Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Back to the River: Tracking Waterbury, #2

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: Looking downstream from the rotting bridge where we just looked upstream, the river winds east then south by the old stack, cracked at the top, that belonged to American Brass. Looking between ties the river is always grinning and moving faster than I expect. Pausing there, I can begin to imagine the roar and smoke of locomotives steaming down the track and into town from five directions. Electric traction lines called “trolleys,” were adding more options for travel and we were changing even if we weren’t going anywhere.

Downstream, beyond the Bank Street bridge (shown here), down in the river are two concrete pylons marking the area where the original Naugatuck Railroad entered town in 1849, and grew to be a busy, double-tracked trunk line by 1899. And when the trains came up through Derby and Ansonia from Bridgeport and New Haven, they still stopped at Bank Street Station where Bank crossed Meadow Street, before continuing up the Valley to connections in Winsted. The old Bank Street Station is pictured and marked on the 1899 map ( in the middle of industry and congestion.

The Naugatuck Line was owned by the Consolidated. The bridge I’m standing on carried the Boston, Waterford and Erie Railroad, more recently consolidated by the Consolidated. South of town the tracks turned west and passed through Hawleyville and Danbury before connecting to the Hudson River rail corridor. In the north they went on to Bristol, New Britain, Hartford and Boston.

The 1899 map shows another line passing here as well. It comes into town from the east, loops through the South End, and joins this line at the bottom of the map. Theres still a bit of trestle and track at the corner of Washington Street and South Main. That was the route used by the Meriden, Waterbury, and Connecticut River Railroad to bring passengers to a station variously at Meadow Street near Grand Street or at West Main Street, a few blocks north.

For a long time the Connecticut River Line was the region’s only competition to the the high freight prices of the Consolidated Railroad, and they hustled to keep the line rolling. They carried freight east to the Connecticut River to send it by boat south and west to New York City. It was a strategy to break the stranglehold of the Consolidated. It was a bitter contest. They say it never really had a chance. Before the new century had come the Connecticut River Line was consolidated into the hegemony of the New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad. If it passed through New England, NYNH&H carried it.

Before the “union" station opened in 1909, Waterbury had multiple train stations: Main Street, Bank Street, Meadow Street, Dublin Street. The fire of 1902 provided opportunity. The time was right. The map of 1917 illustrates the change ( The angle has shifted, but there’s no difficulty in spotting Union Station where all lines meet. It is the largest thing on the map. Zoom in to see people arriving in their horse-drawn carriages and waiting on multiple platforms. Take a carriage ride up Grand Street past celebrated buildings that are still used today. Then follow the Naugatuck River left toward all the smoke stacks and you’ll find the Bank Street Bridge I’m standing on. If you look closely on the map you’ll see where this track must cross the river, though the area is mostly concealed by the perspective.

A bit further downstream at the spot where the pylons are is a metal bridge carrying a single spur of track through the vast new expanses of American Brass, created in a giant merger in 1899. Look again at the 1917 map and American Brass seems to have smokestacks everywhere, though not so tall as the station’s single tower.  On this day from this spot on the rotting bridge I know why the river grins, but I doubt I’ll remember it for long.

(Special thanks to Phil Benevento for information used in this series of posts. Information used in tracing these routes also came from additional online maps and Wiki)