An Apple a Day

There’s something deliciously macabre about the history of healthcare. Shivers ran up my spine as I read submissions for this issue [Feb/Mar/Apr 2004, Vol 2 No 2] that describe the devastating effects of our ancestors’ diseases and afflictions—and the sometimes more devastating treatments that were inflicted in response.

Seriously though, what was life like when infant mortality was so common, when life spans were much shorter, and so many diseases incurable? How did our society treat those least able to help themselves, like disabled children and the mentally ill? This issue is a window into life before sophisticated pharmaceuticals and managed care—and as scary as present day healthcare can be, this issue just many make your hair stand on end!

Read all of the stories in the Feb/Mar/Apr 2004, Vol 2 No 2 issue

Read all of our stories about Health & Medicine on our TOPICS page

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Thrill Ride Down the Hog River

Many of our readers have told me how, as children, they swam in the Hog River, upstream from where the river entered the immense twin, concrete conduits in which it was buried in the late 1930s. As the water quality was assuredly rather dismal back then, I always marvel that they lived to tell about it. When John Kulick of Huck Finn Adventures invited the HRJ staff to take a canoe trip down the Park (formerly Hog) River conduit last August, I felt compelled to have my own Hog River experience. I’ll admit though, I was nervous. The river, barely a babbling brook in late summer, looked innocent enough and, thankfully, is no longer the public health problem it once was.

Nancy Albert (left) and Elizabeth Normen (right) Inside the Park River (formerly the Hog River) conduit, August 2003

But, as we entered the pitch-black conduit, outfitted in life jackets, headlamps and glowsticks hanging around our necks, it felt like going into a fun house ride, waiting for scary things to jump out at us from the dark. Only our headlamps illuminated the concrete walls and the reflective surfaces of flotsam and jetsam: a shiny bicycle reflector, metal grocery cart, and a couple of lost basketballs. Fortunately no native, urban “fauna” scurried by. At the point at which we were approximately underneath the Hartford Public Library, we headed down a slight incline, picking up speed on mini-rapids.

Further on, the air became so humid and thick that even my headlamp could not illuminate past my canoe partner, Nancy Albert, in the bow. Kulick had us turn off our headlamps and float in the absolute darkness and quiet under the city: near complete sensory deprivation — spooky! We banged our paddles on the sides of the canoes to hear the echoes.

Trip down the Hog River

About two and a half hours into the trip and now having to put some effort into our paddling against the surge of the Connecticut River, we literally saw the light at the end of the tunnel. Our small flotilla emerged blinking into the bright sunshine; we paddled past city kids fishing, and pulled out at scenic Charter Oak Landing. Paris has its popular sewer tours, why not Hartford’s Park River tour? If John Kulick has his way, public tours of the Park River conduit will be added to Hartford’s growing list of tourist attractions. Then you, too, can take the thrill ride down the old Hog River!

Elizabeth J. Normen

Here’s what our readers have shared about their experiences with the Hog River, beginning with CTExplored’s publisher’s own experience as related in the Feb/Mar/Apr 2004 issue. Send in your reminiscences to and we’ll post them here. And be sure to read A River Runs Under It: A Hog River History from our inaugural issue and Taking a Ride Down the Hog River from our Summer 2008 issue.

Nice work on your first edition. we look forward to many more. Our collective memories may be playing tricks, but two points made in the [Fall 2002] Hog River article don’t seem quite right: “After the 1936 flood… and the even bigger flood two years later…” Wasn’t the 1936 flood the greatest on record? Check the levels painted on the Bulkeley Bridge (again, if memory serves). Also you wrote “A modern view of the Park River conduit, March 2001” as a caption on a photo of the pond in Bushnell Park. We believe that the Park River ran through this location, but the conduit is well south of this–a pretty straight shot from just north of the capitol to the Hartford Public Library. If you can tweak a few more ancient memories you’ll be doing a good job.

Ed and Marion Richardson

Author responds: The Richardsons are correct according to my notes. The first flood, in 1936, crested at 37 feet 6 inches and the second at 35 feet 7 inches. As to the conduit’s location, the magazine offers a collective mea culpa!

I thoroughly enjoyed the premier issue of the HOG RIVER JOURNAL. I have lived in central Connecticut my entire life and Hartford has always been special to me. I hope that your new magazine will enlighten others to the history and treasures that are a part of Hartford. The article that particularly caught my attention was “A River Runs Under It” and the reference to the contractor, B. Perini & Sons. Several years ago, B. Perini & Sons changed its name to Perini Building Company. I am a longtime employee of that company. It may interest you to know that Perini Building Company is once again working in Hartford at the Adriaen’s Landing Project. Perini will be responsible for the construction of the parking and retail portion of the project directly behind the Hartford Times Building. I look forward to the next issue of the Journal.
Jim Prestileo

The Hog River, later known as the Park River, has had a long history and many stories can be told about it. I know a story that might be of interest to some readers. In April 1929 a popular young local boxer named Christopher “Bat” Battalino, who later became world featherweight champion, was on his way home. He was crossing a footbridge over the Park River when he heard some cries and saw a child struggling in the dirty waters below. He dove into the water and rescued a 3-year-old boy from drowning. For this act of bravery the mayor of Hartford presented him with the Connecticut Humane Society medal for bravery. That man was my father.

Mary Battalino Peichert

Ed.–On June 6, 2003, Christopher “Bat” Battalino, along with Louis “Kid” Kaplan of Meriden, was posthumously inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame. See our story on Kid Kaplan in the Fall 2009 issue.

Eighty years ago as a boy in Northwest Grammar School in Hartford, I spent many a summer day fishing and swimming in the Hog River east of Woodland Street between Farmington and Albany avenues. I caught pickerel, which were fun to catch and good to eat. Generally the water was clear but occassionally it was discolored by the practice of cleaning the pig pens into the stream. However nobody complained about the clarity or the potability of the water and no one got sick. The older boys would sometimes chase us out of our favorite swimming hole and we would sneak back and tie up their clothes in knots and then yell at them “Chaw raw beef!” Sometimes one of us would get caught and would be punished–that is how I learned how to swim. Some day I’m going back to visit the ‘”little river” where Mark Twain and I used to swim.

Yours truly,
Willis Wilbur
El Monte, CA

I grew up in Frog Hollow and the Hog River runs in my soul. Although I left Hartford in 1960, I have always considered myself a Hartford boy. I was thrilled with the current issue (2003 Nov/Dec/Jan 2004); reading it brought a rush of WWII memories to me. As youngsters we used to play in the Pope Park stretch between Capitol Avenue and Park Street. The Hog River was fairly polluted then and always had an oily film. We avoided getting too close to the banks for fear of slipping in. No one in their right mind would voluntarily go in the river. I recall this so well because it cost me a fortune one summer. A bully from Riverside (the Underwood side of the river) taunted me to go in, offering me $1.00 if I swam across. I refused and challenged him to do it. He did and was covered in an ugly, oily slime when he emerged. That dollar was a month’s allowance for me!

Ray Czapkowski
Webster, NY

If I didn’t know better, I would think from the information on the other side [referring to an invitation to subscribe], that the Hog River began and ended in Bushnell Park. Having been born and raised in the north end of Hartford, I know that the river came into Hartford from Bloomfield, that I was told never to swim in it, and I obeyed the warning except one time when I just had to see for myself all the bad things in it. Didn’t find much other than just good old dirty water!

Yours truly,
Seymour H. Saltzman
West Hartford, CT

I was just a young squirt. My recollection, from the 40s, is that the Hog River branched off from the Park river near Brookfield street . As a kid, we’d find 500 gallon oil tanks in the Park River and ride ’em down to the bridge at Hamilton Street , where the river went into the conduit behind Pope Park . One day, when I asked my brother, “Hey, want’a see where it goes?” He exhibited remarkable intelligence and declined. (He still likes to point that out occasionally during family gatherings .)

Back to the Hog River that I knew (and broke my arm there while in 7th grade at Moylan School — and broke the other arm, a week and a half after getting the first cast off). I watched the flood in 1955, from Ellington Street . I distinctly remember a woman being rescued by boat, climbing out of the window half way up the stairs between the first and second floors, carrying her bird cage. This was in the lower section, Rice Heights Extension. When they were building that area, I sometimes took water to the construction workers. The guy who ran the bulldozer occasionally let me ride with him, sitting on the toolbox, when his boss wasn’t around. What more could a kid ask.

In the late 40s, mom went down to “The Swamp” as we knew it before they built the apartments, to get some flowers for our garden. She got some yellow Iris and some violets. What she didn’t notice was that there was some poison ivy mixed in with the violets. For a few years we had a little poison ivy in our garden. (Would you want to go pull those weeds?) But the violets and iris were fairly hardy. The iris in particular. AND, you could cut a few, put ’em in water on the table, and they’d last for several days.

There was an area over by Hooker school, downhill across the brook, that was, I thought, really interesting. It was an undeveloped two block area (with no streets in it) where there were no tall trees at all. But there were a number of short bushes, where gold finches nested. Hundreds of them. I had no idea (still don’t) why they were there. I never saw any anywhere else.

If you followed that brook upstream, in the direction of the library on New Britain Avenue , it went through some woods. Kids from school would go to Catechism after school, (maybe on Wednesdays?) and occasionally I walked with them. One day, walking home afterwards, through those woods, I had to jump the stream. At that point, the stream was constricted by some sedimentary rock on either side that broke off in pretty cool layers, although the sides were pretty vertical. It wasn’t very wide, but, not trying hard, I missed it, and fell in. BUT, it had rained, so the water level was up 2-3 feet, and running pretty good. To make matters worse, there was a small waterfall about 20 feet downstream. Yes sir, some mighty fine scrambling was done that day. And I arrived home just dripping. (Wonder why I didn’t have my school books – no idea.)

When we first moved to Ellington Street in 1946, there were no fences around any of the houses. Ten years later, there were, maybe 3-4 houses that had fences. Not long ago, when I drove by to look, there were fences around almost every house. Too bad. Many’s the day when we ran through the backyards, playing tag, hide-n-seek, baseball, or whatever. The trees certainly are bigger. Some that I planted (at #88) are still there, and bigger. But, given the choice, I’d prefer the openness. (On the other hand, without the swamp, there certainly are fewer mosquitoes, which I’d have appreciated.)

I’ve since moved out West. I stumbled across your internet page, read some of the letters, and thought some notes from the 50s might be in order, just for perspective. Hartford was nice then too. I didn’t know that the Park River came from Bloomfield . Maybe that’s the North branch. I did know there was more than one branch.

Linwood Lyons


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