Nature's Path & Way To Go
4:45 PM EDT, September 19, 2013
The sun has finally set on Sunrise Resort.
No matter what you knew the property as -- Ted Hilton's Hideaway, Frank Davis Resort or Sunrise Resort – the next time you visit the 144-acre property tucked into the hills along the Salmon River, it will be difficult to imagine it once was a thriving summer get-away.
Islands of broken asphalt remain as do cracked, faded and overgrown tennis courts and a couple of chainlink baseball backstops with high grass growing across the former diamond. A broken model rocket ship and Astro Turf are the only things left from the mini-golf course. Empty foundations outline what once were dozens of cabins, the main office building and ballroom. The Olympic-sized pool was filled in and covered with wood chips.
As I made my final visit to the resort last week with state Rep. Melissa Ziobron, all that remained of Sunrise were three cabins nestled into the hillside with views across the Salmon River. An excavator was demolishing the rundown cabins, "Empire State" and "Mid-Hill", as splintering wood gave way to the machine's squeaking metal jaws.
"It was painful to watch, but I'm happy everything has been cleared out," said Ziobron, who once worked at the resort. As a state lawmaker she lobbied the state to remove 82 heavily vandalized and deterioring structures on the property in the Moodus section of East Haddam.
"It's amazing what nature does to a building after it has been abandoned. And it was quick. It's a bittersweet ending, but there was no other alternative," she said.
Bittersweet is the best word to describe the sunset of Sunrise. While there was potential to redevelop the site, suitors failed to come up with plan – or financing – that could get approved by the state, which purchased the land in 2008 for $2 mllion.
Now everything is gone at the resort which opened in 1916 and was expanded in the 1920s by owner Henry Engle and partner Ted Hilton. In 1965, Dot Lindvall, who had worked at the resort since 1937, bought the property with her husband, Frank Davis, and ran it until 1986, when the Johnson family took ownership.
There is great potential for the site for hiking and a launching point for canoes and kayaks. The scenic Salmon River Cove is easily accessible from the banks of Sunrise. Trails connect to the equally scenic 300-acre Machimoodus State Park. Across the river are hundreds of acres within the Silvio O. Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge to explore.
On one of my visits to the resort a few years ago, I remember a handpainted sign with a clown face promising "A world of fun." Although the resort is only in our memories now, that potential to have fun along the banks of the pristine Salmon River or the fields with beautiful views of the surrounding hills still awaits.
The DEEP will hold a public hearing on what's next for Sunrise State Park on Wednesday at 7 p.m. at Nathan Hale Ray High School, 15 School Rd. in East Haddam. Peter Marteka can be reached at 860-647-5365, at firstname.lastname@example.org or at The Courant, 200 Adams St., Manchester, CT 06040.
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