By 1870 Savin Rock was becoming more and more popular as a recreational center for the people of western Connecticut. Promoters chose the location for cock fights, horse races, and prize fights. Excursions ran to the seaside resort from near-by cities, and conventions were held in the Grove. The tables beneath the trees were always crowded, and the beer gardens served capacity crowds almost every weekend through the season.
The first horse drawn street cars connected West Haven Center with New Haven in 1867 and extended service to Savin Rock a few years later. This early transportation aided greatly in the growth of the community, increased realty values, and made the citizens proud of their modern facilities.
But it was not until the 1870s that a mechanical concession was first erected on this natural playground: a small man powered carousel, the forerunner of the many electrically operated and resplendent rides of the more modern days. As this business grew, the man powered outfit was replaced with a horse powered arrangement, a treadmill with a belt drive, operated by a small chestnut horse, who acquired local fame because of his fondness for chewing tobacco.
Another force responsible for Savin Rock's rapid growth during this decade was the ferry service. Ferry service to and from Savin Rock to New Haven and to Lighthouse Point started in 1870, when the late George Kelsey erected a 1,500-foot pier and operated several small steamers. On weekdays there were three boats and on Sunday five and six at the height of the seasons. Thomas Whelan, yard superintendent at the West Haven Shipyards, was skipper for "The Cynthia" and "Isabella" and Charles Whelan was a crew member. A sign on the pier read: "Ferry Boat to East Shore 10 cents, Take Boat at the End of This Long Pier 'Cynthia.'"
From about 1914 to shortly before the outbreak of World War I, Charles K. Wedmore was Captain of the "Zephyr" which carried passengers between Savin Rock and Lighthouse. Joseph Marinan skippered the steamer "Elm City" between West Haven and Port Jefferson. It was sunk later in the English Channel during World War I.
Lorraine Wood Rockefeller, a West Haven historian, once reflected in an article in the West Haven City News that to her it was "regrettable not to have known that colorful era when the brilliantly lighted floating palaces passed up and down the Sound at midnight wafting the strains of band and orchestra music for the gay (happy), passengers afloat. It was an era of luxury known in our hurried day with deluxe dinners of quail on toast, truffles under glass, rare fruits and champagne served aboard."
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Started on: 20 August 2001
Last revised: 13 June, 2008 by ThistleGroup.