Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Soldiers' Monument on the Green

Last week I attended a great program at the Mattatuck Museum. Dr. Matthew Warshauer, co-chair of the Connecticut Civil War Commemoration Committee and Professor of History at CCSU gave a presentation about Civil War monuments in Connecticut. Waterbury's Civil War monument is the Soldiers' Monument on the Green, erected in 1884 (although portions of the monument were not completed and installed until 1885 and 1886).



There's a lot of information available about the monument--Joseph Anderson published a book about it in 1886. I've read through the book to pull out the interpretive information for this blog post.

The sculptor was George Edwin Bissell, a veteran of the Civil War and a highly accomplished artist who lived in Waterbury for a period of time. He was working in Paris during the final planning of the design for the statue, and the bronze figures, reliefs and lamp posts were cast there in 1884.

The figure at the top of the monument represents Victory holding a laurel wreath for the Union soldiers in one hand, an olive branch for the Confederate soldiers in the other hand, and standing on a cornucopia predicting prosperity for the future.

Relief panels on the lower portion of the monument represent the Union troops charging a Confederate battery, and the battle of the Monitor and the Merrimac in 1862 (which has led some to call this the Soldiers' and Sailors' Monument).

Below Victory, facing west, is the Farmer who has taken up arms to defend the Union, stepping over a broken fence rail.




Facing north is the grizzled Veteran, laurels and palm branch at his feet, weary from the war and seated at the grave of one of his fellow soldiers.




Facing east is the Mechanic who, like the Farmer, has left his work to take up arms. Behind him is equipment used in brass rolling mills.



Originally, Bissell had proposed figures to represent the North, South, East and West regions of the country. The final design uses the Farmer and the Mechanic to represent the different walks of life from which the Union soldiers came. Bissell also originally planned to have Liberty calling the Nation to her defense, but the final design replaced Liberty with Victory.

Perhaps most significant is the vignette on the south side of the monument. At the program last week, Dr. Warshauer informed us that this is one of only two Civil War monuments in Connecticut to include a reference to the abolition of slavery (the other one is in Hartford), and it is the only one in Connecticut to use the word "Emancipation".

The vignette depicts a seated woman listening intently, her hands resting on an open book. Her feet rest on a cannon, next to which is a shackle which has been broken. The woman, as indicated by her hair ornament, represents the government of the United States. The well-dressed schoolboy to her right represents the North (Anderson wrote that this was because "children have no prejudices, and know no color-line", which is a great point--children are not naturally racist, it has to be taught to them).


The other boy represents the freed slaves, the South and African Americans in general. He is seated on a bale of cotton, holding a hoe in one hand while trying to access the book with his other hand. He is eager to learn, to share the quality education the white schoolboy receives. The vignette emphasizes the importance of education for success.

The Emancipation group as it looked in 1886, when it was published
in Joseph Anderson's History of the Soldiers' Monument.

The monument was dedicated on October 23, 1884. Originally, the ceremony was to include the illumination of the Green with a thousand Chinese lanterns, but a severe storm the day before interfered with that plan (but wouldn't that have been impressive!). The morning of the dedication, there was a last-minute, post-storm flurry of decorating. The downtown was covered in U.S. flags, flags of other countries (many Union soldiers were immigrants), and many other decorations.

Governors of several states attended, as well as numerous military dignitaries. The total number of people in attendance was estimated at somewhere between 20,000 and 30,000. A full description of the dedication, with transcripts of the speeches, is in Anderson's book.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Carnival

I finally made it to the Coleman Brothers Carnival on the last night this year. Beautiful night yesterday, perfect for a stroll outside. Coleman Brothers are based in Middletown and were established in 1916, making this their 96th year. I'm not sure how long they've been coming to Waterbury. Waterbury used to have its very own amusement park, at Lakewood Park, complete with roller coaster, back in the 1930s.



It was a lot like the carnivals at the county fairs I went to when I was a little girl living in upstate New York. In fact, pretty much all the same things were there. I guess there's a standard formula that's been working for decades.


There's the alley of booths full of really cheap-looking stuffed animals that you can try to win by shooting streams of water to inflate balloons or throwing very large basketballs into very small hoops. Most of the people attending were just strolling around and socializing, not spending too much money on games.




The carnival life is always fascinating. They live in very nice trailers, complete with satellite television and air conditioning (although we did see one very old, beat-up looking trailer alongside the nice new ones).




When I was a kid, my mom never let me ride on any roller coasters. She was terrified something horrible would happen to me. Instead, she took me on a ferris wheel. Very disappointing. More fun was the centrifuge ride, like Coleman Brothers' "Starship".




Can't forget the fun house, starting with the hall of mirrors. These are believed to have originated at Coney Island (as did so many other things). I didn't go to carnivals all that often when I was a kid, but the memories are very strong.



The Coleman Brothers Yo-Yo spins out a bit further than I remember a similar ride doing when I was a kid, but maybe I'm just remembering wrong. The one from my childhood was supposed to be some sort of futuristic flying car ride (like something from The Jetsons).


Now that I'm an adult, I can appreciate all the basic principles of physics involved in amusement rides--which is why some high schools have physics field trips to amusement parks!


And, of course, the carnival junk food--ice cream, pizza, fried dough, hamburgers, and soda.


It's funny how the carnival still gleams with a special allure. Even in this modern age of super-sized amusement parks, there's something about the carnival coming to town that triggers a little rush of excitement.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Waterbury's "House, M.D."

Dr. Lisa Sanders is an Internist and Attending Physician at Waterbury Hospital. She also works as a medical technical consultant for the t.v. show House. I'm currently reading her book, Every Patient Tells a Story: Medical Mysteries and the Art of Diagnosis. It's fascinating to see the doctors' side of things.




Dr. Sanders also writes for The New York Times (which is how the producers of House found her). She started out as a journalist, eventually entering the Yale School of Medicine at age 36, and combined the two interests for her column, called "Diagnosis". She now writes a NY Times blog called "Think Like a Doctor", in which she presents readers with aspects of real cases and invites them to offer a diagnosis (the case was previously solved by the real-life doctors involved).

She recently wrote about a case at St. Mary's Hospital in Waterbury. It's interesting reading.

In an interview for the April 2011 issue of Medical Marketing and Media, Dr. Sanders describes her practice in Waterbury as a great place for diagnostic detective work, that she has encountered exotic illnesses such as typhoid fever and dengue fever, in part because there are so many immigrants in Waterbury.

From now on, when I watch House, I will have to wonder if the case was inspired by one in Waterbury!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

WOW Community Meeting

I've been busy lately, so I'm a little behind in posting this. Apologies for the delay!

A while back, Pat Sockwell, Vice-President of the Scovill Homes Association, took it on herself to organize a community meeting at the WOW/NRZ Community Learning Center. The board members of the Scovill Homes Association helped distribute flyers to the neighborhood, and Ms. Sockwell personally invited numerous city officials, community leaders and campaigning politicians while they were all at the groundbreaking ceremony for the new school being constructed just north of our neighborhood.

The meeting was held on May 4 and was attended by many neighbors who are fed up and frustrated. Also in attendance were Mayor Jarjura (whose presence was met with amazement--nobody can remember seeing him in our neighborhood ever before), Aldermen Pernerewski, Mulcahy and Petteway, Commissioners Harvey and O'Leary, State Representative Butler, State Senator Hartley, Michael Gilmore, Lt. Scott Stevenson, Community Police Officer Andrew Abney, Police Chief Michael Gugliotti, Jimmie Griffin, Bryan Baker, Paul Vance, Joshua Angelus, Belinda Weaver, Greg Hadley, Scovill Homes Association board members, and probably a few others I'm forgetting at the moment.

Belinda Weaver started the meeting with a question about the elimination of the community police officers. Mayor Jarjura responded with a long and confusing monologue about the city's budget, said something about community officers not being cut, and then tossed in a reference to switching over to "teams of 20" officers without explaining what that meant. It was a disheartening start to the meeting. Instead of a straight answer, we got what sounded like a canned speech with lots of complex phrases and very little substance.

I had come to the meeting with a long list of topics to raise. I didn't want to hog the stage, especially since there were so many neighbors present who don't get many opportunities to be heard, so I decided I would let everyone else go first. As it turned out, my neighbors had all the same complaints as I did. I chimed in a few times, but I didn't have to talk as much as I thought I would.

The basic list of complaints is as follows (in no particular order, just as I remember them; I was too busy participating to take notes, so I'm sure I've overlooked something):

  • Politicians have been making promises to invest in our neighborhood for decades, but as soon as the election is over, they disappear and the promises evaporate.
  • The sidewalks are more dangerous than walking in the street, but despite years of being promised new sidewalks, all we've been given is a few sections of blacktop layered on top of the crumbled sidewalk. That blacktop will last three or five years at best before the sidewalk is just as bad as ever. (If you don't believe me, go look at Long Hill; the blacktop put down for sidewalk there two years ago is already an unusable disaster.)
  • We need more community policing, not less. Taking away our Community Officer is going to cause harm to our neighborhood.
  • The current blight/litter enforcement is an endless cycle of frustration. We need to come together as a community and find new ways to keep our neighborhood clean. We need the city to continue to provide us with the necessary support as we do this.
  • The city trash pickup is haphazard and messy. They leave garbage behind as litter. It is impossible to get them to pick up the paper bags of leaves and similar yard waste.

I'm writing this in a pretty detached tone. If you weren't there, take a moment to imagine a room full of angry, frustrated people venting their frustrations. There were a few times when the frustrations and outrage started to get a little out of control. It's hard not to get emotional in a situation like this.

A major topic of contention was the condition of the two abandoned buildings at the corner of Walnut and Wood Streets (and another on East Farms). The coverage of this in the Rep-Am didn't even begin to convey any sense of what really happened at the meeting. The short article says "The city plans to demolish two dilapidated buildings and has committed to fight further blight in the troubled WOW neighborhood. The plans were announced Wednesday by Mayor Michael J. Jarjura at a forum at the WOW/NRZ Community Learning Center...."

The real story of how the "plans" came about is much more colorful.

First the back story:  Read my post from February 22, 2009. That's the back story. Add to that a burned out building on East Farms Street. Three abandoned buildings, at least one of which is about to collapse on its own, two of which are likely to injure or kill someone.

When the buildings on Walnut Street were first brought up at the meeting, with a request that they be torn down before they fall on someone, Mayor Jarjura responded by telling us it costs $50,000 to tear down a building, making it very economically difficult to tear down all the buildings that need to be torn down. That caused everyone to pause while we tried to figure out how it could possibly cost $50,000 to tear down a building that doesn't have a roof or floors. A few people offered to do the job for less.

The desire to tear down the buildings was brought up again and again. Each time, Mayor Jarjura came up with a reason why it can't be done: the Mayor doesn't make the decision, only the Building Inspector can make it happen; the city couldn't do anything about it before now, because the buildings were caught up in the TaxServ debacle until recently; we should wait to see if the building sells at tax auction to someone who will fix it up (even though it's been sold and resold many times in recent years).

The neighborhood kept hammering home the immediate danger posed by the buildings, especially by the brick building on Walnut Street. The owner of the well-maintained property to the north of the building said he has heard the walls groaning, that bricks sometimes fall off, that he had to install a protective fence to minimize the damage from the building to his property. Others repeatedly stated that this is a school bus stop. Someone pointed out that the city will lose far more than $50,000 if the building falls and kills someone.

At one point the discussion was leaning towards accepting the Mayor's statement that it will be many months before the city can get around to demolishing the buildings. This led to a discussion about relocating the school bus stop to get the kids away from the Walnut Street buildings, but that is apparently a remarkably difficult thing to do, involving complex analysis and researching of which schools use that stop and which students use that stop. The process of relocating a school bus stop seems to take months.

The neighborhood was getting angrier and more frustrated. When Mayor Jarjura told us it takes months to get a building demolished, several of us, myself included, reminded him loudly that Sena's Bowling Alley was torn down and cleared out in a matter of days. At which point he said that was the Building Inspector's decision, not in his control.

Finally, after maybe twenty minutes and a tremendous amount of pressure, Mayor Jarjura declared "that building could be torn down like this!" with a snap of his fingers. To which we all replied, "Okay! Do it!"  After a minute or so of more pressure, the Mayor declared that the two buildings on Walnut Street and the building on East Farms would be torn down in 30 days or less. There were some negotiations with the owner of the well-maintained property on Walnut Street to see if he would purchase the lot after it's demolished.

That was 13 days ago. Today, on my way home from work, I saw that the East Farms building has been torn down.



There's another backhoe parked in an abandoned lot across from the Walnut Street buildings, waiting to be put to use.

 
Now we know what it takes to get adequate city services in our neighborhood. We have to corner the Mayor and harangue him for hours until he finally agrees to do one thing for us. There has to be a better way.

The article in the newspaper said only the brick building on Walnut Street is scheduled for demolition. I hope that's not true. Both of them need to come down, and we left the meeting with the understanding that both would be torn down. We'll see what happens.

The Walnut Street buildings and school bus stop a little over two years ago.


UPDATE 5/18/2011: The brick building with no roof or floors finally came down today. Saw a lot of people standing around staring and talking about it after the work crew left for the day. Now if only we could get the one next to it to come down, then replace it with off-street parking for the neighborhood. And while I'm dreaming, I'd still like to see the empty lots across the street turned into a small park with a basketball court and maybe some garden space.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Earth Day Cleanup at Scovill Homes

Started the day at the Sears parking lot, picked up gloves, plastic bags, water, and lunch tickets.




I also picked up an extra person, a volunteer from Naugatuck who came to help out.


We had a slightly better turnout this year, a few new people, but mostly the same folks who always come out to clean year round. The WOW Youth Council and our community police officer cleaned up on Ives Street.








At the end of the work--Frankie's hot dogs!

Monday, May 09, 2011

Fulton Park Greenhouse

First, some background:

The Lewis Fulton Memorial Park was donated to the City of Waterbury in the 1920s. The land was purchased by Fulton's parents in 1919. His father, William E. Fulton, was president of Waterbury Farrel Foundry and Machine Co. and lived at 150 Hillside Avenue.

Lewis Edwards Fulton died in 1917 at the age of 38. He had been the treasurer at Waterbury Farrel until 1913, when his brother took over. According to his obituary, published in the 1917-1918 Obituary Record of Yale Graduates, Lewis Fulton suffered from a debilitating illness which forced him to resign from the family business (Waterbury Farrel). From 1913 until his death in 1917, he lived with and was cared for by his parents.

I have not found any specific information about the disease Fulton suffered from--back then, it was terribly impolite to discuss something as personal and as unpleasant as a fatal illness. Today, of course, we know that fostering awareness goes a long way toward fighting diseases, and can help improve the quality of life for people suffering from health problems. What a testament, however, to the love of parents for their child, that Lewis Fulton's father paid for such a beautiful public memorial to his long-suffering son.

The park's Registration Form with the National Register of Historic Places is available online in PDF format, and the supporting images are also online in PDF format (large file, about 6 MB).

The Olmsted connection to Waterbury goes back to the 1840s. Frederick Law Olmsted, who eventually became the famous landscape architect, was a close friend of Frederick J. Kingsbury, whom he met while they were both students at Yale. Kingsbury later married into the Scovill family and became president of Scovill Manufacturing. Thanks to the connection with Kingsbury, Frederick Law Olmsted came to Waterbury in 1845 to study agriculture on the farm of Joseph Welton.


In the 20th century, Olmsted's sons took on many projects in Waterbury, including Fulton Park. They also designed Library Park with Cass Gilbert in the 1920s and numerous other parks and private properties.

The finding aid to the Olmsted Associates papers in the Library of Congress lists the "Waterbury Common" as a 1906 job. Other listed jobs and correspondence in Waterbury include William H. White (1917), Chase Companies (1919-20), Chase Park for Frederick S. Chase (1919-1921), Library Park (1919-1949), Henry L. Wade and J. S. Dye (1920), Waterbury Hospital (1920), Edward O. Goss (1920), Fulton Park (1920-24), Hayden Homestead Park for Mrs. William S. (Rose Hayden) Fulton (1920-21),  Fairmount Subdivision for Chase Companies (1920-21), North Main Street project for Chase Companies (1921), Charles H. Brown (1921), Frederick S. Chase's burial lot at Riverside Cemetery (1921-23), A. C. Swenson (1924-29), Bartow Heminway (1926-46), Church of the Immaculate Conception (1928), H.S. Coe (1928-1937), First Congregational Church (1928), Country Club Homes, Inc. for Charles Sherwood (1929), Richardson Bronson (1929-30), I. W. Day (1930-1950), Calvary Cemetery (1932-33), Bunker Hill Improvement Association (1944-45). I have no idea if all those projects were completed. In addition, Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr. designed the WWI federal housing project on Laval, Lounsbury, Welles and Madison Streets.


Now, the greenhouse:

A former and hopefully future gem of Fulton Park is the greenhouse. Just as the City Hall building was allowed to deteriorate over the years, the greenhouse has been neglected. More than neglected. It's completely abandoned.

A greenhouse like this could be a tremendous asset to the city. It could even generate revenue--many greenhouses have flower shows in the middle of winter and they are always very popular. The greenhouse could also be used to grow plants for sale to help support the care and maintenance of the park. At this point, however, the greenhouse is unusable.


Many people are upset that the city has allowed the greenhouse to fall apart, but as I am learning, this is pretty typical for how the city has operated for many years. The city infrastructure is falling apart everywhere. Sidewalks are crumbling apart, buildings are falling apart, and the city has no program in place for keeping things from falling apart.

The city is dependent upon state and federal funding for repairing things when they fall so far apart they can no longer be used. Funding has come in for the greenhouse--it has yet to be used for the greenhouse.

The state Bond Commission approved $250,000 specifically for the greenhouse in 2008, adding to $150,000 secured by State Senator Joan Hartley a few years earlier.  Going back further, in 2004 Waterbury received $350,000 from the state to renovate the greenhouse as well as finish some repairs to Hamilton Park's basketball and tennis courts, swimming pool and baseball field (Rep-Am, January 31, 2004). That's close to half a million dollars of state money that has been funneled to Waterbury for a project that has yet to happen.




William Fulton created a trust fund for Fulton Park in May 1923. Following his death in 1930, the fund was given to the city, at which point it was estimated to be worth about a quarter of a million dollars. If that fund had been well managed over the decades since then, it would be quite sizable, generating more than enough money to keep up Fulton Park. I don't know anything about what has happened to the fund since 1930, but I suspect there's not much left. Finding out what happened to it could be very interesting.

The brick house in front is a lovely building and looks like it's structurally sound and relatively easy to fix up. There is a matching brick structure at the opposite end of the greenhouse. The architectural details are refined and complex, the sort of thing you don't see in modern buildings.

The greenhouse sits on a rustic stone foundation that looks very much like the other Olmsted-designed buildings in the park. The cinder blocks on top of the foundation look like something that would make the Olmsteds scream in horror. As you can see from the photo below, there's also a doorway that's been filled in with cinder blocks.



The framework of the greenhouse is rotted out and most of the glass is broken (be careful walking next to the building, the ground is layered in broken glass hiding in the grass).



The interior looks like something from a horror movie about a haunted house.





Below is a detail showing the name of the greenhouse's manufacturer, the American Greenhouse Mfg. Co. of Chicago. They were very active around 1920, when Fulton Park was being built.


The American Greenhouse Manufacturing Co. advertisement from the September 1919 issue of House and Garden magazine, and another of their ads from the August 1919 issue of Garden and Home Builder magazine, show greenhouses very similar to the one at Fulton Park. 




This suggests that at least part of the greenhouse is original. It's not impossible for there to have been cinder blocks originally. I can't tell from the ads how the AGMCo greenhouse foundations were constructed.

The next photo shows part of an addition to the brick building in the back of the greenhouse. On the right of the image you can see the cinder block addition, possibly from the 1950s.



Here's another shot of the addition, showing its very faded NFPA Diamond hazard signage.


The Connecticut Post ran an article by Ken Dixon about the state's growing deficit on February 21, 2010, criticizing the state funding of projects like the Fulton Park greenhouse. Dixon wrote "How about the new $250,000 greenhouses at Waterbury's Fulton Park? Some of those geraniums are yours." Imagine what he might have written had he known that the figure is over $400,000 and none of it has been spent on the greenhouse.