Travel back in time to a genteel Crescent Beach, Niantic

CORRECTION 7/24/14: In an earlier version of this story, we incorrectly stated the state features of the resort that stood on the grounds of the Niantic Bay Yacht Club, as well as the year in which the McCook home was torn down. This version of the story reflects the correct information. 

East Lyme - Postcards from the past capture flashes of summertime life at Crescent Beach.

Boaters canoe on the bay, beachgoers traipse on sand and wade in green waters, and visitors await a train at a railroad station that once stood in the beach neighborhood.

The images also depict Crescent Beach landmarks: the stately McCook mansion, sprawling boardinghouses and a tuberculosis sanitarium. Some structures still exist today, while others are long gone from the 111-acre shoreline neighborhood.

The Crescent Beach Historical Interest Group will hold two events this summer to teach others about the beach's past and inspire younger generations to learn about the areas's history. The first, later this month, will be a showing of historical postcards at the East Lyme Public Library. The second, in August, will be a self-guided tour of Crescent Beach points of interest.

The postcard images from the early to mid-20th century portray a bustling community. Summertime visitors flocked to the neighborhood by trains that reached the former railroad station at Terrace Ave., or by boats that landed at Tyler's Dock.

In the postcards, people relax on the beach and stroll the piers that jutted out onto Niantic Bay. A series of piers existed in Crescent Beach during different time periods, but eventually storms hitting the area damaged each one, said Crescent Beach Historian Jan Pierson.

An early resort depicted in the postcards, called Crescent Park, also attracted visitors. The resort, which stood on the grounds of the Niantic Bay Yacht Club, featured a hotel, bowling alleys, a casino and a bath house until it burned to the ground on Sept. 15, 1913.

Next month's tour will further impart the community's history, from the 1800's to the present.

Visitors can learn about the sites of monuments, Indian Burial Grounds, historic cottages, boardinghouses and other Crescent Beach features.

Among 40 points of interest, the guide calls attention to the site of the former Seaside Tuberculosis Sanitarium, located in Crescent Beach until the 1930's, as well as homes for the sanitarium's doctors and nurses.

There were also sites for entertainment, such as, "The Spa," a soda joint and teenage hang-out, and the Silver Shell, which offered pinball machines and penny candy, according to the guide.

The tour will also feature boardinghouses, such as The Franklin House, now a residence, and The Elms, which rents apartment-style rooms. There are sites of former bathhouses, now the Crescent Beach Association's Center, cottages and Crescent Beach's bluff, also called Cruttenden's Bluff.

Tourgoers will stop by the grounds of the former McCook mansion, which featured a chapel, and learn about the McCook family, who used to open their mansion to the public for teatime or let people stroll their property, said Becky Kaminsky of the historical group. The McCooks donated acres of land to St. Johns Church, she said.

The McCooks also sold the property where their home stood to the town in the 1953, and said the town could demolish the house if it could no longer maintain it, according to the guide. Their home was torn down in 1959.

Visitors can also visit Lucretia's Spring, described in the guide as a "stone marker with a plaque that reads, 'This Indian Well is named after a Nehantic Indian Maiden named Lucretia. According to legend, she sat and waited for her husband to return from a fishing trip on Long Island Sound. He never returned."

The Crescent Beach Historical Interest Group formed in 2007 to preserve the beach's history and showcase photographs and memorabilia at events.

"At that point we realized, if we didn't do everything in our power to preserve our history, it was going to be lost," said Pierson.

The group further is encouraging others' to help piece together the beach's history by sharing their own collections of history - or copies of their memorabilia.

This summer's library event was made possible by gathering 428 post cards from 28 different collections, said Pierson.

"It's amazing how many are out there for our one little area," said Pierson.

During the walking tour, informational guides will be at certain locations, such as the VFW. A few sites, indicated in the tour guide, such as The Franklin House, will be open for public viewing.

More information on Crescent Beach can be found at crescent-beach.org.

K.DRELICH@THEDAY.COM

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