Main St Essex CT – #ThursdayDoors

Essex, and the nearby towns were shipbuilding sites from the start. From our Revolutionary, through WWI, over 4,000 ships were built on the CT River within a few miles of this port. This marker is where the Oliver Cromwell, a warship built in 1776 was built.

As I was driving away from the Connecticut River Museum a few weeks ago, I spied something few people see when visiting Essex – available parking spaces on Main St. Essex is a small, mostly residential community with ample attractions to bring a crowd of visitors to Main St. The street is lined with restaurants and shops and it ends at one of the most famous waterfronts in Connecticut, and in some remarkable way, US history.

Essex was part of the original Saybrook Colony which was settled at Saybrook Point in 1635, where the Connecticut River empties into Long Island Sound. Connecticut was just starting to be settled at that time, and The Saybrok Colony wasn’t considered to be part of Connecticut until around 1640. Fast forward 130 years or so, and Essex started to assume its historic identity.

Around the time of the US Revolution, Captain Uriah Hayden was commissioned by the Colony of Connecticut to build the “Oliver Cromwell,” the largest ship ever constructed in the Connecticut River Valley. Captain Hayden lived on the waterfront at the end of Main Street, next to where the Connecticut River Museum stands today. I’ve shared that door before, but it’s the featured door today. Given the nature of the river near Essex, with many coves and islands, Essex was an ideal location to build ships.

In 1807, President Jefferson implemented an embargo to prohibit American ships from trading in foreign ports. This was designed to prevent American ships, and goods from being seized during the ongoing war between England and France. As any student of history would be asking, I’ll wrap up the preliminary history and get to the action. The embargo had limited effect, but it damaged the economy of the eastern states and crippled the ship-building dependent economy of Connecticut. Congress ended the embargo in 1809, in typical Congress fashion, i.e. by replacing it with something equally as bad – the Non-Intercourse Act, which prohibited trade with Britain and France.

During the war of 1812, Essex shipbuilders were building privateers to prey on the relatively slow-moving British warships. In response, the British Navy established a blockade at the mouth of the Connecticut river. The British discovered the work being done in Essex, and in the morning of April 8, 1814, the British attacked and destroyed 28 ships worth about $200,000 (about $4 million in 2020). This attack was one of the great financial losses during that war.

OK, end of history lesson. Essex today is not so different from Essex of 1812. Ironically, the fact that Essex clung to shipbuilding and a couple unique manufacturing industries (piano parts, for example) Essex was bypassed by large manufacturing growth in CT. This left the area predominantly residential and rural. When the “business” of the Connecticut River shifted from transportation to leisure, Essex was in an ideal position to support boating, instead of shipping. As a result, Main St. in Essex has changed very little over the past 200 years.

Note: Through the efforts of the Connecticut River Museum, the area around Essex has been established as an Historic Battle Site (I think it’s the only one in CT).


This post, is part of Norm Frampton’s fun blogfest called Thursday Doors. Each week, Norm puts out a worldwide call for photos, history and stories involving or featuring doors. If you have doors to share, head up to Norm’s place and join the party. Since it’s January, I am also submitting this as part of Linda G. Hill’s Just Jot January blog series. That prompt is “Drive” offered by Janet at Janet’s Smiles.

I hope you enjoy my walk up Main St. in Essex (after I drove there).

68 comments

  1. Dan, this little town sure has a lot of interesting history. Beautiful buildings. I especially like the doors on the Post Office and the Noah Pratt house.

    You find the most interesting places to share with us, and this one doesn’t disappoint!

    🐾Ginger 🐾

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Ginger. I’m stretching my visit to Essex out as best I can. Main St. is very narrow and, as you can see, the houses are set close to the street. I snapped pictures of the opposite side as I walked. Next week, I’ll show the pictures I took on the way back to my car. This is such a pretty little town.

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  2. Hi Dan – it must be a great little place to visit – sufficient history of interest, lovely looking area, delightful town centre and then the river to explore by water or by foot. Really interesting … and I didn’t know those snippets of history … enjoyable post – thank you ! Cheers Hilary

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Hilary. I knew very little about the War of 1812, other than it was when Canadian forces burned the Whitehouse. This battle was almost lost to history. The Connecticut River Museum has an exhibit about the war and the role Essex played in it.

      It’s interesting to see how the lack of economic progress during the industrial revolution actually preserved the history of this town.

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      1. Hi Dan – gosh I do need to learn more … I know so very little about American/Canadian history – so thanks for prompting me forward (a little) in this direction … each tiny snippet adds to my knowledge of the time … thanks – Hilary

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    1. I’m glad you like this, Judy. I found the wartime connection fascinating. They were actually still building wooden ships in this area in support of the US Navy in WWI. Metal was scarce and these people knew how to build wooden ships.

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    1. I’m glad to hear you say that. It’s impossible to separate the history from the houses in this case. Had this area jumped on the water-powered industrial bandwagon, many of these homes would have disappeared in the mid to late 1800s. Holding to the historic shipbuilding industry saved the town, in many ways.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Not sure if these photos are from Christmas or whether everyone is still enjoying their decorations, but it looks festive…and cold, but the homes are lovely. The Non-Intercourse Act sounds like some extreme form of population control, but it obviously wasn’t. 😉

    I’m on my iPad, and for some reason the like button won’t work. I’ll try again later but if not, consider the post liked. 🤭

    janet

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Janet. This was early in January and it had been too cold to get out and take those decorations down. The Non-Intercourse Act only applied to England and France, if that helps. Apparently the sexual association with the meaning didn’t become popular until the late 1700s. Maybe Congress was less hip then than they are now ;-)

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    1. You would like this history. Apparently, the raid on the ships in Esex had almost been forgotten. The man who wrote the book about the CT River, dug up the history when he was the director of the CT River Museum and created an exhibit in the museum. He has recently published a book on the subject. If you have a few free minutes, you might like this article – https://patch.com/connecticut/newlondon/in-1814-british-raid-on-essex-us-lost-more-ships-than213854876a

      Liked by 1 person

  4. What a charming place for a walk, Dan. Thanks for letting us go (virtually) with you. Thanks for the shout-out too! That’s an interesting house. I can imagine it as a setting for a story. I really like that cute garage. And oddly, for me, that square-box yellow house. I don’t know why. It’s not something I would usually like. Maybe it is just that it is different from the others. Oh, and that “added to” sprawling house is amazing. Wonderful photos and history, my friend. Have a thriving Thursday. Hugs.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Teagan. When I saw “Emmy’s…” I knew I had to include it. Maybe the Delta Pearl made it up here at some point. I looked for information on that sprawling house, but I couldn’t find anything. I need to be more careful to get pictures of the information I can use to help search for this stuff. I feel a little conspicuous, zooming in on name plates, and such, but I kick myself when I can’t read them later.

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      1. No worries at all, Dan. For me it’s more about seeing the “doors” (and the rest of the buildings). It’s nice if a few of them have some history, but I just like looking at houses (garages, stores, whatever) or anything with character.

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  5. A very interesting piece of history, Dan. I’m sure these events endeared the English even more in the eyes of the colonials.

    I love the architecture of this area. These are magnificent homes. As much as I claim I would love one of these grand sprawling mansions, the thought of cleaning it takes the shine off it 😉

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks Joanne. Of course the War of 1812 put us at odds with you guys, too. Sorry about that.

      I look at those houses and think of the maintenance and painting required. I think I’ll settle for walking through the neighborhood.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Essex looks like a nice town, and so many white buildings. And thanks for the history lesson (since I didn’t know it) because it puts things in perspective!
    To end the sage of puzzle about coming to your blog, I only see your text, when I click on your perma link on Thurs. doors. But nada, on Wed. from my blog – so “something” must be reset on my blog. Wish me luck (my computer skills are 1st grade level)- maybe ineed to change backgrounds, and “it” will reset things on its own!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Great history lesson, and wonderful Colonials! I love the white ones with black shutters best. The post office is neat and with two separate doors! Entrance and Exit? It looks good either way. Thanks for the arm-chair stroll and I forgive you for taking the shot with the tree blocking the door. Been there done that! 😜😁

    Liked by 1 person

  8. How fascinated I was about the history lesson, Dan. Again, as in many times past when I visit here, I learned something I previously did not know. Viewing your gallery put me into another world altogether. Just loved it! Excellent post and I thank you for doing it.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. The Mister and I enjoyed the historical tidbits there. Neither of us were aware of most of that.
    I love the boat door on the restaurant — fun little detail. The homes featured are mostly grand, several more grand than the post office! They look classic fantastic with their holiday trim. Especially the wreath on the garage door, love that hardware. Great Thursday Doors, Dan!

    Liked by 1 person

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