MAX’S NEIGHBORHOOD: Two articles on Shelton had ‘unique historical connections’
Editor’s note: A shorter version of this letter appeared in the Oct. 29 print edition of the Shelton Herald. It had been shortened to meet the pint edition’s 500-word limit. This is a longer version of the letter with some graphics.
To the Editor:
Thank you, Shelton Herald, for the fine article on Constitution Park and Mayor Mark Lauretti's 10th anniversary proclamation exactly 10 years after the park’s dedication (the park is at the corner of Long Hill Avenue, Constitution Boulevard South, Kneen Street and Kneen Street Extension).
The Oct. 1 edition of the Shelton Herald had very unique and unforeseen historical connections between two of your lead articles on the front page.
The top story, “Steeped in History...” was about St. Joseph’s Church just off Coram Avenue at Fairmont Place. The article starts with the church’s history and laying the cornerstone in 1907.
St. Joseph Church was built by Max August Durrschmidt (born in 1865), a German who came to the United States in 1880. Eight years later, he married Mary Alice Hill (of 348 Long Hill Ave. in Shelton).
In 1888, Max acquired a piece of property from his wife’s parents (it became 342 Long Hill Ave.). In 1894, he completed the building of his Queen Anne Victorian home there and raised seven children in the house.
He created the Max A. Durrschmidt Construction Co. of Derby. He built mostly public buildings (such as schools, churches and hospitals) locally all the way to Stamford. He completed the construction of Shelton’s St. Joseph Church in 1913. Max died in 1932 at age 67.
The son Albert and grandson Max
His eldest son, Albert J. Durrschmidt (born in 1889), grew up and later lived at 342 Long Hill Ave. Albert was vice president of his father's construction company and married Helen (née Driscoll), and was Shelton's assessor for 15 years (1942-1958). Albert died at his home in 1961 at age 71.
Albert's son Max Albert Durrschmidt (1923-2002) grew up at 342 Long Hill Ave., eventually married his wife Maxine, and continued living there with his mother Helen.
My wife Danièle and I bought the Durrschmidt homestead in March 1972 — two years after Helen had passed away. Years earlier, Max and Maxine had built their new home at 345 Long Hill Ave., where his sons Fred and Chris grew up.
Impact of Route 8 construction
At that point, Route 8 had been under construction a few years and the exits and bridge on Long Hill Avenue did not exist yet.
We have been restoring and updating the Durrschmidt homestead ever since, and dealt with three changes to the Long Hill Avenue intersection as well as the construction of Constitution Boulevard (Shelton's widest road with an 80-foot right-of-way). The road goes through my old garage.
Martha and Edward Hill, whose great aunt Mary Alice Hill had been married to the older Max, were our wonderful neighbors at 348 Long Hill Ave. for many years.
Preserving the park site
The Shelton Herald's second front-page story, “Park is hailed as a buffer,” tells of a group of neighbors (led by myself, my wife Danièle, Max Durrschmidt, Cheryl Patrick, and Tom Jensen) who organized and fought a number of local zone changes in the vicinity.
There were several earlier ones but in 1991, 26 acres across the street were to change from Residential-1 to Residential-4 to allow for multi-family, high-rise, and apartments that would totally change the neighborhood for the worse.
It was two years of very hard work, but we won that zone fight as the area was to be zoned Residential-3, with single-family homes only.
Gas station zoning battle
In 1994, a gas station was proposed where Constitution Park sits today. The proposal was a devastating blow to the neighborhood.
It was to include eight gas pumps, a large plaza, two stories of space with a retail convenience store and office space, parking for 30 cars, high intensity lighting, and 24/7 operation.
Again, we mobilized the neighborhood (many people were involved), with months of with months of hard work, public rallies, meetings, collecting signatures for petitions, and presentations.
We hired a firm to do a traffic study and another for a real estate impact study. Both were costly. We reached out to city aldermen and other city officials.
In the end, we won that battle and also defeated a subsequent effort to put three homes on the same lot through downzoning.
City officials get involved
We also won the respect and attention of the new Mayor Mark Lauretti administration. We knew then that the park would eventually become a reality, but it would take more years of effort.
(Letter continues below)
Click below the read the Constitution Park anniversary dedication article:
The park became a city project. The land was acquired, the area cleared, the park designed, and construction got under way.
We always had in mind installing a tall flagpole that would be visible from all the approaches. We were in the process of memorializing the five new park benches when a horrible accident occurred.
Honoring Max in the park
Max Durrschmidt was hit by a car in front of his Long Hill Avenue home and died in 2002. His sons Fred and Chris agreed to memorialize the park’s new flagpole to honor of their father.
Max was very well known in Shelton. He had many friends, and was loved by all.
This assured that the tallest flagpole in Shelton, bearing the largest United States flag, would fly from the place of honor in Constitution Park. It was dedicated in 2004, with Max’s family and friends in attendance.
So on one side of Constitution Boulevard is the historic house built by Max August Durrschmidt in 1894, and facing it in the park is a flag flying in honor of his grandson, Max Albert Durrschmidt. Very fitting — it is truly Max’s neighborhood.
Click below to learn more about St. Joseph’s Church, including its history: