Joe Taylor Walks Through Fair Haven’s River History

fh-rivers%20014.JPGAnybody know the reason for this redoubtable stone arch at the entrance to Fair Haven’s Brewery Apartments overlooking the Quinnipiac River just north of the Ferry Street Bridge? Hint: Although the river might be the means of delivering hops and other ingredients for the late 19th century beer-making that happened here, how might those frosty bottles of Quinnipiac and Yale lager be distributed to thirsty Nutmeggers along the shoreline and on up to Boston?

Correct! Through the arch train cars might back in to load up. They got here along the tracks beneath River Street (vestiges just recently covered over in the River Street Municipal Development project repaving). Those tracks in turn traversed Chapel and Grand around Murphy and ultimately connected with the main cargo line that crossed the Quinnipiac River just north of the Grand Avenue Bridge.

p(clear). fh-rivers%20001.JPGSuch everyday revelations about Fair Haven’s riverine and industrial history were part of a Saturday walking tour focused on Fair Haven rivers, presented by Joe Taylor (on the right), the area’s dedicated local historian, and organized by Fair Haven branch librarian Betsy Goldberg. You didn’t even have to be from Fair Haven to enjoy it. “When you live in a city with so many historic districts,” said Billie Berman (center in the photo), who resides in Wooster Square, “it’s just such a thrill to see and to learn about the local homes and other sites. I met Joe at a New Haven Historical Preservation meeting, and he has so much to tell.”

p(clear). fh-rivers%20005.JPGTaylor has amassed one of the pre-eminent collections of images of Fair Haven (click here to see images from a previous presentation), including post cards, illustrated bills of sale, photographs—and, he was very proud to mention, an 1872 Yale student’s graduation photo album, full of photos even he had not seen, which he recently bought on EBay. Taylor presented some of these views in a Power Point show at the library to some 20 people, also local history aficionados, such as Bret Bissell, who felt absolutely no need to curb their enthusiasm.

p(clear). fh-rivers%20009.JPGThen the amateur historians ambled down Grand toward the bridge (featured in so many photographs), photocopies and maps in hand, in order to find the precise angle at which the early photographs were taken. Here Bissell and Taylor were turning toward what’s left of the Lancraft mansion (now a condominium) high up on Lexington Avenue in Fair Haven Heights to situate a view of the Lancraft Brothers oystering business. “You see all these scratches in the photograph,” Taylor was telling his rapt listeners. “When I first got the photograph and was uploading it to the computer, for clarity’s sake I was trying to edit out all these lines. But look more closely, as I did, and you’ll see they are not scratches at all. They are poles that the oystermen put in the river to identify the location of their oyster beds.”

p(clear). fh-rivers%20007.JPGAfter taking a break for the local historians’ team photo (left to right Dennis Hamilton, Bissell, New Haven Preservation Trust Board Member Bill Stubbs, and Taylor, with Heila Salovitz in the front), they located the site along the promenade just north of the (now upraised) Ferry Street bridge where a side-wheel paddle boat had put in to a coaling station.

p(clear). fh-rivers%20004.JPGThat coaling station, at the bulkhead where the brewery meets the river, would have been the third or fourth coaling station (maritime gas stations) up from New Haven Harbor. Taylor had shown this photograph from the 1870s. He and the group couldn’t figure out why the paddle boat had not stopped, for example, lower down in the harbor—say at Water Street where the Benedict Coal company had been operating since the 1840s. Was the paddle boat picking up passengers? But this was an industrial area, and it didn’t seem likely workers would be embarking from here for a pleasure cruise. Well, what about a few cases of that beer? Further research was going to be required.

p(clear). fh-rivers%20011.JPGBetsy Goldberg said she had selected a river tour, conducted by Taylor, because the city’s rivers, and the uses of parks down by the river, are very much in the news. Moreover, she said, the Ferry Street bridge (its spans open in prayer in the distance) is not scheduled to be back in operation until February 2009. And when that re-opens, the much beleaguered Grand Avenue Bridge then immediately closes for its well-deserved refurbishing. So it is becoming clearer to people what was abundantly evident to our 19th-century predecessors, that Fair Haven is really a peninsula, ever reliant on adequate river crossings. So history indeed does live. We forget at our great inconvenience, or worse.

p(clear). Taylor does these presentations and tours for various groups throughout the city. Contact him here.

Post a Comment

Commenting has closed for this entry

There were no comments