River St.

With the recent news of New England Brewing Co. moving to River St. in Fair Haven, along with the negotiations to bring Jaigantic Studios, a movie and television production company, there as well, we’re going to take a quick look at River St. and some of its former residents, all 19th century high-tech industrial icons of their day.

Built on the abandoned oyster fields of Fair Haven’s first industrial boom, Bigelow Boilers became one of largest steam boiler manufacturers in the United States. In 1860, Hobart B. Bigelow took over a division of the Wilcox Foundry and Machine Company, located on Whitney Ave. overlooking the Farmington Canal. He invested heavily in crafting metal parts for cutting edge commercial technology in the early days of large-scale gold mining and oil drilling. His most successful products though were industrial heating boilers.   

In 1869, Bigelow moved the metal works from Whitney Ave. to a new expansive site on River St. in Fair Haven. The area was optimum and conducive to large scale modern operations due to waterfront access, flat open space, proximity to the railroad, with spur lines running directly down River St. to the new factories. This was combined with flush coffers of post-Civil War start-up investment capital and a growing local residential population that provided a perfect combination of both skilled and unskilled workers to cover all of the operational bases. In 1870, Fair Haven officially rejoined New Haven as well.

Bigelow’s financial and political fortunes continued to grow. He was elected Mayor of New Haven in 1879 and served until 1881 when he was elected the 50th Governor of Connecticut. In 1883 he left office and refocused solely on his manufacturing company. That same year he founded the National Pipe Bending Company on River St. to complement the boiler factory, by producing necessary piping and parts in a separate and adjacent operation.

Bigelow passed away in 1891. His companies continued to thrive well into the 20th century, with the height of production and growth for both River St. complexes peaking during World War I. While National Pipe Bending diversified in the mid-20th century and made consumer products like home hot water heaters, the fortunes of both companies continued to decline until the 1980s when they were merged and shortly after closed down operations on River St.

At the high point of the early 20th century River St. wasn’t just the metal-fabrication center of the city. It also included to the west of Bigelow and National complexes, the Dutee Wilcox Flint Automobile Assembly Plant. The plant was a local franchised Ford Motor Co. assembly plant built in 1920. Ford sent parts directly from Detroit by train and vehicles were assembled for local sale at the plant on River St. This was a way to guarantee prompt availability of new cars to fast growing markets in and around New Haven.

 To the east of the Bigelow plant at the corner of Ferry and River Streets was the Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company local warehouse. It was built in 1925, as the New York based company otherwise known as A&P was going through a period of massive growth becoming the largest discount retailer and first supermarket chain in the United States. The warehouse was the equivalent of the enormous new Amazon facilities popping up throughout Connecticut. Today the building is the home of StorQuest Self Storage.

Lastly coming full circle, across Ferry St. at the end of River St. stands the old Quinnipiac Brewery. The Quinnipiac Brewing Company was founded in 1872 by German-Americans Peter Schleippman and William Spittler. They mainly produced German style lager at a time when large scale production of beer in the United States first boomed. The brewery’s six story height is indicative of the success and investment put into their business at the time. The brewery facilities had modern large refrigeration units and a full bottling operation with easy railroad access for distribution. In 1902, it became the Yale Brewing Company (not related to the university). In 1920 with the beginning of Prohibition the brewery came to a grinding halt and abruptly shut down. After Prohibition the brewery came back online for a decade before closing and becoming a warehouse through the 1970s and later converted to apartments overlooking the scenic Quinnipiac River.

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