In 1926, a group of eastern Connecticut investors hoping to capitalize on the state’s new car culture, expanding highway system, and Roaring 20’s prosperity, purchased a large spring-fed wetland in Andover Connecticut. They cleared trees, cut roads, and built the 550 foot-long dam that created beautiful Andover Lake. When completed in 1928, they ran full page ads in The Hartford Courant offering cottage sites in their private summer colony, “where the restrictions will meet with your approval.”
The restrictions were explicit prohibitions against the sale of lots to Jews or Blacks.
Though the investors’ dream of an exclusive resort was thwarted by the Great Depression and World War II, by the 1950s the lake had enough cottage dwellers to form a property owners association that created its own restriction. No one – not even property owners – could use the lake without first being accepted by a two-thirds majority secret ballot of the members of ALPOA, the Andover Lake Property Owners Association.
William M. Philpot, an African-American minister from New Haven, had purchased a cottage in 1955 from a white Hartford minister, believing the purchase included the right to use the lake. He applied for membership in ALPOA, but was rejected three different times. In 1963, shortly after the Civil Rights march on Washington, Philpot, through James Tsuffis, another property owner, sought help from Governor John Dempsey to gain access to the Lake. Dempsey intervened, but ALPOA claimed that as a private group, it could restrict membership at will.
The Andover Lake question became a year long focus of media attention dividing people across the state. Although half the property owners in Andover voted to admit Philpot and the local Congregational church strongly supported him, local resistance included burning a seven foot high, five foot wide cross in James Tsuffis’s yard.
In April of 1964, Philpot, weary of waiting, announced that he and his family intended to swim in the lake that year. The prospective “Wade In” provoked a flurry of media coverage, but the swims proved uneventful.
Philpot – seeking to avoid a media frenzy – reported only after the fact that he and his family had swum at the lake on two occasions, and had been greeted by the children of his white neighbors with, “Hello Mr. Philpot.” “I was really having a ball, ” the minister said. “I felt like I belonged to this community.”
Philpot was not unaware of the significance of what he was doing. “If I failed here,” he said, “I did feel that many others will be victimized.” He also added, “We will swim again this year if we feel like it.”
The association’s response was to seek a court injunction to prevent Philpot from using the lake. The case dragged on for three years, but was decided in Philpot’s favor. The summer after the decision, the lake association changed its bylaws to allow any lake property owner to join.
Today, a close and diverse community of Andover Lake lovers all enjoy one of the state’s cleanest lakes together, thanks to one brave family’s decision to wade in the water, today in Connecticut history.
This story is taken from Walter W. Woodward’s column “From the State Historian” in the Summer 2019 issue of Connecticut Explored magazine. Subscribe at ctexplored.org. Lead Photo Credit: Ailsa Prideaux-Mooney / wheresmybackpack.com
“Andover Lake, A Lesson in Social Change,” Connecticuthistory.org
David Rhinelander, “Andover Lake: Investor’s Creation” Hartford Courant