Tonight marks the opening of the thirty-sixth renewal of the Savin Rock Festival. In last week’s editorial space we recounted the early work that has made the festival the summer staple it has become in our city. It is, first and foremost, a celebration of our history, but it is also a celebration of our people.
There is no question West Haven is a city in transition. Once a blue-collar, middle-middle-class municipality, the city has seen its fortunes take a steady downturn over the three decades. Once a proud manufacturing and industrial hub, the city saw its industry leave with the energy crises of the 70s and 80s and nothing come in to replace it.
In the last several years the city has become poorer, seen an increase in minority and single-parent households and struggled to maintain its identity as a community proud of its heritage and history.
While the demographics of the city have changed, though, there is still a solid backbone of families and individuals who are working to maintain the community spirit that sets our city apart from most. There is still the Westie Spirit that permeates this community.
From benefits for grieving or needy families, to civic and fraternal organizations offering programs and sponsorships for various youth activities to the pride felt by alums of both West Haven High School and Notre Dame, to be called a “Westie” is a mark of pride and accomplishment.
There were some in the not-so-recent past who were embarrassed by the city’s history. The fact that Savin Rock Amusement Park was here and became the playground of Southern New England was a source of pain for many. That pain probably came from the age of the park and the fact that much of it was in need of repairs. There was a pervasive attitude in the era just preceding and following the “urban renewal” of the 1960s that we had to exorcize the ghosts of the past in order to move forward.
It wasn’t long before people began to see that rather than shy away from the past, we should embrace it and celebrate it. It makes us who we are, and it helped define the community we became and are today.
That is much of what is being celebrated this weekend. The various tents and stands that offer games, amusements and food will be sponsored by the many organizations that work for the community. It is an abject lesson in what it is to be members of a larger group.
West Haven has always been a community where neighbor helps neighbor. It is a community where we celebrate the successes of our friends and city residents and work to help those who need a boost.
This weekend’s festival is a celebration of our city and our people. It is a celebration of where we are located as well. Our shorefront is the envy of many communities up and down the Eastern Seaboard.
Enjoy this Festival 36, it is a celebration of our people and our city. Better things may or may not be on the way, but the spirit that makes West Haven what it is continues.