined the strip.
“It’s very interesting to picture what was there before,” said Golon’s brother-in-law, Randy Couture, who came with his wife, Leanne, Golon’s sister.
“It’s difficult to imagine,” Leanne Couture added.
Self-described history buff Bill Serphin saw the city through all the changes that came after the highway was built.
“I remember all the construction and how the highway was developed,” he said.
Golon’s fascination with New Britain’s infrastructure began in childhood.
“My father was a cop and he would drive me around,” he recalled. “I really got into what the city looked like in its heyday. It’s like taking a trip down memory lane.”
His collection also features photographs from the city’s infamous “Night of Fires” on June 2, 1971. Blazes tore through the New Britain Lumber Co. and vacant American Hardware plant, requiring assistance from 20 fire departments.
Gene Kulak digitized this set.
“Jimmy usually gives that presentation in June around the anniversary,” Kulak said. “The photos are so colorful. It’s a step back in time.”
Golon will present “New Britain: 1972” at the New Britain Public Library on Thursday, Oct. 19 from 6:30 to 8 p.m.
Erica Schmitt can be reached at 860-801-5097, or firstname.lastname@example.org.