Published June 23. 2013 4:00AM
New London - Hodges Square was once filled with shops, houses and even a fountain to water horses.
But over the years, as more focus was placed on the automobile and roads were built to accommodate cars, Hodges Square and its neighborhoods were cut off from the rest of the city and almost forgotten.
Those who continue to live, work and have businesses there are rallying in an effort to bring more commerce and pride back to the area.
"Hodges Square was once a meeting place. Today it's a pass through,'' said Sandra Chalk of New London Landmarks, who helped develop a master plan for Hodges Square and the surrounding neighborhood, including Riverside Park.
Nearly 40 people gathered at Winthrop School Saturday morning to listen to ideas, which include narrowing travel lanes and widening sidewalks; better lighting under the bridges; straightening the ramp off the Route 32 connector so cars have to stop at a light; and placing markers at Bailey's Circle where the entrance to the bicycle path to cross the bridge is located.
"We envision an urban village with walkability and accessibility,'' said Art Costa of Thames Valley Sustainable Connections, who worked on the plan.
Another idea is to create a park that explains the area's history, including the natural waterway that at one time ran through Hodges Square to Winthrop Cove.
"White picket fences and some trees ... can add value to the property and the neighborhood,'' said Brian Kent, an architect and landscape designer, who presented a slide show of some of the group's findings and recommendations.
Kent also would like to bring back the water fountain, which he said has been in storage at Lyman Allyn Museum for more than 60 years.
Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio, who pledged in his bid for mayor to refocus some city resources to improve the northeastern section of New London, spoke before the presentation, urging those who participated to follow through with some of the ideas.
"The plans today build on plans that have been done long ago,'' he said "These ideas have been around. ... Let's not allow this to be another plan in New London to get written, put on a shelf and nothing happens."
The group worked for a year on the Creative Placemaking project, which was led by New London Landmarks, with assistance from the City of New London, the Neighborhood Alliance, Riverside Park Conservancy and the public. The project was funded with a grant from the Connecticut Department of Economic and Community Development.
Also as part of the project, a new governance committee emerged, which is made up of residents and business owners.
A farmers market opened for the first time on Williams Street Saturday. It will be open at 2 p.m. every Saturday during the summer.
Cathi Strother, who lives near Riverside Park and was elected co-chairman of the committee in April, said the city has donated flower boxes which will soon be in full bloom.
"Our goal is to bring easy stuff that's free and cheap," she said. "All the businesses are coming together. It's a great future of northeast New London. We are all excited."
After the presentation, about 20 members of the New London High School marching band led participants down the center of Crystal Avenue from the school to Riverside Park, where an Art Jam Party was held.