Compiled by Simon Donato
Before 1959, Amity Rd. had a very steep incline between Bradley Rd. and Brookside Farm Market. In the spring and summer of 1960, the Connecticut Highway Dept. reduced the steep pitch of the hill and widened the road to accommodate the ever increasing flow of traffic. Before that, some heavy vehicles traveling north on Amity Rd. had to use Old Amity as a bypass in order to avoid the steepest part on the approach to the crest of the hill. In addition, some heavy vehicles had to use Old Amity Rd. as they headed south toward New Haven, again due to the steepness of “Amity Hill”.
While this slope was harrowing to some drivers, it was the perfect hill for racing soapbox cars! Between 1929 and 1938 Amity Hill hosted an annual soapbox derby every July, always on a Sunday. The race started just south of Brookside Farm Market and the finish line was by the present day Willows Convalescent Complex. The course was four-tenths of a mile, the same length as Lucy Street.
Participants hail from Waterbury, Hamden, Bethany, Westville and Woodbridge according to the memories of the people I interviewed, all in the nineties. Likely, there were participants from other towns, as there were between forty and fifty entries each year. A crowd of viewers and vendors would watch the final approach to the finish line from both sides of Amity Rd. between Bradley Rd. and Landin St.
The starting point for the race was about one hundred feet south of the present day Brookside Farm Market. In 1932, Ida Amato Luciani, at age eighteen, had a small produce stand on Amity Rd. in what is now the parking lot of the present day Brookside Farm Market. She clearly recalls the excitement of “race day”. Participants would arrive early on the morning of the event and assemble at the corner of Bradley Highlands and Amity Rd., inspecting each others soapbox vehicles, which were built by their drivers (with assistance from an adult sponsor). The rules follow those set up by the annual Soapbox Derby in Akron, Ohio. Drivers were given a fifty foot push start to get them going and each entry was timed with a stop watch to determine the fastest time to the finish line. Prizes were awarded for most colorful entries, vehicle design, and fastest time. Drivers had to be no younger than ten years old, and no older than fourteen years, resulting in junior (ages 10-12) and senior (ages 13-14) competitions.
Frank Ciarleglio recalls his grandfather telling him of helping his father, Ritchie, build a soapbox for a race. It’s not certain what Ritchie’s time was, but he did go on to become the first Chief of Police from the Flats, serving from March 1954 to February 1975.