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West Haven News
Friday, September 2, 2005

Photo journal available from Historical Society
By Erin Albren Savidge Special to the News

Carole A. Laydon McElrath, president of the West Haven Historical Society, has authored a photo journal about the city's "firsts" and "unknowns."

According to Ted Wolfe, chairman of book sales, the historical society is now accepting preorders for the new book, which is due to arrive in time for the holidays. Arcadia Publishing, based in Portsmouth, N.H., is producing and promoting the photo journal. Titled "West Haven," the book will be printed in sepia tone.

"West Haven" contains more than 200 images highlighting the city's 350-year history. The materials come from private collections of historical society archives or members. Two main contributors were Alice Butler and Ted Wolfe, Laydon McElrath noted.

When Butler was a teacher, "she discovered that there was very little about the history of West Haven for her students," said Laydon McElrath. As a result, Butler conducted research and gathered information throughout the years. The historical society president added that she was thrilled with the contributions of Wolfe, whom she described as a "walking encyclopedia." Wolfe supplied documents and pictures of his family and the Oyster River area.

According to the September 2005 West Haven Historical Society newsletter, "Unusual and often unpublished photos; maps, brochures or other ephemera take on new interest as they fill the pages with familiar-and not so familiar- names, neighborhoods, buildings or personalities."

Laydon McElrath said she tried to tell a story about West Haven from a personal perspective. "We have an incredible history," she said. "I wanted to tell some of the story that isn't commonly known and show its (the city's) growth from the 1800s."

The historical society president explained that the book features intriguing images and "talks about a lot of the uniqueness of West Haven. I think people are going to recognize people, places and events."

Laydon McElrath added that she'd like to see young people use the book as an educational resource. "It's not just for old timers," she noted.

The book was an exciting project for Laydon McElrath because she has been fascinated with old architecture and stories for years. "I learned about my family history, the homes they owned and what their relationships were to the community," she explained.

Laydon McElrath moved into West Haven in 1992, and she became involved with the Ward-Heitmann House Museum and the historical society shortly thereafter. She and her husband bought property in West Haven that was once known as the Benjamin Richards house. "He (Benjamin Richards) owned a shipyard and lumber company on Water Street," Laydon McElrath said. "We were the fourth family to own the house and brought it back to its original appearance. We sold it about four years ago."

The author and her husband, who are now Hamden residents, own a summer home in a historic Methodist campground in the northwest section of Connecticut. Laydon McElrath said, "I'm restoring that now. It has been my love and I throw myself into it totally."

"West Haven" will hopefully be one of several photo journals, said Laydon McElrath. She is still collecting pictures and welcomes the public to share historical mementos for the next project. "Once people see a value to their personal memories, they will come forth with more," the author said.

To share historical collections of West Haven for the next photo journal, call 934-5852.

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