By Michael P. Walsh
Special to the Voice
WEST HAVEN, June 14, 2021 — The City of West Haven Centennial Celebration Committee will toast the community’s 100th anniversary with a six-month series of free concerts, historical exhibits and fireworks — headlined by the long-awaited return of the Savin Rock Festival, Mayor Nancy R. Rossi announced.
The festival, last held in 2017 because of a $50,000 budget deficit under the previous administration, is coming home to the 151-year-old grounds of Old Grove Park on July 30-31.
According to Rossi, the committee’s honorary chairwoman, the Centennial Savin Rock Festival will showcase West Haven’s past 100 years and the “sights, sounds, smells and tastes” that made the 20th-century Savin Rock Park “the playground of New England.” More details are forthcoming.
Rossi said the committee is pulling out all the stops for the West Haven Centennial Celebration by throwing a birthday bash to remember — 100 years in the making.
The committee has hung decorative blue-and-white centennial banners around the community in observance of West Haven’s 1921 birth.
To mark the milestone, the committee has opened the centennial’s official online store at https://merchwebstores.com/West-Haven-Centennial/shop/home.
The store, hosted by West Haven vendor West Shore Associates, sells such centennial-branded merchandise as long- and short-sleeved T-shirts, hooded sweatshirts, stainless steel tumblers, stemless wine glasses, insulated beverage bottles, ceramic mugs, retro sunglasses, canvas and cotton tote bags, eco-performance face masks, and pigment-dyed twill and mesh trucker caps.
Another local vendor, JOD Designs, a veteran-owned screen printing company, will sell centennial T-shirts at events.
A portion of the vendors’ merchandise proceeds will offset expenses and support the $50,000 centennial budget approved by the City Council, Rossi said.
In addition, the committee will sell a centennial coin, lapel pin and book, said Chairwoman Beth A. Sabo, the city’s commissioner of human resources.
According to Sabo, most of the book’s content was generously provided by Dan Shine, one of the foremost authorities on West Haven history.
The committee will also sell centennial lawn signs for $10, said Sabo, adding that each person who buys a sign will get entered into a raffle for a chance to push a “start button” to help launch this year’s fireworks. The winner and up to three guests will also dine on burgers and hot dogs under the Savin Rock Fireworks Committee’s hospitality tent before and during the display, she said.
All merchandise proceeds generated by the committee will support the centennial account, Sabo said.
Did we mention fireworks?
The 2021 fireworks, billed as “They Will Be Heard on the 3rd,” will launch off Bradley Point Park at 8 p.m. Sept. 3, with a rain date of Sept. 4.
The display, moved from July 3 to Labor Day weekend to safely accommodate the many throngs expected, is presented by the centennial committee and the fireworks committee.
Before the fireworks, people of all ages can shake, rattle and roll to funk and rock music performed by the Kathy Thompson Band on a portable stage in front of Savin Rock from 6-8 p.m.
“We don’t celebrate many historic events in West Haven, and I’m excited to mark our 100th anniversary with several concerts, events for children, the Centennial Savin Rock Festival and the September fireworks,” Rossi said. “And that’s just the summertime events. There will be more ways to celebrate West Haven’s past and its people through the end of the year.”
The centennial festivities commenced Saturday and Sunday with a West Haven Historical Society open house exhibit, “From Village to Town,” at the society’s Poli House headquarters, 686 Savin Ave.
The exhibit included maps chronicling the growth and development of West Haven, formerly known as West Farms, from a Colonial settlement in 1648 to its evolution as a separate town in 1921, society President Jon E. Purmont said.
Also on Saturday, a parade of about 50 boats of varying sizes sailed across nearly 3 miles of the West Haven coastline to christen the community’s 100th anniversary.
The West Haven Centennial Boat Parade paid homage to the community’s nautical heritage and publicly accessible beaches on Long Island Sound — the crown jewels of West Haven.
A Juneteenth event, “West Haven Celebrates Juneteenth,” will take place in Brent Watt Park on Tile Street in Allingtown from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. June 19 — the traditional commemoration date of the emancipation of enslaved people in the United States.
President Abraham Lincoln first issued the Emancipation Proclamation declaring all slaves free in Confederate territory on Sept. 22, 1862, but the news took time to travel. June 19, 1865, is the date when word of the proclamation reached African Americans in Texas.
West Haven’s Juneteenth activities, held rain or shine, will focus on performances by talented young people from the area, including cheerleaders, a poet, dancers, a saxophonist and singers, said Councilwoman Robbin Watt Hamilton, D-5, a committee member.
The community event will include remarks from dignitaries, a rendition of the Black national anthem, “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” and a reading of the Emancipation Proclamation, Watt Hamilton said.
It will also include a drum call by Rhythm From the Heart, a performance by the Village Drill Team and a concert by The Nu Groove Band, which specializes in R&B and classic rock.
Local artists and authors will show their works, and vendors will sell novelties and wares, including T-shirts, jewelry and soaps. The Cool Runnings food truck will serve the taste of Jamaica.
Watt Hamilton said the Health Department will offer the COVID-19 vaccine to those 18 and older.
The centennial kickoff ceremony is scheduled for Old Grove Park on June 24 — 100 years to the day of West Haven’s incorporation by the General Assembly as Connecticut’s youngest municipality.
The 7 p.m. event will include opening remarks by dignitaries and the recognition of West Haven centenarians, followed by a two-hour show by The Pop Rocks, “Connecticut’s ultimate ’80s experience,” as part of the West Haven Centennial Concert Series. The rain date is June 29.
To coincide with the June 24 kickoff, the West Haven Child Development Center and the West Haven Community House will start distributing centennial diaper bags to the first 100 West Haven babies born on or after June 24 through the city clerk’s office at City Hall, 355 Main St. Call the office for details at 203-937-3535.
The concert series will continue with Rubber City, “one of Connecticut’s premier concert, party and club bands,” in the Grove at 7 p.m. July 9. The rain date is July 12.
On July 10, the West Haven PTA Council will present “Chalk the Walk” from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on the boardwalk behind the Savin Rock Conference Center, 6 Rock St., followed by its Sand Sculpture Contest from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. July 17 at Oak Street Beach. The rain dates are July 11 for the chalk event and July 18 for the contest.
The concert series will resume with Airborne, a contemporary jazz group, on the Allingtown Green at 7 p.m. July 17 and Simply Swing, a 10-piece orchestra featuring “swinging horns, a dynamic rhythm section and wonderful vocals,” in the Grove at 7 p.m. July 23. The rain dates are July 26 for Simply Swing and July 28 for Airborne.
On July 31, the Centennial Coed Beach Volleyball Tournament is set for 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Sea Bluff Beach courts. The rain date is Aug. 1.
The concert series will follow with the Chicago blues of The Cobalt Rhythm Kings at 7 p.m. Aug. 13 and the R&B of Shaded Soul Band at 7 p.m. Aug. 27, both in the Grove. The rain dates are Aug. 16 for Cobalt Rhythm Kings and Aug. 30 for Shaded Soul.
On Sept. 5, the series will culminate in the Grove at 7 p.m. with a two-hour concert by What a Fool Believes, “a Doobie Brothers experience” celebrating the Doobies’ 50th anniversary. The rain date is Sept. 9.
WestFest, a festival sponsored by the University of New Haven Mayor’s Advisory Commission, is slated for the downtown Green from noon-8 p.m. Sept. 18. The rain date is Sept. 19.
On Sept. 25, a “Hubbard Farms” exhibit, presented by Hubbard family member Steven Johnstone, will take place from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. in Hubbard Farms Park, a wooded 7.6-acre park with walking trails in West Shore’s Hubbard Road neighborhood. The rain date is Sept. 26.
The West Haven Veterans Museum, 30 Hood Terrace, will hold an exhibit, “A Salute to Veterans of the Last 100 Years,” at 10 a.m. Nov. 9.
Other commemorative events will include walking tours of Allingtown and a fire muster in front of Savin Rock with members of West Haven’s three fire departments and the Orange Volunteer Fire Department.
Also planned is a reenactment of a spirited town meeting discussing West Haven’s separation from Orange in 1921 and starring leaders from both communities.
More details on those events are forthcoming.