The Den at Mill Pond: History of the Lions Club in New Canaan


Helen Belluschi recalls skating on Mill Pond as a young girl. And growing up on Marshall Ridge Road, she could down and skate every day at Mead Park that the activity was available.

Helen Belluschi stands in the Lions Den at Mill Pond in New Canaan.

Helen Belluschi stands in the Lions Den at Mill Pond in New Canaan.

“There was the rink in Norwalk, but for the most part you did not go to the private rinks. Where you skated was Mill or Mead or way out on Ponus… You skated every day it was available,” Belluschi recalled on a recent afternoon. “Snow plows would even get on the ice and plow it, because the ice was that thick.”

The 72 year-old treasurer for the New Canaan Lions Club stands atop the footbridge overlooking the pond on a sunny summer day. Though the pond hasn’t been approved for skating in several years, the warming station called the ‘Lions Den’ still stands as a time capsule of Belluschi’s youthful winter memories.

“Coming down here was fun, and because of the Lions Den you could have hot dogs, you could have a fire,” Bellluschi recalled. “Those were the days.”

While any pond visitor has probably encountered the Lions Den before—in fact, the structure through the years has become as recognizable a part of the Mill Pond landscape as the geese and water itself—many may not know how it got there, why it was built or why it bears its name.

Records show that the Lions Den officially opened on June 11, 1959, as a shelter and warming station for skaters, complete with two fireplaces.

“You could have a fire in there and everyone could put on their boots, skates, and so on,” Belluschi said, comparing the relatively small but necessary nature of the project to the installation of handicap accessible ramp at Waveny House.

As skating at Mill Pond dwindled for any number of reasons—perhaps from less consistently cold winters, increased water flow from the Fivemile River or more salt running into storm drains—the Lions Den became a feature of the park for visitors to relax and sit in, according to members of the service organization, established since 1917.

The Lions Club has worked in different ways through the years to give back and aid the community of New Canaan, as well as the community at large. The club has made strides in aiding and funding research towards improvements for those with visual impairments since hearing a speech from Helen Keller in 1922.

“[Keller] said, ‘Why don’t you have a trust for something that makes sense,’ she of course being blind herself,” Belluschi said.

Initiatives in this field would include fundraising for the fight against glaucoma, donating eye glasses, and supporting camps for visually impaired children among many other things. The Lions Club also works to financially aid in disasters happening around the world.

“Whenever there is a major catastrophe, whether it is the tsunami or 9/11,” Belluschi said, “we are on the ground and running because we pretty much have a club in every single one of those places and we can get financial aid to them in a minute.”

Lions Club member William Gardner points to the Lions Den as proof of diversity amongst the service club’s initiatives.

“That has nothing to do with vision,” Gardner said, “so as you can see the Lions Club was really involved in doing everything they could in the community.”

According to Gardner, the club in its heyday saw large numbers of both members and initiatives.

The Lions Den was renovated two years ago by the Eagle Scouts. Credit: RJ Scofield

The Lions Den was renovated two years ago by the Eagle Scouts. Credit: RJ Scofield

“When I grew up in the ’50s and ’60s, the Lions Club was the largest service group in New Canaan,” Gardner said. “We’re down to five or six active members at this point from the heyday of 50 or 60 active members or more—that’s a little bit of what is happening to service clubs in general.”

While Belluschi does agree the club needs to expand and that volunteerism in America is not what it used to be, both she and Gardner are highly optimistic about the future of the club.

“I don’t think [Lions Club] is going anywhere. We would love to double or triple our membership—membership is a big thing and it is something we have not addressed…we have a hard-working great group of people, but it needs to be addressed. When we go out to do a project, having triple the amount we have would be very helpful.”

While the Lions Club seeks to improve this through initiatives such as joint projects with other service clubs in town, Gardner and Belluschi find that the club’s importance and mission is still as strong as the day the Lions Den was dedicated.

“It’s good to be part of something in town, find opportunities to give back,” Gardner said. “It’s also nice to simply be involved in town projects in general.”

As she watches children collect tadpoles in the water, the Lions Den standing proudly behind them, Belluschi agrees that a main theme of the Lions Club and service clubs alike in general is finding both large and sometimes seemingly small things that will make a big difference when addressed.

“The Lions Den, at the time it was built, there was a need for it. The [board] at the corner of Farm Road and South Avenue, that was us. We do not have a big sign on it that says it was ours but it was—we put it up and paid for it. We saw the need and installed it,” Belluschi said. “Find out what the town needs, and try to get it for them.”

One thought on “The Den at Mill Pond: History of the Lions Club in New Canaan

  1. I may have missed it, but I do not think the article mentioned that the Den was built by Salvatore Iaizzi who was a well known Mason in town for many years.

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