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Located on the waterfront of the scenic and historic town of Essex, the Connecticut River Museum is a must-visit for anyone interested in exploring the heritage of New England’s longest river. The Connecticut River’s 410-mile course begins in northern New Hampshire and flows to the Long Island Sound. The museum is open all year and features a variety of interesting programs, lectures, and exhibits that showcase the incredible diversity of this remarkable river, past and present.
One of my favorite exhibits is the annual Holiday Train Show, presented by local artist Steve Cryan. This locomotive extravaganza is constructed on a fully functional 26-foot-long by 8-foot-wide model train platform, and features thousands of model vehicles, people, and buildings in addition to 12 trains running at all times. This master model builder and maritime artist has created, in intricate detail, Connecticut towns and villages circa 1930-1940, detailed with shops, restaurants, boats, and wrecks.
The train show engineers: Steve Cryan on the right, and Tim Ryan, his friend and back-up engineer on the left.
Tim is no rookie to railroads and steam locomotives. For years he was an engineer working for the Valley Railroad Company piloting locomotives like the one shown below. This big-steamer, known as the Essex Steam Train, carries passengers on scenic rides along the Connecticut River.
The photo below is an American Flyer/Lionel Train layout designed for young visitors to get hands-on railroading experience.
The Grand Street and Three Rivers Railroad
This Rod Stewart poster was a pleasant surprise for me. This magnificent model railroad and cityscape was created by Rod Stewart over a period of 12 years. When he is on tour he takes seven large cases of model kits and tools with him, and rents an extra hotel room to set up a model train workshop.
Stewart is not the only celebrity to love model trains. Frank Sinatra was an avid railroad enthusiast and actor-singer Mandy Patinkin has also built a large train layout in his barn. Singer Neil Young has been part owner of model train maker Lionel LLC for years.
The 26-foot-long, 8-foot-wide main layout has thousands of model buildings, vehicles, and people. There are at least 12 trains that are in constant motion on this layout. The HO-scale trains wind their way through 1930 villages and towns containing intricately detailed shops, restaurants, and boats. I also spotted a bar and a brothel in the layout. All visitors are invited to complete the “I SPY” scavenger hunt for various objects hidden within the settings. A visit to the museum during the train show is a perfect outing for all model train fans.
Every visit to the Connecticut River Museum reveals exhibits overlooked on the previous one. Below are two that I discovered when leaving the Holiday Train Show.
On the wall, between the ivory tusks, is a photo of the Comstock, Cheney & Company ivory processing plant, located in Ivoryton, one of three villages in Essex. At one time this plant and the Julius Pratt & Co. plant, located in the lower river town of Deep River, processed about 90% of the ivory imported into the United States.
Below is a period photo of the original Colt East Armory, which was built in 1855. This building was almost completely destroyed by a disastrous fire in 1864.
Below is a recent photo of the building capped with a distinctive onion-shaped sheet metal dome that resembles the one that topped the 1855 armory. On December 12, 2014 final congressional approval came for the creation of Coltsville Natural Historical Park on this site. The park will be dedicated to the accomplishments of Samuel Colt and the role this factory played in the Industrial Revolution.
The photo below shows what I believe is a Colt Army Model 1860 single-action .44 cal revolver that fired a paper-wrapped round ball. This gun was used by both sides during the Civil War and during the American Indian Wars. However, at first glance it looked very much like Navy Single Action 1850 .38 revolver. The two guns are almost identical, but after some research I found this revolver is the Army Revolver. This case also contained several ivory pieces. In the right rear is an ivory billiard ball along with several ivory chess pieces.
Below is photo from the Colt web site. The Navy 1850 model is on top, the Army 1860 is on the bottom.
Many of the exhibits on the display at the museum show the banks of the Lower Connecticut River, a 36-mile section between Middletown and Long Island sound. The Cold Building is in Hartford, a short distance to the north.
If you are lucky enough to visit Connecticut, the Connecticut River Museum and the Town of Essex will be rewarding, educational, and entertaining places to spend a day or two.
Essex Steam Train and Riverboat Connection
Essex Station, home of the Essex Steam Train, is only a short distance from the River Museum. The Riverboat Connection is only one of the popular features offered. The photos below were taken this past summer.
The Connecticut River near the museum
The popular Goodspeed Opera House
Gillette Castle, built by William Gillette — aka Sherlock Holmes
On Labor Day weekend my wife, Tricia, and I headed for northeast Connecticut to explore a seasonal favorite, The Woodstock Fair. Unfortunately, we had a late start. By the time we arrived at the fairgrounds, the line of cars waiting to park was over a mile long. Down the road from the fairgrounds is a popular farm winery that we had planned to visit on the way home. Fortunately, Taylor Brooke Winery was open and their parking lot was invitingly empty.
The owners of this winery, Dick and Linda Auger, began making wine as a hobby in 1993. Their love of the craft led to the official establishment of this winery in 1999, after hand-planting their first 300 vines. They have continued planting additional vines every year since then. Today, I estimate that they have over 2000 vines contributing to at least half of their wine production. During my visit I photographed a large field of new vines, which I believe will significantly increase my estimate of that number.
They received a Connecticut Farm Winery permit in November of 1999, and opened the tasting room (pictured below) in June of 1994. Currently, Taylor Brooke produces 16 small batch wines, which include dry estate-grown whites and reds, fruit-infused Rieslings and dessert wines.
Dick and Linda have transformed one of the largest and oldest farms in this area into one of Connecticut’s most popular and respected farm wineries.
Dick enjoys greeting visitors during tasting sessions. At these meet and greet sessions, he enthusiastically shares his extensive knowledge of every aspect of wine, from planting vines to producing quality wines from the grapes. As the winemaker, he manages the production of about 2500 cases of wine a year.
There are two outside tasting areas for guests to enjoy their wine when the weather permits.
The bottle of wine in the photo below is a Riesling infused with a natural raspberry essence. I usually prefer the crisp, clean brightness of Sauvignon Blanc when I drink or cook with a white wine. However, after a brief conversation with another visitor in the tasting room, I decided to try this seasonal wine. I was surprised to discover an intense brightness in this wine without the cloying sweetness found in other wines of this type. After tasting it and preparing two of my favorite braised chicken and herb recipes, I used this wine in the reduction sauce, with great success. I am now curious to see how it will pair with some of my favorite Asian recipes.
The grapes in the background are Cayuga White; a hardy hybrid grape developed at Cornell University. This grape is one of the mainstays of wineries in Connecticut.
Pictured below are several mature Cayuga White vines producing an impressive yield. This grape variety answers the question, “Which hybrid grape is easy to grow and make quality wine from?”
This spacious vineyard allows visitors to take unguided tours of the various fields, and also provides comfortable areas to relax and enjoy the view.
Below is what I believe is the latest field being prepared for planting in the spring.
Passing up a large and very popular fair to take a relaxing and informative tour of a first class vineyard like Taylor Brooke was time well spent.
Crazy Horse —The Last Great Warrior of the Plains
This photo was taken from the recently constructed viewing deck near the Monument. Mike lined this shot to show the contrast between a completed model and the Memorial’s work in progress.
I met Mike and Jayne nearly 54 years ago while playing a game called “curb ball” with a few friends. It’s a simple game that only requires a sidewalk curb or concrete step, and a few friends to play. It became popular in many cities around the country after World War II. We liked playing games like this because the only equipment needed was a tennis ball, or a pink rubber ball that we called a “pinkie”. This day, however, tragedy struck. I was the designated batter. As I threw the ball against the curb, it struck the very edge and collapsed. Unfortunately, it was the only ball we had. We thought that the game was over until Mike and Jayne, who had been watching us play offered us a solution to the problem. Mike announced that he had two brand new “pinkies” at home. If we let him be the next batter, he would run home and get one. We all agreed, so Mike ran home and brought back a brand new ball, and the game continued. We have been friends ever since.
The background in this photo was shot, by me, in 1960. It is the the parking court where we played many ball games like “curb ball”. The characters in the foreground were frequent players in all of our games. The foregound photo was taken at our Franklin Field Project reunion in August, 2013. Jayne was behind the camera.
Over the years, Mike and Jayne have not lost their willingness to share with friends. Last year they vacationed in New Mexico. They returned with some great photographs of the Albuquerque Balloon Festival, and gave me permission to publish them in my February post of this year. This year they went to the Great Plains to see and experience the majesty of the Crazy Horse Memorial being carved into a 600-foot-high mountain in the Black Hills of South Dakota. When completed, it will be 563 feet high and 641 feet long. These dimensions will make it the largest sculpture in the world. Crazy Horse’s head will be larger than all of the heads of the Presidents at Mount Rushmore.
The Black Hills are a small mountain range rising from the Great Plains in South Dakota and extending into Wyoming. These hills were so named because of their dark appearance when viewed from a distance because of their dense tree cover. The Lakota made the Black Hills their home after forcing the Cheyenne to relocate to the west in 1776.
Crazy Horse was an Oglala Sioux Native American Chief who waged a desperate battle against the removal of his people from the Black Hills to U.S. government reservations. He was born to parents of two tribes of the Lakota division of Sioux. His father was an Oglala and his mother was a Miniconjou. His birth came at a time when the Lakota people were at the height of their power. They controlled a vast swath of land from the Missouri River in the east to the Big Horn River in the west. Their contact with white settlers was minimal until the 1850s when white settlers began moving west in search of gold and a new life on the frontier. As the number of new settlers increased, they introduced diseases that began to take a serious toll on native American populations. By 1854, tensions between native Americans and the settlers boiled over with an incident known as the Grattan Massacre. In August of 1854, a group of soldiers led by Lieutenant John Grattan entered the Sioux camp of Chief Conquering Bear to arrest a man for killing a settler’s cow that wandered into the area. The Chief refused to turn the man over to the soldiers, and violence erupted. During the confrontation one of the soldiers shot and killed the Chief. The camp’s warriors fought back and killed Grattan and his 30 soldiers. This is widely believed to be the conflict that set off the first great war between the Lakota and the United States. As conflicts escalated between the United States and the Lakota, Crazy Horse was at the center of many key battles. Because of his exceptional fighting ability Crazy Horse was named Ogale Tanka (war leader) by his tribe in 1865. He had a seemingly mystical ability to avoid injury or death on the battlefield. It is believed that he was only wounded twice; both wounds were inflicted by members of his tribe. Crazy Horse had one motive for fighting in most of his battles. He was determined retake the Lakota life he had known as a child, when his people had full run of the Great Plains.
The last stand and death of Crazy Horse
During the Civil War (1861-1865), the military avoided battle with the Lakota. In 1866, however, hostilities began again. In December of that year Crazy Horse led an attack on a Captain William Fetterman and a brigade of 80 soldiers, outside of Fort Laramie on the Bozeman Trail in Wyoming, just south of the Montana border. Fetterman and his entire brigade were killed. This was a huge embarrassment for the U.S military.
On June 17, 1876, Crazy Horse led 1,200 Oglala and Cheyenne warriors against General George Crook and his brigade as they were on their way to confront Chief Sitting Bull at his encampment on the Little Bighorn River. The attack foiled Crook’s planned attack, preventing him from linking up with General Custer and his 7th Cavalry on Big Horn River. On June 24, 1876, Custer attacked Sitting Bull’s camp. This attack ended in disaster for the 7th Cavalry. The detachment was cut to pieces and killed to the last man. After the defeat on the Big Horn River, the Army pursued a scorched-earth policy against the Lakota. Sitting Bull led his followers to Canada to escape this wrath. Crazy Horse refused and vowed to continue fighting. During the winter of 1877, hunger and cold forced many of Crazy Horse’s warriors to abandon him. On May 6, 1877, Crazy Horse led his people into Fort Robinson to surrender. On the morning of September 5th, 1877, Crazy Horse was bayoneted in the back by a guard while being formally arrested at Fort Robinson, and died later that night.
Looking into the future of the Memorial
The painting below shows how this remarkable carving will look in the future when all of Korczak’s major goals are completed. A poem written by the sculptor will be carved behind the horse and rider in letters three feet tall.
Korczak Ziolkowski, a Polish/American sculptor, was the designer of The Crazy Horse Memorial. He was born in Boston in 1908 to Polish parents. He was educated at Rindge Technical (now called Rindge Latin) in Cambridge, Massachusetts. After graduating he became apprentice to a Boston ship maker, and began carving wood at age 20. He later moved to West Hartford, Connecticut, to begin a career as a professional artist. He was one of the sculptors who helped in the carving of Mount Rushmore. His reputation as a sculptor, and his familiarity with South Dakota’s Black Hills prompted several Lakota chiefs to approach him about constructing a monument honoring Native Americans. Chief Henry Standing Bear of the Lakota Nation wrote him a letter saying, “My fellow chiefs would like the white man to know the red man has great heroes, too. In 1947, Ziolkowski moved to the Black Hills to begin planning the sculpture. The first blast was made on June 3, 1948, and the Memorial was dedicated to the Native American people. He continued his work until his death in 1982. After his death, his wife Ruth took over the project as director until her death on May 14 of this year. Their children are continuing the carving of the monument or are active in the Crazy Horse Memorial Foundation. The U.S. government has offered the foundation 10 million dollars to help with the construction, but it has been turned down. The foundation charges admission to visitors to raise development funds.
Planned dimensions of the Crazy Horse Memorial
Mount Rushmore — only 8 miles away
If you are interested in this subject go to www.biography.com and type Crazy Horse into the search bar. There you will find biographies of many of the historical figures discussed here.