By Flo Costa
with Andréa Byrne
Flo Costa has 87 years of memories on Wigwam Lane. In 1935, when she was born, her neighborhood was very different, with perhaps eight or nine houses in total. Thornberg and Anson were the only other streets in the area off Cutspring, and long before that, Wigwam Lane, which takes several turns on its way from Huntington Road to Cutspring, had been an Indian trail that then led on to Pecks Mill Pond. Flo has two arrowheads, one of quartz and one of flint, found in her mother’s garden some sixty years ago that testify to that.
With affection, a ready laugh, and a memory as sharp as one of those arrowheads, she shares a few of her many stories with us:
“My grandparents on my father’s side were the first in the Wigwam area. For many years my grandfather, Frank William Dial, was the ringstock foreman for the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus. That means he was in charge of all the horses, and there were a lot of horses. Work horses as well as the show horses. There’s a picture of him in a book called ‘The Other side of the Circus’, and we have a trunk of his that still has the shipping tag on it that says Frank Dial, Sarasota, Florida. That’s where the circus went for winter. We have a letter to my grandfather from Charles Ringling dated 1923. My grandfather had been injured and Mr. Ringling wrote him to say how much he’d be missed and hoped that he would be back with them soon.
We lived with my grandparents and I remember sledding with a friend down the hill on Wigwam to Cutspring when I was little. Fortunately there wasn’t as much traffic as today. The original families there were Yacaback, Beatty, Piletsky, Nemergut, Chiberco, Pruzinsky and the Dials. Most of the houses were built by the architect, Angus McDonald.
The old wooden Putney School was across the road down at the far end of Whippoorwill Lane. A new brick school was built there in 1939-1940. It had first and second grade in one room, third and fourth in another, both upstairs on the second floor. Fifth and sixth were in one room, seventh and eight in another, both downstairs on the first floor. Mrs. Frances Russell was the principal. During WWII when there were air raid drills we would all go to the lower floor and crowd together under the stairway.
When Whippoorwill Lane was extended up from Cutspring it went as far as an old stone wall, with Florence Street on the other side of the wall. When a firehouse was built there they took down the wall and Whippoorwill just became Florence at that point with no warning. For some people it got pretty confusing for a while.
Hilltop and the streets off Cutspring were built in the mid-1940’s. The school got crowded so in 1948 the eighth and ninth grades were transferred to Wilcoxson School. I remember some kids at Wilcoxson thought we’d be real hayseeds in dirty overalls because our neighborhood was so far from town. Now that old brick school is a Baptist Church. Mr. Vender and his son Peter ran the Huntington Road bus that went up Huntington to Tavern Rock to Cutspring to Hilltop to Wigwam. In the 1950’s there were no school buses so we took that bus to Stratford High.
My family had a large front row cottage on Short Beach. In the early 1940’s a hurricane destroyed many of them, but ours survived. During WWII the Army had barracks along Short Beach Road and out toward the lighthouse. Before going overseas the soldiers trained there in the marsh weeds that are now the golf course. The soldiers’ wives rented cottages there. Before being shipped out the soldiers would sneak out of the barracks at night to visit their wives and have to duck down in the marsh when the search lights came their way. As soon as the lights went in another direction, off they’d go.
I was the only child there at the time, other than the baby of one of the soldiers and his wife. They used to call me ‘the little fisherman’ because I loved to fish. I’d go out in a little boat and fish with two hooks on each side and catch four flatfish at once. At that time there were so many flatfish. There were also porpoises that came up among boats in the channel and they’d go up the river on the tide and then back down and out.
We were friendly with some of the military families and they’d gather at our cottage. We kept in touch with a few of them and Vinny and I even visited with one couple in Syracuse maybe thirty years ago.
In 1948 the town had the cottages at the beginning of the beach moved to the other end, and ours was put in the second row back from the beachfront. In the late ’50’s seven cottages burned to the ground after someone broke into one. Later the town had all the cottages removed and made the area a complete public beach.”
Flo and her husband Vinny continued making memories on Wigwam Lane. They planned their wedding by mail while Vinny was overseas in the service. They married when he returned and moved into their current home in 1957. They began their family and without having much money created a comfortable, welcoming home, doing most of the work on it themselves. Vinny built the wood-paneled family room that features a rustic stone-walled corner that Flo made. In that corner is an old-style coal or wood stove that still gives warmth on winter days and nights. And with $1000 that Vinny won from a scratch-off lottery ticket they were able to re-do their entire dining room.
Through the years they’ve both been active members of the community in many ways. Flo is particularly touched by receiving a District Award for her extensive work with the Boy Scouts. Two of their boys were Eagle Scouts and one a Life Scout.
Flo wrote for the old Stratford Star newspaper about brides and weddings, and had her own feature column called The Armed Forces Column by Flo Costa. She covered a variety of stories about the military and also noted those from Stratford who were going into and coming home from the service. She was paid ten cents a column inch for her work, and still laughs at recalling how every check bounced.
Of their many accomplishments, Flo and Vinny are proudest of their sons, Gary, Doug and Glenn, one of whom lives next door, another in the house next to that, and the third is not far away. They are a large, good-hearted, loving family with deep roots in Stratford that only grow stronger with each generation.
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