Friday, August 29, 2014

Bridgewater, Again

In February, I trudged through the snow to get a better look at the childhood home of Captain William D. Burnham in Bridgewater.

Last week, I finally was able to return and take a little walk around the center of Connecticut's only dry town.

Bridgewater is one of those Little White Buildings towns. This is the grange hall.

The Village Store is apparently the place to be on weekend afternoons.

Bridgewater also has something for street name aficionados. Of which I am one.

I imagine if anyone did something as crazy as actually sitting on this bench, heads would turn. But it is a very nice bench.

It wouldn't be a small Connecticut town without a white church. (Bridgewater has more than one of these, but this one, even half-hidden behind a tree, struck me as the nicest.)

The Burnham Library (yes, Burnham of the little house in the first photo) has quite the history.

This is the Elijah Peck House, now owned by the Bridgewater Historical Society. It contains an iron kitchen stove, a pair of wedding slippers from 1755, a Sturdevant spinning wheel, and a melodeon. Because that round porch wasn't enough.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Mine Hill

There is much more to the Mine Hill Preserve, maintained by the Roxbury Land Trust, than the remains of a 19th century iron mine. But as much as I love wilderness, I love the crazy-looking things that people go to great lengths to construct in that wilderness even more.

In a sense, if you've seen one blast furnace you've seen them all.

Yet encountering these massive structures is always a bit awe-inspiring. These ovens were used to heat the iron ore after it was extracted from tunnels, which were dug by hand and excavated by candlelight. The ore was transported to the ovens in wheeled carts, which were then pulled back uphill by donkeys. After being heated, the iron was sorted, cast in the blast furnace, and eventually transformed into steel.

The process is described here. It still sounds, to me, like impossible alchemy.

Despite all that effort, the iron works here did not last very long, nor were they particularly successful. For a few decades in the late 1800s work at Mine Hill was frequently stymied by problems, both technical and financial. By 1900, mining here was over.

But in that brief window of time when this peaceful preserve was a noisy industrial site, this part of Roxbury was like a different world.

The mines were surrounded by a town, called Chalybes after the iron working people of ancient Chaldia on the Black Sea.

Some of this town remains in the form of the buildings at the foot of Mine Hill, the ones that look a little like an Old West movie set. But most of Chalybes is gone.

This is one of the few places I've written about on this blog that require some travel tips.

-The walk from the parking lot to the furnace site is quite short, but it involves hills and rocks and tree roots, and you should really do it in decent shoes. Meaning sneakers or hiking boots, not sandals. (I did it in sandals and I was fine, but it was stupid, like that time I climbed the Castle Craig steps in a skirt.)

-There is limited-to-nonexistent cell service in this area, so if you're depending on your smartphone to direct you to the preserve, you will get lost. Funnily enough, there is cell service at the furnace site itself, so if you wear sandals and break your leg, you can at least call for help.

-The road up to Mine Hill Preserve is unpaved, fairly steep, and quite narrow. The entry into the small parking lot is downhill and also somewhat steep. Drive carefully and don't visit when there's snow or ice on the ground unless you have proper tires. (I've done that too, and I lived, but, like the sandals, it was stupid.)

Monday, August 25, 2014

Stony Hill School

Looks like the Old West School  in West Hartford has a cousin in Windsor. The Stony Hill School was built in 1850, rebuilt in 1899, and is currently used as a yoga studio.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Broken Windows and Empty Hallways

The New Haven Register has a blog called Divided Connecticut. It's about politics, and the many issues that are wrapped up therein. But anyone who pays attention to Connecticut - the way it's perceived, and the way it's described - hears a lot about all the other ways the state is carved up into opposing slices. The other day I heard someone say there are "two Connecticuts," and I thought, Two? Try four, try ten, try seventeen. Some would say there are 169 Connecticuts, or that the divisions are infinite.

I tend to chop Connecticut up too, but sometimes I realize that it's better to think of this place as a whole. Town greens and white churches, blighted streets and empty storefronts, manicured lawns and hedge funds, dairy cows and rolling hills, painted boulders and rocky beaches.

This usually occurs to me when I'm enthralled with something like these old J.R. Montgomery textile mill buildings along the canal in Windsor Locks. They're as beautiful as an ornate city hall or a wooded trail, and they're as much a part of Connecticut as either of those.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Rain and Books, 11

It's usually winter weather that inspires me to quasi-review local guidebooks - my last Snow and Books post was in April - but the recent day-long summer downpour prompted me to write an off-season installment.

I've probably picked up and flipped through Markets of New England by Christine Chitnis (published by The Little Bookroom) about 20 times since it came out in 2011, and I've read gazed enviously at Chitnis's blog, in which she chronicles her life in Providence with her beautiful children and picturesque projects, for years now. It was about time I bought a copy of the book so I could flip through it whenever I felt like it, and not just when I found myself in a Barnes & Noble.

This book is a little different from the ones I usually write about, so for this post I'm departing from my usual formula.

Markets of New England is tiny (about 4" x 6") and adorable, like one of those thick little books for babies. I assume readers are meant to imagine themselves tossing it into their L.L. Bean Boat and Tote of a weekend morning, and driving off down winding country roads in search of a new source of felt ornaments and Swiss chard.

Chitnis's photographs are gorgeous; they make you want to inhabit a world comprised entirely of baked goods, ceramics, textiles, and heirloom tomatoes. (I doubt that it's a coincidence that the resurgence of farmers' markets and crafting coincided with the rise of digital cameras, smart phones, blogs, and photo-sharing platforms like Instagram.)

I do have to point out that as is traditional in every New England guide ever published, Connecticut gets shafted. There are only six Connecticut markets included here, compared with seven to eleven for each of the region's other states. (And it's not a size thing; Rhode Island gets ten.)

The chosen ones are: City Farmers' Market at Wooster Square in New Haven, Coventry Regional Farmers' Market, Stonington Farmers' Market, the Bruce Museum Outdoor Crafts Festival in Greenwich, New Haven's City-Wide Open Studios Weekend, and the Roseland Cottage Annual Fine Arts and Crafts Festival in Woodstock.

I was dismayed to find no Hartford listings, and surprised though not entirely displeased that the western half of the state (Greenwich aside) was not represented. As with any list of anything, I missed seeing some of my own favorites, e.g. the farmers' market in Lebanon. I also thought that the inclusion of two New Haven events in only six listings won't help correct the popular perception that Connecticut is basically Yale surrounded by some old industrial sites and fields. (I like Connecticut: Still Revolutionary, but perhaps we should have gone with Connecticut: More Than Just Yale Surrounded by Some Old Industrial Sites and Fields. No?)

But if you concentrate less on the book's specific listings and interpret it not as a guide but a general celebration of New England farmers and artisans, it delivers. It made me want to visit a few places that were not previously on my radar, like Rockland, ME, and to go stare at sheep and goats in Vermont in October. (Seriously, they have their own festival.) It also made me want some cheese, but then again, I always want some cheese.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Somewhere That's Green

Things Connecticut is not good at: Self-promotion. Mill rates. Selling wine in supermarkets.

Things Connecticut is very good at: subtle little patches of beauty, so small or obscured that they can easily be overlooked, everywhere from the most unexpected parts of cities to the blandest stretches of suburb.

I lived near Waterford's Civic Triangle Park, which has since been renamed Arnold E. Holm Jr. Memorial Park, for years. I can't count the number of times I drove past it, or went into the library building right next to it. But I never bothered to walk over and see what lay beyond the little footbridge and the bit of pond I could see from the road.

I should not have been surprised to find that a little green oasis had been waiting behind the Post Road, hiding from me all those years.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Nutmeg Poisoning

-A few weeks ago, Ann Nyberg's Network Connecticut featured a new book of amazing photographs (there's video, including an interview with the photographer, too) of abandoned buildings in the state.

-I interviewed two sweet and skilled local businesswomen and wrote about their Etsy team, the Nutmeg Collective, for Hartford City Center HamletHub. If you want to shop local without leaving your house (entirely understandable, btw) this group is the answer.

-Google Alerts can be hit or miss (I know more than I ever wanted to know about what's happening in all those other Hartfords) but sometimes they turn up really neat stuff, like this Walker Evans photograph of Bridgeport. 

-Another Google Alert gem: this blog post about the restoration of the East Hartford gravestone of Abigail Pitkin, plus a biography of her father William Pitkin III. He was Connecticut's last colonial governor (depending on whether you count Jonathan Trumbull) and also held the badass-sounding title of Captain of the Trainband, East Society, from 1730 to 1738.

-Finally, what's even better than the Battle of Stonington? A bicentennial celebration of that battle attended by a 106-year old who remembers the centennial celebration 100 years ago (via WNPR.)  

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Shot Tower

This 1909 shot tower is essentially all that remains of the sprawling Remington Arms complex in eastern Bridgeport. The factory buildings around it have all burned or crumbled. Its broken windows are slowly being obscured by vegetation. I didn't attempt to get up close to see whether the two spiral staircases inside are still intact.

The shape of the 167-foot brick structure looks almost fanciful now; one might assume it was made this way because early 20th century people liked their buildings to convey a mixture of strength and whimsy. But its design was at least partly practical: inside, molten lead was dropped from up high and left to form spheres in free-fall, which landed in a basin of water at the bottom to cool.

Remington Arms no longer manufactures shot pellets, or anything else, here. They haven't done so for quite some time. It is strange that instead of looking out of place in the neighborhood, the shot tower is the only thing that seems to belong. The people walking by in its shadow, the small houses on the next block, the cars parked in front of them, and even the cemetery across the street, all seem lost.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Duck River Cemetery

Old Lyme's Duck River Cemetery is named for the stream that bisects it. Its oldest dated grave marker is from 1676. Several notable people from Connecticut's past are buried here, including Matthew Griswold, who was governor of Connecticut from 1784 to 1786, and Ezra Lee, who manned the Turtle, the first submarine used during a war. The cemetery is vast, but the older sections - where you'll probably want to wander, if you like that sort of thing - are just large enough to make you feel you might get lost, but so peaceful that you won't mind.


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