BRANFORD — “Chicken on the Rocks” began approximately 50 years ago as a party to celebrate the birthday of the Spring Rock neighborhood’s oldest resident, Mauby Frenett. The event was a small, intimate affair.
Now, while the main course is still fried chicken, the whole neighborhood gathers on the rocks, where Spring Rock Road meets Long Island Sound in Pine Orchard, and celebrates the end of summer. Always held on Labor Day, over the years the event has grown to include friends and family and includes up to 140 party goers.
“Historically, it’s been a simple party where people RSVP, in advance, for chicken and we put tables down at the end, people bring their own chairs and bring their own beverage and everyone brings a dessert, appetizer or salad,” says Robin Dill Dwyer.
Marge Dill and Elaine Littlehales coordinated the much-anticipated event until about 1997, when Dwyer, Marge Dill’s daughter, and Cathy Lee took over to carry on the tradition.
The rocks at the end of Spring Rock Road hold a special memory for Dwyer. While she was growing up she recalls her mother and her friends gathering on the rock on a daily basis.
“She was part of a group of four women that were known as the ‘Rock Ladies,’” she says. “They would go sit at the end of the street every afternoon and I think it probably sprang up from that.”
Even after the passing of the years, the memory of Frenett remains fresh in the organizers’ minds.
“When I was a little girl, you know how people go trick or treating, at Halloween she’d have everyone come inside her house and go around her dining room table and she’d have little, teeny tiny brownies made,” recalls 65-year-old Lee about Frenett. “She was a very, very quaint old Irish lady.”
In keeping with tradition, the gathering begins at 5 p.m. and winds down about 8 p.m.
“The atmosphere of it is very community oriented,” says Dwyer. “You really feel like people appreciate where we live and it’s a beautiful scene down there, the sound and the islands and the beach.”
Sitting in Dwyer’s yard, surrounded by summer flowers in full bloom, Dwyer and Lee talk about growing up on Spring Rock Road and how little the area has changed over the years
“We do have a really, I think, singular neighborhood because a lot of us either didn’t move away or came back,” says 61-year-old Dwyer.
“I grew up in that house,” she adds, pointing to the homestead directly in front of her home. “My parents own this and we ended up buying this from them. Cathy grew up here. I think there’s 10 of us that maybe left for a few years and then came back. Everybody’s very close and watches out for each other and takes care of each other.”