Tell Us Your Naugatuck River Story
To share photographs or river-related memories, e-mail us today at naugatuckwebsite@hvatoday.org!




I went to school at St Francis & Naugatuck High School from 1941 thru 1953. I remember walking at the river and seeing some strange lumpy fish.The word was that the U.S.Chemical & U.S. Rubber companies were dumping their waste into the river causing the comtamination.I did go to work at the U.S. Chemical Company before joining the USAF. When I got discharged from the USAF I went back to work at the same place.It was the law in those days that the company had to re-hire veterans. No fishing allowed so we went to Hop Brook to catch trout..
                                                                                 ~C.S, NHS Class of 53




When I was a kid; if you fell into the Naugatuck River, you didn’t drown, you dissolved. I grew up in Beacon Falls and the Naugatuck River was my back yard. From the time I was two years old until I was thirteen, my family lived on Railroad Avenue and the river, as dirty and polluted as it was, was where many us kids played.  We would explore the shoreline, stepping over the sewer pipes that exited from the back of each house on the street directly into the river and explore the “Island”. The island was a block or two south of the last house on the street. One could reach the island by stepping on the rocks in the channel that separated it from the west side of the river. The Island was a quiet, magical place to kids, with tall pine trees and places to hide and areas to build little towns in the sand with driftwood. The 1955 flood changed the topography and I don’t think the island exists anymore.  We may have not had much in the way of material things, but we certainly weren’t deprived.

For the longest time I thought there was something alive in the river. As I crossed the bridge every day on my way to and from Center School I would see this long thing between the crud covered rocks, rippling in the water,. You couldn’t see much, because the water was opaque and usually some strange shade of green. I later realized it was a length of old fire hose that had apparently become stuck on the river bottom. Now it is a such pleasure to see grass and plants on the shoreline and fish in the river, when nothing would have survived when I was a boy.        
~ R.S.

I grew up in Torrington in the 1940s and could always tell what yarns were being dyed at the Woolen Mill from the color of river going through the town. What a joy it is to see how clean and pristine the river is today.       
  ~J.B.

Although I left Waterbury in 1956, I have vivid memories of crossing over the Naugatuck to get to the factory whether my father worked in Platts Mills. I recall the different colors of the water (depending upon which plant up-river was dumping what, I suppose) and the smells. I also remember my mother referring to it as a 'working river,' meaning that it served the industry around it and that a working river was different than a 'fishing river' or a 'swimming river.' I'm eager to see how this working river has been transformed.        
~ S.G. 

 
Reading the article below 15 years later makes for interesting reflections. This is being posted on Feb. 5, 2014

Making the Naugatuck Safe for Living Things Again
By DAVID HOWARD
Published: New York Times, March 14, 1999

THE Naugatuck River of Francis M. McDonald's youth was an aquatic menace. He grew up in the 1930's and 40's, and though he loved trout and the intricacies of fly fishing, at that time he avoided the poisonous currents that ran through his hometown of Waterbury.

''You didn't have to be told,'' Mr. McDonald recalled on a blustery winter day on the river's bank in Seymour. ''The smells off the river were just incredible. It used to run the color of the sneakers made at the Uniroyal plant in Naugatuck.''

For most of the 20th century the Naugatuck River has been known as Connecticut's dirtiest river. In the 19th century, towns and factories began openly dumping sewage and factory waste into its waters, and long-time residents recall seeing excrement in the water.

But the Naugatuck in the last two decades has slowly regained its health. Communities have organized clean-ups, spent millions on waste-water treatment plants and stocked its waters with fish. Clean-water laws have made possible the return of beavers, otters, heron and other wildlife. And in December, environmental activists, municipal leaders, corporate officials and fishing fanatics gathered in Seymour to announce a high point in the comeback story. Mr. McDonald, a Connecticut Supreme Court justice, jammed his hands in his overcoat pockets and smiled as he stood on the fringe of a news conference. ''To take this river and restore it is almost a miracle,'' Mr. McDonald said. ''It was really a sewer, and it was dammed for almost 200 years. This is something nobody could have dreamed of a few years ago.''

The State Department of Environmental Protection announced plans for an ambitious habitat restoration, dam-removal and re-vegetation program. The anticipated result: 32 miles of free-flowing river for sea-run trout, American shad, alewives and herring for the first time since 1800. That is when the Naugatuck Valley's fabled industrial giants began to dam the river for hydro-electric power, says Albin Weber, president of the valley chapter of Trout Unlimited.

The Naugatuck, which originates in Torrington and winds south to meet the Housatonic in Derby, is the only major river with its source in the state.

The $4.5 million restoration project, coordinated by the D.E.P. in partnership with Trout Unlimited and other civic groups, will be finished by the end of 2000. The project calls for the complete or partial removal of five dams between Thomaston and Naugatuck. (Since then, the Anaconda Dam in Waterbury, which was slated for partial removal, was blown out by high waters, Mr. Weber said.) In addition, a bypass channel will be built on the Tingue Dam in Seymour, creating a passage for boaters and fish. And a fish ladder will be added to Bray's Buckle Dam on the Mad River, near where it spills into the Naugatuck in Waterbury.

The D.E.P. estimates that annual runs of 23,000 American shad could be restored, making the Naugatuck the third largest sport fishery for that species in Connecticut. The agency is considering restoring another eight miles of river in 2001, Mr. Weber said.

Another factor is the involvement of Waterbury chemical manufacturer MacDermid Inc., which over the past 15 years was cited as a problem polluter by the state. The company pledged money to the cause -- $120,000 to hire the Naugatuck's first river steward -- but the symbolism of the gesture may be even more significant. ''We're a chemical company, and chemical companies tend not to have a reputation as being environmentally friendly,'' said David A. Erdman, the company's vice president of external affairs. ''But I don't think that's necessarily correct.''

Two years ago, MacDermid stocked 1,000 trout in the river for a fishing tournament that is now an annual event. The tournament led to a closer relationship between MacDermid and the Naugatuck Valley chapter of Trout Unlimited, and that alliance spawned the river steward position. ''Our family's commitment to the Naugatuck River is long term,'' said Harold Leever, MacDermid's chairman emeritus. ''Our goal is to help make the river as swimmable and fishable as possible.''

Trout Unlimited and MacDermid hired Jonathan M. Ploski, a watershed reclamation specialist and former fishing guide, to serve as the river steward. He will work with area anglers, conservationists and residents to coordinate restoration efforts. ''When I was a kid, the thought of going fishing in the Naugatuck River was ridiculous,'' said Mr. Ploski, who grew up in the valley. ''Now you can catch striped bass below the Kinneytown Dam'' in Ansonia. But after so many years of abject pollution, few people know that. The river's neighbors need to see that the Naugatuck's transformation from pariah to community asset is well under way, Mr. Weber said. ''It's important to change that perception,'' he said. ''This is a chance for the river to put on a good face.''

Seymour's First Selectman, John A. O'Toole, counted himself among the thousands of skeptics in the valley when river advocates first approached him about getting involved in the Naugatuck restoration. ''I thought they were crazy,'' Mr. O'Toole said.
Conversations with Mr. McDonald and others began to change his mind. ''All of a sudden it started sinking in,'' Mr. O'Toole said. ''I had to be educated. I know it sounds gratuitous, but if they didn't teach me, I never would have figured it out.''

What did he learn? ''That if the water comes back, it's a good sign our communities have come back.'' Mr. O'Toole now donates town hall buildings for meetings and touts the river's comeback.

Such support has been essential, Mr. Weber said. ''If it wasn't for the D.E.P. and the towns stepping up to the plate, we'd still be out there screaming and yelling,'' he said.''It's like the canary in the coal mine,'' said James MacBroom, vice president of Milone & MacBroom Inc., the engineering firm hired for the dam removal. ''As the river improves, the towns around them improve.''

Planners had the community in mind when they conceived the Tingue Dam improvements. A channel will be built on one end of the 270-foot-long dam to allow fish and boaters to pass through. Mr. MacBroom predicted it would become a popular spot for canoes and kayaks. ''The river is a beautiful place, and it should be a playful and fun type of place,'' he said. ''We want to make it more like the Farmington River. At one time that was a dirty river, but it's become an attribute to the communities there.''

All the right things seem to be happening. A fish ladder on the Kinneytown Dam (the first obstacle for fish swimming upstream from the sea) was completed in February. Trout Unlimited's volunteer force, which began the river's turn-around with clean-up projects in the early 1980's, has swelled from 20 to 60, Mr. Weber said.

And a solution is at hand for what appeared to be a significant problem. To complete construction of a new municipal sewage treatment plant, the city of Waterbury had to shut down its existing operation from June through August. Environmentalists said that the effluent would kill much of the wildlife.

But the Army Corps of Engineers agreed to impound water behind the Thomaston Dam for the first time since 1974, Mr. Weber said. The Corps recently determined that pooling 34 feet of water behind the dam this spring would not pose a problem for the 140 acres that would be covered. The water will be released during the summer to help wash away Waterbury's polluted effluent.

''The solution to pollution is dilution,'' Mr. Weber said. ''Impoundment was one of the big things we had to have happen. Otherwise we would have gone ballistic.''

Possibly the biggest obstacle that remains is bringing the people back to the river, Mr. Weber said.

''We want a broader amount of stakeholders than just us guys and gals who have been interested in the river,'' he said. ''Changing hearts and minds is a slow process.''

Photos: Long regarded as Connecticut's most polluted river, the Naugatuck, with its many bridges and dams, is making a comeback. Among its bridges are ones (top to bottom) in Ansonia, Waterbury and Thomaston. (Photographs by Don Heiny for The New York Times)(pg. 1); The view from a bridge over the Naugatuck in Waterbury, near the Freight Street dam, which is under water. The clean-up includes dam removals on map above as well as a fish ladder, left, being built near Ansonia. Chemical plant, below, is in Naugatuck. (Photographs by Don Heiny for The New York Times)(pg. 21) Chart: ''Freeing a River'' By fully or partially removing seven dams along the Naugatuck, 32 miles of river would be free flowing and opened ofr sea-run trout and other fish for the first time since 1800. Recent high waters have already opened the Anaconda Dam. Map of Connecticut highlights Naugautuck River and the dams along its course. 


Why Wait?  Tell Us Now!
Why do you love the Naugatuck River Valley?
What is your favorite river memory?

Email us at naugatuckwebsite@hvatoday.org!



Special thanks to our sponsors:
Naugatuck Savings Bank, Connecticut Community Foundation
Union Savings Bank, Wesson Energy, Inc., The United Illumination Company, Friends of Naugatuck River
The Platt Brothers & Company, Thomaston Savings Bank, Valley Community Foundation