Ansonia mayor wants to refurbish Abe Stone Park and reopen Colony Pond
ANSONIA — The sign posted near Colony Pond in the city’s north end Abe Stone Park prohibits “hunting, swimming, ATVs, trapping, boating, ice skating, snowmobiling, camping and golfing.
“What it should say is no fun allowed,” said Mayor David Cassetti.
But Cassetti is hoping to bring fun back to the 20-acre park which through the 1970s was the place kids flocked to swim, play organized baseball and chose sides in pick-up basketball, football and hockey games.
He figures $10,000 would pay for cosmetic changes and $50,000 for a total makeover.
Even one of the mayor’s political rivals seems on board with the idea.
Tarek Raslan, the city’s Democratic town chairman who ran against Cassetti in 2017, called it “a great initiative. The majority of our residents live on small parcels, so investing in our parks is integral to the health of our community. Residents will definitely show up to volunteer for this.”
Every year, the pond is stocked with trout for the fishing derby and fishing lessons. This year, catfish will be added to help clean the pond, according to Greg Martin, Cassetti’s director of constituent services, who as a kid learned to skate and play hockey on the frozen pond.
Cassetti has diamonds in his eyes when he speaks of his vision — and the repairs needed to bring residents back to the area.
“We could redo the baseball diamonds,” Cassetti said. “We need to till the infield and bring some clay in. I’d like to recut a hiking trail around the pond which would take people up the hill and empty at the rear where the tennis courts used to be. We could repatch the cracks and reline the basketball courts.”
As his eyes scanned the park, they stopped and focused on the pond.
“I’d like to re-open the pond up for canoes, kayaks, maybe even swimming,” he said.
The chance of repairs was happy news for Dickie Marsh, accompanying his dog on a walk in the park.
“That would be something good for the residents,” he said.
A staple of childhood
Brian Laskey, a transplanted Naugatuck resident who now lives on the city’s west side, remembers going to the pond while growing up in the 1960s.
“I learned to swim in Colony Pond,” he said, recalling the days he spent visiting his grandmother on Meadow Street and being driven to Abe Stone Park to spend summer afternoons.
And there was always a lifeguard on duty.
Frank Driscoll, a former north-ender now living in Florida, and his boyhood friend, Tom Hyde, now living on Church Street, remember Ray Finkle sitting on the chair with a whistle around his neck.
“He looked like Tarzan,” Hyde said with a chuckle. “He had muscles on top of muscles.”
“We’d be there all day from sun up to sundown,” recalled Driscoll. “And for us, there was no better place to be than Colony Pond. You could fish. You could explore the woods You could play sports year round.”
A different time
More than a half-century ago, Ansonia was a different place.
Rooftop antennas picked up maybe five solid TV channels rather than the hundreds now available. Checkers, chess and Risk were played on boards rather than laptops. Baseball, football and basketball were physical contests rather than keyboard exercises.
And Abe Stone Park was the place to be for kids living on the city’s East Side and North End.
Driscoll and Hyde credited Abe Stone, then the city’s recreation director, for making sure summer days were filled with arts and crafts programs and organized games.
“They had two or three college kids running events during the summer,” said Hyde. “I remember once they brought in a checker-playing phenom. They lined up 20 or 30 checker boards and he went up and down the line playing against each kid. I don’t think he lost a game.”
“But none of us were very good players,” he said.
Colony Pond offered trout fishing in the spring, swimming in the summer and skating in the winter. It had a fenced-in ball field for Little League and an open field for softball, both of which converted to pick-up football games in the fall. Back then, the kid’s playground campe complete with monkey bars, slides and swings.
And for anyone who became thirsty or hungry, there was a concession stand that offered 5 cent ice pops, 50 cent hotdogs and $1 burgers.
All that changed decades ago. The swimming hole became off limits. The softball field became part of the soccer complex. The concession stand became a Public Works storage center.
Slowly, the park is regaining what it lost.
“We’ve cleaned the concession stand up,” Cassetti said. “It’s going to open this spring as Colony Snack Shack.”
The cleanup included new roof shingles, sheet rock and and a coat of paint. The plumbing and wiring were upgraded to accommodate a refrigerator and grill. A new metal sign was made.
For now, parents involved in youth soccer will operate the stand using the profits to fund their program.
“If the park is going to be used a lot, then it’s great to have the stand up and running,” said Driscoll.
To make some of the changes Cassetti has in mind for the pond will take permission from the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection.
The mayor said he’d dredge about 40 or 50 feet of the pond, lay a sand base and restring the buoy and lines marking off the swimming area.
Cassetti’s plans also call for picnic tables and grill tops to be set up near the concession stand — maybe as early as this summer. He also wants to install lights to shine down on the park allowing the residents across the street to keep an eye on what’s going on at night.
“That’s great news,” said Hyde, a 77-year-old Church Street resident. Hyde’s late brother, Bill, once ran the concession stand as well as the Lake Zoar stand in Monroe. “I wish they’d make a walk around for seniors to use.”
With that in mind, Martin said he is hoping volunteers, including Boy Scouts and Eagle Scouts, could pitch in and help refurbish the hiking trail and also build benches.
“It’d be a good public service project for Eagle Scouts,” he said.
“This is all about quality of life,” added John P. Marini, the city’s corporation counsel, who is involved with his sons in the youth soccer program. “It’s all about utilizing a city treasure.”