Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Unwinding



PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL:  To reach the choir loft one must dance. The fluid wind of the stair offers no hint at the awkwardness of the Fandango.


Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Style Sense - Woodbury North



PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL:  I missed it initially. The First Congregational Church of Woodbury (previous TODAY’S post, 7-4-17) and the North Congregational Church of Woodbury (photographed here) are very similar in size and overall plan with similar wrap-around galleries and ceilings similarly domed between the side galleries; they are alike in form, but in style they are distinct. 

I walked north on Main Street – strolled really – from the First Congregational Church to North Congregational Church, and it took me under ten minutes. It took no longer when the two meeting houses were built nearly simultaneously between 1814 and 1818, and there is still a friendly rivalry over which building came first, but what was the need for two meeting houses in such proximity?

Petition to the General Assembly of the State of Connecticut in New Haven on the 2nd Thursday of October, A.D. 1816:
"The Petition of the subscribers, Inhabitants of the Town of Woodbury in the County of Litchfield to your Honors humbly showeth…that for forty years past unhappy dissensions have prevailed in said town respecting the location of a meeting house for the use of the located Ecclesiastical Society in said town, which is coextensive with the limits of sd town…." [The petition continues by explaining the history of the dispute.]

“Dissensions!” The petition makes clear the history of attempts to build a new meeting house. It is a dispute repeated in towns all over Connecticut as communities swelled following the Revolution. Just as growth pushed new settlers to plantations on the fringes of established communities where they established daughter churches, similar growth enlarged the membership of the mother church as well. 

By 1795 Woodbury's second meeting house was inadequate for the swelling population. New settlers opened land in the north and made it valuable, while the original settlement at the south end of town had hardly changed. In 1795 a new central location was suggested and, the 1816 petition tells us the central site was, “approved… by a large majority" of the church membership, but disapproved by two-thirds of members allowed to vote. In spite of this, the central location was quickly approved by the Court of Litchfield, but no church was subsequently built.

By 1813 there were even more settlers in the north. Some had built sawmills and gristmills along the Weekeepeenee River in the section known still as Hotchkissville, and a new application was submitted approved, and still no church was built. In 1814 the dissenting northern settlers, having raised their own money, began building their church on the twice-approved site. However, in 1816 it was still illegal in Connecticut to have two churches of the same denomination in a single town. We’re told that in order to get around this law, the congregation submitted the 1816 petition distinguishing its theology by calling itself the "Strict Congregational Society.” We’re told they wrote it inside the meeting house they still had no permission to build. 

What might we read into the Congregation’s chosen name at a time when religious awakening had gotten a second wind, and men like Lyman Beecher were taking up the old, fiery rhetoric and emotional appeal that had languished during a half century of strife with England and through the struggle to establish upon rational principles an independent nation out of thirteen squabbling colonies? Does the name “Strict Congregational Society” imply anything about how northern dissenters viewed of their neighbors, long established at the other end of town? 

And what part was played by Connecticut’s new Constitution which became the law of the state in 1818 taking the town out of the church’s business and the church out of the town’s? If nothing else, there was a new reason to move the church from the town’s green; was that change to everyone’s liking?

But mostly, what should we make of those differences of architectural style? The First Congregational Church is richly detailed with fluted square columns that carry the gallery rail, which is divided into framed panels and supports a second set of round columns topped by crisp ionic capitals that hold up the roof. The elaborately carved altar is framed by paired, fluted ionic pilasters carrying a tripartite entablature and a broad, ornately carved arch. The church is a virtuoso display of the woodcarvers craft and of Classical detailing that catches our eye and imprints human proportions on every surface of the large space. 

In contrast, North Congregational Church is simple, chaste, without hand-crafted classical references, and the meeting space is dominated by eight, round, floor to ceiling columns, like ship’s masts, that swaddle the congregation as they lead eyes upward. How much significance might we place on such differences in style? Pastor Sandy told me the eight columns were a special gift from a member of the congregation, and that they were made by Mystic, CT, ship builders and hauled up into the hills by oxen. It’s a story worthy to have been passed across two centuries.

"…{I}t is Resolved by this Assembly that the Petitioners and their Associates be… incorporated into a distinct ecclesiastical Society by the name of the Strict Congregational Society of the town of Woodbury… And whereas said society has the same limits and boundaries as said First Ecclesiastical Society.

"And the inhabitants of said Town, and those who may hereafter become inhabitants thereof, or residents therein, may elect to which of said society he, she, or they will belong agreeable to the provisions of the thirteenth section of the act entitled “An Act, for forming, ordering, and regulating Societies.” And any of the members of the respectful Societies, shall have liberty at any time hereafier within the month of March annually to leave the society to which he or she may then belong, and attach him or herself to and become a member of the other society by enrolling his or her name as aforesaid with the Clerk of the Society to which he or she may attach him or herself, and shall thereupon be exempt from being taxed for the future expenses of the Society which he or she may have so left as aforesaid."

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Special thanks to Kathy Logan, Marty and Rev. Sandy Koenig of North Congregational and  Maria Platt and Rev. Howard Mayer for assistance and permission to photograph.


North Congregational Toward Altar


First Congregational Toward Altar




Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Blossoming (A July 4th Meditation)







"Early in the spring of 1673, fifteen members of the Second Church of Stratford, Connecticut, and their families left their comfortable homes in that community to set out for “the wilderness of Pomperaug” Gothen’s History of Ancient Woodury tells the familiar story. They were to follow the Pootatook [Housatonie] River to t.he point where a large stream, the Pomperaug, flowed into it from the north and then travel up that stream a short distance to their destination; but thinking the Pomperaug too small to answer the description given them, they went on to the Shepaug. Tuming north at that point, they soon found themselves in rugged country quite different from the valley they were seeking, and they realized that they had overshot their mark. There was nothing to do but to turn back east. This they did and so reached Good Hill from which “they perceived the valley of the Pomperaug lying below in solitude and silence.” Cothren goes on to tel] 115 that at this point. Deacon john Minor fell on his knees, leading the weary but thankful little band of pilgrims in prayer, “invoking the blessing of Heaven upon their enterprise, and praying thattheir posterity might be an upright and godly people to the latest generation.”

[Retelling by Marion Kilpatrick in her history of the First Congregational Church of Woodbury]


PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: Puritan values settled Connecticut, and evolving struggles of Puritan values governed it from the meeting house of each new outpost the Congregationalists settled. The Puritans who came to America in the 1630s came in search of a place where local congregations of the elect might purify religion by freeing it of control by a remote church hierarchy. They sought to live where their church would be run by the congregants rather than the minister. Even the General Court of the Colony of Connecticut might advise local Congregations but not overrule them.

The descent of “daughter" congregations blazed a trail into wilderness Connecticut where pioneers cleared the land for cultivation, as they also built the first meeting house and school. At the outer edge of colonization the pioneers were drawn by the opportunity of new, prime land; at the inner edge they often left the mother congregation out of differences on issues of governance or doctrine. As trees were felled a culture and values evolved.

The first meetinghouse was built in Woodbury in 1681 by Puritans from Stratford. The success of the Woodbury settlement brought newcomers just as it had done in Stratford. A half century later the newcomers quest for new land would give birth to daughter churches in Southbury (1731), Bethlehem (1738), Washington (Judea, 1741) and Roxbury (1743). However, from the beginning newcomers brought questions of who was eligible to receive the rights of and membership in the purified congregation. Among the newcomers there were Anglicans, Baptists, Sinners and Scoundrels; occasional Quakers and Jews, and a few “indians” and “negroes,” and some sought the church’s sacraments and spiritual guidance. 

Who among these new immigrants would be admitted into the community of “the elect”? Stratford was settled c.1639 by Puritans from England, and it was the question of new membership that divided them. A minority faction favored something called the Halfway Covenant. It offered Baptism and membership to those who failed to convince the church members of the truth of their conversion. However, it refused them voting rights, wine, wafer or admission to the community of the elect. 

The First Church of Woodbury began life in 1670 as the Second Church of Stratford when they were unable to either resolve their differences or to share the existing meeting house. Although granted the right to build a second congregation and meeting house in Stratford, by 1672 the leaders of the minority faction were also granted "liberty to erect a plantation at Pomperoage,” establishing the First Church of Woodbury. From the earliest days of colonization the question of newcomers has divided us.
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[My thanks to Rev. Howard Mayer and to Maria Platt for allowing me to photograph inside the First Congregational Church of Woodbury and for the excellent history of the church written by Marion Kilpatrick, published by the church in 1994.]






Friday, June 30, 2017

Joseph Bellamy's Tall Pulpit




PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: When 19-year-old Joseph Bellamy headed north from the mother church in Woodbury, CT, in 1738, called to preach during “winter privileges” to the first settlers of the “North Purchase,” it was pioneer territory. Bellamy had recently completed his studies at Yale, spent a year in Northampton, MA, studying and living with Jonathan Edwards, greatest preacher/theologian of the age, and he was newly licensed to preach by the General Court of the Colony of Connecticut.

Bellamy was a towering man in a powdered wig and black robe; an imposing 300-pounder with a thundering voice. He was one of the "New Lights" of the Great Awakening, who rejected the “mechanistic views” of the Deists and their “Clockmaker God” and favored transformation from the heart, not a lifeless god of the head. It was, perhaps, the pre-dawn glow of a transformation in style that we now call Romanticism. Style is the outward form of spirit and in this, art never lies.


In 1740 George Whitfield came to America to preach a series of sermons that would awaken religious fervor and ignite the Great Awakening. He often preached in the open air and to working people. That year Joseph Bellamy had begun year-round ministry at the new North Purchase outpost, and he would not only go on to become its wealthiest and most prominent citizen and to live in its finest home, opposite his church at the head of the green, but he would give the North Purchase its name, Bethlem (later Bethlehem) and go on preaching there for a half century until his death in 1790.

During Bellamy's first two years in Bethlehem, while the awakening blazed, he traveled widely, spreading the flames in more than 450 sermon until the fervor of the First Great Awakening began to fade. However, he had gained a wide reputation which he later burnished from his home in Bethlehem with writings that include 22 books. Like Edwards, who preached we are all “sinners in the hands of an angry god,” Bellamy believed humankind to be utterly degenerate, but his preaching style became gentler, and he told a novice, “When I was young I thought it was the thunder that killed people; but when I grew older and wiser, I found it was the lightening. So I determined to do what I advise you to—thunder less, lighten more!”

In addition to preaching and writing, Bellamy opened “a school of prophets," the first theological school in America. He eventually trained at least 42 students including Jonathan Edwards Jr. who was pastor in New Haven and wrote articles advocating abolition of slavery in 1773, Aaron Burr who became Vice President and later faced charges of treason, and Timothy Dwight who would be president of Yale College, appoint the first science professor in our history, and train many ministers of the Second Great Awakening including Lyman Beecher.

Bellamy supported the national cause, and he led his congregation though the difficult years of the Revolution into a new age. The first thing one learns about the current Congregational Church of Bethlehem (built 1839) is that the pulpit is the one built for Joseph Bellamy, and that all subsequent ministers have needed a foot stool to see the congregation over it.

“LET us stop here, a few Minutes, and think, what the Consequences would be, should Righ|teousness which is the Glory of the Deity, and the very Beauty of Heaven... descend on crowned Heads, and fill the Courts of Princes, and spread down thro' every Rank, even down to the meanest Cottage, and to the poorest Beggar. What would the Consequences be? Heaven would soon begin on Earth.

"PRINCES, even the most haughty Monarchs of the Earth, who, to gratify their Pride and Ambition, do often now, in the present state of things, summon mighty Armies, spread war, devastation and ruin thro' whole Countries, would be at once turned into other men, "be Converted and become as little Children," as harmless as Doves, as meek as Lambs. Such would be their humility, their self-abhorrence, their penitence, their reverence toward the Deity and love to the human kind, that they would, speedily and with the utmost sincerity, begin to concert measures for a universal, perpetual Peace. Ambassadors for that End would be sent from, and to, every Monarch, Prince and Court — and Orders be soon dispatched to Fleets and Armies to stop the effusion of human Blood. — The thundering Cannons would cease to roar—Peace, universal Peace be soon proclaimed; for every Monarch, from the heart, would soon begin to say, to each other, "Take your right my Brother, and let me have mine, and let us live in love and peace, and seek the true happiness of our subjects, and no longer go on sacrificing thousands of precious lives, in quarrels, which honest men might settle with the utmost ease.”

Joseph Bellamy from a sermon delivered before the General Assembly of the colony of Connecticut, at Hartford, on the day of the anniversary election, May 13th, 1762.

My thanks to the Bethlehem Congregational Church for allowing me to photograph and for providing historical materials that helped in the preparation of this post.






The "ballot box" with the marbles was an essential part of many Puritan congregations who had to address issues of membership for new settlers coming to a town. After listening to the applicants story of his coming to the faith, elders might vote discreetly by dropping a marble into the small hole in the face of the box. Those receiving a black marble were blackballed thus assuring the congregation of "the elect" remained pure. Only those full members could enjoy the benefits of voting membership in the community.  




Friday, June 23, 2017

Heavenly Pipes



PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL: A revivalist spirit came to Litchfield along with its first pipe organ during the pastorate of its third minister, Daniel Huntington, between 1798 and 1809. Huntington, like Beecher who would follow him, was a student of Timothy Dwight. The organ was brought by ship from New York City to New Haven, and carried in three ox carts up over the hills to the Litchfield Green where the previous church then stood.  It was a sign of the town’s new wealth and prestige.

It was still there behind Beecher’s pulpit and must have been in the ears of Beecher’s daughter, Harriet, though unmentioned, when she wrote, 

“,,,the glory of our meeting house was its singers seat, that empyrean of those who rejoiced in the mysterious art of fa-sol-la-ing. There they sat in the gallery that lines three sides of the house, treble, counter, tenor and base, each with its appropriate leader and supporters. They were generally seated the bloom of our young people, sparkling, modest and blushing girls on one side, with their ribbons and finery, making the place as blooming and lively as a flower garden, and fiery, forward confident young men on the other.”

In 1856 Dr. Leonard Wolsey Bacon became the ninth minister of the congregation. By then the new and current church had been built, and the organ had been carted across the street and installed behind the high pulpit in the new meeting house. Bacon was “a vigorous preacher,” and “a liberal - one of the first to accept the new revolutionary theories of Darwin.” He was reputed to have been a man of strong passions who spoke his mind and made strong friends and, perhaps, too many enemies in his four years in Litchfield. 

Music was one of his passions, and the old organ must have been wheezing in his ear, as one of his first efforts was raising funds to replace it. When the new organ arrived he had both organ and choir moved from behind the pulpit to a gallery at the rear of the meeting house where he might better enjoy them, and where its invisibility may have made it more etherial. Pastor Bacon also re-tuned congregants voices to a new hymnal, and later in life he published a book of the hymns of Luther. Before he left Litchfield, he also purchased land on which to build a church horse shed so members might have their horses properly sheltered during the day-long sermons; a minister’s concerns had to be both spiritual and practical.

The current organ was installed in 1971 by the Reuter Organ Company of Lawrence, KS. The organist tells me it is a two-manual, 21 rank (21 timbres) organ with chimes, but it’s the array of pipes that makes the picture.



Thursday, June 15, 2017

From Lyman Beecher's High Pulpit



"We boast of our liberties.... But our foundations rest on the heaving sides of a burning mountain, through which, in thousands of places, the fire has burst out, and is blazing around us. If they cannot be extinguished, we are undone. Our sun is fast setting, and darkness of an endless night is closing in upon us.”
-Lyman Beecher


PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: Lyman Beecher forecast doom from a high pulpit similar to this one in a similar building just across the street on the Litchfield Green. It was the 1820s, the church had been disestablished, and the Second Great Awakening was peaking in Litchfield and elsewhere. The cause of impending peril in Beecher’s sermon was intemperance; the abstinence he preached was absolute.  

Beecher’s sermons were popular, Litchfield was a cultural center, and by the time he left Litchfield in 1826, the flock of the Church had swelled so much that they needed a new building. Lyman Beecher went to Boston where his "Six Sermons against Intemperance" were published and brought him fame, and the current church was built with a pulpit similar to and as high as Lyman Beecher’s. 

Beecher’s first three sermons describe “The Nature and Occasions of...” “The Signs of…” and finally “The Evils of Intemperance.” He concludes with three sermons of remedy. In summing up the evils Beecher blamed “an aristocracy of bad influence,” but the doom he feared was:

“The great body of the laboring classes of the community, the bones and sinews of the nation will be contaminated; and when this is accomplished the right of suffrage becomes the engine of self-destruction. For the laboring classes constitute and immense majority, and when these are perverted by intemperence, ambition needs no better implement with which to dig the grave of our liberties, and entomb our glory.”

The restored high altar which exists today is named in his honor. Throughout his life Lyman Beecher also preached against Catholics, Unitarians, and slavery, and he promoted missionary activities throughout the world. He raised a large family of important children, loved fishing and played the violin.



Friday, June 9, 2017

In the Cake



PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL: The climb to the bell of Litchfield's Congregational Church began with a tall ladder from a room above the vestibule. April led the way, I followed, and Ray went last. We squeezed sideways through an opening in the main pediment behind the portico, grabbing hold of a structural bar to pull ourselves up into a large room in the base of the tower and somewhere in front of the sanctuary dome. My backpack only fit through the opening after it was off my back. I slid it backward and Ray passed it up to me, and I decided to continue the climb with just camera and tripod. 

As we came through the opening, the Seth Thomas tower-clock mechanism was directly over us, but as I try now to figure where we were, I have to guess the clock face was higher up. The old, wooden columns and beams of the box tower were above - below - around us, but the tower had been reinforced by a framework of steel beams in a manner that left the old structure unscarred. We continued up a steep, wooden stair around the tower’s perimeter to a second aluminum ladder which slid as we climbed through a trap door above to the railed space at the top of the square tower and stood in a wedding cake homage to Christopher Wren and English style. 

As much as I was eager to see the bell, I was immediately distracted in discovering that the floor was not level, as I expected, but pitched to throw off rain, and the railing was neither as high nor as strong as I had imagined. However, I was struck by how dark the bell was and, apparently, weatherbeaten. As Ray was still climbing out of the hatch, I turned to the view from the tower, mostly tree-tops now, and began taking pictures and forgot all the questions I had wanted to ask.

April invited me to ring the bell which I did too cautiously, but it chimed once, solidly. As the picture shows, there is no headstock to set the bell swinging, no clapper to swing and strike it, no swing at all - a pivot hammer. My ears are no longer reliable, but after my moderate strike I heard a clear note; a baritone knell prolonged and bounded with an edge as crisp as the most finely focused photograph. The bell, though not original, is venerable. It was cast by Paul Revere and came from a church in Goshen that was demolished.



Saturday, June 3, 2017

Toward the High Altar, Litchfield Congregational Church




PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: From 1873 until 1930 the building treasured today as the Litchfield Congregational Church was moved away from the green to a spot on the Torrington Road where its uses and name changed with the times. It was a place of recreation where young people danced and played basketball, put on plays and, in later years, watched silent movies. The steeple was gone and a floor was built between side galleries to provide space for more functions. Imagine how fine old carpentry must have been butchered in a half-century of adaptation and patching. The building that the people of Litchfield moved back by the Green in 1929 was far from the building people remembered from the decade after the Civil War.

Richard Dana was hired to make plans and elevations based on the surviving hall and whatever might be learned from surviving drawings and good memories. An old door from one of the pews allowed Dana to conjecture the size and shape and treatment of the rest. Four of the columns supporting the gallery had to be remade to match existing originals. paint colors were carefully matched to existing samples. A steeple was constructed to match the old pictures and a search party was formed to find the old weathervane, but it was the curator of the historical society who eventually found it in the museum basement.

The greatest challenge was the reconstruction of the high pulpit. Parts of the original existed and drawings were made from memory. The carpenters who finally recreated its grandeur were instructed to use whatever parts and fragments remained from the original. The lamps on either side of the pulpit, also found in the basement of the historical society, are the originals.

Is there a difference between spirit that builds in a style because it is fresh and vibrant and expresses truths felt deeply from the shelter of belief, and spirit which seeks to revive something mourned as almost lost? 



Tuesday, May 30, 2017

View from the Steeple, Litchfield Congregational Church





PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: A friend, who takes pride in his name being, “Artie,” told me, “Style is the outer form of spirit.”  It’s a notion with which I’ve always been sympathetic, but I had never heard it put so succinctly. The Congregational Church on the green in Litchfield, CT, is often cited as one of the supreme examples of Congregational Church architecture in early America. However, few works of art have suffered as much amid the turbulent winds of taste and style. Of course, the church was important for far more than its artistic expression. It had been one of the foremost pulpits in New England; from 1810 to 1826 it was the church of Lyman Beecher whose words were spread around the world, and Lichfield was where he would raise his famous children whose words would spread the cause of abolition. 

The current church was built in 1829 when the congregation had outgrown their 1761 building. It was built in a style so prevalent, that there are five other Congregationalist churches in Connecticut of almost identical design. It reflects a spirit as balanced and ordered as the words and mechanisms of the Constitution and rooted in two thousand years of culture. It expresses divinity while being also human-scaled. It’s free of the artistic influence of an individual artist. It is the work of craftspeople and expresses the consensus of an entire community as to what a church should be. 

After the Civil War, more and more taste sought shadowy places, looming gables, fantastic asymmetries, lone towers where one might be unique. Henry Ward Beecher said, “not a single line or feature,” of the old building was beautiful. Whatever the ups and downs of the economy, the nation was feeling expansive. Rail travel and commerce had opened new possibilities, life-changing engineering innovation was everywhere, and the homely Federal Style was looking old-fashioned and quaint. 

In 1873 the revival of Gothic Style led the Litchfield congregation to abandon the church we know. They built a large Gothic church, and unceremoniously decapitated the old church and slid it down the street to make room for the new. The new church featured a corner tower and steeple with lancet windows and tracery, and over the tripartite portal of the new church was a stained-glass rose window that lit the way of churchgoers, organ sounding behind them, as they left services. 

Much of the world turned in 1912. Duchamp's nude famously descended a staircase into a world already reacting to Picasso's Damoiselle de Avigonon. The musical world was trying to make sense of Pierrot Lunaire and The Rite of Spring was a year away. Futurists were calling for global conflagration. How the sudden shift to the movements and manifestos of Modernism was echoing in Litchfield is unclear, but that year they began a movement to restore the old church and to remodel the fronts on the business block to give them a more Colonial appearance. A war intervened, and they never got that far, but local action and money did prevent the construction of a movie theater on the site where the 1782 John Collins House and Old Curiosity Shop still stand as shown in this picture.

In Bostwick’s, 1920, History of the Town of Litchfield, CT, he complains that they tore down beautiful Federalist buildings and replaced them with “the ugliest structures the eye of man has yet rested upon…. We are clearing them away now; scroll-saw decoration and pseudo-Gothic construction are going to the scrap heap.” He laments that the one beautiful building, the former Congregational Church of Litchfield, has been “tucked off in a corner, where it shelters a movie show.” 

In 1930, as the world entered into the depths of the Depression, Litchfield tore down their perfectly good 1873 Gothic church and meticulously restored to the same site the 1829 church an earlier generation had decapitated. Style is the outer form of spirit. John Ruskin claimed that of the three manuscripts a nation creates: the books of deeds, words and art, “The only trustworthy one is the last.” What do our buildings say about us?



Monday, May 22, 2017

Beaux Arts Congregationalists



PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: Even as a generation of American architects was seeking to solve the layout, structural and aesthetic issues of tall buildings, Stanford White was designing Beaux Arts temples and palaces to serve as libraries, train stations, banks, clubs, arenas, theaters, and mansions. They set the taste for the wealthiest people in the country. 

One of the treasured “City Beautiful” buildings of Naugatuck, CT, once “Rubber City,” is Stanford White’s Congregational Church on the green, designed in 1903. It was the year the Flatiron Building scraped the sky in New York City. 

What an interesting architectural juncture is represented here! It is the evolving tradition of white clapboard community meeting houses, re-imagined in White’s stylish classicism. It is lavish simplicity. If style is the outer form of spirit, what is the journey from those hill temples to this vaulted space in the valley?
  










Friday, May 19, 2017

Naugatuck Station


Slide-Talk this Sunday, May 21 @ 1 PM
sponsored by the Naugatuck Historical Society
http://www.naugatuckhistory.org/new-events/

Finding Brass Valley

A Place in Time that Has Almost Vanished




PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL: Naugatuck’s city center is one of the jewels inspired by the City Beautiful movement which promised an orderly architecture would promote the moral rectitude needed for civil society. It became popular with the Columbian Exposition of 1893, called “White City” for its gleaming, white Beaux Arts pavilions, plazas, and fountains. Designed by the greatest architects of the age, it was a model of what a city should be and a reaction to what cities were becoming in the rush to build tenements and housing for waves of new immigrant labor. 

In Naugatuck, they remember John H. Whittemore as the leading force in creating the elegant McKim, Mead & White town center. Because Naugatuck is so small, the force of the City Beautiful movement is concentrated there achieving gracious grandeur as it organizes city life, and it survives intact today.

John Whittemore was still at it up to the end of his life. In 1907, the year before he died, Whittemore commissioned Henry Bacon, who would go on to design the Lincoln Memorial, to replace the old station with something worthy that might elevate those who rode the railroad. Today it’s quaint and empty, awaiting new life as a restaurant, replaced by a platform down the track with an awning and low maintenance.



Friday, April 21, 2017

Baltic Mill




PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: Manufacturing built Connecticut. In the west half of the state it was metals and machine tools; in the east it was textiles. Authorities tell me the Baltic Mill was at one time the largest textile mill in the United States. Baltic was built as a company town, and its vitality was always tied to the fortunes of the companies that owned the water rights and the mill site on the Shetucket River.

Baltic was founded by, brothers, Amasa and William Sprague. William was a banker and leading promoter of the Hartford, Providence, and Fishkill Railroad. Amasa was an innovator and expert in textile dying and printing. They sought a site along the new railroad for a textile mill, and in 1856 they purchased land and water rights on the Shetucket River at the village known as Lord’s Bridge. Workers would live in company housing, and the town would be run for the benefit of the business.

The town and the mill thrived and was expanded by Amasa's and William’s sons, Amasa, Jr. and Byron, and by 1870 the company had a work force approaching 1400 men, women and children making cotton yarn that was shipped to the company’s weaving mill in Cranston, RI. The workers were predominantly French-Canadian, and this ethnic unity permitted factory workers to advance to positions of leadership and to establish businesses in town. However, the depression of 1873 found the company over-extended. Bankers kept operations intact until the interior of the buildings were destroyed by fire in 1887, and Baltic became nearly a ghost town. 

A residual pool of talent remained, and in the 1892 Michael Donahue opened Shetucket Worsted and employed 100 men. In 1900 Frederick Sayles bought the ruins of the old Sprague mill and associated property and rights, rebuilt the mill within the old walls, restored the workers’ housing, and opened the Baltic Mill Company which kept expanding through the 1920s and continued manufacturing textiles until 1960. 

Among the remains of old, granite and brick walls one can still make out the elaborate systems that turned river power into textiles. Nothing remains of the main building but its foundation. It’s been that way since 1997 when an accidental fire sent asbestos dust over the region and gutted everything. Since then wind, rain and ice have been consuming what’s left. 

Manufacturing buildings in the west half of the state betray the scrappy roots of their machine and metals heritage. Those in the east wear their textile pedigree like palaces. However, it’s hard to discern a palace in the remains of the Baltic Mill.