Friday, June 29, 2018

Five Points Panorama

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: Get up high enough, and most towns turn into history books. From the top of Trinity Episcopal Church tower 250 years of Torrington can be read. 

Torrington is where the west and east branches of the Naugatuck River unite; from the beginning industrial Torrington was in the grip of that confluence. The waters of the West Branch flow into this picture part way up the right hand edge before disappearing under a bridge railing where  they flow under, and Main Street traffic flows through, the intersection that is now called Five Points. Follow the river emerging beyond Five Points, bending south. Beyond, electric towers follow the course of the East Branch as both branches follow the lowland toward confluence just beyond the picture frame on the right hand edge.

The first settlers cleared farms in the hills on either side of the great valley where the Naugatuck forms. The road between the two settlements enters this scene at the lower right, where the Comfort Control van heads away from the Western Hills along Water Street. To reach the eastern settlement, still known as Torringford, Comfort Control will cross Main Street and continue on East Main across the broad valley before climbing the hills to Torringford, where East Main disappears over the eastern ridge to strip malls, acres of parking and shoppers with cars.

In 1813 Frederick Wolcott, Oliver’s son, built a woolen mill on the narrow wedge of land between Water Street and the Naugatuck waters, and Torrington became known as Wolcottville. The mill was powered by the steep fall of West Branch water at what had come to be the intersection of two important turnpikes. Main Street had recently become part of the Waterbury Turnpike that followed the Naugatuck River Valley and linked its towns from Stratford and Bridgeport on the coast to Winsted and Norfolk, Massachusetts and on to Albany. Similarly, East Main Street crosses Main and becomes Litchfield Street. In 1813 it was known as the Litchfield Turnpike and linked Litchfield, Connecticut’s 4th largest town, with the Simsbury region.

Anson Phelps must have followed this road frequently. He was the founder of Phelps Dodge  and grew up in Simsbury. In the early 1830s he would be instrumental in creating Wolcottville's first brass mill, just upstream of the woolen mill, and in making Torrington part of a vast brass manufacturing region where he would sell the English metal he traded for Southern cotton.

By 1878, Turner & Seymour Mfg. would be making hooks and eyes where Frederick Wolcott had processed wool, but the town would still be called Wolcottville on the aerial panorama O.H. Bailey drew and published that year. To make his magical map Bailey imagined the town from the viewpoint of a hot-air balloon so that everyone else could imagine flight. It was a task he accomplished by laboriously walking the streets of Wolcottville and making numerous sketches. In 1889 George Norris made a new, broader aerial panorama showing new neighborhoods spreading well beyond Five Points. Norris calls the burgeoning town Torrington. On both maps we can see the old, wooden Episcopal Church and tower on Water Street. It would be replaced in 1897 on the same site by the current Gothic church and tower from which I took this picture. Did Bailey or Norris climb that original tower?

The buildings along Main Street and Water Street shown on both maps are all gone, replaced by the distinctive structures lined up in this photograph. These were built as the town prospered as a manufacturing center. The commercial center, shown here from “Conley’s Inn,” with it’s “Yankee Pedlar” sign and attic dormer at left, through the bold brickwork of “Lilley Block #3” stepping up Water St. at the right, shows Torrington putting on style during its manufacturing boom years from the end of the 19th century through WWII. 

Once there was a granite fountain for horses to drink at near the center of Five Points. It was designed by the sons of America’s greatest landscape architect, Frederick Law Olmsted. When horses were crowded out of the intersection by automobiles, the fountain was removed. Where is it now? What was its story? Visitors, both digital and pedestrian, can find it today, and learn much else, by following the excellent Walking Tour under the HISTORY tab on the web site of the Torrington Historical Society ( 

My thanks to Trinity Episcopal Church of Torrington for permission to climb the tower and make this photograph and to the staff of the Torrington Historical Society for much excellent information on their web site.

Friday, June 22, 2018

Belding Silk Mill from an Edgeworks Window, Winsted



Winsted Community Bookstore
414 Main Street, Winsted

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: Yesterday I returned here, where the spillway from Highland Lake flows beneath the Edgeworks and on to the Belding Silk mill as it meets the Mad River on its way to the Farmington. The silkmill began operating in 1875, and they say they made silk thread for WWI parachutes here and synthetic thread used in space suits astronauts wore on the moon. The Edgeworks began as the American Hoe Company before the Civil War. By 1882 it was the Edgeworks specializing in chisels, gouges, drawing knives, 

The empty Edgeworks buildings make a quiet place to take pictures and meditate on the rush of the seasons which tomorrow hurls us forward into summer. Today, even as spring rains abate, the orderly march of seasons feels more like a reckless scramble, and I hold my breath at what may be next. I take comfort in the engine howl and dust swirling over the end building of the wrecked Edgeworks as it is being restored for new life as the Little Red Barn Brewery. 

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Look Up!


“Beyond Brass Valley"

June 23, 1 PM, Winsted Community Bookstore
414 Main Street, Winsted

NOTE: This talk is part of a larger weekend program. I will be sharing Saturday with my friend, author, Virginia Shultz-Charette. She will speak at 11 AM and I will speak at 1 PM. Both of us will be offering new programs looking beyond our published books. My talk was originally developed for photographic clubs. See weekend details below.

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: “When people visit Winsted I always tell them ‘Look up.’” Those were the words of my friend Virginia Schultz-Charette at seeing a photo taken through these windows. She’s right, turrets, towers, decorative cornices, cupolas and gables parade along Main Street and dance up the steep hillsides invisible to those who hurry.

The town’s architecture is even more magical from several stories up, and the same is true in other Valley towns. I’m seeking locations for a series tentatively titled “Windows Across the Valley.” The key is that each shot must contain an interior and exterior world, as in the photo above. If you have suggestions, please help. The subject need NOT be industrial or abandoned. All suggestions, leads or contacts are appreciated and will be explored.