Friday, November 7, 2014

Uniform buttons from the Naugatuck Valley

Uniform Buttons

by Al Galanty
Images from the collection of Al Galanty

Railroad transportation was crucial for inland Connecticut towns. Other than the Connecticut River and the Thames up to Norwich, most rivers were too shallow to support deep draft vessels needed to haul large amounts of raw and finished materials. Roads at the time were weather dependent and the wagons carried only so much due to the undulating roads of Connecticut’s hills & valleys.

The first Connecticut railroads starting in 1832 were mainly north/south affairs taking advantage of the north/south running watercourses within the state. Eventually, Waterbury was provided with its first railroad in 1849 connecting directly to the major seaport of Bridgeport.  With the completion of the railroad to Winsted a few years later, the whole Naugatuck Valley became a center of manufacturing.

The Naugatuck Railroad provided the ease of readily available transportation to move both the raw materials and finished goods for the brass manufacturing companies which were established along the Naugatuck River starting in the late 18th Century. With larger and larger freight cars being carried on the railroads, the industries were set to increase their capacity as well with the introduction of larger and larger physical plants and machinery.

With the advent and tremendous growth of the railroads in the United States, an opportunity was presented to the brass industry to fulfill the need for railroad uniform buttons. Railroad uniforms were adopted around 1880. This allowed the railroad worker to be readily identified by the public and fellow workers. One of the features of a uniform was the brass button. It was used for both practical and decorative purposes.

Most buttons were made of brass and constructed with a shank to be sewn to the garment. A different variety of button was designed to be placed over a flat button and held by an internal spring converting the button to a uniform design. The design of the button varied from plain to ornate. Some railroads went through different designs as time went on to present a more modern look.

Brass buttons are still being produced in the region and Naugatuck Railroad uniform buttons are available in the Gift Shop in Thomaston.

Below you can find a selection of brass railroad buttons from the New England region. A short description follows.

Naugatuck Railroad – original style.

 The grouping below is related to the New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad, its predecessors and successors.

New York Providence & Boston built in 1832 (Steamer from NYC to Stonington CT by rail to Boston)
Old Colony: South shore of Boston area.

New Haven and Northampton (Mass) built in 1846 also known as the “Canal Line” which paralleled the canal of the same name.

Central New England & Western: Incorporated in 1889 – ran east/west from Hartford into New York State and connected with the Naugatuck Railroad at Winsted.

Central New England Railway: The CNE&W (above) was reincorporated  in 1899. Back then, the railroads were subject to the machinations of Wall Street and the Robber Barons (much like the Silicon Valley corporations of today). The history of this railroad is a complex one.
 Providence & Worcester: Started in 1845 between its namesake cities.
New York, New Haven & Hartford: Incorporated in 1872. This button is probably the earliest version.
NYNH&H with the “&” in the design.

NYNH&H “script” herald, probably the most attractive.

Penn Central: formed in 1968 and included the New Haven, New York Central and Pennsylvania Railroads. 

Conrail: Formed in 1976 from the Penn Central and other bankrupt northeast railroads.

Grand Central Terminal: Where the New Haven RR had its southern terminus.

AMTRAK: formed in 1971 to provide passenger service. Owns the track from New Haven to Boston and New Haven to Springfield.
Bangor and Aroostook: known as the “B and A” in Maine.

Maine Central: Served Portland Maine north to central Maine and east to the Canadian border. The Portland & Ogdensburg was acquired and became the famous “Mountain Division” which is now part of the Conway Scenic Railroad.

 Eastern Railroad: was incorporated into the Boston & Maine system.

Boston & Maine: Mechanicville NY to Portland,Maine. The historic Hoosac Tunnel in North Adams Mass figured prominently in this railroad’s history. The Mass Central ran east/west in the middle of the state from Boston to Northampton on the Connecticut River.
A “shell” variant – this was slipped over a regular button.

Boston, Revere Beach & Lynn: an early “commuter” railroad from Boston to the North Shore. 

Boston and Albany: New England’s earliest east/west railroad which was formed from the Boston & Worcester and the Western Railroad which went west to Albany. It was eventually incorporated into the New York Central System in 1948.

Bennington & Rutland Railroad. Ran up the Western side of Vermont and was eventually incorporated into the Rutland Railroad. 

New London Northern/Central Vermont: Ran from New London Ct to the north to Canadian border.

The buttons below illustrate the various crafts within the railroad industry.