Today marks 50 years since a global audience watched Neil Armstrong take the first human steps on the moon. Many still proclaim it as one of the highest achievements of human ingenuity. Technological advances from the Apollo program sparked innovations from everything from rockets and materials to computers and nonperishable foods. Even its timing couldn’t have been any better. With over 600 million viewers, it united people—if only for a brief moment—during one of the most turbulent eras in American history.
By the time Apollo 11 touched down in 1969, the Cold War was going full force between the United States and the Soviet Union. The U.S. was mired in the Vietnam Conflict just one year after the Tet Offensive, a long-recognized turning point in the war. Backlash from the war led to the “hippie” counterculture that was gaining steam with preparations under way for the Woodstock music festival in August 1969. Every sector of the U.S. was in flux. The civil rights movement was still reeling from the 1968 assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy. The women’s liberation movement was in the midst of an increasingly emotional abortion discussion that led to Roe v. Wade in 1973. Gays and lesbians resisted a police raid at the Stonewall Bar in New York City in 1969 that launched the gay liberation movement.
Even in Southington, the event brought a moment of unity to a town that was reeling from a decade of unprecedented growth which was putting huge demands on government, education, industry, business, and patterns of daily living.
Southington’s council-manager form of government was in its infancy (the charter was adopted on Dec. 14, 1965). The newly-formed town council was wrestling with funding issues for a new high school and library in 1969, along with plans for a new police station. The 1960s saw construction of two junior high schools, three elementary schools, and Panthorn Park. Rapid growth brought challenges and problems to the small community. As Armstrong made his first steps on the lunar surface, locals were complaining about rising bacteria counts in the swimming area at Recreation Park (formed by a dam on Misery Brook). In fact, at the time of the moon landing, the pond was just reopening after a six-day closure due to unsafe conditions. A town dump on Old Turnpike Road had closed, and a new dump on West Street opened. (Both properties would make headlines in the years that followed for pollution of land and ground water.) Pollution in the Quinnipiac River, long an annoyance, was ordered cleaned up by the state water resources commission. A water pollution plant replaced the town’s sewer beds, and 65 miles of sewers were laid in town.
But it was in this era that Katherine Jankovich won a chamber of commerce contest, coining the phrase “City of Progress” as the town’s motto. It turned out to be prophetic.
The rapid growth continued, and the population surged from 30,000 to 44,000 today (47 percent). The high school and both middle schools were expanded. The police station moved twice, and pools were built in two town parks. Those town dump sites have been cleaned up—one transformed into a ground-breaking food-to-energy plant. The water pollution plant is in the middle of another upgrade, cleaning the waters of the Quinnipiac River and Long Island Sound.
If the night sky is clear tonight, there will be only part of the moon visible, but that shouldn’t stop us from taking a moment to dream about where the next half century will bring the City of Progress. Bring it on.
To comment on this editorial or to contact Southington Observer editor John Goralski, email him at JGoralski@SouthingtonObserver.com.