Bruce Glowac, President of The Essex Foundation, Inc., has announced that the Foundation is spearheading an effort to raise funds to paint the Rte. 9 bridges over the Essex crossing at the corner of West Ave. and Saybrook Rd., an area that used to be known as Phelps Corner. The bridge spans presently are rusted and desperately in need of repair and repainting.
The State Highway Department has plans to start bridge repairs in the spring. However, under the guidelines for Federal expenditures, the repainting of repaired bridge areas is limited to the strips adjoining the repair. This means that when the job is completed by the state, the only parts that will be painted will be those directly adjoining the repairs.
In line with all the clearing work recently done by the state in the area of the intersection, the Town and the Essex Foundation Board have been investigating how to further beautify the corner, including exploring ways to get the bridges painted. Glowac explained that local residents Susan and Steven Bogan, owners of Blast All, a local painting and blasting company, have taken the initiative to develop a pilot apprentice program that would use trainees under the direction of Blast All’s union employees to accomplish two objectives at an affordable cost: teaching a new generation much needed technical skills and beautifying overhead bridge structures that are badly in need of painting.
Blast All has received approval from the State of Connecticut to proceed with the program. The Essex project would serve as a model for future projects in Connecticut and Rhode Island. There would be no cost to the community for project management, labor, equipment or materials other than the cost of the soft green paint that will be used on the bridges.
Recognizing the need for the painting and wanting to take advantage of this unique opportunity, the Board of the Essex Foundation has pledged an initial donation of $5000 from the Elizabeth Callender fund to help pay for the paint. The Essex Foundation hopes that other organizations, individuals and family funds will consider joining the Foundation in helping to raise a total of $20,000 to cover the cost of the paint for the project.
Contributions can be made to The Essex Foundation and mailed to P.O. Box 64, Essex, CT 06417. The Essex Foundation is a 501(c)3 corporation. www.theessexfoundation.org.
A History of Phelps Corner
Most people in Essex today have no memory of what the corner at the junction of West Avenue and Saybrook Road looked like in the days before Rte. 9 cut through Centerbrook in the 1960s. West Avenue was a pre-1700 highway, but Plains Rd. did not exist until after 1800. The area was dotted with lovely old residences. A 1934 survey map shows that there were at least 25 homes that were either demolished or moved to make room for the new Rte. 9, built in the 1960s.
Fourteen of the homes were built before 1900 and six more dated back before 1850. An 1812 house built by Noah Starkey occupied the corner and the Roscoe Doane house stood along the road leading to Saybrook. River View Gardens, a florist shop run by George Baroni, became another casualty of the new Rte. 9 highway.
At the time the highway was built, a home with an adjoining gasoline station anchored the corner, the home and business of Ernest Phelps, for whom the corner was known. The property had been built originally about 1753 by Zephania Pratt whose son Zadock Pratt fought through the entire Revolutionary War. This house later became the home of Joseph Pratt who had his home and blacksmith shop there. (This was a different Pratt from the Pratt who ran the Pratt Smithy in Champlin Square.) In 1965, the property was relinquished to the state and the house was removed. The building of Rte. 9 totally changed the character of the original Centerbook settlement.