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Cherry Street: The History of the Road That Appears to go Nowhere

A Middletown street is lost and then found.

Folks growing up in Middletown in the 1950s always remembered walking down to Cherry Street to Vecchitto's to get a lemon ice. This slanting stretch, angling down from Washington Street, no longer exists, except in memory.

The city of Middletown, to neaten things up, extended DeKoven Drive north to connect with Rapallo Avenue in 1982. In the process, two streets were erased: Gilshannon Place and Cherry Street.

Cherry Street was a dead-end street that ran from Washington Street northward about 1,000 feet. Beyond it, Gilshannon Place was a short little street that connected Ferry Street to Green Street. (See the map shown here to get a better idea.)

At one time, Ferry and Green streets ran all the way to the river, and Cherry was one of the few north-south roads in that area. It was primarily a residential street, as seen on the 1874 map. Gilshannon wasn't put through until later in the 19th century.

 

Today, DeKoven Drive is a perfectly straight shot from the YMCA to Rapallo Avenue. With the change in the roads, several houses were lost and any charm the neighborhood maintained was erased.

Many of the people living on the street were opposed to losing its name. People who had been there a long time were not pleased with new addresses — and a "better" view of Route 9.

For some reason, I took "before and after" photographs of the work on Cherry Street 30 years ago. I worked at The DeKoven House at the time and felt it might be worth documenting it. (Of course, the greatest challenge was figuring out where I’d stashed them.) As you can see, the houses were closer to the road on Cherry Street and there was parking on the east side of the road, buffering the area from the railroad tracks and the highway.

One family refused to acknowledge Cherry Street was gone. At the tax assessor’s office, there is still one house on Cherry Street, Number 19. James Fortuna, who worked for Public Works, convinced the city to let him keep his address.

James Fortuna passed away, and the house is now owned by his brother Richard Fortuna. The house has belonged to his family for more than 80 years, and he remembers the neighborhood as a child.

“It was an Italian neighborhood, and everyone knew each other,” Fortuna explained. He remembers when there were gorgeous house on the east side of the road, between the tracks and the river. Although he is over 70 years old, his memory is sharp. He recalled that, “it was a fantastic street. Much different than today.”

Historically, 19 Cherry Street is known as the Warner-Wyse House. Isaac Warner, who lived on Ferry Street, built this Greek Revival-style house in 1830. He sold it the next year to John Wyse. A later owner, Horace Leonard, made his living as a mariner, working on ships that left the wharf to the southeast.

Richard Fortuna may have lost some of his neighborhood, but he gained a much larger front yard, which sets his house off and gives it a more regal appearance. This effect is also due to the fact that he maintains his property so well, as his parents did.

When asked why his family was determined to keep the Cherry Street address, Fortuna replied, “I am proud of Cherry Street and of my neighborhood.”

So Cherry Street has not disappeared. It still has an address and it remains in the hearts and memories of the folks who called it home.

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Claudia DeFrance July 09, 2011 at 11:46 PM
Hi Liz. thanks for the great article about Cherry St. I thought that the facts were not quite right and checked with my mother and we agreed that Gilshannon Pl. was the small stretch from Green St north to the bend at the bottom of Rapallo ave. The area at the bottom of Ferry St that you are talking about was a walking path and was never named.( cars did not use that stretch) My mother said that when the large apartment building was built facing the railroad tracks, it was built so close to my grandparents property, that the "alley" between the buildings was very narrow.I recall walking to McDonough school thru that alley and two people could not walk side by side. we then walked thru another walkway to the bottom of Green St. across the street to Gilshannon Pl. to Rapallo Ave., then to Main, cross at St. John's Sq. to Spring St. to McDonough..We went home for lunch, then back, so it was a walk done 4 times in one day!!!
Diane Franklin July 31, 2011 at 12:26 AM
My parents got their first apartment on Cherry Street when he returned from WWII , This is where they lived when I was born, Mom always said the whole place shook when the train went by, She also said it really wasnt part of the house but a shed made into an apartment. It's been torn down ,She also said all the Italian ladies tried to care for her when she was pregnant and when I was first born D
Claudia Palmieri August 01, 2011 at 04:31 PM
I lived on Cherry Street from 1950 when I was born until December of 1959 when my parents built a house in Cromwell. My grandmother was a Branciforte, and my parents lived on the 3rd floor of the big white apartment building next to Vecchitto's, which Nana owned with her brothers and sisters. The six family building was occupied by her brother and sisters and their children; Aunt Mary and Aunt Helen lived in the two family house in back. On either side were Vecchittos. My cousins and I played in the front, and the back, and the first time I got in big trouble was in the G.U. Reed parking lot (one step up from the yard between the two houses) with my cousin Kenny. The lot was covered with tiny traprock (process), and we made a rock ring and started a little fire. We were so careful... in case there weren't enough aunts and uncles watching us, the site was right outside my parents' 3rd floor windows! Lots of great memories - watching the river after hurricanes, accidents on Acheson Drive, the bridge lights blinking in the twilight,lemon ice, trips to the Vecchitto's for "American bread," fanning flies away from the stratto Claudia deFrance's grandmother made, avoiding Aunt Mary's mandate to "pick up the papers," going "upstreet," - and running up those two flights to get to the bathroom at lunch time and after school! It was a great way to grow up.
Janice Vecchitto Thomas August 16, 2011 at 11:04 AM
Claudia: I have not heard your name in years. I was the oldest daughter of Chris and Rosemarie. I see your brother and nephews often. We had a lot of fun times on Cherry and Ferry St. Your grandparents were so nice and I hung out with your Aunt Helen's daughter, Joyce. I will never forget those days. Nice post you submitted.

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