April 23, 1957 – May Cost City $60,000 to Fill Tail Race Which in 1844 Made Industrial Ansonia Possible
Back in 1844, after dickering unsuccessfully with Squire Booth who lived in what was later the Halfway House, which stood at the time at what is now Division Street and Clifton Avenue, Anson G. Phelps bought the Kinneytown Dam, raised it, and began to build the foundation for the industrial village of Ansonia on the east side of that lovely stream1 known as the Naugatuck River.
He had originally planned to do his building on the West Side, as an extension of the industrial village of Birmingham (now the center of Derby) which had been started in 1833, but the squire wanted a wad of dough, Anson thought it was a holdup and Anson didn’t get capital to go around founding industrial villages by getting clipped by country squires. So he hired an engineer named Clouse to look over the terrain on the east side of said delightful stream and the engineer jumped out of his boots with enthusiasm, as engineers have a habit of doing.
As a result, Squire Booth awakened one morning, in the words of a contemporary chronicler, to gaze across the fair stream and its meadow to behold 400 Irishmen with picks and shovels and wheelbarrows.
They were laying the foundations of industrial Ansonia. The foundations were the canal Phelps built from Kinneytown Dam to Tremont Street. There were no electric power plants in those days. William Wallace, who was to invent the electric light and to design the most useful early dynamo, wasn’t around yet. The water from the canal turned water wheels as it dropped from the canal and the water wheels turned the wheels of infant Ansonia’s infant industries.
The water power was to help produce clocks, lamps, novelties, copper and brass sheets, and a host of other products which were to make Ansonia’s name known around the world.
But as the water dropped from the height of the canal to the level of the river, it had to go someplace. So Mr. Clouse, being a good engineer, built a tail race to convey it to the Naugatuck River.
Ansonia’s Main Street did not exist in those days. It grew up along the tail race, one end of which crossed Main Street at the corner of Bridge Street (which incidently was known as Bartlett Street at first) and ran north parallel with what is now Main Street as far as the Cliffway.
In the center of the tail race, underneath the G. C. Murphy Store, Clouse put the outflow of the tail race to the river.
The tail race made Ansonia. It was its foundation. Without it Anson G. Phelps would have been unable to have started an industrial village to which he modestly appended a Latin feminine form of his own first name.
As the industrial village grew, and men pioneered in electricity, William Wallace perfected his dynamo, which Ansonia High School seniors have seen at the Smithsonian Institute on their pilgrimages to the nation’s capital. Smithsonian also houses Wallace’s first electric arc light, which preceded Edison’s incandescent lamp and lighted the streets of Ansonia for years.
Immediate water power was no longer necessary to turn water wheels as electric turbines whirled generators to produce electric power which could be carried over wires for miles. Eventually, there was no need for the great canal which 400 Irishmen with picks and shovels and wheelbarrows had started building in 1844. Most of it was abandoned. Forty Acre Pond and the cove below Kinneytown were retained. A pipe replaced the canal as far south as First Street. The rest of it was filled in. The huge banks were leveled, the great pond behind the copper mill2 was filled in. East Main Street was constructed.
The canal, built by Phelps, became the property of the Ansonia Land and Water Power Company and later the American Brass Company, and the latter in giving the land for East Main Street deeded the canal property on which East Main Street was built, together with the tail race, to the City of Ansonia, which emptied its storm drainage from these streets into it.
When the Copper Mill was torn down and the pond east of Main Street removed, there was no flow of water through the tail race excepting storm water which drained into the tail race. This had drained North Cliff Street and Main Street storm water from the time those streets were built. It became the city’s job to maintain the tail race into which its storm water from South Cliff and Main Street and the new East Main Street emptied.
After the second flood3, Mayor William T. Sheasby persuaded the Army Corps of Engineers to give the city funds equivalent to the cost of removing the debris from the tail race to be applied to the construction of the city’s first storm water drains under Main Street. The outfalls of these now are located at the end of Bank Street and below Bridge Street.
With no storm water flowing into the race from city lines, there is still roof drainage flowing into the race from some of the buildings which were built over the tail race. There were some buildings emptying sanitary sewage into the race. The Board of Health had these traced. At present, only one building now drains sanitary sewage into the race, and the owners have been ordered to connect with the domestic sewer.
There are still pockets of stagnant water in the race.
These are a cause of the odors which cause annoyance.
The Board of Health, at the request of Mayor Joseph A. Doyle, met with the aldermen and tax board and other officials recently to consult with the city engineers about filling in the race.
This, according to Assistant City Engineer Charles Pearson can be accomplished most economically by sluicing from the Naugatuck River, deepening the channel at the same time. According to one rough, unofficial estimate, this will cost over $50,000, perhaps $60,000.
- This is a play to the news article’s contemporary audience. The polluted Naugatuck River was anything but lovely in 1957, and less than two years before had delivered two devastating floods through the center of Ansonia.
- Anson Phelps’ copper mill was once located on Main Street, across from the head of Bridge Street. After it was torn down, Bridge Street was extended.
- The “second flood” occurred in October 1955. This followed the first flood in August of that year.