CT Trails Day celebrated in North Grosvenordale

By Denise Coffey - Staff Writer
North Grosvenordale - posted Tue., Jun. 7, 2011
(L-r) Jim Sali and Mike Lajeunesse pose in front of the 'Three Row' section of North Grosvenordale during the Trails Day walk. Photos by D. Coffey.
(L-r) Jim Sali and Mike Lajeunesse pose in front of the 'Three Row' section of North Grosvenordale during the Trails Day walk. Photos by D. Coffey.

Mike Lajeunesse and Jim Sali led an educational 3-mile walk along the French River in North Grosvenordale on June 4 as part of Connecticut Trails Day.

During the nationwide trails day, Connecticut sponsored 130 hikes, walks, runs, paddles and trail clean-up events - the most events of any state in the country. People could choose from urban walks to kayak paddles, 5-kilometer runs to handicapped-accessible walks.

The Thompson walk took participants from the Riverside Park gazebo past a field that once showcased baseball teams sponsored by the mills. In the 1940s and 1950s, the baseball games drew large crowds of people from neighborhoods that sprang up around the mills.

Sali remembered when the neighborhoods were distinct. In 1937, he arrived with his parents from Albania and settled in town. “Anyone with a Balkan accent was called Greek back then,” he said. “It didn’t matter.” The Greeks lived in one section, the Swedes in another, and the French in another, he said. All the sections were close to the mills, which employed more than 1,500 people on three shifts during World War II.

Lejeunesse calls the three-row section now known as the River Mill Village one of the best examples of row houses in New England.

Sali pointed out the Cotton House that sits below Route 12, where cotton was unloaded for the factories, the dumping grounds for the coal used to power the mills, the rows of mill housing, the tunnels now boarded up, and the place where tracks used to run right into the Clewitt Peabody Mill across the street from the Thompson Public Library. Sali showed photographs of the mills and row houses in the '40s. He had carefully preserved photographs of the Albanian baseball team, and the crowds that gathered for the games, dressed in their best outfits.

“There used to be three sets of tracks,” Sali said, pointing past the Cotton House.

The mill was built in 1872, and closed down around 1954, according to Sali. In those days, waste from the mill was dumped directly into the French River. On Saturday’s tour, a Mallard drake swam in the narrow canal leading from the mill to the river.

Right across the river, in what is now Jim’s Hardware Store, was the cloth room, said Sali. Rolls of fabric and Arrow shirts used to be stored there before getting shipped out. He showed pictures of the flood in 1955 and how it damaged the town. He remembered people from the baseball teams, and what it was like back in the days when Thompson was a thriving manufacturing area. A resident for 72 years, Sali is an unofficial historian of sorts, a man with the memory to bring the town’s past to life.

As if to bring it full circle, Lajeunesse is committed to continuing the work of the Thompson Trails Committee. He wants to see the trail system continue up along North Grosvenordale Pond and into Wilsonville, and eventually connect with trails in Massachusetts. He sees a trend towards trail development, and is hopeful that with grant money from the DEP, the Thompson Trails Committee will eventually be able to craft a longer, more complete trail system. The grant money allows for drainage work, chopping of trees, grading trails and laying down stone dust to finish them off. Most of the work is done by volunteers.

The Thompson Trails Committee cares for nine different trails in Thompson. “We are trying to get groups to adopt sections of the trails,” Lajeunesse said. For more information, call 860-935-9226.


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