State won't name boardwalk for Doris Gagnon: Suggests kiosk instead

The boardwalk at Silver Sands State Park may not be named for the late Doris Gagnon, but in all likelihood an informational kiosk will one day reference her life at the park.

Former Alderman Greg Smith started a Facebook campaign this summer to name the boardwalk at Silver Sands State Park after Gagnon, a woman who lived at the park in a trailer and ramshackle sheds for many years before she died.

State Rep. Kim Rose contacted officials at the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP), and noted on the Facebook page that DEEP does not intend to name the boardwalk. However, she said the department had other ideas, including a plaque and a kiosk.

“I am pleased that DEEP and I have been able to work together to find a solution

to the outpouring of interest in keeping both Doris Gagnon's legacy alive as well as ensuring future generations understand the history of the state park,” Rose wrote.

In response to her inquiry about naming the boardwalk, a DEEP official told her that the Parks Division “has made it clear that they plan to tell the story of the property as part of the work. We will have some displays describing the history and some of the major individuals. However, it may not be in the form of a historic marker from the national register. It will more likely be designed as an educational kiosk.”

The kiosk may not be installed soon, but it is something the DEEP has in mind moving forward, according to Rose’s posting.

She said she thinks an educational kiosk is “a great compromise and very fitting and appropriate.”

Rose also said she asked DEEP officials to work with Milford historians when the time comes to create the kiosk.

Smith said he would still like to see the boardwalk named for Gagnon, but if that doesn’t happen he is pleased there will be historical information that references her impact on the park. He would also like to see a bench and/or plaque in honor of Gagnon, another idea that Rep. Rose suggested on the Facebook page.

“Naming the Silver Sands section of the boardwalk after Doris Gagnon is a very good option, and I remain for it,” Smith said. “But, the most important aspect of this effort is preserving the history of Milford's western shoreline redevelopment and Doris's role. To that end, an historical marker, properly placed near the site Doris occupied for many years, that focuses first on the area's history, including the redevelopment and Doris's role, would go a long way toward achieving our goal of remembering Doris at Silver Sands. That, along with State Rep. Rose's suggestion of a memorial bench, would be a nice addition to the boardwalk.”

For more than two decades, Gagnon made headlines locally and nationally, usually accompanied by a photo of her with a chicken tucked under one arm.

Her Silver Beach house had been knocked down, along with homes and neighborhoods all around her, to make way for redevelopment. While other homeowners left their property relatively quietly — many reluctantly caving to the government and eminent domain — Gagnon protested the razing of her house and her displacement until the day she died.

“Gagnon had claimed the state illegally demolished her former house near the park in 1971 and seized the land through eminent domain,” according to a 2012 article in the New Haven Register. “She refused the state’s offer of $15,000 and began living at the park without running water, a flushing toilet, phone or electricity. She demanded that the state build her a new home.”

Doris Gagnon was 77 years old when she died Sept. 19, 1994, after an ongoing battle with cancer. Within days, her sheds, chicken coops and trailers was cleared away from Silver Sands.

Smith said his Facebook page and petition to name the boardwalk for Gagnon attracted about 1,000 members in just a few days and has grown to 1,170 members in the last month.

“So many people were affected by the government's actions and the massive shift that followed,” Smith said. “ Many residents of the era feel very passionately. Doris has long been a symbol for many of those affected and a folk hero to others who admired her stand for her rights. While most do agree with her stand, you don't have to agree with Doris to admire her courage and tenacity, and her place in our history.”