Monday, December 21, 2015

St. John's Church

The Rep-Am newspaper recently reported that St. John's Episcopal Church, on the Green, is giving serious thought to selling their building ("St. John's Considers Move," 9 December 2015). According to the article, the church is no longer able to afford the upkeep of the building. More telling, their endowment has dwindled down from millions to only $800,000.

Side note: an endowment is the investment fund that helps pay the bills for churches and other nonprofits. Standard recommended practice is to spend no more than 4% of your annual interest, rolling the rest back into the principle, helping it keep up with inflation. It's a lot like a retirement fund, except that it has to last for centuries. Dipping into the endowment principle should be done only under special circumstances--like a much-needed building expansion or emergency repairs--and the money should be replaced through fundraising as quickly as possible.

If St. John's does decide to sell their building, it will be a significant milestone in Waterbury's history. The Episcopal Church was the second church in Waterbury, dating back to 1740. They've been on the Green since 1795.

When Waterbury was founded, everyone belonged to the Congregational Church (which was the official church of Connecticut until 1818). The Great Awakening, a widespread religious revival of the 1720s and 1730s, led to many people leaving the Congregational Church and joining the Anglican Church (Church of England). After the Revolutionary War, Anglicans in the U.S. ditched their allegiance to the King and reformed as Episcopalians.

Wednesday, November 04, 2015

Happy Blogiversary!

Today is the 10 year anniversary of this blog. So much has changed since then. During the first year or two of my blogging, a "hot" post had a dozen views--which isn't too surprising, since many of those early posts were pretty dull! But as they say, the best way to improve as a writer is to keep writing.

As some of you know, I started a new job last month. I am now Director of the Silas Bronson Library in Waterbury--absolutely a dream job. A couple of people have asked if I'll still be writing about Waterbury history, and the answer is a solid YES. Researching and writing about Waterbury history is what I do for fun in my free time. The same is true for my artwork--painting brings me peace and fulfillment.

Thank you to everyone who reads this blog. Rest assured there will be many more posts about history and cool current happenings in the coming months and years. Oh, and if you want to know what's happening at the Bronson Library, you can follow along on Facebook and Twitter. Loads of good stuff there, too! ;)

Saturday, October 31, 2015

"Mary Della"

While doing some research into Waterbury history, I stumbled onto a serialized novel from 1929, firmly set in Waterbury. Serialized novels were tremendously popular during the 1800s--most of the famous novels from that era first appeared in serial format in newspapers. The format continued into the 1900s, but eventually lost popularity. Serialized storytelling moved into radio and, eventually, television, where it continues to thrive today.

This particular serialized novel was titled "Mary Della" and was written by someone named Julie Anne Moore. There's no sign of Julie Anne Moore other than being listed as the author of this and other stories. I'm assuming Julie Anne Moore was a pen name. (I'll do some additional research later this week to see if I can find out more about her.)

"Mary Della" was serialized by The Independent Syndicate, a company based in Washington, D.C. It ran in newspapers all over the country, but not simultaneously. Some papers started running it in 1929, others in 1930. Some included photographic illustrations, others ran the installments without any illustrations.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Almost Home Wins CCF Trustee Award

Last week, on August 20, the Connecticut Community Foundation (CCF), based in Waterbury, held its first annual Trustee Award Ceremony at South Farms in Morris. They honored two organizations that embodied partnership and collaboration, core values of the Foundation. One of those two organizations was the Almost Home Summer Camp program, started this year in the WOW neighborhood.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Charlton Comics: The Tenuous Waterbury Connection

Most people are aware of Waterbury's claim to fame as home of Eastern Color Printing, the first printing company to make comic books. Lesser known is Waterbury's connection to Charlton Comics, a Derby-based company that helped launch the careers of some of the biggest names in comic books. According to anecdotes, Charlton Comics used a Waterbury printer for their first however many years, and they were co-founded by one of the defendants in Waterbury's Hayes-Leary scandal. I had assumed that Charlton was printing in Waterbury because the company's co-founder was from Waterbury (but you know what they say about assumptions...).

Yesterday, I attended a panel discussion about Charlton Comics at the Connecticut ComiCONN. While I was already aware of much of what is generally known about the company's history, the discussion got me thinking about it in new ways, and inspired me to write what I thought would be a quick blog post highlighting the Waterbury side of the Charlton story. As it turns out, I've stumbled onto a piece of history that hasn't been fully documented and is mostly misunderstood.

Charlton Comics panel at CT ComiCONN, 15 Aug 2015
Left to right: Mort Todd, Roy Thomas, Paul Kupperberg, TC Ford


In my effort to trace Waterbury's ties to Charlton Comics, I have found more questions than answers. There is a documentary about Charlton currently being made, so perhaps the film makers will uncover some of the answers. Or, perhaps, someone reading this post will share a few clues in the comments section. In the meantime, however, here's what I know.

Sunday, August 09, 2015

Dating Your Family Photos

Being able to easily identify the approximate date of an old photograph is a skill I take for granted, since I do it all the time. Yesterday, after a friend posted something on Facebook, I realized that it is not a common skill. I looked for a good guide to identifying photograph dates for my friend, but I couldn't find one I liked. So, with that said, here is a guide to figuring out when a photograph was taken (using all Waterbury and Waterbury-connected photos, of course!).


1. No photographs before the 1840s.

The photographic process was invented in France by Louis Daguerre in 1839. That first type of photograph is called a daguerreotype, after its inventor. Only one image was made, developed directly on a glass plate, which was then placed in a protective case.

Daguerreotypes had a long exposure time, meaning that people had to hold still for several minutes to avoid looking blurry. Daguerreotypes of street scenes don't show any people or animals, unless they happened to be standing still during the exposure time. People walking by were effectively invisible.

Waterbury's Scovill Manufacturing Company was the first in the U.S. to make daguerreotype plates, starting in 1842.

Daguerreotype of St. John's Church on the Green, Waterbury, circa 1847
(Collection of Mattatuck Museum)

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Brass City Comic Con 6

Naugatuck Valley Community College once again hosted Waterbury's own comic book convention, the sixth annual Brass City Comic Con, on Sunday July 26. As always, it was a great event for families and anyone wanting to meet real live comics professionals. No lines, and plenty of accomplished artists and authors happy to discuss their work.

A few of the great cosplayers at the Brass City Comic Con.

Thursday, July 02, 2015

Summer Camp Launch

Sometimes it seems like there is more energy spent on complaining about problems than on solving problems, so I'm always delighted when I see the problem solvers shine.

Erika Cooper is one of Waterbury's great problem solvers. She's a Scovill Row Homes/WOW neighborhood resident, and my neighbor, so I'm extra pleased to see how much she's accomplished in the past year. Last fall, after a series of shootings rattled the neighborhood, and after discussing fears for their children with other parents at the school bus stop, Cooper formed the Uplift A Life Parents Committee. The group led a march and rally against the violence last September.

Preparing to march through the neighborhood on September 28, 2014.

Since September, Cooper has organized regular neighborhood cleanups for the neighborhood kids, building pride and teaching them the importance of contributing to their community, that they have the power to make things better. As she said today, we have to care--if we don't care, no one else will.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

First Annual Jerk Festival at Library Park

Two of the things I love best about Waterbury are its summertime ethnic festivals and its diversity of culture and food, so I was delighted to learn that the West Indian Social Club of Greater Waterbury was launching an annual Jerk Festival. I had a busy day, but I made time to swing by the festival for lunch and take a few photos.


For those who are unfamiliar with the term, "jerk" is a spicy Caribbean dry-rub barbeque (in simplest terms).

Connecticut has the sixth largest non-Hispanic West Indian population in the U.S., with 87,149 immigrants reported in the 2010 Census.

A 2013 Census report estimates that Waterbury has 3,304 non-Hispanic immigrants from the West Indies, with 2,185 of those people coming from Jamaica.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Historic Bridges

The latest issue of Connecticut Explored magazine features an article about some of Connecticut's historic bridges, and it reminded me that Waterbury has two of the state's 45+ bridges listed on the National Register of Historic Places.


Washington Avenue Bridge

Washington Avenue bridge, as seen from South Main Street.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Hancock Brook Trail

After all the years that I've been in Waterbury, there are still so many wonderful things to be discovered. Today, when I was making a quick trip to view a historic bridge, I wound up hiking a trail that I never really knew existed. It took a lot longer than expected, but it was definitely worth doing.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

The Gathering 2015

The third great year of a great event. Thousands of people, speaking dozens of different languages, with different cultures and different life experiences, all gathering together for a festival celebrating each others music, dance, clothing, food, culture.

As before, The Gathering started with a parade down East Main Street, around the Green, up Bank Street to Grand Street, and then to Library Park. The park was set up with stages for music and dance performances, and tents for vendors selling food and other goods from all over the world.

New Zealand (Rod Dixon)

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Laura Pearsall and Lakewood Park

Laura Elizabeth Russell (1844-1913) grew up in the Bucks Hill neighborhood. She was raised by her grandparents, Joseph and Elizabeth Fairclough, immigrants from Birmingham, England. Her grandfather worked as a blacksmith, while his sons helped support the family by farming.

At some point during the 1860s, Laura Russell met Zophar Pearsall, a prominent New York City butcher with a shop at Fulton Market and a home on Second Avenue. His customers included major hotels, steamship lines, and wealthy private homes. Zophar was nearly 30 years older than Laura and divorced. He was also very wealthy. Laura and Zophar married and had two children together.

Although Zophar continued his NYC business at Fulton Market, the family maintained a home in Waterbury, next door to Laura’s grandmother. Their house was large, with room for the family, three servants, and guests.

Zophar died in 1883 after a long illness. Laura and her son, also named Zophar, continued the Fulton Market business. All went well until 1890, when Laura was named as co-respondent in a divorce suit between Sarah and Edwin Camp. Sarah Camp claimed damages against Laura for the “alienation of Mr. Camp’s affections” and additionally claimed that Edwin gave Laura over $40,000 worth of property during their affair.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Municipal Stadium Origins

During the 1890s, the Waterbury Driving Park opened on Watertown Avenue. Owned by the City, it hosted races for horses, cyclists, and runners; football games for high schools; and baseball games for city teams. 

Bridgeport Sunday Herald, 6 September 1896

Friday, April 10, 2015

Socialites of 1890

While browsing copies of the Waterbury Sunday Herald through the Connecticut State Library's Digital Collections, I came across an illustrated writeup about a ball held in January or February 1890 by the Second Regiment Connecticut National Guard, which was headquartered here in Waterbury. The ball was held at Waterbury's City Hall (not the current building; the former City Hall building which was located on the Green).

The "news" article is fascinating both for the evocative images of the event, and for the tiny glimpse it gives of Waterbury's high society women during the Gilded Age. Although the article gave little detail about the women it featured, my research has uncovered a wide range of fascinating life stories, including a glamorous actress, a diplomat's wife rescuing a man from a grizzly bear in Canada, the wife of a famous playwright, women who were active in local organizations, and women who preferred the "quiet" life of raising a family and managing a household.

Artist's depiction of the ball, Sunday Herald (9 Feb 1890)

Sunday, March 01, 2015

Warner Gardens History

One of the most unique places in Waterbury is Warner Gardens. Located at the top of Long Hill, the decaying complex of buildings seems more like something you’d find in the deep South than in Connecticut. Its history begins with a wartime housing shortage, includes a period of pride and achievement during the Civil Rights era, and is now approaching a transformative ending.

Warner Gardens. Photo by Gretchen Van Tassel, June 1945.
Collection of UC Berkeley, Bancroft Library
[Note: updated on March 8, 2015 to include Sanborn map showing all the original buildings.]

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Jacques', Annie Louise Ames, and Jean Dixon

Jacques' Theater was a legendary downtown landmark during the first half of the 20th century. Jacques' (pronounced "Jake's") opened in 1886 on the corner of Abbott and Phoenix Avenues as Jacques' Opera House. It began as a premiere theater; by the 1940s it had become a burlesque theater. The building was demolished in the 1950s.

The theater was established and managed by Eugene "Jean" Jacques (1855-1905), who was born in Plymouth but grew up in Waterbury. His father, John J. Jacques, was a physician and pharmacist who operated a drug store downstairs in their apartment building on the Green, near Exchange Place. Jean worked in his father's drug store for years before launching himself into the theater business.


Postcard view of Jacques', circa 1905


Thursday, February 05, 2015

Snow Fun

With a couple of feet of snow still on the ground, and another foot expected on Sunday and Monday, many people are feeling overwhelmed and discouraged. What if, instead of despairing, we embraced the large quantity of snow to have a snow sculpting competition? It would be a fun use of the excess snow, and could be held in one of the city parks.

Maybe that's a little ambitious for a spur of the moment idea. As they say, start small.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Winter Views Along the Naugatuck River

I returned to Waterbury from work early today, and I happened to have my camera with me, so I decided to take advantage of the last hour of daylight to take a peak at the Naugatuck River from the northern, center, and southern parts of the city.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Waterbury's Connections to Selma

Sometimes related events converge by coincidence. As Waterbury wrestles with the creation of new voting districts, guided by an outside demographer whose primary focus is adherence to the Voting Rights Act of 1965, a new movie, Selma, brings to life the conflict that forced the Voting Rights Act into being.

Brief Background

On January 2, 1965, Martin Luther King, Jr., the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), along with other groups, began a voting rights campaign in Selma, Alabama. Their goal was to focus national attention on the local government, which was illegally preventing African Americans from voting.

One of the protesters, an African American church deacon named Jimmie Lee Jackson, while protecting his mother and grandfather, was shot and killed by an Alabama state trooper in February. On March 7, activists began a march from Selma to Montgomery, but they didn't get far. State troopers set up a blockade on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, attacking the marchers with tear gas and clubs. The event received wide television coverage, sparking national outrage.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Public Response to the First Map

The public gave its response to the first draft map for Aldermen by District on Thursday, January 8. Overviews of the meeting have been reported on by the Waterbury Observer and the Rep-Am, so I'll try to stay focused on some of what they didn't cover.

Wednesday, January 07, 2015

The First Map

The latest chapter in the saga of Aldermen by District is unfolding this week. In a surprise move Monday, the city posted on their website a preliminary map showing possible boundaries for the new Aldermanic districts. Outrage and accusations of gerrymandering promptly ensued.