Saturday, September 29, 2012

A Contemporary Bridgeporter, now at Poplar Forest, Virginia

As noted in my previous blog post from September 1, 2012, I have been following the paleobotanical research at Thomas Jefferson's Poplar Forest for a few years.  This month, I received the quarterly newletter. Notes on the State of Poplar Forest.  Flipping through the newsletter, I noticed the biographical sketch of Poplar Forest's new President, Jeffrey L. Nichols.  I never met Jeffrey Nichols, however, I am aware that he is the recent, former director of the Mark Twain House and Museum, Hartford, CT.  Mr. Nichols, of all places, was born in Bridgeport, CT.  I was surprised when the announcement was dispensed that Mr. Nichols was leaving the Mark Twain Museum director's job and was hired at Poplar Forest.   Many months ago, I had sent an email to Mr. Nichols at the Mark Twain House with an historical inquiry.  He never responded to my email.  Oh well!

Well, since I plan to visit the Poplar Forest sometime and see the botanical archeology research, I will have to see if I can meet with Mr. Nichols.  Good Luck till then Nichols.

Bridgeport Scientific Society

Charles Ketchum Averill published a book about the Bridgeport area's bird species in 1892 for the Bridgeport Scientific Society:

The Bridgeport Scientific Society was founded 1890. In 1899 the society was renamed the Bridgeport Scientific and Historical Society. Averill served as a "President of the Society". 

Averill was an engineer graduate of Yale University, New Haven, CT and his address is listed in Yale's Sheffield Engineering School Publication as living on High Street in Bridgeport, CT.

Clinton Hart Merriam had previously written a book about the birds of Connecticut which was published in 1877:

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Bicycle Manufacturing Industry in Connecticut - Bridgeport's Role

One of my first substitute teaching assignments of the new school year (September 2012) was a middle school art class.  During the prep time and lunch period, I was browsing through some of the Connecticut art book material on the teacher's desk.  The book was entitled:  Illustrating Connecticut, People, Places, and Things.  I found a Connecticut historical page regarding the Curtis Veeder Manufacturing Company of Hartford, CT.  In the 1890's Veeder's company manufactured the first "Cyclometer" or bicycle meter which counted the distance the bicycle traveled.  The Veeder Company has its own fantastic history in Hartford, CT including the Veeder House which was later bequeathed to the Connecticut Historical Society. 

The original patents for early 1890's bicycles manufactured in Connecticut were originally from France and French bicycle designers.  In Hartford, CT there was the Hartford Cycle Company and the Pope Manufacturing Company which manufactured Columbia Bicycles.  Pope Company also designed one of the first American bicycle models for women.  Eventually, they build motorcycles, also. 

My suspicion was confirmed that Bridgeport, although seemingly not directly involved in bicycle manufacturing, had a role in some aspect of the 1890's bicycle industry.  The Bridgeport Brass Company manufactured brass for all sorts of products.  During this time Bridgeport Brass was one of the leading manufacturers of the 1890's bicycle lamps (Bridgeport Brass Bicycle Lamps).  Although, I have not yet been able to trace the supply of brass from Bridgeport for other bicycle parts, my theory is that there is more historical information to be dug-up regarding this topic. 

A few days before I stumbled onto the information about Hartford's Curtis Veeder Company in the art class, I had been researching information about John Jacob Astor, the famous New York City industrialist who built the Astoria Hotel in New York City.   Notably, Colonel Astor who fought in the Spanish-American war, was a theatre actor, writer, and inventor.  One of his books, A Journey to Other Worlds was reviewed in the New York Times, 1894

In 1898 he patented an efficient bicycle brake.  I have not yet been able to obtain patent illustrations of his bicycle brake design, however, I am still researching this in the US Patent Office database.  There were a few different types of bicycle brakes and the specific type of bicycle brake invention remains to be clarified.  Perhaps, brass was used in the manufacture of this bicycle brake but this remains to be determined.  Sadly, John Jacob Astor died on the Titanic in 1912. 

Cycling was very popular during this time in Europe, as well as the United States.  The foundation was established in France for the sport of cycling, both road racing and track races. 

The photo above is the Paris Velodrome used in the 1900 Olympics.

There were also bicycle races that were held in the United States:  The Sporting Life newspaper published in Philadelphia, PA featured a section which covered the emerging hobby and sport of cycling and the first column in each article refers to John Jacob Astor's bicycle brake invention:

The history of cycling and bicycle design and manufacture is a massive topic.  Yet, Bridgeport, CT did have a role in early bicycle history with the manufacture of brass bicycle lamps. 

A Mr. Frederick Egge(?) of Bridgeport, CT also filed for a patent for a bicycle lock in 1892:

(left column, scroll down through patent list)

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Captain David Hawley, American Revolution 1776

Here is a blog article written by William Bailey of the Founder's Blog on Wordpress regarding the Navy Captain and privateer David Hawley.  Hawley was born in the Old Stratfield section of Bridgeport, CT.  Rather than summarize what Bailey wrote about Hawley you can read the accurate history directly in the following link:

The street Hawley Avenue in Bridgeport is named after the Bridgeport Hawley family.

There was plenty of Naval activity along the Connecticut coast during the American Revolution in the 1770's.  Both the Americans and British had bases in the area.  The Pequonnock River in Bridgeport, CT and the harbor were busy during that time period and were a hub of coastal and inland waterway protection.

A 1766 British map of Connecticut: 


For additional interest in local Bridgeport privateering during the American Revolution read about
Smedley and Sturges based in Black Rock Harbor.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

P. T. Barnum's Chestnut Tree

While reviewing some of the State of Connecticut's agricultural history, I found a detailed summary of chestnut tree history written by a researcher, Dr. Sandra L. Anagnostakis, of the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station in New Haven, CT.  As a Connecticut tree grower, I found the detailed Chestnut tree information extremely important as a reference:

CT Agricultural Experiment Station-Dr. Anagnostakis Chestnut tree webpage

The American Chestnut tree population was devastated by a blight and root disease many years ago.  Diligent scientists and tree growers have been working to replant and rebuild the chestnut tree population.  Historically, Thomas Jefferson was probably the first American to devote attention to the science of Chestnut trees with the importation of seeds and saplings to his home at Monticello.  Jefferson was an experienced and astute botanist and was able to cultivate hybrids of the American Chestnut tree with imported European Chestnut tree varieties.  Jeffereson also had a plant nursery at his other retreat, Poplar Forest.  My interest in Poplar Forest relates to his landscaping, plant nursery, as well as, plant and grass species that he used at Poplar Forest.  There is an ongoing paleobotany research project at Poplar Forest.  Archeologists are excavating various areas of the gardens and plant nursery at Poplar Forest.

Notably, P. T. Barnum, Bridgeport's most famous resident, had an exotic Chestnut tree planted in the yard at his home.  Connecticut tree growers in the 19th Century acquired imported Chestnut tree seeds for large-scale growing and marketing.  However, it is possible that Barnum acquired his chestnut tree from his international travels as the Ringmaster of Barnum and Baily's Circus.  Open the following link and scroll down until you can view the Chestnut tree genus and species for Barnum's Chestnut tree which is a Japanese variety cultivated by the Connecticut grower Parsons:  P. T. Barnum's Chestnut tree

Unfortunately, I do not have a photo of the tree.  However, there is a brief article in the Hartford Courant from September 3, 2007 about P. T. Barnum's Chestnut tree in Bridgeport.  A twelve year old boy spotted the tree and noted the importance of the old Parson's Chestnut tree in the yard of one of P. T. Barnum's former homes.

One item of interest to tree fans is that Connecticut College has a renown arboretum.  In 1985, the arboretum began the Notable Trees Project.  They have a group which travels around documenting and photographing trees of scientific and historic importance within the State of Connecticut.  Perhaps P. T. Barnum's Chestnut tree should be included in the Notable Trees Project.