The Day – The Pine Grove Niantic Association continues the tradition of field days

East Lyme – On Sunday, approximately 140 residents and their guests gathered on Center Street for the Pine Grove Niantic Association’s annual field day, a tradition that has continued since the private beach community was founded in 1882.

“Six years and up, last call!” announced association president Debbie Jett-Harris through a mini red megaphone.

“I had a lot of medals and a lot of bubbles too!” added Associate Vice President Lori Nickerson as 20 children raced to the start line of a run.

This, and other classic on-court competitions such as a sack race and tug of war captivated the youngsters. Throughout the grounds, children of all ages rode ponies, took turns riding down a waterslide, jumping on a bouncy house, doing arts and crafts in a pop-up tent, watching visiting kids and met Gilbert the Party Pig, a 2.5-year-old, 120-pound, socialized Domestic Pig from Glastonbury.

“They started with a budget of $300. They rely on the locals. It’s an amazing team,” said Pine Grove resident David Bristol of the group of PGNA board members who collected donations from residents and organized the field day. The group also organizes an annual picnic, a children’s fishing tournament, a s’mores party and an Easter egg hunt.

Bristol has been spending time in Pine Grove for 40 years, before buying a house as a year-round resident 25 years ago. He said that in the 1980s about half the community were summer residents. Today, he estimates that more than 90% of the people in the community live there year-round.

“There’s not a kid who’s been to Pine Grove who doesn’t want to be here forever,” Bristol added, fondly remembering he was only 4 when he was allowed to leave. roam the area unsupervised, but later admitted that modern society would now frown on such a practice.

The center green offers a baseball field, a fenced-in playground, a basketball court with pickleball lines, and a volleyball court; the rest is open grass for frolicking. Kids ride bikes around the neighborhood, winding around conveniently located homes all summer long, like they’re at camp. There are two private beaches: South Beach and Laurel Street Beach which has a swimming dock and swimming raft.

Spiritist History: The City of Tents

The 155-home private Pine Grove community sits on a peninsula just north of Camp Nett at Niantic Army National Guard Base, on the edge of Niantic Bay. The PGNA, which was established in 1972, is a special tax district that manages the operations and maintenance of the residential area.

The community dates back to 1882 when the Connecticut Spiritualist Camp Meeting Association purchased 40 acres on the peninsula and developed it as a spiritualist retreat. According to the Pine Grove Spiritualist Camp, which continues to hold services in the original temple on the grounds, Spiritualism is a religion, philosophy, and science that believes in communication between the living and the dead. At the pavilion, an outdoor gathering space similar to a gazebo, mediums and spiritualists communicate messages between the two worlds.

At first they lived in tents. Eventually people added floors and walls and extended their homes inside their tents. Over time, summer cottages have been transformed into more sustainable modern homes that offer central heating and air conditioning. Although many Spiritists have moved away, it is still common for someone to first receive approval from three Spiritists who lived in the community so that they can purchase property.

Connections and Memories of Cherished Ancestors

For Joanne Babich, 70, it was important to keep her house, which she bought in 2004 from her father-in-law, in her late husband’s family. Her husband, who died in 2000, was a descendant of Captain Callender, who sailed from Britain and eventually settled there with his family. She remembers the old-fashioned rope and pulley windows, the original kerosene stove she had to remove, and the used wall panels on the patio floor she replaced when she renovated the porch. She was sure to restore an outdoor bench that was originally carved by the family.

“I tried to keep him in shape. It just has a feeling of something special,” Babich said of the improvements she has made to the home. She said her son often said he felt his father’s spirit there.

Susie Whitney, who had three grandchildren visiting for the weekend, learned to ride a bike and swim in Pine Grove as a youngster. She spent summers there for more than 60 years.

“I wanted to see what the shoreline looked like in the winter,” she said, deciding to permanently move from the Greater Hartford area once she retired.

Gerry Powers, 68, and Mickey Powers, 70, are two of eight brothers who grew up in Pine Grove. Their family members own four of the first five houses at the entrance to the community. They recalled that the community had its own grocery store, a small deli and an ice cream parlor with counter service, a pinball machine and a jukebox.

They have the original archived documents that list their mother Rita Powers’ 50 meter ribbons and medals.

“They were the most prized possessions,” said Gerry Powers, adding that unlike today where all the kids get medals, they could only earn first, second or third place on the day on the land when they were children.

Others appreciate the easy access to ecologically and ecologically healthy nature on the ground. The area is known to have a rich presence of eelgrass grass, which invites scallops. Each season, Stacie Seuferling, the community’s osprey expert, monitors the season’s osprey family that remain in community-built standing nests in South Beach; she names each one, tracks their activities and documents them through photography for the residents.

East Lyme officials and the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection have helped address erosion issues at Pine Grove in the past, while banning the use of Roundup weed killer and not mowing to help maintain the natural resources of the area.

“Things are moving below. Every house here is twisted. We laugh about it,” Jett-Harris said, explaining that the surface below is permeable due to the sandy terrain.

She said their slogan “Pine Grove Proud” was heartfelt for all residents as they continued the tradition of spiritualists to help those in need inside or outside of their community.

“Our houses are on top of each other. But we have an extremely strong sense of community,” Jett-Harris said. “This site is very simple; nothing fancy but pure perfection.

Denise W. Whigham