Sunday, July 17, 2022

History in a Jug

A few years ago, I purchased a Waterbury whiskey jug at a local auction. The jug was originally used by The T. H. Hayes Company, a Waterbury business from over a century ago. Hayes is a familiar name to anyone who knows their Waterbury history -- T. Frank Hayes was the Mayor of Waterbury and Lt. Governor of Connecticut until he was convicted of conspiracy, corruption, fraud, and stealing more than a million dollars from the city. His father was Thomas Hogan Hayes, founder of The T. H. Hayes Company.

Sunday, April 10, 2022

Historic Building to be Demolished

Four years ago, the City of Waterbury adopted a Demolition Delay Ordinance designed to help prevent the destruction of historic buildings in the city. The first test of the ordinance arrived last month, when the owner of 30 Central Avenue, Building 2 (formerly 38-40 Central Avenue) filed paperwork to demolish the building. The owner's only stated goal is to make space for the church next door.

The house is a contributing building to the Hillside Historic District, which is on the National Register of Historic Places.  

A petition to save the building has been started on

30 Central Ave, Building 2 (38-40 Central Avenue)

Monday, November 15, 2021

Chauncey Judd, or The Dayton Robbery of 1780

The story of Chauncey Judd is one of the core histories of the Naugatuck Valley, from Waterbury down to Derby, a patriotic tale of a young man kidnapped by Tories during the Revolutionary War. The story is retold from time to time in local newspapers and by various historical societies, although the facts of the story are sometimes muddled. The retellings are generally based on a novel by Israel P. Warren published nearly a century after the events took place. Although Warren’s novel was rooted in fact, he distorted and embellished historical information in order to create a compelling narrative. I have been unable to find any source that separates the book’s facts from fiction, so I spent a little time digging into the historical documents to get a better understanding of what really happened in 1780. Here’s what I found.


Wednesday, September 08, 2021

Queen Anne's War and the Scott Family

The story of the Scott family during the early 1700s has been told many times over the centuries as a tale of abduction, torture, death, and “savages,” a tale of life on the frontier for “heroic, rugged and long-suffering pioneers” who settled Waterbury and Watertown. Thanks to the magic of the internet and archivists who have worked to digitize historical documents, a more thorough and balanced account of story can now be told.

Essential to the story is Queen Anne’s War and colonial Connecticut’s interactions with neighboring colonies and with New France. This historical period doesn’t get as much attention as it should, so I have included a fair amount of detail to help explain the context of the Scott family story.

Depiction of a colonial farm being cleared
This engraving appears on numerous commercial websites, but none of them give the original source.

Traditional Telling of the Story

A very short summary of the Scott family story is this: sometime around 1709, Joseph Scott was abducted, tortured, and murdered by Indians. His body was found by his neighbors on a hillside not far from the Naugatuck River, somewhere near what we now call the Leatherman’s Cave. Scott was buried where he was found, the grave covered in rocks. A year or two later, Joseph’s brother Jonathan Scott was picnicking under a tree with two of his sons when they were captured by Indians. Jonathan’s right thumb was cut off to prevent him from resisting. The three Scotts were taken to Canada. Eventually, Jonathan Scott and one of his sons returned to Waterbury; the other son remained in Canada with the Indians, despite Jonathan’s efforts to free him. Jonathan Scott’s wife, Hannah Hawks Scott, had previously lost most of her family during the 1704 Indian raid on Deerfield, Massachusetts, leading one historian to dub her “the most afflicted woman in New England.” (Anderson, ed., The Town and City of Waterbury, Vol. 1: 257)

Sunday, September 05, 2021

The Weston House

Tucked away in the middle of a large block on West Side Hill is a house built in the middle of the 19th century for Catharine Weston and her family. The early history of the house's ownership is one of female empowerment and of Black entrepreneurship.

1048 West Main Street (1050 West Main can be seen behind to the left)

Architectural Style

The house was built using wood frame construction in a simplified version of the Greek Revival style. It is a common house style that can be seen throughout western Connecticut. The house is relatively small and modest, designed as a cozy private home rather than a showy display of wealth. The siding would originally have been wood clapboards (it now has asphalt siding).

Sunday, May 09, 2021

Gold Fever

Gold! Gold! Gold! The California Gold Rush is legendary. Thousands of people flocked west to mine for gold following the 1848 news that there was gold in abundance. Waterbury was not immune to the "gold fever." An unknown number of people from Waterbury rushed out west following the discovery of gold in California, hoping to get rich quick. Very few had any success. Some lost their lives.

Currier & Ives, Gold Mining in California, c. 1871
Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division

Tuesday, February 02, 2021

Public Schools, 1674-1868

There’s been some ongoing debate about forgiving students loans and making college free, which piqued my interest in the history of public education. We often assume that what we have now is what has always existed, but of course that’s not true. When Waterbury’s first public high school opened in 1851, it wasn’t free. In fact, legislation protecting the right of all children to attend any public school in Connecticut regardless of income or race didn’t exist until 1868. Earlier laws in Connecticut attempted to guarantee that children who had jobs would still get a basic education, but those laws weren’t always enforced.

Waterbury's first High School
From Richard Clark's Map of Waterbury, 1852

Nineteenth-century advocates for free education argued that it was in everyone's interest to ensure that all children could get the best education possible, that no one should be deprived of fulfilling their potential. Thanks to their advocacy, education is free through 12th grade.

Sunday, January 10, 2021

Carmine Capobianco

Waterbury lost one of its greats this weekend. Carmine Capobianco lived his live to its fullest and left behind creative work that will help future historians understand Waterbury in 20th century. I consider myself very fortunate to have known him. He was a genuinely kind, warm-hearted person with a sense of humor that made the world a little brighter.

Carmine Capobianco
Photo from his Facebook page


Saturday, October 31, 2020


Advertisement, Middlesex Gazette, 12 March 1791, p. 3


 We’ve almost forgotten about it, but for thousands of years, smallpox was a constant threat, a terrifying disease which could cause massive scarring, blindness, and death. It was fatal in about 3 out of every 10 cases. Thanks to an international campaign coordinated by the World Health Organization, smallpox was eradicated in 1979, the first disease ever to be wiped out by human effort.

Saturday, August 22, 2020

Early Jewelers

From the 1670s through the 1830s, Waterbury was primarily a farming community. During the 1840s, Waterbury's industrial entrepreneurs and financial speculators helped transform the rural farm town into a bustling center of commercial activity. A growing middle class and increasing wealth of the upper class helped support the expansion of retail, personal services, and luxury goods.

Completion of the Naugatuck Rail Road in 1849 was essential to Waterbury's transformation. Having an affordable, efficient, and safe way to travel to New York City made Waterbury's economic growth possible. The town's population hovered around 3,000 people during the early 1800s. By the time the train arrived, the population was growing rapidly. By 1850, the town's population was just over 5,000 people and by 1860, it reached 10,000 people.

M. Richardson

M. Richardson may have been Waterbury's first jeweler, operating a store in the center of town during the mid-1840s. I have not yet been able to find any further information about him.

M. Richardson advertisement,
Waterbury American
, 6 September 1845

Silas Bronson Library microfilm

Friday, August 07, 2020

The Fight Against Housing Discrimination, 1900-1970

Like other cities in the U.S., Waterbury has suffered from the impact of racism on housing. Throughout the twentieth century, there have been numerous efforts to combat housing discrimination in Waterbury. There is still a lot of research to be done on the topic, but here are some highlights of what I've found so far.

James Kefford and the Waterbury Negro Business League

James Kefford (1871-1940) came to Waterbury from Virginia during the 1890s. He started a real estate business in 1904, successfully competing with white realtors in Waterbury. Kefford bought and sold houses and served as a manager for various rental properties including the building with his office at 95 Bank Street.

In 1905, Kefford began constructing apartment buildings to rent to Black people. Housing discrimination was unchecked at this time: there were no laws preventing property owners from refusing to rent to non-white people, and as a result it was very difficult for non-white people to find quality housing in Waterbury. (James E. Kefford, speech given at the Sixteenth Annual Convention of the National Negro Business League, Boston, MA, 1915)

James E. Kefford

Waterbury Republican, 15 September 1912
Silas Bronson Library microfilm

Friday, July 03, 2020

Rat Pack Motorcycle Club

There was a rally at City Hall yesterday intended to draw attention to the problem of racism in society today. The lineup of speakers included familiar names, Waterbury residents who frequently speak out on issues that are important to them. I figured it would be a pretty straight-forward event, exactly as billed, a series of speakers at a peaceful gathering. I wasn't able to attend, but I was curious to see how it went, so I went on social media last night to look for images and videos.

As soon as I saw the Rep-Am report that the Rat Pack Motorcycle Club (RPMC) had staged a counter-protest at the rally to "protect" the statue of Christopher Columbus, alarm bells went off inside my head. Members of the RPMC doing their best to look tough and intimidating towards Black people holding a rally at City Hall is something Waterbury has seen before. The past is repeating itself, and not in a good way.

News coverage of the clashing groups outside City Hall, Rep-Am website, 2 July 2020. Photo by Jim Shannon.

Sunday, June 28, 2020

Horace Weston, World's Greatest Banjo Player

During the 1880s, Horace Weston was the world's greatest banjo player. He toured the U.S. and Europe, wrote music, endorsed a line of banjos, and influenced countless musicians. Weston spent a formative portion of his childhood in Waterbury, and it was here that he first learned to play musical instruments, setting him on the path to stardom.

Horace Weston, c. 1880
Harvard Theater Collection, HTC Photographs 1.1073

Saturday, June 27, 2020

Waterbury Clock Company Complex

As announced in the Rep-Am on June 26, the former Waterbury Clock office building will soon be demolished, along with portions of the factory complex. The buildings have been crumbling apart for decades. The factory complex is listed on the National Register of Historic Properties.

The former Waterbury Clock Company office building in 2007

Aerial View of the former Waterbury Clock Company factory complex, 2020

The Waterbury Clock Company was formed in 1857, a spin-off of the Benedict & Burnham Manufacturing Company. It became a highly successful company, selling its products all over the world.

Although the name of the company specified clocks, they also produced watches, most notably the "dollar watch" starting in the 1890s. The watch was an oversize pocket watch with a mechanism based on alarm clocks. The company teamed up with Robert H. Ingersoll, a retailer in New York City, to improve and market the watch under the Ingersoll name. By 1910, Waterbury Clock was producing 3,500,000 dollar watches each year for Ingersoll. The watches were so ubiquitous, Ingersoll declared the product to be "the watch that made the dollar famous."

Despite the popularity of the dollar watch, Ingersoll went into bankruptcy in 1922. Waterbury Clock bought out their holdings, continuing the use of the Ingersoll name for a line of cheap watches. They later added a line of Disney character watches, including a highly collectible Mickey Mouse watch.

Waterbury Clock is also known for the devastating effects of radium on its employees. Radium was used in the early 1900s by several companies to highlight the dials on clocks and watches, making them visible in the dark. The radiation that made the dials glow in the dark also sickened and killed many of the young women hired to paint the radium onto the dials. All of the buildings in the North Elm Street complex have been tested for radiation hazards.

Waterbury Clock Company was purchased by Norwegian investors in 1942 and was renamed United States Time Corporation in 1944. The name was changed again in 1969, to Timex.