Iconic flagpole will be coming down

The Borough of Woodmont flagpole on Signal Rock has deteriorated and has to be replaced, borough officials announced this week.
"It is both ironic and sad that we announce today, Flag Day, that the historic flagpole that has stood atop Signal Rock for 125 years must be removed, and, we fervently hope, replaced,” said Edward Bonessi, Jr., warden of the Borough of Woodmont.
At a meeting on Monday, June 17, the Woodmont Board of Burgesses is expected to discuss the future of the flagpole. Bonessi expects the board will vote to take down the weakening old cedar pole and replace it with a new fiberglass one once it has the money.
The borough will ask for financial support from the community to help pay for the new 40-foot fiberglass flagpole and installation. The replacement cost should be under $10,000, Bonessi said, adding that a Gofundme campaign had raised almost $2,500 as of noon Friday.
Bonessi said the Signal Rock flagpole dates back to about 1881, when it was an 8-foot pole used to mark the oyster bed boundary in the vicinity. It was designated a “post” by the State Shellfish Commission, a landmark that served as a surveying point to mark the oyster lots nearby in Long Island Sound.
“These landmarks, such as flagpoles, church steeples, lighthouses, water tanks, etc., were called ‘signals,’ hence the name ‘Signal Rock,’” Bonessi said.
Around 1895, the Woodmont community erected the approximately 40-foot flagpole, which served the same post function. Bonessi said the late John H. Volk, life-long Woodmont resident and former director of the Connecticut Bureau of Aquaculture, once said that little was known about the origin of the flagpole, except that it was made of cedar and had a 12-inch diameter, and that it was originally about 80-feet tall and used as a mast atop a sailing ship with a yardarm and cross rigging.
The flagpole at Signal Rock in Woodmont, between Crescent Beach and Anchor Beach, is more than a landmark. It’s a tradition. Over the years, the staff and the flag that it waves have been the backdrop for wedding photographs, graduation photographs and many more milestone markers in Milford people’s lives. It graces the cover of postcards that date back to the early 1900s.
Paul Bastiaanse, a steeplejack with Valley Restoration in Torrington, has scaled the flagpole several times over the years to repaint it or make restorations for the borough. His father did it before him. But Bastiaanse said last year that it wasn’t safe to climb anymore, and he told borough officials that it was time to start looking at a plan to replace the pole.
“It’s rotting from the inside out,” Bastiaanse said last year, adding that there was wood rot in several places. The last time he climbed the pole, using ropes and a wooden support, he noticed it start to sway after he got to a certain height.
“It’s a wood pole. It’s out in Long Island Sound,” he said, explaining that it wasn’t going to last forever.
A new crack in the pole has hastened plans to remove it. A crack grew a lot since last July, Bonessi said.
There is no flag on the pole now, so there isn’t much stress on it, but Bonessi said signs will be posted to warn people away from it.
Bastiaanse last year estimated it will cost about $10,000 to replace the pole with a hinged fiberglass pole that would look much like the one there now, then purchase a new gold ball to place atop the pole, like the one that is on the current staff.
With a hinged pole, the pole is mounted to a metal plate that connects to another metal plate that would be secured to the rock. The pole could be removed for maintenance, rather than climbed, Bastiannse said last year, adding that a fiberglass pole would last 40 to 50 years, depending, of course, on whether severe storms take a toll on it.