Monday, February 2, 2015

Back to the River: Tracking Waterbury, #1

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: One track is active, used by the Naugatuck Division of Metro North. On the other I watch my step on a walkway of metal grid laid across rotting ties and spaces where a tie has fallen away, and where I see river like a toothless grin. Of course, we’re always following history’s tracks, but along this track the light has suddenly shown a more distant horizon.

In 1909 Union Station opened on Meadow Street. Once you know where to look in this picture, you can see the Union Station Tower directly behind the white, tractor-trailer truck on the Mixmaster. The track makes a smooth arc and ends at the terminal at the foot of the tower. Follow the riverbank and you might almost be able to imagine a crescent of meadow beneath the boscage between track and river.

Meadow Street! It’s a name with a memory to remind us why Waterbury was called Mattatuck, the treeless place. I’ve often walked by the grave stones set into the Meadow Street wall of Library Park, where the city’s cemetery used to be, and wondered where the meadow may have been. This view suggests an answer. It’s reinforced by the 1899 illustrated Waterbury map ( You can find this bridge where the railroad crosses over Bank Street at the bottom of the map. The crescent of open space west of the rail suggests it may still have been mostly open meadow then. 

Another set of tracks, the old Naugatuck Railroad tracks run along Old Meadow Street on the map. When those tracks were laid, there was no industrial development west of Meadow Street, and citizens of old Waterbury at rest in the town cemetery still had a clear view across the treeless meadows of Mattatuck to the flowing Naugatuck waters at their edge. In time the city would rise up. Then the cemetery would be buried. Finally, the Mixmaster would cross the valley and fracture Meadow Street with its giant feet.

(Special thanks to Phil Benevento for information useful to this series  of blog posts.)