Power Stories

Welcome to the latest issue of CTExplored/Inbox, your bi-weekly newsletter from Connecticut Explored. Every other week, we share that latest stories, the newest Grating the Nutmeg podcast, programs and exhibitions from our partners to see/watch this month, and more!

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Add to your Calendar: May 12, 6 p.m.

Lizabeth Cohen, Harvard University
Saving America’s Cities: Ed Logue, New Haven and Beyond”

Lecture based on Cohen’s story for the upcoming Summer 2021 issue and her award-winning book, Saving America’s Cities: Ed Logue and the Struggle to Renew Urban America in the Suburban Age. Presented by New Haven Museum and New Haven Preservation Trust with media support by Connecticut Explored. Register HERE or at NewHavenMuseum.org.


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Gas Light vs. Electric — A Matter of Life & Death

At the turn of the 20th century, the race was on to find better ways to keep the dark at bay. Candles and oil lamps just didn’t cut it. Two fascinating stories in the Spring 2021 issue reveal that one of the earliest means could be deadly—and the other gave us Candlewood Lake.

As Noah Webster House and West Hartford Historical Society director Jennifer Dicola Matos explains in her story in the issue, the invention of illuminating—or coal—gas greatly improved night time lighting, but at a high cost to human lives. At the beginning of the 20th century, over a 12-year period, gas lighting caused eight deaths from asphyxiation in West Hartford alone. It was a disturbingly frequent vehicle for suicide, too. Suicide accounted for as many as 50 percent of deaths by gas-poisoning. Though Hartford Electric Light Company was founded in 1883, it wasn’t until the 1920s that electric lighting reached most homes, especially in rural areas. That was not soon enough for Patrick and Ellen Broderick who died of gas asphyxiation from a faulty light fixture at St. Mary’s Home in West Hartford on September 11, 1913.

Hydroelectric power was first harnessed in Connecticut in 1903 when the Bull’s Bridge Hydroelectric Plant was built on the Housatonic River, according to Preservation Connecticut deputy director Chris Wigren’s story in the issue, “Site Lines: Rocky River Hydroelectric Plant.”

The Rocky River plant, the fourth on the Housatonic, was built in 1926 - 1928. It’s creation seems like a super-human feat of engineering and ambition in that an entire lake—Candlewood Lake—was created to feed the plant. As Wigren explains, seasonal fluctuations in the river’s flow made it an unreliable source. The station actually USES electricity to pump water up to the lake when the river is high. When the river is low, water is released from the lake to feed the huge electricity-producing turbines. The water continues downstream to feed two more generating stations, making the entire undertaking financially worthwhile.

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The Latest from Grating the Nutmeg

Episode 116: Connecticut In Motion: The Story of Our Time

In a lecture for Cheshire Public Library promoting his second book about Connecticut transportation history, Paved Roads and Public Money (Wesleyan University Press), historian, civil engineer, and highway and transportation planner Richard DeLuca underscores the inseparable relationships between population, technology, and the environment. 

Read more!
“Litchfield’s Fortunes Hitched to the Stagecoach,” Spring 2008
The Ill-Fated Farmington Canal,” Spring 2008
“Traveling Hartford-Area Turnpikes—Then, Now, or Never?,” Spring 2008

Programs and Exhibitions to Enjoy This Month

See Frankenthaler’s Late Works thru May 23

Renowned artist Helen Frankenthaler’s late works are on view through May 23 at New Britain Museum of American Art. Frankenthaler, whose career spanned six decades, has long been recognized as one of the greatest American artists of the 20th century. She was eminent among the second generation of postwar American abstract painters and is widely credited for playing a pivotal role in the transition from Abstract Expressionism to Color Field painting.  

New Britain Museum of American Art, 56 Lexington Street, New Britain. Nbmaa.org;  860-229-0257

OPEN MAY 1 Beautiful Work: The Art of Greenwich Gardens and Landscapes

The fruitful and fascinating history of gardens in Greenwich and the people who designed, tended, and delighted in them is celebrated in the Greenwich Historical Society’s spring exhibition. Visitors will revel in this exhibition about the splendid gardens created for captains of industry, and humble and hand-planted backyard vegetable gardens, too. On view through September 5.

Greenwich Historical Society, Greenwichhistory.org

Figureheads Revisited

After more than 40 years, Mystic Seaport Museum’s figureheads exhibition has received a makeover. Through a generous grant from the Henry Luce Foundation, curators re-imagined this visitor favorite with a new installation, Figureheads & Shipcarvings: Carvings of the Sea.

Mystic Seaport Museum, Mysticseaport.org

Tourist in Your Own Town!

“Noah’s Navigators” scavenger hunt uses word puzzles and games to send participants to locations in West Hartford Center and Blue Back Square. Puzzle books are available in the gift shop for $20 each. The Armchair Tour of West Hartford History video series highlights a new story at a different local site each week. 

Noah Webster House & West Hartford Historical Society, noahwebsterhouse.org

Students Inspired

Every year, Hill-Stead Museum in Farmington hosts more than 6,000 students from elementary schools to high schools and universities. Hill-Stead’s impressive collection of paintings by Monet, Degas, Whistler, Manet, and Cassatt, with the natural surroundings of the 152-acre estate, engages students and captures their imaginations. Learn more at Hillstead.org.

Hill-Stead Museum, Hillstead.org

Find all of our featured programs and exhibitions in the Spring 2021 Spotlight section.

Editors’ Picks

Stories we love from back issues to read now. 

A Valley Flooded to Slake the Capital Region’s Thirst,” Winter 2005-2006

Celebrating Windmills,” Spring 2019

The Bright Lights of Willimantic,” Fall 2007, and the founding of the Hartford Electric Light Company in 1883.

Connecticut’s Small Appliance Revolution,” Summer 2017, depended on the wide use of electricity in households.

Kids’ Page

Connecticut Explored stories for elementary school students. 

Building Dams for Water & Electricity,” Spring 2020

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