By: G. Marie Merante
In West Haven, Ct, there is a three mile stretch of beach known as Savin Rock, a sight where hundreds can be found on any given day during the summer months. So when I say there is not much there, you might be with the amount of visitors meandering to and fro.
There’s a skate board park. A seafood restaurant called Chicks. A seedy hotel. Some apartments, recently renovated. And for a few miles or so, a paved walked way and sandy beach, the main attractions. So truly, there’s not much there, if you consider an ocean view not much.
When my husband and I first started dating, we spent the majority of our time on that walkway and down the piers. Just losing his father a few months before, the water was a welcome calm to the turmoil in his heart. He healed there. And we fell in love there. And haven’t been back there since. Until a few weeks ago, that is.
To bring my kids back to where their parents courted was exciting, so we dragged them out and made the walk the entire two miles while we reminisced. They followed, some what begrudgedly, having been torn away from their video games and computers. Still, we barraged them with memories non-stop until we came upon an area with a fence and tall trees that were too uniform to be natural, and a sign.
“Location of Thunderbolt”
And we remembered. Savin Rock. It had been an amusement park in the distant past.
We walked on, and sign after sign, another attraction’s location was revealed. It was hard to imagine rides sat where we were walking. Stranger still, there was a history we knew nothing about, even though we had spent so much time on that beach. Interest sparked, my husband dug in and started researching.
Let me start with a disclaimer. I know very, very little details, as the information online is spotty. What I did find, though, left me so very sad and a bit heartbroken, and thoroughly amazed. Before I say anymore, take a few minutes to watch the video on this link. It’s mandatory viewing people. Go ahead, click away. It’s the only way you can comprehend the scope of my dismay.
Savin Rock-1949: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YZvrBzrMsic
Did you watch? Did you see the rides? The masses of people? All the buildings, concession stands? Pretty cool, huh?
Now look at pictures. Some I took myself and few I high-jacked off the internet.
Ok, so saying there is not much too this location isn’t exactly true. There is a beautiful stretch of beach and for a good mile or so, the walkway is landscaped and very pretty. Roses, decorative grasses, daylilies.
Still, when you look into the past. It’s completely empty. A void. Not one building remains of the former Savin Rock. Not one. And I find that so very sad. There was once magic, now lost. As if the past was just nothing but a child’s imagination, lost to the passage into the adulthood of the present.
I read the beginnings of Savin Rock began in the early 1900’s, drawing bus loads of vacationers from New York and New Jersey and other surrounding states, making it a favorite New England attraction. Through the years, fires ravaged many attractions—Noah’s Ark, The Virginia Reel, and Bluebeard’s Castle, but it was the Savin Rock Urban Renewal Project in 1949 that destroyed the site in its entirety. Rumors of illegal, backroom gambling and crime prompted the town of West Haven to clean house and acquire the property for “revitalization.”
For my husband and me, we felt nothing but a true sense of loss as we watched the video’s and looked at picture after picture. Worse, 1949 was not that long ago. When we started asking around, almost everyone we talked to had visited Savin Rock as children. This past, wasn’t as distant as it seemed.
We are planning another ‘vacation’ to the beach soon. Another outing to West Haven, this time with a very specific plan. There is a Savin Rock museum that stands next to the beach, one lone building that holds the wondrous past. We are going to visit that museum, then walk the two mile stretch again. Stop and look at the signs, and close our eyes, and dream of what was. Imagine the sights, and the smells, and the sounds. Imagine the scream of the Thunderbolt. The splash of the Old Mill. The cackle of the Laff in the Dark. Go on a vacation in our minds.
There are times in life when you want to wish something into existence. Money. A partner. A dream. If I could wish Savin Rock back, I would. Oh, how I would. A vacation destination, now left to just my daydreams and imagination.