On February 12, 1950, the 100-foot-tall flagpole that currently stands in the center of Main Street was formally dedicated. It replaced three previous wooden flag poles, then called Liberty Poles, and it was welcomed with pomp, circumstance, as an American flag was raised on it for the first time, and even a parade of local officials, clergy and scouts.
On that balmy Sunday afternoon, a cross-cut section of the lower mast from the former wooden flagpole was presented to Arthur Treat Nettleton, and its cleat — the bracket around which the lanyard was cinched — was given to Judge Paul V. Cavanaugh. Both men had been part of the group who dedicated the new flagpole.
Before these ceremonies took place, the last wooden pole, which had been fashioned from a very thick, 150-year-old pine tree, had been taken down and cut into many small pieces. They had been sold or given away to interested citizens, and then dedicated by them in honor of certain other prominent Newtown citizens or institutions. Each chunk of the wooden flagpole was affixed with a plaque noting date and designation.
Mr Nettleton presented his section of the former mast to C.H. Booth Library almost immediately. It has long been on view in the Main Street institution’s Genealogy Room.
Sixty-three years later, the cleat from the final Liberty Pole, mounted on a piece of wood, also found its way back to Newtown, and has been donated to the town’s library. After 36 years affixed to the pole in front of 31 Main Street, the antique cleat has found a new permanent home about 150 yards from its original location.
Anita (Cavanaugh) Olayos visited the library on Friday, October 18, and presented the cleat to Reference Librarian Beryl Harrison and Curator Mary Thomas. The cleat is mounted on 14-inch-long piece of 4 by 4 wood. One part of the metal hardware has been broken off.
On one side of the wood is a small bronze plaque with the notation Last Wooden Liberty Pole / Newtown - Conn. / 1912 - 1950 / Dedicated - Feb. 12-1950 / - By - / Judge Paul V. Cavanaugh.
A front-page article in the February 17, 1950, issue of The Newtown Bee covered the dedication and flag-raising in great detail. Booth Reference Librarian Beryl Harrison found and opened one of the library’s bound volumes of The Newtown Bee so that it was ready for Mrs Olayos when she and her husband arrived at the library that afternoon.
According to The Bee, “the raising of the flag on Newtown’s newly erected all-steel, 100-foot pole on the historic site at the intersection of Main Street, Church Hill Road and West Street in dedicatory exercises last Sunday afternoon brought a large gathering of townspeople from a score of town civic organizations marching to the site. A patriotic urge and loyalty to an historic town institution combined with almost balmy weather for February to make the convocation impressively large.”
The ceremony was conducted, according to The Bee’s account, under the auspices of the Raymond L. Pease Post, American Legion. A group headed by First Selectman A. Fenn Dickinson assembled at Edmond Town Hall and then marched in a parade to the flagpole.
“In his dedicatory address,” the report continued, “Judge Cavanaugh spoke briefly of the history of the town and of the nation during the period in which a Liberty Pole had stood on the location, and he concluded with these words: ‘If the hammer and sickle were being raised here today instead of the stars and stripes, you may rest assured that this pole would not be flanked by two churches nor would men of the churches of God be permitted on the program. Let’s preserve these precious gifts. Let’s be Americans in every sense of the word.’”
With a smile, Mrs Olayos touched the photo of her late father that had been printed on the front page of the paper that week.
A photo on the paper’s cover that week showed a group of seven men on a platform that had been placed to the west of the flagpole, with the men facing the meeting house for the ceremony.
“A patriotic urge and loyalty to an historic institution combined with almost balmy weather for February to make the convocation impressively large,” the paper noted. The author of the feature later mentioned “several hundred people” in attendance.
As she read through the story and its mentions of her father, Mrs Olayos alternately smiled and blinked back a few tears.
“I’ve always wanted to find a way to honor my dad, and I thought this might be a connection,” she said. Judge Cavanaugh died when his daughter was just 7 years old. He had been the town’s judge of probate, chair of the Zoning Commission, a member of the Board of Finance, Newtown chair of the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis, and a Red Cross chair during World War II.
“As a child, I remember my father being bigger than life,” said his proud daughter.
While thanking her for the donation, Mrs Thomas told Mrs Olayos, “The flagpole is an enormous part of this town’s history.”
Mrs Olayos and her mother moved to Fairfield a year later after Judge Cavanaugh’s passing, but Mrs Olayos said she still feels “very attached” to Newtown.
She and her husband, Roger Olayos, now live in Florida. They were in Newtown about 12 years ago for a cousin’s wedding, and that visit prompted Mrs Olayos to begin reading up on her former hometown’s history. While doing that, she said, she came across an article online that said the last existing piece of the former flagpole was at C.H. Booth Library.
“I thought ‘Nope, I have the last piece,’” she said.
“I remember this from the time I was about 7years old,” Mrs Olayos said of the mounted bracket. “My mother and I have had this since my father died. I have a vague memory of it being on a shelf in our house in Newtown, and it stayed with my father’s things when we moved to Fairfield.
“I picked this up when my mother began to get ill, toward the end of her life,” she said. “We have always had this piece of Newtown.”
Mrs Olayos said she first contacted Town Historian Dan Cruson, about the historic cleat. Mr Cruson, she said, offered to accept the piece on behalf of Newtown Historical Society.
“But he was going to put this in his office, and I was concerned that the public wouldn’t be able to see it very easily,” she said. “No, this needs to be here,” she said, looking around the Genealogy Room. “If library patrons want to read the history of the flagpole, or to see these pieces, they have both of them right here.
“I really like the idea of the pieces being on view for the public,” she said.
She also liked the idea of being able to bring the cleat to the library in person.
“Longevity does not run in my family,” she said. In addition to her father, who “died an early death,” said Mrs Olayos, an aunt and uncle both also died rather early in life, she said.
“I figured I would do this while I could still walk and talk, and enjoy this,” she said. “I wasn’t going to take any chances.”
The Olayoses made their return visit to Newtown last month. On October 18, the same day they visited Booth Library, they were also enjoying seeing some of the places from Mrs Olayos’s childhood.
“We’re having a great time,” she said.
In addition to the antique cleat, Mrs Olayos brought with her a three-volume set of books, History of Fairfield County. Also from her late father’s collection, the books were another gift for the library.
“I figured these things just had to be here,” she said.
The historic cleat and the section of flagpole are currently on view in the Booth Library Genealogy Room. They have been placed in a case, along with the bound volume of The Newtown Bee that features the story about the dedication of the steel flagpole. Library staff members have also put two of the three History of Fairfield County books on view, with one of them opened to a section about Newtown. Beryl Harrison expects the display will remain on view for “at least a few weeks.”