History of the Branford Community House
History of the Branford Community House
The Branford Community Council
At the beginning of the 20th century, sports in Branford were not organized in any cohesive way. Teams were organized by neighborhoods and sponsored by a local businessman. Uniforms were obtained if money allowed and ball fields were empty lots and the Branford Green. After World War I there was a national movement largely through the Y.M.C.A. to encourage recreational activities. A group of concerned citizens organized the Branford Community Council on October 13, 1920 rather than be restricted by the rules of the Y.M.C.A. The chairman for many years was Frank Kinney, Sr. and the council consisted of thirty members. The Council was a private organization, not sponsored by the town, with 500 members paying yearly dues of one dollar. Funds were raised by a door-to-door campaign, business sponsors, and other fundraising events.
The mission of the Council was three phases of community life: cooperation with the home, cooperation with the schools, and recreation. In 1921 the Community Council leased the Henry Harrison House at 960 Main Street as a Community House for five years at a cost of $500 per year. The space was used by the Visiting Nurse Association, the Gaylord Health Association, and for a kindergarten. An emphasis was placed on the teaching of cooking, sewing, health, and activities for mothers and children.
Miss Cronin directed the activities at the Community House which included a well-equipped kitchen for classes. Ruth Stannard and many volunteers taught kindergarten on the first floor. A health center in memory of Dr. Charles W. Gaylord was operated by the Visiting Nurse Association. On the upper floor was a sewing and game room. The Community Council also erected a bandstand on the Branford Green.
The Hammer family, owners of the Malleable Iron Fittings Company (MIF), took a great interest in community activities including the Community Council. In 1916 MIF began filling in land on Meadow Street and graded it for a ball field for use by the town and the Community Council. At that time, it was considered the best outdoor facility in the state and in 1932 Hammer Field was deeded to the Town of Branford.
Henry Parsons was named the first recreation director in 1924 and his yearly salary of $1,800 was underwritten by the Hammer family. Parsons organized youth activities, especially baseball. Two subsequent directors, Paul Rhodes and Dave Kilgore organized youth basketball and football. They both encouraged adult leagues such as the Branford Townies and Laurels and coached Branford High School teams.
Funding for the Community Council became difficult during the Depression and the Town of Branford began supplementing the Council’s budget. The lease on the Harrison House for use as a recreation facility was not renewed. The Branford Community Council directed recreational activities in Branford until 1950. Still a private organization, the Council sought funding each year from the town. In 1950 a Board of Recreation of was finally established by the Town of Branford with yearly funding.
The Second or Old Community House
The Community House at the corner of South Main and Montowese Streets was built by Branford contractor Benjamin A. Hosley in 1896 for the Knights of Pythias, a fraternal organization. Besides a meeting hall, Pythian Hall was used for sporting events, school space, and a corset factory. Basketball games were held at the National Guard Armory on Montowese Street. Pythian Hall was purchased in 1926 by the Malleable Iron Fittings Company and turned over to the Branford Community Council the following year. The old South Main Street Community House, under the directorship of Harry Brazeau, provided a place for town events and recreation for many years. In 1930 over 16,000 people used the facility.
Joe Trapasso comes to Branford
With the newly created Branford Recreation Department, Joseph Trapasso was hired in 1951 as the full-time recreation director. Recreation in Branford for all ages became a reality and part of family and community life. Joe started Little League, tennis lessons and tournaments, softball for girls, roller skating, ballroom dancing, Halloween window painting and Goblin Give Away, the Easter egg hunt, and others. The summer playground program was started in 1952. Joe created new ball fields to meet the demands of a growing population. Branford was one of first towns in New England to begin programs for special needs children and was an early sponsor of the Special Olympics. Branford became one of the leading recreation programs in the country. The condition of the old Community House deteriorated and became known as the “Dust Bowl”. Joe and many concerned citizens supported building a new state of the art community center.
The New Community House
Land on Church Street was donated to the town by the Hitchcock and Hammer families for the new Community House. Many town organizations such as the Garden Club, Women’s Club, Rotary, Lions, individuals, and school children helped finance the new Community House with over 500 fund raising events totaling $82,000. The remaining $315,000 was budgeted by the town. The architect firm of Davis, Cochrane & Miller designed the building and the contractor was J. Warren Mylchrest Company of Middletown. Dan Cosgrove donated the grading of the lot and money toward the new gym bleachers. Bradley & Upson donated the pilings and foundation work.
The 22,000 square foot concrete block building with brick and glass contained over twenty rooms including a kitchen and all-purpose room. All of the indoor furniture and fixtures were donated. The Branford Garden Club received a national award for their landscape design and Branford’s school children did much of the planting.
“Joe’s Dream” was celebrated with a grand opening on February 3, 1963. The new Community House was nationally recognized as the prototype for community recreational facilities and hundreds of visitors from around the world toured the new building. The indoor basketball court, named for Joe, provided a state-of-the-art facility and after 50 years still hosts thousands of children and adults each year. The Frank J. Kinney invitational basketball tournament, one of the largest in New England, is now in its 63rd year. The Community House was rededicated in 1981 to 1,403 Branford World War II veterans and a plaque on the front lists all of their names.
Joe Trapasso retired in 1993 and Alex Palluzzi, who joined the Rec Department in 1984, became the new director. New programs were added for toddlers, children, and adults including exercise classes, soccer, football, lacrosse, and a skateboard park. One hundred teens participate in a summer travel program and the summer playground program was expanded. Before and after school programs are provided for working parents. The holiday parade and tree lighting, and Summer Jazz Series are among some of the recreation department’s offerings. Alex and his staff continue to care for the building and the outdoor fields with diligence and their use of environmentally safe products has received recognition.
For the last fifty years the Branford Community House is a place where several generations of families have benefitted from the Recreation Department’s offerings. Committed to excellence is all the staff, many of whom have worked there for decades; and the Board of Recreation who volunteer their time.
Jane Peterson Bouley