Saturday, January 07, 2023

Pritchard Family Farm Houses

A few years ago, I noticed a gorgeous house for sale in Waterbury's Hopeville neighborhood and wondered about its age and history. I have finally gotten around to researching its history and discovered that it was part of the Pritchard family's farm two hundred years ago. A second old house, about a block away, was built for the same family.

Pritchard Family house on Piedmont Street, built in 1815
Photograph from Realtor.com in 2019

 

The houses were built for Isaiah Pritchard (1755-1833), a Revolutionary War veteran. Pritchard was married twice. His first wife, Olive Upson, died sometime after 1792. Pritchard then married Sylvia Scovill (1773-1838). Isaiah Pritchard had a total of six children.

The original Isaiah Pritchard homestead is on Piedmont Street, where Pritchard owned farmland that included Pritchard's Pond. The family's total real estate holdings included close to two hundred acres of land near Smug Brook (now Hopeville Pond Brook) and on East Mountain.

The Pritchard House on Piedmont Street is actually two houses. The original house is in the back and was built during the 1700s in what we now call the Cape Cod style. The house in front, which you see from the street, was built in 1815.

Saturday, October 08, 2022

Election Guide 2022

It's that time again! Election Day is Tuesday, November 8. On the local level, this has been an unusually quiet election cycle, possibly because many of our elected officials are running unopposed for re-election.

 

Democratic Get Out the Vote Rally in Waterbury, October 2, 2022

 

There are three ballot measures this year, and some potentially confusing changes to two polling locations. I've put together the information that I have, to hopefully increase voter education and voter turnout.

 

Monday, October 03, 2022

Bleeding Kansas, Part Two

For the first part of this story, read Bleeding Kansas, Part One

-------------

On March 28, 1856, William Chestnut wrote a letter to the Waterbury American "to apprise your numerous readers of the progress of events in this part of the world." Winter was over, and most of his neighbors had recovered from the "chill and fever" that ran through their community. Plowing the fields and planting the crops had begun, "and we will soon make the wilderness blossom like the rose." ("From Our Kansas Correspondent," Waterbury American, 18 April 1856, p. 1)

Chestnut assured his readers that "the actual settlers" would never be driven out by the Border Ruffians and were willing to die rather than back out. He spoke only generally about ruffian activities: they "have already desecrated our lovely plain with their drunken, ribald orgies; our virgin soil has already been stained with the blood of American citizens for the crime of attempting to exercise their rights as freemen--the right of self-government."

Chestnut was nearing the end of his willingness to peacefully endure the harassment and violence of the Border Ruffians, saying "there is a point beyond which endurance becomes a crime--we have hitherto acted on the defensive only, but when our present arrangements are completed we may be prepared to carry the war into Africa, should it be forced on us."

He gave an example of the sort of thing which the Free Staters had to endure, highlighting the level of distrust and disrespect between the two factions:

The ruffians have an organization at Lexington [Missouri], on the river, where they board every boat coming up and forcibly detain them until they examine their freight list. One of our townsmen, a few days ago, had a very fine piano come up, and as it was boxed up very strong, it at once excited the suspicions of the ruffian horde--it was "Sharp's rifles," said they, "and no mistake," though they were shown the invoice and were assured it was only a piano--but all to no purpose. They dispatched a deputation to go up to Kansas City and watch the debarkation of the object of their suspicion, and as soon as it was put ashore, they insisted on having it opened. The person having it in charge accordingly took out all the screws and undid all the fastenings, until he came to the last screw, when he invited the ruffians to finish the job and raise the lid themselves--but they shrank back and refused to touch it, swearing that it was a Yankee trick to blow them up; that it was full of torpedoes, they knew, and proposed throwing the box into the river, saying it would serve the d---d Yankees right. This was as far as it would do to carry the joke, and the lid was accordingly raised amidst a general laugh of a large crowd who had collected on the occasion.


Lexington Landing, Missouri, 1861
Retrieved from House Divided: The Civil War Research Engine at Dickinson College

Saturday, October 01, 2022

Bleeding Kansas, Part One

Every high school U.S. history class includes at least a mention of “Bleeding Kansas,” the conflict between pro-slavery and anti-slavery forces that took place during the 1850s. The legendary John Brown established his reputation for violence during the conflict and is closely associated with the bloodshed that happened there. It turns out there were a number of Waterbury people in Kansas at this time, including some who were directly involved in the conflict. Two of those Waterburians, William Chestnut and Henry Barlow, sent a series of letters to the Waterbury American newspaper, giving first-hand accounts of what was happening in Kansas. Their letters give a perspective on the conflict that is missing from the textbook accounts of what happened, and they give us a sense of how the conflict was viewed in Waterbury.

A symbolic image of John Brown and Bleeding Kansas
"The Tragic Prelude" mural at the Kansas State House, painted by John Steuart Curry in 1942.


 

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 Change.org.

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

Smallpox


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