By Dan Shine
West Haven Green, 1920s
Katherine Held was born in 1915; today she is 104 years old, and still has a sharp and lucid memory. She has lived in the same house on Church Street for nearly her whole life, and this column would not be possible without the efforts of Katherine, as well as Steve Hildrich, present Historian of First Church, which this year is celebrating its 300th Birthday.
West Haven, Borough of Orange, became a town of its own right in 1921. The West Haven of Katherine Held’s childhood is remembered as a time when most people took the trolley or walked in order to get to work or to shop.
Indoor plumbing and telephone service were both fairly new, and gas lights were still in the process of being replaced by electric lights, both in homes and along the streets, and radio sets were just finding their way into many homes. And it was during the 1920s, that automobile would begin to change the culture and structure of America.
Katherine’s memories recall the homes and businesses which surround the Green, and those will be discussed here.
At the northeast corner of Savin Avenue and Main Street was the home of George Peck. That home would be razed in 1958 and in its place would be Williston apartments. Steve Hildrich saw the wrecking ball take it down; he lived on Center near Savin at that time. The stately house had worn paint outside, but beautiful woodwork inside. Even at 13, he was very sad to see it go. As a child, Katherine Held recalls many happy days spent playing with Attorney Peck’s children.
Two doors to the east was the home of Dr. Bevan; when young Katherine was out sick for more than three days, she would need a note from the doctor before returning to her classroom at Washington School. The next house belonged to well-known Savin Rock entrepreneur Frank Wilcox, who had opened his restaurant in 1900. Wilcox’s was built on pilings, and was famous up and down the coast for their shore dinners and its unsurpassed vistas of Long Island Sound.
Two doors further to the east was Seth Taylor Funeral home, named for its owner, who had founded it in 1917. Katherine Held spent many days at play with the Taylor’s daughter and recalls being told to be quiet especially during funerals. At the corner of Campbell Avenue and Main Street stood West Haven Town Hall, which had been built in 1893; it housed the police department, the fire department and the young town’s administrative offices. Every building on that block was beautiful—sadly, today every one of them is gone–or so changed as to be unrecognizable.
On the northeast corner of Campbell Avenue and Main Street stood Silver’s Drug Shop, run by its young new owner William Silver, who had purchased the business when he was twenty years old.
Thanks to Steve Hildrich for his help with this part of the story.