52 Ancestors – Week #13 – The "Old Homestead"

In March 1959 we were living in a two-story garden apartment in New Haven. I had just turned 4. One sister was not quite 3 years-old and the other had just turned 1. My mother was exhausted from running up and down the stairs all day and insisted on moving to a new home – and it HAD to be a ranch-style.
The Casey Construction Company was showing off its line of homes at the newly built Hamden Plaza. In 1959, Hamden was just coming into its own as a town. Many people were eager to leave the urban metropolis of New Haven to raise their “baby-boomer” children in the suburbs.
Contstruction of home models. The A&P supermarket
can be seen across the street.
(Source of picture unknown)
The three home models. The sign for Gristede’s grocery store
can be seen to the left. Later, that became Pegnataro’s Supermarket.
(Source of picture unknown)

 After eliminating Woodbridge and Orange as potential choices my parents chose Lot #61 in Paradise Hills in Hamden, Connecticut for our future home. (My mother didn’t care for the “ritzy” Jewish congregations there – she preferred the reform congregation of Mishkan Israel in Hamden.)

Hamden is known for a few things: The Sleeping Giant Mountain, a Main Street in the middle of nowhere, no town green (unusual for a New England town), and its variously named neighborhoods. If you ask almost anyone in town, they can easily identify for you the locations of Spring Glen, Whitneyville (named for Eli Whitney), Highwood, West Woods, as well as others. Paradise Hills? Not so much!
Paradise Hills was so named for the “main” road forming the western boundary of the neighborhood. In 1959, there were only two ways in and out of the new subdivision – Four Rod Road, a twisty, hilly road running from Shepard Avenue, or Paradise Avenue which was straight but still pretty hilly. Years later, Howard Drive (the southern boundary) would be extended, connecting our little neighborhood to the main thoroughfare of Skiff Street.
On September 16, 1959, my parents, Alan and Doris Lichtenthal Samuel, signed the mortgage for our new home. Dad had just earned his Ph.D. at Yale a few months earlier. His tuition was paid for by his Naval service during the Korean War. His service also allowed him (and millions of other servicemen) to purchase their own homes in newly built suburban neighborhoods all over the United States. His VA loan was in the amount of $15,300. The interest rate was 5.25% making the monthly payments $91.69. 
I’m not sure exactly what his position was at that time, but I imagine it was probably Assistant Professor, making his annual salary somewhere between $4,000 and $8,750[1]. Like most women of that era, my mother didn’t work, so Dad’s salary had to cover the expenses of our family of five. 
Even if he was at the lowest end of the scale, Dad’s salary would qualify him for the VA loan program; “The minimum for a veteran would be a $300 down payment and a weekly salary of $75.”[2]

Mom was so proud of her new home. Having lived her entire life in apartments, this was the first single-family home she ever lived in. It was a house to be proud of. Touted as being “situated in a picturesque country atmosphere,”[3] the design won an award for “the Best Home for the Money.”[4] 
Description of the ranch model.
Source: Hamden Chronicle, Special Supplement, March 12, 1959, p.4

Dad made several improvements to the basic home. He hired Bud Starno, our across-the-street neighbor to finish the first third of the basement. The newly renovated space provided a nice family room with built-in bookcases and an under-stairs closet. Dad used a sledge hammer to open a space for a large window to let in the light. True to his impulsive nature, he didn’t measure first, so replacement windows now come at a custom-made cost!
Dad also terraced the backyard, dragging wheelbarrows full of rocks from the pond down the road. To complete the serene backyard, he dug a semi-circular trench allowing the brook that ran behind our yards to flow through our property. The neighbors were not happy about the water being diverted!
Dad really did a beautiful job with this. All the other homes
on our side of street left their steep backyard hills intact.
You can see Dad’s window work in this photo.

Digging the “brook!”
This lower level is now owned by the State of Connecticut.
The State purchased the lowest level of everyone’s home on our side of the street in an
effort to combat frequent flooding caused by the brook. (Not my father’s fault!) 
Just four years after moving into their new home, my parents divorced. The refinished basement space was repurposed to serve as two bedrooms. Space was sorely needed – in 1961 another sister was born. Then my mother met and married Al Falcone, who had three children of his own. In 1964 my brother was born to my mother and stepdad. Now there were five children under the age of 9 living in the house – 8 on Sundays, when Alfie’s kids came over! I eventually moved into the unfinished section of the basement, creating a “little apartment” for myself. One positive was the door leading directly out to the backyard (that’s a story for another time.) One negative was NO heat other than what escaped from the gas furnace next to my bed. (How I didn’t die down there, I’ll never know…)
Grilling in the carport – circa 1968 or 1969?
Watching from the steps is my mom. Manning the grill is my stepdad, Al Falcone.
The “little chef” in front of the station wagon in my brother Dean.
In the 70s, the carport was transformed into a real family room, with a fireplace and a bar! Along with the kitchen, this space formed the nucleus of the home. 61 Goebel Road had become our “homestead.”  Holidays became “events” with food, laughter, and more food. 
Christmas Eve was the most important of all holidays. (We became Italian “by osmosis” when Mom married Alfie!) The holiday is so important to us, that we still held a small Christmas Eve gathering at the house in 2011, just weeks after our mother’s passing.
When our mom died, we really didn’t know what would happen with the home. We were thrilled that we, as a family, were able to keep Mom in her beloved home until the last few months of her life, but none of us could afford to purchase the house. Getting the house ready for sale was a daunting task – it needed quite a bit of repair and updating. It looked like our cherished homestead would become someone else’s property. Well, we had a good run – 52 years.
On December 2, 2011, after refusing several times, our youngest daughter, Meghan finally agreed to go on a date with Andrew Jefts, a guy she met while attending school in New Hampshire. Why do I remember the date? Because the phone conversation occured while Meghan and I were on a train. We were returning from a trip into New York City where we met older daughter, Caitlin to pick out her wedding dress. When we arrived back in New Haven, we found my mother had just passed away. I like to think Mom had something to do with Meghan finally accepting that date. 
A few weeks later, Andy and Meg went on their first date. My siblings and I were stressing out over what to do with the house.  In order to remain in her home, my mother used an equity line to pay taxes and meet daily expenses, so there was very little equity available to use for repairs. If we wanted to sell the home at a decent price, we would need to spend money to make repairs. No one had extra money for that. We were resigned to selling the house and hoped to realize enough cash to pay whatever expenses Mom had incurred.
Despite having only dated for a few weeks, Andy suggested he and Meghan rent the house, with an option to buy. It was a great solution. Probably Mom had “something” to do with that happening as well! I was more than a little skeptical. Is this guy for real? I actually “googled” him to make sure he wasn’t some sort of scammer. Nope – no scammer! Just a super nice guy who knew what he wanted (Meghan!) Andy quickly understood how much the house meant to our family, and to Meghan, who probably spent more of her childhood at her grandmother’s house than at ours.  VERY long story short, they worked tirelessly to update every square inch of the property – inside and out! 
Before – May 2012
After – June 2013

Meg and Andy moved into the house in the fall of 2012. In 2014, they married. In 2015, their  daughter, Paisley May was born. Within the next few weeks, a little brother for Paisley is expected. The Christmas Eve tradition has continued at our homestead. We all realize the Jefts probably won’t live there forever, but that’s okay. We have a backup plan for keeping the house in the family. Start saving your pennies,  Alex Falcone!!!
Note: My mother saved the March 1959 supplement to the local paper, the Hamden Chronicle which detailed the construction of the Casey homes. Here are a few relevant screenshots:

[1] ” Academic Salaries, 1958-1959: Report of Committee Z On The Economic Status Of The Profession On JSTOR “. 2018. Jstor.Org. Accessed March 31 2018. https://www.jstor.org/stable/40222414?seq=6#page_scan_tab_contents. 
[2] Hamden Chronicle, Special Supplement, Section III, March 12, 1959, p. 12.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Ibid.

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