Brian Ennis, P. E.
Flood Control in the City of Meriden
City Engineer, City of Meriden
Sept. 21, 2021

It peacefully meanders for over three miles through Meriden, a pleasure to see and to picnic beside, that is until a severe rainstorm causes Harbor Brook to spill over its banks and send flood waters surging into nearby homes and businesses. Speaking to 35 Y’s Men of Meriden in person (and another seven by Zoom) with a PowerPoint presentation, Brian Ennis, P.E., City Engineer for the City of Meriden described the city’s past history of flooding and the significant steps now in place to mitigate this problem.

Harbor Brook originates at Baldwin’s Pond and ends at Hanover Pond with its waters eventually finding their way to the Quinnipiac River. Serious flooding, such as occurred in 1918 and 1992, caused widespread damage within the city, discouraging homeowners and businesses from staying as well as discouraging new businesses from moving in. With that in mind, the city has embarked on a huge flood control project designed to reduce flooding and erosion and set the stage for economic redevelopment.

The goals are to reduce the flood plain from 225 to 95 acres, to remove about 150 properties from the flood plain and to protect an additional 50 properties from flood waters. Key projects include property acquisition, Harbor Brook channel improvements, twelve bridge replacements and flood water detention at the Meriden Green and Falcon Field. Many of these have already been accomplished such as deepening and widening much of Harbor Brook. Completed bridge replacements include Cook Ave., Bradley Ave. and Columbus Ave. as well as Amtrak culverts. In progress are bridge replacements at Cooper St., Cedar St. and Center St., with future bridge work slated for Hanover Towers, South Butler St., and Broad St. plus Mill St. bridge removal.

Paddling through the streets of downtown Meriden during the June 1992 flood

Harbor Brook returning to normal levels after 2018 rainstorm

Noting that it is impossible to eliminate all flooding, Ennis described the improved flood control already present at the Meriden Green, Falcon Park, Cook Ave., Coe Ave. and Cooper Ave. From the Y’s Men audience, member Bruce Burchsted noted that his business on Pratt St. had far less flooding and damage during the heavy rain on this past July 9 (including 2.42 inches in three hours) compared with a comparable storm in 1992.

Lesley Solkoske
Hanover Trolley Park
Volunteer, Meriden Historical Society
Sept. 14, 2021

Not many people in Meriden have any knowledge of a remarkable park located adjacent to Meriden’s Hanover Pond that once entertained thousands of residents of Central Connecticut. Speaking to 41 Y’s Men of Meriden during an in-person meeting (plus eight more by Zoom), Lesley Solkoske, volunteer with the Meriden Historical Society, provided a PowerPoint program about the Hanover Trolley Park which operated from the late 19th century until its demise in the 1930’s.

Financed by a Philadelphia entrepreneur to increase ridership on Meriden’s trolleys during evenings and weekends, the 30-acre park featuring manicured lawns and beautiful flower beds opened to the public on May 30, 1895 to a huge crowd of 10,000 attendees. Construction had been completed over an eight-month period at a cost of $30,000.

And what was at the park? A merry-go-round, dance hall (called a casino), ballpark (with a grandstand and once featuring baseball legend Connie Mack for one season and boxing world featherweight champion Kid Kaplan), roller coaster, boat launch with boat rentals, hot air balloon ascensions, swimming area, roller skating rink, theater (for plays, vaudeville, etc.), and concession stands (food and drink including beer). Park attendees arrived by trolley, initially horse-drawn but later electrified; indeed, the trolley ride became part of the fun. Each evening concluded with an elaborate fireworks display.

The roller-coaster (then called a switchback railroad) required riders to climb stairs up to the next car, then ride over mounds and dips at about 7 mph to a second tower, where the car was “switched back” for the return ride.  And each balloon preparing for ascension was filled with smoke and hot air from a below-surface firepit (with volunteers from the crowd holding the balloon down with ropes), then was released with the balloonist sitting on a hanging trapeze bar. When it reached its maximum altitude as the hot air cooled, the balloon began to fall, and the balloonist would push away while holding on to a parachute with his hands (no straps or other safety gear) and float down to earth.

Entrance to Hanover Trolley Park

Horse drawn trolley in Meriden

Switchback (roller coaster)

Hot Air Balloon Ascension
Balloon floating away (upper left corner) with balloonist descending by parachute

But the trolley park no longer exists, partly done in by the rapid increase in busses and personal automobiles during the 1920’s and 1930’s, allowing access to larger amusement parks such as Lake Compounce and Savin Rock. Today, the area is owned by American Legion Post 45 and all that remains is the ballpark (appropriately named Legion Park and still in business today).

Maureen Heidtmann
Bats: Their Lives and Lore
Master Wildlife Conservationist
June 8, 2021

Few of nature’s creatures have acquired such an undeservedly bad reputation as the bat, native to our world for the past 55 million years. Speaking to 20 Y’s Men of Meriden by Zoom on June 8, Maureen Heidtmann, Master Wildlife Conservationist with the CT Dept of Energy and Environmental Protection, provided a PowerPoint review of this remarkable animal.

Bats are mammals, found throughout the world with nine species occurring in Connecticut. To dispel some common myths: bats are not aggressive toward humans, do not get tangled in ladies’ hair, are not blind (indeed have excellent eyesight), are rarely rabid (less than 0.5% frequency), can fly during the daytime, and maneuver in flight by echolocation (small bats) and eyesight (large bats).

Bats are greatly beneficial, providing pollination in rain forests, seed disbursal in forests, and pollination for over 500 plant species, as well as pest and disease control. At Bracken Cave in Texas, some 20 million Mexican free-tailed bats each night consume 140 tons of insects!

Bats vary in size from two grams (like a bumble bee) to flying foxes (wingspan up to six feet like an eagle). Their “wings” are actually mammalian arms and hands, with a membrane between the long “fingers” to allow for flight. After a winter hibernation (hanging upside down to save energy), they reproduce in springtime, generally having a single pup. Using echolocation (high frequency sounds emitted through the mouth or nose, and received back by oversized ears), they can avoid obstacles and predators while looking for food; they are also able to “talk” to each other (including a specialized “baby talk” from mother to pup).

Our local bats are in trouble. Challenges include predators (domestic and feral cats, snakes, hawks and owls), windmills, habitat loss, and sticky flypaper. And white-nose syndrome, a serious fungal infection appearing on the nose, wings and bodies and killing over seven million bats since first appearing in America in 2006. It is thought that bats with WNS die during hibernation due to disruption of their thermo- regulatory system and excess activity leading to depletion of fat stores and eventual starvation. Or they may leave their protected home in search of food, resulting in death from exposure.

(Review courtesy of Jack Brooks)

Northern long-eared bat 

Little brown bat 

White Nose Syndrome

Norman VanCor
Swift Silent Deadly
Vietnam Veteran - Marine Recon
May 25, 2021

So, you’re a US Marine inside a steamy jungle in Vietnam, moving silently through marshy terrain on a 5-man Recon mission, when gunfire erupts, killing two and severely wounding another two of your comrades – what to do? Speaking by Zoom to 24 Y’s Men of Meriden on May 25, Norman VanCor described this and other experiences revealed in his recently published book “Swift Silent Deadly”, written after his 70th birthday.

Deployed to Vietnam from 1968-1969 in the 3rd Marine Division, VanCor served with the elite 3rd Reconnaissance Battalion as a radio operator with Company C. He participated in 14 recon missions averaging 5-7 days each, looking for downed American pilots needing rescue or enemy bunkers, and carrying radio equipment, an M-16 with 25 magazines (8 rounds each) and five canteens (to avoid drinking iodized swamp water). The five Marines walked slowly and quietly off trail (“man, did we hate walking in water”), speaking only in whispers and not at all during nighttime, while trying not to lose their bearings.

The five men shared one tent and had to quickly learn to move and think as a single entity. They constantly rehearsed numerous “what if” scenarios. VanCor explained that this training provided him confidence in later civilian life, as a senior executive with Connecticut Light and Power and Yankee Energy System, Inc. in Meriden, with a “Plan B” always available.

Returning from a jungle mission

During one mission, VanCor’s company was ambushed by the enemy; two Marines were killed and two others critically wounded, leaving only VanCor uninjured (with his radio equipment destroyed by gunfire in the encounter). As enemy troops closed in, he killed one causing the rest to scatter back into the jungle. He then carried the wounded men leapfrog style (repeatedly carrying one forward, then returning for the other) about 250 meters through hostile territory to the helicopter landing zone, signaling with a mirror and smoke canisters. VanCor was awarded the Navy Cross, along with other awards, for his heroism.

Published Nov. 2020