PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: Minerva Street rises from the business district of Birmingham to the green on the hill above the city. There Sheldon Smith and Anson Phelps envisioned a common around which legal and spiritual transactions of the community might harmonize. They gave the land for the public green and for the Methodist, Episcopal, and Congregationalist churches, and they named the streets for their wives and daughters.
Both Smith and Phelps were self-made men, and the green was a centerpiece for and a testament to what they had accomplished in only a decade: They had built a dam across the Naugatuck river and a canal and reservoir system leading to the Housatonic River and used the waterworks to power numerous manufacturing mills and supply drinking water to the whole community.
In 1843, when St. James Episcopal Church (above) was built on the green, the village was home to numerous manufacturers including the Birmingham Company that made large mill equipment, the Phelps-Smith Brass Mill, and the all-important Howe Pin Company that turned the work of skilled metal craftsmen into the common pin. In another six years the railroad would rouse the Naugatuck Valley from its eternal slumbers. Birmingham then was busy and dreaming an urban future; today it is an intact, planned metropolis that never metamorphosed, a Pittsburgh that never happened.
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