By Elizabeth Wood
Stonington Historical Society
You may have always referred to the corners of Route 1, Flanders Road, and North Water Street as the “Shell Station” intersection, but with the recent installation of three signs, we now know that we should be calling it “Vargas Corners.”
The Historical Society was recently asked if we know anything about this and as a matter of fact, we do.
On the Connecticut State Library’s website is a page of Connecticut’s unique place names, including Vargas Corners. While some of the Stonington names on this list commemorate notable residents (perhaps a future post) like Downerville, Stillmanville, and Greenmanville, others have their origins in Native American place names like Wequetequock, Quiambaug, and Taugwonk. As you may have guessed, Vargas Corners is named for the accomplished family whose descendants still make their home there.
The appellation Vargas Corners likely happened sometime after 1874. In 1857 Francis Sylvia purchased a parcel of land adjacent to this intersection from the estate of Charles H. Smith “… commencing at the road leading to Stonington near the Grandison Chesebro House …”
The Chesebro homestead can be seen on this 1854 New London County map from the Connecticut State Library. Francis, one of the first Portuguese emigrants to settle in Stonington, had arrived from the Azores around 1840 on a whaling ship.
In 1874 the name Vargas first appears at the wedding of Francis’ daughter, Ellen Sylvia and Joseph Vargas. Sylvia and his son-in-law soon went into business together as the Sylvia & Vargas Ice Dealers. Joseph Vargas had arrived in the United States sometime around 1853, also from the Azores, although he didn’t settle down immediately in Stonington.
He rode across the country on a donkey to participate in California Gold Rush, joined the U.S. Navy, served in the Civil War, and operated a local shoe store before joining his father-in-law in the local ice business. According to Stonington Ice: The Story of Sylvia & Vargas, 1874-1947, published by the Stonington Historical Society, “Between 1875 and 1882, they bought land parcels of the Grandison Chesebrough estate which included the homestead, now known as the red barn, 12 acres of land and a pond from A. H. Rathbone and his wife.”
Many residents will remember this red barn with the sagging roof that marked the intersection long before the Shell station. The Sylvia and Vargas families owned great swathes of land that contained two ice ponds fed by Stony Brook. You can see the ponds here. Vargas pond is located just off Flanders and Sylvia’s Pond is closer to North Main Street.
In 1897 Joseph Vargas acquired the ice business after the death of his father-in-law and owned it until his death in 1916. His sons, Frank and Joseph Vargas, continued to operate the business as Vargas Bros., Ice Dealers until 1947. Many Vargas family descendants still make their home at this intersection including the Vargas, Connerton, and Connelly families. Stonington Ice is available from the Stonington Historical Society for $20 and was written by Joseph Vargas III. It is a plainspoken history that details a Stonington family and an industry that disappeared with the introduction of electric refrigeration.
The name “Vargas Corner” may not be remembered by many with the exception of Stonington’s volunteer firefighters. Ever since the days they announced by horn the location for volunteers to assemble, that intersection has been known as Vargas Corner and not the Shell station.
As seen in Stonington Patch at http://snip.ly/e5ji3