A blast from the past in East Lyme

A photograph of the damage caused by the Hurricane of 1938, taken at the corner of Main Street and Pennsylvania Avenue in Niantic, with the Morton House to the left, is one of many historical photographs on display at the East Lyme Public Library.

The walls of the East Lyme Public Library now hold chapters of the town's history.

In black-and-white photographs, horses dive from a ramp into the Niantic River at the Golden Spur Amusement Park. Dozens of workers stand outside the Niantic Shoe Company's headquarters on Hope Street. Railroad tracks remain broken and jumbled after the 1938 Hurricane.

These images are part of more than 20 framed photographs that will stand as a permanent fixture by the library's bookshelves. The exhibit, which opened last month, comprises the first phase of an ongoing initiative to share the town's history with the public, said Library Director Lisa Timothy.

"There are so many great things in our archives that people don't see," she said.

The photographs, which often focus on the theme of transportation, offer glimpses of how earlier town residents and visitors lived.

An 1882 steamboat advertisement highlights the Steamer Sunshine's trip from Hartford to Crescent Beach. In another photograph, people stroll along the pier at Crescent Beach, where small white boats are tied, or wade in the water.

One image etched with the words, "From Niantic, Conn." shows mail carrier Percy Morgan sitting inside a black U.S. Mail carriage, drawn by a horse toting two American flags in its headstall.

In another photograph, crowds gather at the Golden Spur Amusement Park, an attraction that once stood at the head of the Niantic River, to watch a white horse diving headfirst into the tranquil waters. Trolleys from New London to East Lyme would carry visitors to the recreational area that featured a dance hall, a roller-skating rink and spectacles such as J.W. Gorman's Diving Horses, said Town Historian Elizabeth Kuchta. The amusement park eventually went by the wayside as automobiles replaced trolleys, and the park area became less of a popular stopping point.

Other photographs show people at work or at school. In one image, about 35 factory workers stand outside The Niantic Shoe Co. at 38 Hope Street. The address was also home to the old mill, which had a steam whistle that alerted mill workers - and others accustomed to its tune - at various points in the day, such as wake-up and lunch-time, explained Kuchta.

The one-room school house also stars in the exhibit. School children sit with hands clapsed together - smiling and looking serious - at rows of desks, as their teacher stands in the back of the room.

A display of photos shows wreckage from the 1938 Hurricane: broken railroad tracks near the water and collapsed utility poles. Another photo depicts a car, smashed by a fallen tree on Main Street.

Many of the photographs are from the early 1900's, a period when the town was beginning to transform into its modern image.

"It was that special time when modern was meeting old," said Timothy.

Donations to the East Lyme Public Library Fund helped create the exhibit, along with volunteers of the East Lyme Historical Society and members of the East Lyme Library Board of Trustees. The library hopes to continue to add photographs to the library walls, said Timothy.

In addition to the historical-archive photos, the library also hosts open house days of its archives. Other historical programs include "Farms, Factories and Families: Italian American Women of Connecticut" at 7 p.m. on July 23 and "Postcard Visions of Our Crescent Beach Past" at 7 p.m. on July 29. Event dates and library hours are listed at ely.lioninc.org.

K.DRELICH@THEDAY.COM

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