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Dave Finnerty has long been a history buff, so when a career change created a chance to spend time helping the community, he jumped at the chance to serve on the Essex Historical Society board. (Photo by Rita Christopher/The Courier | Buy This Photo)
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Talk about a long commute! Dave Finnerty drove 250 miles from his home in Chester to his job in Weehawken, New Jersey, and back five days a week for 4 ½ years. All that changed in 2015 when he became a vice president and senior operations officer at the Guilford Savings Bank (GSB); now his commute covers 18 miles and takes 31 minutes.
Joining GSB meant doing some other joining as well.
“The bank really wants us to be involved in the community. When I was commuting, I never had a chance to do that,” he says.
GSB suggested several local organizations to which it had some ties that Dave might be interested in.
“I saw the Essex Historical Society and I like history, so that was the one for me,” he notes.
Dave now serves on the board of the society, which this month kicked off its winter lecture series highlighting the importance of a local geographical landmark, the Falls River.
For upcoming lectures, on Sunday, Jan. 21, local historian Brenda Milkofsky will talk about “Enterprise and Industry Along the Falls River”; on Sunday, Jan. 28, archaeologist and historian James Powers will discuss “Archaeology of the Williams Shipyard Complex, 1790-1845.” Powers participated in the 1991 Williams Shipyard dig alongside Dr. John (Ned) Pfeiffer, and will present their joint findings. (Pfeiffer, originally slated to present the lecture, had a schedule conflict.)
Phil Miller of the Bushy Hill Nature Center has already spoken on the Falls River Cove Estuary. The lectures, part of a year-long collaborative program between the Essex Historical Society and the Essex Land Trust, are held at Essex Meadows.
Focus on Falls River
By the late 17th century, a small dam and a grist mill run by the Williams family operated at the mouth of the Falls River. The business grew to include a saw mill and grew again into a shipbuilding works of significant size. The Osage, one of the ships built in the shipyard, was one of the 27 vessels burned by the British in their 1814 raid on Essex.
In addition to the Williams facility, the Fall River Cove was the location of several other shipyards, according to Melissa Josefiak, the director of the Essex Historical Society.
Pfeiffer says that Essex was once a more significant shipbuilding location than Mystic, and should be more important to archaeologists than the present rebuilt Mystic site.
“Mystic is a recreated 1830s sailing village. Essex is a tremendous resource because it was a real seafaring village. You can see the evolution from cottage industry to mechanized,” he explains.
“They were building ocean-going vessels; it was a lively economic situation, really an economic powerhouse, like what Mystic was,” Dave says.
Even when he had the enormous daily trip to New Jersey and back, Dave says he was never eager to leave his area.
“There’s so much beauty in Chester,” he says. “It’s a great place for kids; they can walk to town. If the bus leaves them off at Moravela’s for pizza, the owner knows them. I always know the kids are safe.”
Dave’s daughter Alexis, a student at Valley Regional High School, is a standout on the Warriors basketball team and Dave adds his son Travis, now at John Winthrop Middle School, is also an eager basketball player.
“Most of my free time is spent following the kids’ basketball and soccer,” he says.
In his own high school athletic days at Fordham Prep in the Bronx, Dave was a hockey goalie.
For all his enthusiasm about living in Chester, Dave admits he found the town by accident. A friend told him and his wife Kristina about the Pattaconk 1850 Bar and Grille and they decided to come try it. They got lost, but saw property they fell in love with and have lived in Chester since 1998.
Dave grew up in Yonkers, New York and graduated from Norwich University, a private military college in Vermont. Graduates do not have to enter the military, though Dave, now retired, served in the Marine Corps Reserves for 14 years and the Connecticut National Guard for seven.
Dave hadn’t planned to go into banking. At Norwich, he majored in elementary education, but when jobs were scare, he took what he could.
“I worked as a roofer in the middle of winter,” he recalls, and also as a bartender and a day care worker.
He later took a part-time job as a teller at a branch of People’s Bank, the beginning of his banking career.
As a military reservist, he has had two tours of active duty, serving a year each in the Philippines and in Afghanistan. In the Philippines in 2003, Dave worked with local forces on the island of Mindanao to curb activities of Abu Sayef, a jihadist group associated with international Islamic militants. As an infantryman in Afghanistan from 2009-’10, Dave, a first sergeant, was stationed in Laghman Province in the eastern part of the country. He still wears a metal bracelet with the name of one of his fellow servicemen.
“He didn’t make it back,” Dave notes.
The bracelets, he explains, first were for those missing in action and later used to memorialize service personnel who had lost their lives.
In the Marines, recruits have their heads shaved and now, even though he is retired, Dave still shaves his head. If he didn’t, he explains, there were just be some random fuzz around the edges. In any case, the shaved head has become an identity.
“People know me as the guy with the shiny, bald head,” he says.
The Falls River will again be the subject of a lecture series next year, according to Essex Historical Society President Hank McInerney.
“It [Essex] was really a whole community of entrepreneurs; it’s a great story and people don’t know much about it,” McInerney says.
“People know about the Connecticut River, but people don’t realize how important the Falls River was as Essex, Ivoryton, and Centerbrook grew,” Dave adds.
Winter Lecture Series sponsored by the Essex Historical Society and the Essex Land Trust
Brenda Milkofsky: Enterprise and Industry along the Falls River, Sunday, Jan. 21
James Powers: Archaeology of the Williams Shipyard Complex, Sunday, Jan. 28
Both lectures at 3 p.m. at Essex Meadows, 30 Bokum Road, Essex
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