KIDS: Shad Museum

{State Symbols Page Header} State Symbols
  The Haddam Shad Museum
 

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Haddam Shad Museum with Brockway Scow in Foreground

Are big museums with hundreds of exhibits on hundreds of topics sometimes hard to get through, confusing and tiring? If so, then the Haddam Shad Museum is the perfect place for you to visit. This small museum, with its single focus - shad - does not have any interactive exhibits or electronic learning modules, or theater presentations, but it is filled with the rich heritage of shad fishing on the Connecticut River. You could see most of the exhibits in about twenty minutes, or you could spend hours listening to stories of shad fishing and fisherman, foggy nights on the river, boats and floats, nets and splices, danger and reward, courage and determination, fish and friends and shad.

The Haddam Shad Museum is located at 212 Saybrook Road, Higganum, CT 06441. You can call 860-267-0388 for information. The museum is open from 10 A.M to 3 P.M. Sundays between mid-April and the end of June, or by appointment throughout the year. The building is located behind the Citco gas station and across from a dentist's office. It is across the street from the Fisherman's Cove Bait and Tackle Shop. Admission is free.

My Haddam Shad Museum Visit

It was on a cold, grey, rain swept day in mid April that I found my way to the Haddam Shad Museum. I had come at the invitation of Dr. Joseph R Zaientz, Museum Director, and was eager to meet with him to discuss our proposed "Welcome the Shad" ConneCT Kids website pages. 

{Bait Shop near museum} At his direction, I had driven south on Route 9 out of Middletown, taken exit 10, Aircraft Road, turned right on Saybrook Road for about a mile, and then continued on the Middlesex Turnpike (Saybrook Road) to number 212 Saybrook Road. Sleet was spattering on the windshield as I turned left into the parking lot of the dental offices just beyond the Citco gas station. Across the road, a blue and white sign on a peach colored, three story house read "Fisherman's Cove Bait and Tackle." I looked around, but could see no building that might be the museum. Except for the small red and black tent sign in front of my car reading "Shad Museum, Open Sunday 10 A.M., Free Admission," I would have doubted that I was in the right place.                              

{Shad museum sign} Since I had left plenty of travel time to be there for our 9:30 A.M appointment, I was about 20 minutes early. I turned up the heater in the car, got out my recently downloaded collection of shad information, and thought back to the phone call I had made about two weeks ago to Dr. Zaientz.

 

A woman answered the phone at first. I was later to learn that this was one of the receptionists at the dental office where Dr. Zaientz, a retired dentist, still maintained a small office. When I was transferred to Dr. Zaientz, I introduced myself and explained briefly about the ConneCT Kids Website, the ConneCt Kids Committee, and our desire to gather material for some web pages dedicated to the shad as the new State Fish. Dr. Zaientz listened politely though I was not certain that he understood what I was looking for. He later told me that he thought that I was seeking a donation. But, since he picked up from my explanation that I wanted to talk about shad, his favorite topic, he said that he would be happy to let me visit the museum. He ended the call by letting me know that the shad had just become the State Fish.

So it was with some uncertainty that I sprinted through the now driving, icy rain from my car up to the office door. The two office receptionists smiled knowingly when I gave them my name and told them I was here to meet with Dr. Zaientz about shad. They said that he would be there momentarily and said I could have a seat in the office waiting room. In a few minutes, a slightly built man wearing a two-tone blue shirt, blue wind breaker, blue jeans, tan and green baseball cap, and carrying a black zippered pouch entered. He was somewhat out of breath, and limped heavily (the result of a motorcycle accident some years before). 

After a mutual greeting and a few awkward moments during which we talked about the weather and the driving instructions, I explained again that I was  looking for the Connecticut/shad connection, and how Connecticut children might understand the importance of this fish to their state. Dr. Zaientz suggested that we go over to the museum, so after collecting the keys from his office, we walked across the downward sloping parking lot to a small grey and white building directly behind the gas station that I had not previously noticed despite there being a rowboat in front with the words "Haddam Shad Museum" painted on it in large black letters. I was later to learn that this was a Brockway Scow, a light, stable, easily maneuvered, inexpensive boat made for shad fishing by Earl Brockway of Old Saybrook.

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Haddam Shad Museum Entrance

It was perhaps colder in the square, one room, museum than it was outside, and Dr. Zaientz plugged in a quartz heater to warm up the room. I don't believe that the temperature changed one degree, but I was soon so deep in shad lore and shad stories, that I never noticed the cold.

Dr. Zaientz's talk drifted like his beloved Brockway Scow, meandering from point to point, sometimes catching an eddy and returning briefly to a previous point, sometimes swept by the rapids of emotion and running on for awhile, sometimes lingering in a quiet backwater of remembrance, but always pursuing the elusive shad. I drifted with him while names of places and people and things rose to the surface like bits of flotsam on the river - Bill Maynard, Higganum Reach, George Bernard, Seine Nets, Gill Nets, Dan Russell, Hubie Spencer, Dorothy Goss, the Nosal Boys, Whitney Brooks, boning, setting and hauling, dams, Doc Driscoll, Haddam Reach, and many more than I could ever remember.

Unfortunately the time came when I had to leave. Dr. Zaientz kindly posed for a few pictures, and then gave me some of the printed shad materials he had in his office.    

{Dr. Joseph Zaientz}

Dr. Joseph Zaientz, Haddam Shad Museum Director

After giving my goodbyes, I got into my car for the ride home. I decided to first head south and see Spenser's Shad Shack.

{Spencer}

 

I stood before the red and white shack thinking of the people who would soon come to purchase their favorite spring delicacy - shad and shad roe. The OPEN sign in the window seemed sadly wishful as the cars behind me just hurried by on the rain covered road.

With some pictures of the shack in my camera, I again turned south until I came to the State Park. Following the long roadway in the park I came to the boat ramp. Despite the fits of rain, I got out of the car and walked down to the river's edge. After all of the river talk, it was good to stand on the shore and look out over the gray water moving swiftly by. 

{Connecticut River scene}

Back in the car, I headed north, but, perhaps hesitant to end my shad adventure, I turned into a side road that looked like it also might lead down to the river. The road twisted and turned, and then came to a point where it dipped sharply down and to the left. Ahead was a panoramic view of the river through the still leafless, dark trees. I parked the car and got out to stand looking at the scene of almost wintry bleakness before me.

{Connecticut River seen through trees}

The gray river, swollen and fast from several days of rain, seemed to press down upon the upper branches of the trees under the gray sky, flowing through them from one large gap in the branches down to the next and the next, rising above the banks like the tea in a cup you fill almost to overflowing; unchanging yet ever changing, ancient yet ever young, immovable yet ever moving, unstoppable yet ever stopping, placid yet ever turbulent,  immense and timeless yet the embodiment of time itself, deep and patient and waiting. Soon the shad would come.

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Content Last Modified on 3/28/2017 12:08:12 PM