Carolyn Ivanoff

Bridgeport – A Cityscape Made by the Great War

May 03, 2019

By Carolyn Ivanoff

During the 1960s my grandmother lived on the top floor of the four- story Consumer Building at 1064 East Main Street on the corner of East Main Street and Arctic. The building was the tallest building in the area and from any window of the top floor you could look over almost the entire East Side. Skydells Department Store, where every Easter my mother purchased our shoes and hats, was directly across the street and I could look down on the roof. Looking down Artic Street the tall familiar landmark of the Remington Shot Tower was visible over the tops of the houses. Looking over to the left across Boston Avenue, I could clearly see the GE meatball shining above one of the largest industrial facilities in the world. General Electric, purchased the complex in 1920 from Remington. My favorite time to view the city was on a summer evening as the lights started to come on all over the East Side. Summer time was hot on the fourth floor, and the windows were old and wooden and huge with no screens and were always open. I guess looking back if I hadn’t been careful it would have been easy to fall. I always hated looking directly down. Usually I would kneel down and put my arms on the sill and my head in my hands and I would look across to GE. My father worked second shift and as the lights came on all over the East Side I looked across to GE. It was comforting to know he was there. I didn’t understand then, but I know now, that I was looking out over a Bridgeport landscape created by the Great War.

After the turn of the century munitions manufacturing by Remington-UMC was already transforming Bridgeport. Munitions were dangerous work and a dangerous presence. There was a series of explosions that racked the plant. On May 14, 1906 an explosion of 16 tons of gunpowder in the unprotected powder magazine on Success Hill shattered “every other window” in Bridgeport. Damage was reported as far away as Long Island. Old Saybrook, CT believed it had been hit with an earthquake. Incredibly there was no loss of life. After this close call a huge munitions park of 422 acres would be reserved as a munitions testing park and remain undeveloped as a live ordnance field, called Remington Woods. It has remained so to this present day. Currently it is under threat of development as the live ammunitions and lead are cleaned from the land.

In 1906 UMC-Remington decided to build its own shot tower and make its own shot. The plant needed 100 tons of shot per day and the sole source of supply was in Illinois. Building the tower commenced in 1908 and was completed seven months later by February 1909. The tower was ten stories high, one hundred ninety feet to the top of the flagpole and dominated the Bridgeport skyline. The tower was built from funds from the young owner of Remington’s private fortune. He wanted the tower to be an ornament to the city. The tower was the tallest building in Connecticut for many years and was a remarkable structure. The shot tower functioned by dropping molten lead from a height of 133 feet into vats of cold water six feet deep. The result was a perfectly spherical, uniform shot. This unique structure still looms over the East Side. Various preservation plans, as well as demolition plans, have been proposed for the structure. None of the plans have come to fruition. Ironically the shot tower windows seem to have been shot out and its derelict appearance is no longer an ornament to the city. It remains a looming, hulking remembrance of the city’s mighty industrial past.

Marcellus Hartley Dodge, the builder of the Shot Tower, inherited UMC (Union Metallic Cartridge) -Remington from his grandfather who as head of UMC-Remington had supplied arms to the nation during the Civil War. In 1915 Dodge was 34 years old and his company was now supplying arms to the warring Allied powers of Europe. When the Lusitania was torpedoed by the Germans in 1915 its sinking as a passenger ship caused outrage in the US. Despite being a neutral passenger ship when it was torpedoed, Lusitania was carrying tons and tons of UMC munitions. It was the secondary explosions from those munitions that sunk the ship in less than eighteen minutes. Among the dead were 128 Americans. It was the sinking of the Lusitania that strongly motivated America’s eventual declaration of war two years later in 1917.

Just before the Lusitania disaster the Russian Czar emerged as a new customer for a million Russian rifles and one hundred million rounds of ammunition and he wanted them from UMC-Remington. Dodge was worried that entering a contract with the Russians would put him in grave financial danger, but after the sinking of the Lusitania, he took the contract and planned to build a new plant in Bridgeport. Dodge raised $15 million dollars by selling gold bonds of his company and borrowed $15 million against his own preferred stock. He also gave his personal notes for thirteen million more. Dodge was one of the richest men from the richest families in the nation. He would become one of the great philanthropists of the early 20th century. Dodge took huge risks in borrowing, and expanding his operations. His planned building in Bridgeport would transform Bridgeport’s East Side. In the 1960s the old people on the East Side would say, “the Czar built that factory.” The Czar didn’t build that plant, Dodge did, but the Czar’s Great War munitions contracts were responsible for one of the largest, most unique factory buildings in the world. To build, Dodge bought land all around the location, including the last farms in the area. He would need massive amounts of acreage for the manufacturing facilities and housing for thousands of munitions workers..

UMC/Remington worked for five months from March to August 1915 constructing the immense Russian rifle plant that faced Boston Avenue. It was the largest factory that had ever been built in the United States all at one time. Its 13 parallel buildings, each five stories high were separated so that an explosion would not be able to start a chain reaction and take down the whole plant. The buildings were all linked by a central, five story corridor a half a mile long and contained 80 acres of floor space. Construction was closely guarded by the National Guard against possible sabotage by anarchists and Bolsheviks. For a time this spot overlooking old Stillman’s Pond, was one of the most important and protected places in the world.

In his 1917, History of Bridgeport and Vicinity, George Curtis Waldo. Jr., would write, “The plant today covers over eighty acres of floor space, with more being constantly added. The new arms plant, completed in the fall of 1915 is a half mile long and accommodates 9,000 employees. The ammunition plant, with its 11,000 employees also covers a large amount of ground. The Arms plant has given rise to an unprecedented growth in employees and the necessity of providing some means of quartering them. From this need has grown “Remington City” with more than 600 dwellings built by the company for housing of these people.

The density of the housing behind the plant took every available lot including the last farm on Mill Hill purchased by Remington. House after house after house went up some designed and built by the factory to house their workers. During 1915 while the plant was being built workers and immigrants flooded the city. People came to Bridgeport from all over the east coast. Housing was in short supply; the city was over crowded, and straining at the seams. According to Elsie Danenberg, who wrote “The Story of Bridgeport” in 1936, “All day long a line of men stood outside the Remington Arms Company waiting to be hired and it was said of the firm that one new man joined the force every 20 minutes. Suffice to say that 1,400-1,600 men were taken on every month for nearly a year. In November 1915, 3,000 were employed. By April 1, 1916, the number had jumped to 16,000 and 20,000 more were expected.”

Built in less than a year and completed in 1915, the facility fronting Boston Avenue was 13 inter-connected, five story buildings numbered 22-34. The plant encompassed 1.5 million square feet and 76.6 acres including a power house and was the largest manufacturing facility under one roof in the world. In 1920 the Boston Avenue plant was purchased by General Electric from Remington Arms for $7 million and served as GE’s world headquarters for decades. In 2011 General Electric sought demolition permits for the plant that had been vacant since 2008. The demolition of the plant began and famed Bridgeport pilot and photographer Morgan Kaolian documented the demolition in aerial photographs. The final section of the GE property came down on June 25, 2012.

 

Kaolian’s photographs appeared in the Connecticut Post. Today the brownfield sight of this famous plant has been remediated and the new Harding High School sits dwarfed in the middle of the former plant location along Stillman’s pond. The new school is quite large but could fit snugly into a small part of the massive red-brick industrial complex on Boston Avenue that had been a fixture on Bridgeport’s East Side for almost 100 years. It took longer to de-construct the buildings than it did to build them in that Great War summer of 1915. Bridgeport’s Great War landscape is slowly eroding and vanishing like the great industries that created it. Many of the great brick and mortar landmarks are simply gone.

 

 

Bibliography
The Bridgeport History Center, https://bportlibrary.org/hc/
Bridgeport History Center framed article display: Bridgeport and World War I: Marcellus Hartley Dodge and the Growth
of Remington Arms

Bridgeport History Center, Bridgeport City Directories, numerous years
Municipal reports of the City of Bridgeport, 1914, 1916
Burcki, Cecelia, Dr., Preface: Bridgeport Working: Voices from the 20th Century,
http://bridgeporthistory.org/exhibit/preface.cfm

The Connecticut Post, various articles 2010-1013 detailing the demolition of the General Electric Facility
Curtis, George, Waldo, Jr., History of Bridgeport and Vicinity, 1917
Dannenberg, Elsie, The Story of Bridgeport, 1836-136, Published by the Bridgeport Centennial, Inc,
History of Remington Woods, Friends of Remington Woods, http://home.earthlink.net/~remington_woods/id2.html
History of Remington Woods, Friends of Remington Woods, http://friendsofremingtonwoods.org/
Kaolian, Morgan, Aerial photography/AEROPIX The GE plant on Boston Ave., in Bridgeport. http://www.ctpost.com/local/article/GE-plant-demolition-nears-completion-3661493.php#photo-3117366
Ivanoff, Carolyn, Bridgeport postcards and current photographs
Library of Congress Chronicling America, Historic American Newspapers, The Bridgeport Evening Farmer,
http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn84022472/

The Library of Congress Prints and Photographs, online catalog, http://www.loc.gov/pictures/
Marcot, Roy, M., The History of Remington Firearms, 2005

Business and Commerce, Industry, Neighborhood: East End, Neighborhood: East Side, World War I

William H. Warren – A Connecticut Civil War Soldier

March 29, 2019

by Carolyn Ivanoff

William H. Warren
Birth: March 28, 1842 – Death:  June 5, 1918
Buried in Wooster Cemetery, Danbury, CT

William H. Warren was born on March 28, 1842.  Warren was listed in the 1860 census as a railroad hand living in Danbury, Connecticut.  In August 1862, as the Civil War raged, Warren patriotically enlisted in the 17th Connecticut Volunteer Infantry as an 18 year old private.  He enrolled in Company C along with other young men from Danbury Connecticut.  The 17th Connecticut Regiment was known as the Fairfield County Regiment, almost all of the volunteers for the regiment enlisted from different towns in Fairfield County.  This typical Union Civil War regiment was approximately one thousand men and led by a Colonel William H. Noble, a Bridgeport lawyer and business man, who was appointed Colonel of the 17th Connecticut.  A regiment was divided into ten companies of 100 men led by a captain.  When Warren enlisted in Company C, most of that company was recruited from Danbury.  The 17th Connecticut was enlisted as a three year regiment.  Before being sent off to the war the regiment gathered at Camp Aiken in what is now Seaside Park in Bridgeport. The regiment would be assigned to the 11th Army Corps, Second Brigade, First Division.  The regiment’s first combat was at Chancellorsville, where the 11th Corps was routed by Stonewall Jackson’s surprise flank attack on May 2, 1863.  Companies G and I of the 17th Connecticut were the first Union troops to be caught and crushed in Jackson’s attack which rolled up the Union flank and resulted in a costly Union defeat in the three day battle.  The Gettysburg Campaign began in early June and the 17th Connecticut reached the battlefield at the height of the fighting on the first day of battle on July 1, 1863.  Overwhelmed by a superior Confederate onslaught on Barlow’s Knoll, the Eleventh Corps folded and the survivors, including the survivors of the 17th Connecticut re-formed on East Cemetery Hill and held that ground for the next two days.  Gettysburg would be the 17th Connecticut’s costliest combat and the regiment would suffer its greatest loss of the war the first day of that three day battle.  Many of the regiments were killed, missing, or wounded on the first day.  Many of the men listed as missing were captured, including Private William Warren.  Warren was sent with other prisoners to Belle Isle prison camp in Richmond.  Most of the POWs of the 17th Connecticut, including Warren, would be exchanged in late August 1863 and would rejoin their regiment.  After Gettysburg, the surviving members of the regiment were sent to South Carolina and then Florida where they were engaged in various actions until the survivors were mustered out at Hilton Head in July 1865.

For William Warren, like many of the soldiers of the Civil War, their Civil War service would remain the defining adventure of their lives.  Their service in saving the Union was a source of immense pride.  These men went home to become active in veterans groups that commemorated their service, honored their comrades who sacrificed their lives, and created monuments throughout the nation and on Civil War Battlefields where they fought and the towns and cities where they lived.  Warren like other veterans, returned home to resume civilian life.  In 1866 he married Delia Campbell Keeler and they had seven children.  The 1880 census shows the family living in New Haven, Connecticut and Warren’s profession listed as a painter.

William Warren’s lifelong ambition was to write and publish a regimental history of the 17th Connecticut Volunteer Infantry.  He was never successful, but devoted himself obsessively to this task until the very end of his life. Warren was unceasing in his efforts to compile and collect accounts of the regiment’s service and experiences.  He corresponded widely with the officers and men of the 17th Connecticut, soliciting their accounts of their experiences.  He compiled photographs, letters, first-hand accounts and numerous sources.  The Bridgeport History Center holds the thirteen bound volumes of Warren’s collected research.  Several of the volumes are typed and devoted to specific events such as Chancellorsville and Gettysburg.  Several of the volumes are hand written.  One handwritten volume is entitled “Gleanings.” The most compelling volume contains a handwritten annotated index and almost two hundred photographs of members of the regiment that Warren reproduced from older tintypes, ambrotypes and cartes de visites (small paper photographs on cardstock which were popular during the Civil War). All of the volumes have been edited and reworked numerous times by Warren to the point where several volumes have two different sets of handwritten page numbers.  The majority of the volumes are labeled as the eighth edition of the work.   They are a vast and precious resource for study of the 17th Connecticut.  However, these volumes are also a tremendous challenge to the researcher.  Many of the accounts are post-war, although they are first hand, from various members of the regiment.  The written letters which were sent to, or collected by Warren, were twenty or thirty years after the war and need to be evaluated in the light of years passing and the writers’ perhaps, faulty memories or reinterpretation of events.  Warren used much primary material in compiling the volumes, including his own and several other diaries kept during the war. However because of the numerous revisions, in both handwritten and typed volumes, it is impossible to tell how many edits and rewrites of the original material was made.

The tragedy of the material is it was never published.  William Warren’s dream of a regimental history never came to pass.  There were probably many, many reasons for this.  The shear overwhelming volume of material he compiled and collected may have simply paralyzed his efforts to downsize into a viable publication.  Warren’s failure to come to any publishing agreement with the post war 17th Connecticut Survivors Association regarding financial arrangements and control of the material probably played a major role in preventing publication. Warren may have guarded his work possessively and he may have been unable and unwilling to cut it down to a manageable volume.

These precious but dilapidated volumes reside in the Bridgeport History Center.  In addition to the volumes there are four manuscript boxes with the Papers of William Warren.  The library has no provenance on any of the Warren holdings.  When the volumes came to the library, who deposited them at the library and why, where original materials are (except for material in the four manuscript boxes), including the original diaries, letters, correspondence, and original photographs that Warren used to create the manuscript remain a mystery.

Warren apparently worked on the manuscript diligently until the end of his life.  He passed away on June 5, 1918 and was interred in Wooster Cemetery in Danbury.  Inscribed on his tombstone:  Father, William H. Warren, Co C 17th Inf. Conn Vols, Died June 5, 1918, AE 76.  Warren’s life work was left unfinished, but remains alive in its sprawling volumes.  These volumes contain treasures to be discovered on the lives and sacrifices of the men of the 17th Connecticut Regiment.

Bibliography:

17thcvi.org – An Online History of the 17th Connecticut Volunteer Infantry during the U.S. Civil War, https://seventeenthcvi.org/blog/

Ancestry.com – information on William Henry Warren, Birth:1842 – Death:  1918,

Cauchon, Barry, “An Awesome Talk With” CHARLENE HENDERSON: The 17th Regiment CVI Gravesite Location Project, UPDATE: March 02, 2010, https://awesometalks.wordpress.com/tag/william-h-warren/

Hines, Blaikie, Civil War Volunteer Sons of Connecticut, American Patriot Press, 2002

House, Art, Lt. Col. Retired, Fragile Volumes Reveal the 17th’s Regimental History, 17thcvi.org

Warren, William H., Eleven Volume Manuscript History of the 17th Connecticut Regiment, Bridgeport Public Library History Center

Warren, William H., Papers of William Warren (BHC-MSS 0035), Bridgeport History Center

Veterans and Wars