There are always generations of people who reside in the same community for decades. In Southington, a town that has grown from a farming landscape, acres of apple trees and a quaint downtown, its older citizens are becoming overly nostalgic.
In recent months people have complained about things that cannot be changed. People are homesick for old Southington. They are reminded of days gone by and don’t like what they see in the present or in the future.
Some moan about too many big houses. They are baffled about who can afford these homes. Others rip apart our municipal commissions for allowing too many stores and housing developments. Some miss a smaller high school and then there are those who are convinced that town leaders over the past five decades were corrupt and sold the town down the river to faceless corporate bosses.
I presume it’s comfortable to be nostalgic about Southington. It’s tough to see West Street become a road used by 30,000 cars per day. It’s sad to remember sheep and cows grazing on Queen Street when it’s impossible to see a tree along the two-mile stretch of signs, driveways and lighted signs.
People in their 60s to 70s like to play the name game. They challenge others about remembering Gene Guterch, Dick Galiette of town doing sports on television, the Riccio twins, Bill Zilly, Louis Riches at Center Drug, Val and Margaret DePaolo, the Popular Restaurant, Tony’s Cash & Carry, Morelli’s Meat Market, DeRosa’s Barber Shop, George Gladchuck, Brenner’s Furniture, Kay Furniture, Gus and the Pizza House, Silver Bell Tavern, Cozy Nook, Gene’s Kitchen, Country Restaurant, Popular Restaurant, Phil’s Restaurant, Height Buick, Monty’s Diner, Highway Diner, the Click, the Oven, Colonial Theater, Powers Car Museum, Banner Bowl, Longhorn, Yankee Maid, Wallace Jewelers, Stef Hardware, Oxley Drug, Art Johnson and Art Nelson at Western Auto, M&O Chrysler, Green’s Luncheonette, Warner Plumbing, Dom Renda, Quito Rossi, Bob Carbone, Bill DePaolo, Baker Shoes, Winston Shoes, Young Folks, Zdunczyk Package Store, Grimaldi Shoe Store, Perillo Oil, Simone Oil, Stanek’s Grill, Tiffany House, Town & Country Diner and the list goes on and on.
The inevitable fact is that the federal government gave Southington a double-edged sword when it designed a new Interstate highway in the late 1950s and decided it would choose Southington and not Bristol or Cheshire. The five ramps in town from I-84 transformed Southington from a sleepy New England village into a beehive of hungry travelers, and drooling corporate entities that saw immense profits from ideal locations adjacent to a major Interstate.
Southington grew and people saw the opportunity to live 20 miles from two major cities. People saw a community with two faces; a busy commercial area but a quaint glimpse of small town USA. The high school went from medium size to the sixth largest in the state. The town was forced to build a new police station, sewer station, revamp two firehouses and build a new one in Milldale. Hundreds of new town employees had to be hired and there was a need for equipment, trucks, electronics and much more. Also, the town opted to lease the former North Center School as an addition to town hall rather than expand the original building built in the early 1940s.
Residents of old Southington find some relief in downtown although this may change soon. They seldom knock the downtown section. They love the Town Green, most likely because it hasn’t changed in decades except that it has shrunk in size. They like the schools their grandchildren attend but forget that the new schools were necessary because of the town’s growth and popularity.
I genuinely feel for those with a passion for the past. I join with them. My family has been here since the early 1900s. My family has run two restaurants in town and my entire life has been Southington and I find it difficult to agree or disagree with the passionate memories of yesteryear.
But there are things that make the those of yesteryear occasionally forget the early days. The Apple Harvest Festival, the Italian Festival, the winning football and other teams at the high school, are wonderful events that the old-timers relate to the old days.
There are now 101 restaurants in Southington. Queen Street, nicknamed “food alley” many years ago, has found that tag more than true.
Nostalgic residents are constantly reminded about the past whenever they get stuck in Queen Street traffic or get their new tax bill and the memories start over again.