The Indians who lived near here called it Mattatuck, roughly translating to “badly wooded region.” The English named it Waterbury, choosing to focus on the positive - the abundant streams - and not the rocky, treeless hills. Nonetheless, after it was settled as part of Farmington in 1674 no one rushed down to move here. When two scouts conducted a four-day survey in 1686 they concluded that the land could support “but 30 families.” They weren’t too far wrong. One hundred and fifty years later the population of the town had scarcely scraped over 2,000.
But the dire prognosticators did not reckon on brass. There were button shops around town by the late 1700s but it wasn’t until the 1820s that the brass industry began to take off in Waterbury. Englishman James Croft came to town to produce a striking orange tint favored by Americans on their brass buttons in 1820 and the ensuing decades would bring better techniques and advances in the craft. Waterbury brass was used in coins, ammunition casings, screws, tacks, clocks, cocktail shakers. By the end of the 1800s the town was truly “Brass City” - more than a third of all the brass manufactured in the United States shipped from the Naugatuck Valley.
By World War II the lightly regarded townsite had surpassed 100,000 people and was one of the ten largest cities in New England. Plastic and aluminum eventually came to replace many of the uses for brass and the big manufacturers moved away in search of cheaper labor, no longer in need of the mechanical talent that was once synonymous with Waterbury.
A fire in 1902 wiped away much of the downtown so our walking tour will dial back to an image of an industrial American city from the early 20th century at the zenith of its importance. A wealthy, rebuilding Waterbury attracted many important American architects who left a monumental footprint in the city, most notably Cass Gilbert, who designed the Woolworth Building in New York as the tallest building in the world. In Waterbury Gilbert designed a landmark hotel, City Hall, a bank, a private club and a head-turning headquarters for a brass company. But first we’ll start in the middle of the town green around which the earliest settlers built their houses when no one thought Waterbury would ever amount to anything...
Clock on the Green
center of Green
Paul Lux opened a small shop in town to manufacture clock movements in 1914 and within a year he was busy enough to force a search for more spacious quarters. He designed this 15-foot granite tower and it was dedicated on the Green on November 25, 1915. But not without controversy from those who thought it was a desecration of the Green not an improvement. The town’s two newspapers were on either side of the debate, publishing commentaries vociferously. Charles Colley, president of the Chamber of Commerce, fought so vigorously for the installment of the clock that it is referred to by locals as “Colley’s Clock.” Now, 100 years later, you can decide who was right.
FACE NORTH, THE LONG SIDE WHERE PROSPECT STREET RUNS INTO THE GREEN, AND WALK OVER TO WEST MAIN STREET.
The Basilica of the Immaculate Conception
74 West Main Street
The Immaculate Conception began ministering to Waterbury Catholics in 1847. The current monumental white marble church was dedicated in 1928, modeled by architects Maginnis & Walsh after a 17th century Roman Basilica. The Latin inscription over the doorway translates to “This is the House of God and the Gate of Heaven.”
TURN RIGHT AND WALK TOWARDS THE EAST SIDE OF THE GREEN.
30 West Main Street at northeast corner of Prospect Street and
Wilfred Elizur Griggs was born in Waterbury on May 2, 1866, a descendant of a family that settled in New England in 1635. In 1891 he went to work with Robert Wakeman Hill, the dean of the city’s local architects and would go on to design many of Waterbury’s most notable homes and buildings, including many around the Green. In 1905 he delivered the city its grand hotel, the six-story, Beaux Arts-style Elton. Its 170 rooms came to be known as one of the best stays in New England. Today it lives on as an assisted living facility.
Odd Fellows Building
36-48 North Main Street, across northeast corner of Green
Here is another creation by Wilfred Griggs, delivered for the International Order of Odd Fellows in 1895. It was dedicated on October 15, the 50th anniversary of the order in Waterbury and, coincidentally, the first observance of a new holiday created the Connecticut General Assembly, called Lincoln’s Day. The factories were shut down, the schools were closed and business in town suspended at noon. A grand parade, said to have been attended by the biggest crowd to ever gather in Waterbury - 5,000 people - celebrated the opening of the Odd Fellows Building. Built of light-colored brick, terra cotta and sandstone, it cost $100,000 to construct and, although it is missing the original decorative cornice and roof pediment, there is plenty of Gothic Revival detailing remaining.
TURN RIGHT ON NORTH MAIN STREET.
Carrie Welton Fountain
east end of the Green
This fountain has anchored the east end of the Green since its dedication on November 10, 1888. The funds for its construction came from Caroline Josephine Welton, the only daughter of a Waterbury businessman, Joseph Welton. Carrie was a well-known figure around town, always seen riding her black stallion, Knight. In 1874 an accidental kick to the head by Knight killed her father and ten years later Carrie perished in a mountain climbing accident in Colorado at the age of 42. In her will she left the bulk of the family fortune to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Her outraged relatives declared her insane and contested the will which was upheld after a lengthy, contentious court battle. A stipulation of the will provided $7,000 for this fountain with a statue of Knight - not her father. It was executed by Karl Gerhardt of Hartford.
TURN LEFT ON EAST MAIN STREET.
inside corner of East Main Street and South Main Street
This was the Brown Building when it was constructed at this prominent corner in Exchange Place in the early 1930s, adopting a fashionable art deco facade. It replaced an earlier wooden structure here that had stood for 40 years.
100 East Main Street
This theater was built in 1922 for New Haven show business impresario Sylvester Z. Poli. it was designed by pre-eminent theater architect Thomas W. Lamb and it was one of the largest he ever built with 2,700 seats. It features Lamb’s love of the exotic, blending Greek, Roman, Arabic and Federal motifs. Poli sold his regional circuit of theaters in 1934 and the Palace became one of the premier properties of the Loew’s chain. After it closed in 1982 it quickly landed on the National Register of Historic Places. After a $35 million grant from the State of Connecticut the restored Palace opened once again in 2004.
St. Patrick’s Hall
120 East Main Street
The Catholic Church began acquiring property on this block in 1847. A chapel once stood here and was replaced here in 1889 with a fine Richardsonian Romanesque building featuring such trademarks of the style as contrasting light and dark, heavy, rough-cut stone and multiple arches. St. Patrick’s Hall served the parish in many ways - as a Sunday School, a reading room, an entertainment hall and a gymnasium among others.
TURN AND RETRACE YOUR STEPS TO NORTH MAIN STREET AND EXCHANGE PLACE, HISTORICALLY THE COMMERCIAL HUB OF WATERBURY. TURN LEFT AND BEAR TO THE RIGHT, DOWN BANK STREET.
63 Bank Street at inside corner of South Main Street
The original Apothecary Hall at the junction of Bank and South Main Street was built in 1849 when Dr. Gideon Platt began to peddle his patent medicines, chemicals and fertilizers. Hopefully he kept everything straight. The new flatiron skyscraper was constructed in the Venetian style in 1894.
120-140 Bank Street
Waterbury’s worst fire broke out on February 2, 1902 near Bank and Grand streets. Before the conflagration was contained the following day 32 buildings and 100 businesses had been destroyed. One was a dry goods store that had been operating since 1890 run by Adam Reid and George Hughes. When it reopened a year later it was a full-service department store. Reid eventually sold out to a one-time shoe salesman, John Howland and Howland-Hughes managed to last longer than any other Connecticut independent department store, making it until 1996. You can still buy things in the mammoth retail space today - the Connecticut Store sells only items made in the Nutmeg State and operates a small Connecticut Hall of Fame as well.
M.A. Green Clock
east side of Bank Street
The historic two-dial clock was moved from its original 1920 site on Grand Street to Bank Street in 1935. The 17 foot tall timepiece, made by Seth Thomas Co., was given to the City in 1993.
TURN RIGHT ON GRAND STREET.
United States Post Office
135 Grand Street
You are certainly greeted by an appropriately grand building on Grand Street. The magnificent Art Deco post office was built in 1931 on designs from George Oakley Totten. Totten is best remembered as one of Washington D.C.’s most prolific architects of the Gilded Age at the end of the 20th century. Many of the mansions he designed in the nation’s capital now serve as embassies.
100 Block of Grand Street
This commercial block across from the post office was constructed after the fire of 1902 obliterated the existing businesses. You can see the rich variety of architectural styles in play in that era by this line of buildings.
Chase Municipal Building
236 Grand Street
When Henry Sabin Chase, who had founded Chase Brass and Copper Company in 1876, hired Cass Gilbert to design a new corporate headquarters in 1916 he had one specific request - make it look different than Colonial Revival City Hall across the street that Gilbert had just completed. He delivered a Renaissance-inspired tour-de-force that is considered one of his finest buildings. The central pavilion draws its influence from the ancient Roman clocktower, the Tower of the Winds and the flanking wings are fronted by classical pilasters. When the company moved to Ohio in 1963 it sold the headquarters to preservationists for one dollar, who in turn sold it to the City of Waterbury for offices, which it still is today.
southwest corner of Grand Street and Field Street
Waterbury’s first City Hall, built on West Main Street facing the Green in 1869, went up in flames in 1912, torched by an arsonist. Cass Gilbert, one of America’s foremost architects of monumental buildings, won the commission for this replacement and work was begun in 1914. Gilbert used Vermont marble and North Haven brick to create a Colonial design, built around a rectangular court laid out as a sunken Italian garden. The lower story features white marble laid in rusticated courses while the upper stories are red brick with white marble Corinthian pilasters. In recent years, suffering from years of neglect and vandalism, the building has been condemned by the City’s own building department. Preservationists are at work to get City Hall to see its 100th birthday.
Silas Bronson Library
267 Grand Street
Silas Bronson made his money as a merchant in New York City but never forgot the fresh air he breathed growing up in the Naugatuck Valley. After he died in 1868 he left $200,000 to Waterbury for an “institution of culture, intelligence, education and general information.” The library was built on land known as the Old Burying Yard where the first burials of the town took place in the 1670s. The original library is gone; the current building, constructed of bronze and glass, was built in two sections in 1963 and 1968. The statue of Benjamin Franklin sitting on a bench in the Library’s plaza, was sculpted by Paul Wayland Bartlett in 1916.
333 Meadow Street at the end of Grand Street
Waterbury station was originally a union station built in 1909 for the New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad Company, and was modeled after the Torre del Mangia at the Palazzo Publico in Siena, Italy. The station was designed by the celebrated New York firm of McKim, Mead, and White. The 240-feet high clock tower was built by the Seth-Thomas Company, and added on July 12, 1909. The story goes that New Haven Railroad president C.W. Mellon noticed the slender tower while traveling in Italy and determined to put it on the next depot he built and here it is. Today, it is the home of the Republican-American newspaper, with the Metro-North platform located outside and to the south of the building.
TURN RIGHT ON MEADOW STREET.
Anaconda American Brass Company
northeast of Grand Street and Meadow Street
American Brass formed in 1899 with the consolidation of Ansonia Brass & Copper Company, Waterbury Brass Company, and Coe Brass Manufacturing Company. It was the first large brass manufacturing firm in the United States, and for much of its existence was the largest brass manufacturer in the country. Although acquired in 1922 by Anaconda Mining Company of Montana, it kept its name until it changed to Anaconda American Brass in 1960. This semi-circular brick building was used as their headquarters while in Waterbury. It was built in 1913 using a design by Trowbridge & Livingston of New York. Today it is home of the Superior Court.
TURN RIGHT ON WEST MAIN STREET.
West Main Street and Church Street
Local sculptor George C. Bissell designed this 48-foot high bronze monument to the fallen soldiers of the Civil War. It was cast in Paris at the cost of $25,000 and was dedicated on October 23, 1884.
St. John’s Episcopal Church
16 Church Street at West Main Street
This church is a re-build of a Richard Upjohn design that was destroyed by fire on Christmas Eve, 1868. This time granite was used and the church was consecrated in 1873. The church is blessed with several Tiffany stained glass windows.
144 West Main Street
The only museum in Connecticut solely dedicated to collecting and exhibiting Connecticut artists and sculptors and reflecting the industrial history of the state. At first the collection was housed in the Kendrick House, built by Griggs and Hunt in 1912, on the opposite side of the Green. The museum moved into this renovated Masonic Lodge in 1986.
YOU HAVE NOW RETURNED TO THE TOUR STARTING POINT.