Saturday, May 14, 2011

Water Secrets


PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL, "Smithville"

Sheldon Smith was also born in Derby, but he never got the fancy education at Yale. He never taught school or wrote poetry as did David Humphreys. Instead, after a basic education at the local schoolhouse, he apprenticed himself to a saddle and harness maker in Bridgeport and was eventually taken in as a partner. However, he had other dreams. In New York he met Anson G. Phelps an entrepreneur and former saddle maker who had been investing in copper and other minerals.

Smith went on to Newark, NJ, where he proved doubters wrong by envisioning and building a system bringing clean water to the city. What share he claimed in fostering utopian visions of society is unclear. What is clear is that he had a vision for water.

In the 1830s Sheldon Smith returned to his hometown, Derby, Connecticut, with a plan and a backer. Derby was in decline following the Revolution and in need of revitalization. Smith, who had bought the old grist mill, envisioned, "Smithville," and went to work. He and his New York City friend, Anson Phelps, laid out the streets and built housing to create what is today downtown Derby. They also built the reservoir, and channeled the Naugatuck River through a mile and a half canal system to power a considerable industrial village.

In the end the name that was chosen was not Smithville but Birmingham after the center of England's great copper and brass industry.

You can view an engraving of Birmingham, Connecticut in 1836 here. Sheldon Smith's home is the one at the top of the hill on the left.

9 comments:

Ginnie said...

This takes my breath away, Ted!

Deborah Mends said...

Ted, just wanted to mention that I very much enjoy these last two photos and especially the bios of the founding fathers. I have been reading The Black Swan (Nassim Nicholas Taleb) and have therefore been thinking about unsung heroes.

Ted Roth said...

Thanks, Ginnie and Deborah for your faithful visits. Deborah, Im not sure how my researched stories pertain to Black Swan or the ideas of Taleb. I'm not even sure how they relate to the development of the Valley. I keep feeling around the edges in the hope that from the various stories and information something will cohere.

Deborah Mends said...

Yes, I understand on rereading my note, I did my unfortunate usual thing of assuming people can hear what I'm thinking before I talk. Or write. Anyway, at the beginning of his book (where I am) he talks about how the real heroes are the ones who prevent bad things happening, but because the bad things don't happen we don't even know who they are. As I read your researched stories I am left wondering what would have happened if your guys hadn't been there to raise sheep, channel rivers or leave 5000 dollars for spiritual ends (and I am left thinking that the really story is how each grandchild actually spent the money). Keep going, this is fascinating material, and your photos are a touching trace in our today of the tale you tell of the past. Very interesting juxtaposition, a bit in the pathétique, but not really, because there IS something today that remains, whole towns, whole industries...

Tim said...

Those falls are beautiful! You caught them at a good time.

Ted Roth said...

Thanks. Yes, definitely the right time. They were running full and the sun was nicely filtered.

Ted Roth said...

Deborah,
While it would be nice to cheer on the heroes, I have no idea who they are. The families that were successful and lasting created many jobs and got very wealthy, but their enterprises also thrived by keeping wages low and working conditions dangerous. They interfered in conflicts around the world primarily for their own benefit. Sometimes that worked to everyone's benefit and often there were innocent losers who suffered greatly. All I can do is point to some facts, tell some stories, show some images and let the reader fill in the middle. Heroes? It's very hard to know.

Trotter said...

Remembers me Dunn's Falls, Jamaica...

Ted Roth said...

I'll be visiting.