Christmas has passed and we are now heading towards the start of a new year.
Say goodbye to 2019 because 2020 is about to break down the door!
Whether the last 12 months have been ones to remember of ones to forget, when the clock strikes midnight next Wednesday, all will officially be in the past. The new year provides a fresh opportunity to improve on the good, change the bad, and enjoy life to its fullest.
But before we enter 2020, it pays to take a look back at 2019. As is the custom here at The Cheshire Herald, we set aside some space in the last edition of the year to take a look at the stories that helped to shape Cheshire over these dozen months.
Each year, certain big news items can be predicted well in advance, such as budget squabbles and election results. More often than not, however, it’s the unforeseen issues and controversies that capture people’s imaginations.
So, what was Cheshire talking about in 2019? Here’s a look back at the handful of stories we covered in 2019:
The Right Climate
As 2019 began, the community was still reeling from the news that an 11-year-old Doolittle School student, Anjelita Estrada, had committed suicide. Though the youngster had only been in town for a few months, word that she had taken her own life in late December of 2018 sent shock waves through the Cheshire School District.
It also raised concerns over school climate in town.
Estrada’s family claimed that bullying may have played a role in the youngster’s tragic suicide, and some began to suggest that problems with bullying and transparency within the schools went beyond just one incident.
In early March, Board of Education member Adam Grippo took many of his colleagues by surprise when, during a BOE business meeting, he commented on how several parents had contacted him to log complaints over how the District has handled parents’ concerns in the past. Grippo singled out Superintendent of Schools Jeff Solan, stating that he expected the District’s head administrator to address such problems.
Later that month a public forum was held. The meeting, billed as an opportunity for residents to directly speak to the Board about past experiences, drew a packed house at Cheshire Town Hall. Several parents spoke, and many delivered emotional recollections of how their children had been bullied throughout their time in the Cheshire School District.
Many chastised school administrators for what they perceived to be a lack of responsiveness and concern for issues raised by parents, which prompted promises from Solan that the District would begin investigating ways to improve communication between the schools and local families.
In May, a second forum was held where updates were given as to how the District was approaching complaints raised about school climate, including studies being done by individual school committees tasked with identifying specific issues pertaining to the student population.
Then, in September, yet another forum was held, and though it was not nearly as well attended as the one in March had been, several parents chose once again to address the Board, only this time the tenor of the conversation was much more positive and hopeful.
The issue of school climate and bullying promises to be a hot topic again in 2020, as three new Board members have taken seats on the BOE, all of whom have promised to make communication and transparency their priority.
Saying Goodbye, Again
The Waverly Inn on Main Street has been a staple in Cheshire for generations. The original facility was first opened in the early 1900s and served Cheshire, off and on, for the next several decades.
But in mid-February, the owners of The Waverly announced that the facility was up for sale and, while the family who owned the historic restaurant expressed their hope in finding a buyer willing to continue operating the facility, nothing was set in stone.
Another popular eatery, The Watch Factory Restaurant, owned and operated by Markus Patsch since 1995, also announced plans to close the facility. In fact, the announcements came at almost exactly the same time.
While it didn’t have the tenure of The Waverly, Watch Factory was a staple in town for its German/Austrian cuisine. After the news broke, social media was filled with residents recounting their memories of special events and celebrations spent at The Watch Factory Restaurant.
By the end of 2019, no new tenants had been announced for The Waverly, and if the restaurant, which has survived numerous ownership changes and a major fire, stays shuttered, it will mark an end to one of the longest and most successful runs for a business in Cheshire history.
Something new has moved into the space formerly occupied by The Watch Factory Restaurant — The Kiss Cafe. This new eatery just recently opened and is looking to make a name for itself within the community.
A Red Wave?
Granted, it’s a bit strong to call the 2019 local election a “red wave,” but there’s no denying it was a big night for Republicans.
In November, the GOP solidified their control over local politics, taking a 7-2 majority on the Council, maintaining a 6-3 majority on the Planning and Zoning Commission, and taking three of the four seats up for election on the Board of Education, giving Republicans a 5-2 advantage.
Perhaps the most surprising results involved longtime Democratic Councilor Patti Flynn-Harris, who had been the second-highest vote getter for At-Large Council candidates in 2017. She failed to win re-election, meaning that Republicans were able to secure a clean sweep of At-Large positions. Third District Councilor Jeff Falk, who had held off a challenge from his Republican opponent Don Walsh in 2017, wasn’t able to do so again in 2019, leaving only Democrats Jim Jinks (Second District) and Peter Talbot (Fourth District) as their party’s representatives.
The Board of Education, which has come under significant scrutiny over the last few years, experienced an even more dramatic shakeup. Incumbent Democrat Anne Harrigan was the only member of her party to win, while Republicans Tim White, Faith Ham, and Andrew Martelli secured three seats and guaranteed that the BOE would switch from a 5-2 Democratic majority to 5-2 Republican.
As The Herald wrote immediately after the election, it’s impossible to truly ascertain exactly what was on the minds of voters when they entered the polling stations in November. Election participation was up a click, so more people were compelled to vote in 2019 than had been in 2017. Was it the prospect of expensive infrastructure proposals looming on the horizon that spurred people on, or did some voters hold discontent with Hartford, and the state’s new governor, against some local candidates?
There are no good answers to those questions, but those who earned support from the Cheshire electorate now have two years to prove such confidence warranted.
Happy Birthday, Cheshire
It was a big year for Cheshire as the community celebrated its 325th anniversary. While Cheshire would not be officially recognized as a town until 1780, it was in 1694 that residents from neighboring Wallingford began farming — and living— on local soil.
The Town didn’t go all-out for the 325th as it did 25 years prior when, for the 300th birthday celebration parades were held and a year of activities were planned. However, Cheshire certainly marked the occasion. Special banners were placed throughout the town, a booth at the Cheshire Fall Festival and Marketplace introduced attendees to some of the best-known organizations in all of Cheshire, and small events were held throughout the course of the spring and summer.
The Cheshire Herald also got in on the act, as we dedicated our annual Summer Series to Cheshire history, covering everything from the history of the bell and steeple at First Congregational Church to the old tools used by the earliest Cheshire settlers, who tilled the fields and built homes here.
It all culminated in October when The Herald released our special 325th Anniversary Magazine, which explored how everything from Cheshire education to the early days of the town library had helped shape the community.
But we weren’t the only ones to tackle a deep-dive into local history. Town Historian Jeanne Chesanow published her expansive look at Cheshire’s past, taking readers on a journey from the Ice Age onwards.
If you are a fan of local history, 2019 was the year for you.
A Little Personal News
While there was plenty of Town news to cover in 2019, we had a bit of personal news to report as well.
In March, we announced to the community that The Cheshire Herald had been purchased by the Record-Journal Company, publishers of the nearly 160-year-old daily newspaper, the Record-Journal. Longtime Herald publishers Joe and Maureen Jakubisyn, after more than 30 years at the helm of Cheshire’s hometown newspaper, decided to retire and sold to the White family, five generations of whom have owned and operated the Record-Journal.
With the transition in ownership came another big change: The Cheshire Herald offices were moved from 1079 South Main St. to the historic Cornwall House — 195 South Main St. — in early April. The Herald’s new building is one of the oldest in Cheshire, having been built in the early 19th century by Dr. Cornwall, who ran his practice out of the home.
Though there has been a lot of change at The Herald, the mission has remained the same, and we here at the paper are looking forward to even bigger and better things to come in 2020.
Happy New Year!