Book Review: Connecticut Coast: A Town-by-Town Illustrated History

by smartpoodle / Oct 01, 2009 / 0 comments

Connecticut Coast: A Town-by-Town Illustrated History

What I most enjoy about reviewing books is learning about the authors. Diana Ross McCain, author of Connecticut Coast: A Town-by-Town Illustrated History, is a foremost expert on the history of this state. She holds an M.A. in History, worked for the Connecticut Historical Society for twenty years and has penned other books entitled It Happened in Connecticut and Mysteries and Legends in New England.

Anyone who was born in Connecticut, currently lives there, or has ancestors from this state will be fascinated by both the rich history and the impressive collection of well-preserved historic black and white photographs and illustrations collected by the Connecticut Historical Society. The chapters of this meaty 275-page book are organized by coastal town name. Be sure to read the intro and study the excellent historical maps first.

Did you know that there was a major artist colony in Greenwich from the 1880s to the early 1900s? Or that two signers of the Death Warrant authorizing the beheading of King Charles I of England fled to Milford, CT in 1661? Or that the first synagogue in Stamford, Congregation Agudath Shalom, was formed in 1889? The book educates us about colonial days and how Norwalk and other cities were destroyed by fire in the 1770s and 80s when British soldiers set out to successfully destroy supplies that were to be used by soldiers fighting for American independence. And of course throughout the chapters we learn about how the building of the railroad system changed the landscape of the coast, developing towns and creating prosperity.

I particularly enjoyed the Traveling Up and Down the Coast Chapter with fabulous illustrations of boats and a snapshot of the Pequot Wheel Club in New London, circa 1900. (All men members of course!) The first bicycles made in the USA came from a factory in Hartford. In 1882 Bridgeport was becoming a major manufacturing city, and one of the factories included the Warner Corset Company. This got me wondering just exactly when American women stopped wearing corsets. Oh, the changes in fashion we’ve experienced in just over 100 years! Also in Bridgeport, in 1940, the first helicopter in the US was built by a Russian immigrant named Igor Sikorsky.

The Coastal Weather chapter features photos of blizzards as far back as 1888 and other photos depicting the destruction of several coastal cities due to the Hurricane of 1938. When I saw the pictures I imagined myself traveling back in time, standing next to the person in the photo on a pile of snow. And being a Floridian myself, who has lived through many hurricanes, I could certainly appreciate the struggles of Connecticut’s coastal towns in 1938.

An illustration of Yale College from 1825 on page 118 of the book reminds me that I have an interesting old lithograph I inherited of the first Yale – Princeton football game. I bet Diana Ross McCain would be able to tell me something about that. Diana surely knows her beloved state. Now she has inspired me to learn more about mine.

Connecticut Coast: A Town-by-Town Illustrated History now sits on the coffee table in my living room.




Debbie Glade/smartpoodle is the Geography Awareness Editor for Wandering Educators.