John T. Bennett
By Sheila Mason Gale
John T. Bennett's family has been in Canterbury many years. His maternal Grandfather, A. Hale Bennett (born 1860) (His mother's maiden name was also Bennett), his mother Dorothy Bradford Bennett (born 1892), his paternal Grandfather, Elmer Bennett (born 1863?) and his father Arthur C. Bennett (born 1886). Both of his Grandfathers were veterinarians and his father, Arthur, was quite an entrepreneur. Arthur was a fur buyer for firms in New York. He traveled extensively and bought muskrat, mink, skunk, raccoon and gray and red fox pelts. He also decided to make railroad ties and sell them to the railroad. He had several steam engine sawmills operating in Canterbury and other locations. When local filling stations wouldn't give him a discount on gasoline, he decided to open up his own filling station next to his house--the red Colonial house just north of the Canterbury Green. After a time, he also added a soda fountain at the location.
As a boy, John worked at the soda fountain. They had 14 flavors of ice cream. They sold cones for a few cents, but they really made money on the Sundaes because they were 35 cents. They bought milk mainly from Malcolm Wibberley who had a dairy farm on Lisbon Road. He estimates they sold 3,000 gallons of ice cream per year.
The Bennetts first lived on Graff Road, but moved closer to the center of Town on Route 169. John's mother, Dorothy, was a teacher and taught school at the North Society School. John says before building the Dr. Helen Baldwin School, the graduation ceremonies for each individual school were held at the First Congregational Church on the Green.
Growing up, John spent a lot of time across the street playing with the neighbor children Sally, Lydia, Albert and Oscar Havenen. Along with the Havenens, he attended the Green School with the Davis and Hart children.
Did you know Canterbury had a baseball team? Teams were organized in the 1930's and Canterbury's team played in the vacant lot across from Manship Park. A baseball diamond was maintained and the team played other teams in the area. John Bennett used to sell candy at the games. He said you could always find brothers, John and Fred Cone wearing their baseball team uniforms.
John was a member of the 4-H and had took great care of his garden behind the filling station. He is also a lifetime member of the Grange and remembers the good times had by all at the 4th of July clambakes Fred Hicks and Grace Dawley used to put on.
John remembers that in 1929 Route 169 was paved and electricity came to Canterbury. Along with the paving, the Kitt Brook Bridge was constructed. The bridge builders simply put up tents and lived along the side of the road until the bridge was completed, they paved it and moved on.
In 1930, his Grandfather A. Hale Bennett, was Judge of Probate and his Father, Arthur, was First Selectman. His Grandfather was unhappy that Judges had to retire at 70 years of age according to state statute. Arthur said "Why don't we switch jobs?", so that's what they did and Arthur became Judge of Probate and Hale became First Selectman. Also, before World War II the two successful State Representatives and the Judge of Probate agreed to pay for an oyster stew for all Town of Canterbury residents. This was held at the Grange Hall, which was the center of Town activity.
John was interested in politics, like the rest of the family and he was the Registrar of Voters when voting was changed from paper ballots to voting machines.
While at Griswold High School, John would often go hunting with Alfred Utz. John never paid much attention to Alfred's children, Celia, Fred and Bob who sometimes tagged along on the trip. John eventually enlisted in the Service and in 1942 when he was home from the Army, Alfred drove by in his truck with a young pretty blond girl. "Who's that?" he asked. Why that's Celia he was told. "Boy she really grew up," he said. They were married several years later in 1948.
John was appointed County Sealer of Weights and Measures. This was a person who inspects gasoline pumps, cotton mill scales, grocery store scales, etc. to make sure they are accurate. After a few years he became the State inspector.
Canterbury's old records contain so much interesting information and history. What fun to search out the actual birth record of ancestors, but it is even more of a pleasure to talk with someone who is a living history book like John T. Bennett.