Little Pink House – Book Review

Little Pink House:  A True Story of Defiance and Courage

By:  Jeff Benedict

Reviewed by:  Paul McMahon

I had watched from afar as the horror story of eminent domain rage on in New London then though the courts of Connecticut and finally on to the Supreme Court.

I had a special interest since I grew up in Waterford (pronounced Watta-fud by us natives).  If you look at a map of New London County, you will notice two things.  1.  New London is a small if not the smallest city here in Connecticut.  2.  New London is completely surrounded by Waterford by land or by water.  As I grew up, New London was kind of enemy territory where we had to shop unless we wanted to go to Norwich (pronounced Nawtch by my aunt) which was almost a two day trip.  New London prospered until shopping centers came along.  It had room for the first round helped by highway construction that opened a lot of land.

Then new businesses opened up in Waterford, Groton and Montville.  New London realized that it really did not have much open land to support new development.  Then came to concept of redevelopment. New London decided to try it.  They used the approach used in Hartford on Front Street – move everybody out and tear everything down and build a new modern area.  Note the absence of the word neighborhood.  New London loved the concept and embraced it for its redevelopment even though it failed in Hartford.  New London did not handle it well.

The Rowland administration decided it wanted to do something in New London that would contribute to its fame and possible squeeze a few votes out of New London’s strong Democratic majority.  However, they did not want to let the New London City Council get its hands on the project.

The result was the reinstatement of the New London Development Commission (NLDC) which soon paved the road to Hell with state gold and so the story begins.

The author, Jeff Benedict, may be familiar to you.  He wrote Without Reservation which is how the Mashantuckets went from broke to very rich.  He did careful research and built a very readable story.

In Little Pink House he built an excellent story, conveying the emotions of the people involved, the despair as they encountered the machinations of the NLDC, the joy when they won a round.

After I finished the book I decided to go down an look at how things stood now.  It is about a 150 mile round trip including a little wandering in New London.

I made enlarged copies from the book of the aerial photos facing page 238 and 239.  They turned out to be helpful as most of the street signs are gone in the area.  The first photo was taken in 2000 and reflects the removal of a lot of the Navy facilities.  The second was taken in 2002.  A photo taken today in 2009 would only differ by the destruction of the homes that were taken to the Supreme Court.

I called my brother who still lives in Waterford to ask if he wanted to join me on a tour.  He said he and his wife would love to.  In fact they had just toured the Coast Guard Training Ship Eagle the day before I called and had even met Tido Holtkamp who served on the Eagle when he was in the German Navy during World Wad II.  The Eagle is now stationed a the Coast Guard station on the Fort Trumbull grounds.

I drove down to Waterford and my brother’s wife drove us on a tour of the Fort Trumbull area.

We drove into the state park and parked.  My brother and I got out and walked around the fort.  We had never seen the fort before even though we had both taken a lifesaving course in the Fort Trumbull pool which was part of the merchant marine school during World War II.

What we found was that Fort Trumbull has been made into an extremely attractive seasonal state park.  The fort has been scrubbed clean and surrounded by lawns and walks.  The infamous sewer plant which was the curse of the neighborhood when the wind was wrong has been capped and no longer smells.  Several beautiful Pfizer buildings have been built and are operating on the New London Mills site which is a little north of the Fort Trumbull neighborhood which was the site of the eminent domain decision.

Before I left I had gone to the on-line revaluation records for New London and found that the only remaining Fort Trumbull property holder still in New London was Suzette Kelo.  As part of the settlement with NLDC she was allowed to move the house to a new site.  It is at 6 Chappell Street and is no longer pink and is now a very attractive yellow and appears to be a two apartment house.  Next door is an abandoned wreck of a house.

I recommend the book.  It is a lesson on what an uncontrolled government agency can do.  It shows how brutal the Connecticut Eminent Domain statute is (See the index).  The legislature has not changed the law.  How much a committed citizens group can do even though they lost, they lost at the Supreme Court and not when the first eviction document showed up.  While the Connecticut legislature has not changed the eminent domain statute many other states have.

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3 Comments on “Little Pink House – Book Review”

  1. Kathleen Mitchell Says:

    I thought it was very nice that you took the time to see what actually has transpired in Fort Trumbull.
    However, I would like to make a few, minor corrections to your observations regarding the outcome of the eminent domain crisis in New London.
    The new Pfizer Global Research and Development Headquarters, the New London Sewer Filtration Plant and the restored historic Fort Trumbull had nothing to do with the eminent domain proceedings that wiped out an entire historic neighborhood in New London and left nothing in it’s wake except brownfields.
    The three sites I mentioned above were not in what was the Municipal Development Plan and would have happened with or without the destruction of the Fort Trumbull neighborhood.
    As a little bit more in the way of information, the city of New London, rather then increasing it’s Grand List, has lost a tremendous amount of money and every single one of the Fort Trumbull plaintiffs has moved to other towns.

  2. Paul McMahon Says:

    Thanks for the comment. I did not make it clear that the neighborhoods were taken to provide land for private developers to build facilities that would be attractive to Pfizer employees. One was a hotel for people coming in for a week or two for a conference. Another was for more of a residence inn kind of stay for several months. There was also an expectation of other facilities such as a gym, restaurants, bars, etc. The irony is that the parcels are empty.

    While the battle was proceeding, Pfizer built their buildings which are very attractive on the New London Mills parcel. Fort Trumbull is a beautiful park where you can sit on the lawn and watch the harbor traffic.

  3. Paul McMahon Says:

    The Texas legislature just passed and the goverenor signed a bill proposing a constituitional amendment to be voted on in the Fall that will add property rights to the constituition.

    Austin Business Journal

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