Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Christmases Past: 1870s - 1900s

During the 1870s, Christmas in Waterbury began to look more like it does today than it had in earlier decades (see previous post). Christmas trees were becoming a standard feature, as were wreaths and poinsettias. Merchants offered countless options for gifts, grocers sold produce from warmer climates, and holiday entertainments ranged from the spiritual to the bawdy.

Waterbury's population boomed during the late 1800s, with thousands of people moving here to work in the factories. From 1870 to 1900, Waterbury's population grew from 13,148 to 51,139. It reached 73,141 in 1910.

Waterbury's growth was directly connected to the growth of industry and transportation throughout the country. This was an era of expansion, innovation, and colonization.

The first Christmas cards in the United States were introduced in 1874 by Louis Prang & Co. The advent of chromolithographic printing made the production of colorful cards affordable for the masses.

Thomas Nast's iconic illustration of Merry Old Santa Claus, carrying an armload of toys, appeared in Harper's Weekly magazine on January 1, 1881.

Thomas Nast, Merry Old Santa Claus, 1881

Sunday, December 22, 2019

Christmases Past: 1840s - 1860s

Christmas is a time of nostalgia, with people reflecting on their happy memories from childhood, but the older history is just as interesting. Many of the traditions we associate with Christmas were adopted during the 1800s.

Washington Irving published a satirical story about St. Nicholas in 1809, writing "lo! the good St. Nicholas came riding over the tops of the trees, in that self-same wagon wherein he brings his yearly presents to children. ... And he lit his pipe by the fire, and sat himself down and smoked; and as he smoked the smoke from his pipe ascended into the air, and spread like a cloud overhead." (Washington Irving’s Works: Knickerbocker’s history of New York, 1895 edition, p. 181-182)

An illustrated poem about "Old Santeclaus" was published in New York in 1821, the first known publication to depict Santa's sleigh and reindeer.

The Children's friend. Number III. A New-Year's present, to the little ones from five to twelve, 1821
Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University / Wikimedia Commons

Saturday, October 12, 2019

Taverns, Beer, and Civil Rights

I recently purchased a Waterbury token on a whim while looking for information about a Pete’s Tavern featured in a series of articles in 1949 (more on that below). I had no way of knowing whether the Pete’s Tavern on the token was the same Pete’s Tavern in the newspaper articles, but I impulsively placed a bid on eBay and wound up being the only bidder.

Pete's Tavern Token, front and back

Now saddled with a Pete’s Tavern token, I set about researching tokens in an effort to learn when it was made, trying to see whether or not the token was connected to the Pete's Tavern I had read about in the newspaper articles from 1949.

The available material about merchant tokens was entirely unhelpful, as it was all too generalized. From what I read, my token could have been produced anytime between the 1880s and the 1940s.

Next, I tried skimming the Waterbury City Directories for Pete’s Tavern. Here’s where things started to get interesting.

Sunday, July 07, 2019

Rowhome Rehab

We've been trying to remodel our Scovill Row Home for over a year now, hitting endless obstacles from contractors who want nothing to do with us. The worst was Giordano Cabinets. The rep who came to our house took one look at the neighborhood (which is predominantly African American and Hispanic) and asked if his crew would be safe here, then gave us an estimate of $62,000 for cabinets and countertops for a 19 square foot kitchen. I can only assume that the estimate was excessively high because they don't want the job.

Sunday, May 05, 2019

The Spires of St. Anne's

As reported in the Republican-American on May 2, the iconic spires of St. Anne's Church will be removed by All Saints Parish this summer. The job will cost the parish an estimated $881,255. The plan is to remove the Vermont blue marble blocks carefully, so that they can be used to someday restore the spires if enough money can be raised. The dome of the church is also in need of repairs; parishioners have told me there is water coming in through the dome windows.

The twin spires of St. Anne in 2006

This is not the first time that stonework has fallen from the building. Major repairs were done in the 1980s and the 2000s, but the problems have continued.

I have, frankly, had trouble tracing all of the repairs done to the towers, as very little information is available, and what I can find seems contradictory in places. A newspaper article in 2004 stated that $329,000 had just been spent to repair the towers and dome, but in 2006 there was a chunk of stonework missing from the west tower. Another newspaper article, from 2006, stated that the parish had raised nearly $2 million for repairs to the building. When I curated an exhibit about Waterbury architecture in 2009, repairs to the spires and dome had just wrapped up the previous year, but in 2011, the parish was once again talking about raising money to repair the spires.

Tuesday, March 05, 2019

Waterbury and the Green Book

Thanks to the Oscar awards, the movie Green Book has been getting a lot of attention. There are plenty of good resources for learning more about the historical Green Book -- the New York Public Library has a good online resource, and there have been several short articles and videos looking into some of the Green Book locations. There is also a documentary on the Smithsonian Channel.

The Negro Motorist Green Book, 1939
Collection of The New York Public Library

Much of the focus has been on the southern states covered by the Green Book, but travel through the northern states was also potentially dangerous during the mid-20th century. Having a guide to hotels and tourist homes for African Americans in Connecticut made travel much easier and safer.

Between 1938 and 1950, the only Waterbury locations in the Green Book were in the North Square neighborhood (with the exception of an address on Bridge Street near the heavily Irish Abrigador neighborhood). Beginning in 1950, the Elton Hotel was listed in the Green Book. In 1961, the Putt Meadow Motor Court on Meriden Road was added.

Saturday, February 23, 2019

Winter is the Pits

One of Waterbury's great grassroots groups, Spirit of Waterbury, put together a winter festival at Hamilton Park this afternoon, the second in their series of Hidden Spaces, Secret Places events. The weather was more mud season than snow season, but everyone still had a good time. An estimated 1,000 people attended the event, which included a small bonfire, several pit fires, s'mores, chili, soups, hot chocolate, food trucks, and a mobile pub.

Sunday, February 03, 2019

A Brief History of Waterbury's Black Barber Shops

Black barber shops have been an important center of African American communities since the 1800s. Black barbers were among the first African American entrepreneurs to build their businesses in Waterbury. The city's first black-owned barber shop opened in 1846, catering to a primarily white clientele. During the early 1900s, Waterbury’s African American community grew large enough to support a black barber shop dedicated to that community, located in the North Square neighborhood.

Monday, January 21, 2019

Lost Cats

Over the weekend, we took in a stray female cat and we are now trying to find its owners.

If your cat or dog is missing, be sure to contact rescue shelters and look through the postings of animals for adoption, and keep looking for a few months. Don't just look at listings of "found cats," because not everyone who finds a cat and adopts it out will post there.

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Connecticut's Black Governors

Starting sometime around 1750, Connecticut’s enslaved Africans began a tradition of electing their own Governor. In later years, the newly elected black Governor would ride through the street leading a celebratory parade.

The title of Governor is specific to the New England colonies. Some accounts indicate that they were referred to as Kings “in remembrance of their Kings of Guinea,” while other accounts indicate that both a Governor and a King were elected. In African American Connecticut Explored, Katherine J. Harris wrote that Kings were elected in areas of the colony that had stronger ties to the British Crown.

The annual elections continued to be held long after slavery ended in Connecticut, continuing in the Naugatuck Valley until about 1856. I have found one reference indicating that at least one election was held in Waterbury during the 1800s. It also appears that the African American community in Waterbury was closely connected to those throughout the Naugatuck Valley south to Derby.

Nelson Weston, originally from Humphreysville in Seymour, was the second person to run a barbershop in Waterbury and the first black barber here, from 1846 until sometime in the 1850s. While he was living and working in Waterbury, he was elected as Connecticut’s black Governor, in 1850. He was one of three Weston men to serve as Connecticut's black Governor.

Saturday, November 24, 2018

Farewell to Trinity

The Trinity Episcopal Parish was formed in 1877 as an off-shoot of St. John's Episcopal Parish, in part because St. John's had grown very large. Additionally, the new Trinity parish adhered to precepts of a Catholic movement within the Episcopal/Anglican faith.

For the first six years, Trinity's parishioners worshiped in a former Universalist chapel on Grand Street. Construction of the beautiful granite Trinity Episcopal Church was completed in 1884, with the first service held there on May 18, 1884.

Trinity Episcopal Church in 1884; photo by Adt & Brothers, published in Waterbury and Her Industries

In a centennial history of Trinity Episcopal Church, it was noted that Trinity "can boast of having some of the most influential people in Waterbury's history as her parishioners. She can also claim the allegiance of three Connecticut governors, Templeton, Stearns and Lilley."

The book's preface was written by John J. McMahon, who wrote the following about the interior of Trinity:
As an outsider to the church I was deeply impressed by the interior. It is a building that, regardless of one's religious beliefs, should be seen. The architectural lines and handcrafted fixtures have a charm and majesty of their own not often seen in more modern ecclesiastical buildings. In Trinity one can feast his eyes upon a composition of unusual beauty and strength. Here, one can forget all about the hurried noises of downtown Waterbury. There is only the hushed air of a church that can match any other around in terms of elegance and character. 

Sunday, September 23, 2018

The Gathering at Library Park 2018

I'm sorry to say I did not get in as much of The Gathering this year as I wanted. By the end of watching the parade, my back was killing me. The delicious Lithuanian beer helped mask the pain, but by about 3 p.m., I was ready to collapse and headed home early.

At any rate, here are the photos from what I was able to enjoy. There's always so much going on, and so many awesome things to try to experience. The photos barely skim the surface of all that happened at The Gathering.

Welcome from Ghana

The Gathering Parade 2018

Another year, another great day at The Gathering! I wasn't feeling my best, but there was no way I was going to miss out on this event.

As before, I'm posting photos of the parade first, then I'll do a second post of the events in the park.

Police Pipes & Drums

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Trinity Episcopal Church

Last weekend, a friend drew my attention to a distressing post on the Facebook group, You Know You're From Waterbury When.... The post has since been taken down, but it showed photos of the former Trinity Episcopal Church on Prospect Street and stated that the Immaculate Conception parish was about to demolish the building. The post was followed by a flurry of responses from people who were horrified by the news. Several of the Immaculate's parishioners responded with some conflicting information. The church is owned by Immaculate Conception, which ran it as the Father McGivney Center for many years.

The former Trinity Episcopal Church, 2018

Since there were so many rumors and conflicting details, I reached out to Immaculate Conception asking for the correct information. No one has responded. Father Ford, who is in charge of the plans, has been out of the country in Portugal. Perhaps when he returns, I'll find out more details. In the meantime, here's what I know.

Saturday, August 04, 2018

The Life and Death of a Factory

Waterbury has lost another historic factory building to catastrophic fire. The building most recently known as Ansonia Copper and Brass caught fire on July 30, 2018. The dramatic fire was covered by all of the area news media.

WTNH Channel 8 coverage of the factory fire, July 31, 2018

Amazingly, the fire was contained to just one building. Sadly, it was the oldest and most beautiful building in a sprawling complex of historic factory buildings, with a rich history that made it worth preserving.