A replica of a 17th century Dutch wooden sailing ship – handsomely rigged with a single mast and decked out in the bright colors of her homeland – was stalled more than an hour on the Connecticut River last week as she waited for the East Haddam Swing Bridge to open. Welcome to Connecticut!
“I’m not sure why the wait was so long,” says Dan Thompson, skipper of the Onrust, a replica of the 44 ½ -foot sloop the Dutchman Adriaen Block sailed up the Connecticut River more than 400 years ago. “But what are you going to do?” Continue reading “Yo Adriaen!”
A strange apparition appears in a satellite image on Google Earth. It looks like a shadow. But a closer look reveals the hull of a ship, nearly 300 feet long. The wreck is lying on a shoal at the entrance to Old Saybrook’s North Cove, her bow pointing east into the channel. It’s eerie. One hundred and thirty-five years after she burned, the steamer Granite State still haunts the Connecticut River.
Shipwrecks have an eternal fascination. Gordon Lightfoot wrote a song about one – the SS Edmund Fitzgerald. The Great Lakes freighter went down in a gale on Lake Superior on Nov. 10, 1975, carrying her crew of 29 men to the bottom. “Superior, they said, never gives up her dead, When the gales of November come early.” Continue reading “A river’s ghosts”
Old Glory is again flying above one of the prettiest beaches on the lower Connecticut River. Everyone knows the huge sandbar in the river off Haddam Meadows below the tree-fringed Haddam Island, where Native Americans gathered perhaps for millennia. Today, the island and the sandbar half a mile below are popular destinations for boaters and sunbathers alike, and others just out for a stroll with their dogs. A couple of years ago, someone, we don’t know who, erected a makeshift flagpole at the tip of the sandbar, and the Stars and Stripes was a familiar sight waving above the wide gray expanse. The flag survived a couple of fierce New England winters, until this January’s massive ice jam. It proved too much, and Old Glory was swallowed up by the advancing floe. Sad to see in the spring that our flag was not still there. However, the flagpole, although somewhat battered, was discovered buried in the mud. Some days ago, it was glimpsed leaning against a beached log. Then last week, visitors to this most picturesque spot were cheered to see a new flag snapping in the breeze above the river. The Haddam Meadows flag is back. Long may she wave!
The notorious Tammany Hall Boss, William M. Tweed — who stole millions of New York City taxpayer money in the 19th century with sham municipal contracts — wore a 10-carat diamond on his shirt front worth half a million in today’s money. We wonder: Did he sport the famous jewel as he strutted about the Gelston House?
That’s right, Boss Tweed himself sought the salubrious air of the lower Connecticut River, when he and his family retreated to East Haddam in the years before the Civil War. The rivertown then was among the most fashionable watering places in New England, boasting two steamboat landings, each with its own hotel, saloon, and other attractions. City swells flocked to the flossy Steamboat Hotel, which graced the Upper Landing a mile above Goodspeed’s. Later, the Steamboat Hotel was renamed the Champion House.
Continue reading “Athens on the river”
Fifty years ago in 1968, the Atomic Age came to the lower Connecticut River with the commissioning of the Connecticut Yankee nuclear power plant in Haddam Neck. Construction of the 619- megawatt facility was begun in 1965, following intense debate about the plant’s impact on the environment, especially thermal pollution from the discharge of heated condenser water. Connecticut Yankee was the first nuclear power plant in Connecticut, and among the earliest in the nation. To mark the anniversary, we dug into our files and came up with these photographs of the building of the plant in the mid-60s, in which Mohawk Indian ironworkers, known for their expertise in high steel, were brought in to erect the 170-foot domed containment structure.
The other day I heard voices on the river. It was a warm spring morning, and I was walking along the path at Haddam Meadows, admiring the wide blue expanse through a screen of cottonwoods and silver maples. Usually, at this hour, all I hear is the chattering of birds. Now, excited shouts and laughter were coming up through the trees. Ahead, a knot of teenagers in shorts and T-shirts were shouting to others in the river, the latter in rubber waders dragging a seine through the shallows. It was just like we did at the beach as kids. But this was a high school science class. What shrieks of delight, as these would-be biologists examined their catch — a wriggling mass of silvery life! The river is full of surprises!
Continue reading “River song”
Could this rare stereoscopic image be the wreck of the famous steamboat Granite State, which caught fire and burned at Goodspeed’s Landing on May 18, 1883, killing four people? We believe this is indeed the ill-starred sidewheeler awash on the shoal of Lord’s Island, a mile below Goodspeed’s. She lay there for months, her walking beam engine still visible, a gaunt smokestack rising above the gray waves. It was an ominous sight; we’ll have lots more to tell about the once-proud river steamer.
It’s shad season, which had me going through my old files. Here, I came across a report on the Connecticut River from 1962. It stated that in that year, there were “80 licenses issued for the purpose of taking shad by net.” Since two men are required to set a drift net, there were at least 160 people at the time who depended on shad fishing for some of their income. The report went on to say that the retail value of the commercial catch in 1962 was in excess of $350,000, a tidy sum then. Of course, it’s a fraction of that today. As for commercial fishermen, there might be three boats on the entire river between Rocky Hill and the mouth at Old Saybrook. Grim statistics. Continue reading “The shad spirit”