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.