Ansonia looks to trolley tracks to fund beautification projects
ANSONIA — The stash of cement encrusted, weathered trolley tracks uncovered during the restoration of Wakelee Avenue is headed to JRD Restoration of Derby.
There John DelGado is cleaning, cutting and baking them with an eye toward making a profit for the city.
“It’s time-consuming,” he said. “I decided to leave the rough look. Anyone can buy a smooth piece of metal. We are giving them a piece of history.”
The tracks from which they came ran from Seymour to West Haven, according to John Tuohy, the city’s historian. The service ran from 1888 to June 18, 1937, making it the second oldest line in the U.S.
Each memento DelGado makes begins with track encrusted with decades of dirty, molded concrete. With an air chisel, he’ll clean the pieces and then cut the track into sections. Each cleaned section will go into an oven heated to 400 degrees for an hour, cooled for about 45 minutes, sprayed with a clear powder and baked again at 400 degrees for another 40 minutes.
After an hour cooling time, each piece will have riveted to it a plaque reading “Wakelee Ave Trolley Line 1888-1937 Ansonia, CT, excavated 2018.
Each piece has a natural patina varnished finish in black and weighs six pounds. They stand five and a half inches high and four inches wide. Martin said each purchase is accompanied with an 8.5 by 11 sepia photo of the Wakelee Avenue trolley in operation.
The design can be used as a bookend, doorstop, paperweight or mantel piece.
“We’re selling them for $55 each or two for $99,” said Greg Martin, Mayor David Cassetti’s director of constituent services. “People can pick them up at City Hall or, for an additional $15, we will mail them.”
Even with trolley track being set aside for the three projects, DelGado said there is so much track he could make “thousands of these.”
Martin said funds from the sales will be used to fund three beautification projects: a fire bell restoration, the framework for a pathway arch and to advertise the city itself.
“We’ll need about $2,900 to restore the old fire bell that sat atop the tower on the Farrel Foundry building downtown,” Martin said.
The bell was manufactured in 1877. Its dings would call employees to work and sound out the location of a fire. For instance 10 rings might mean a fire on Tremont Street.
“It was probably used until 1900,” Martin said. “The bell tower was taken down in 1964.”
Martin’s research determined the bell next rested in the park adjacent to Eagle Hose for about 50 years as a testament to the city’s volunteers firefighters. It then disappeared until it was discovered dirty and rusty in the Derby Public Works facility.
“How or why it ended up there, we don’t know,” Martin said. “That is the great unsolved mystery.”
His plan is to clean up the framework and bell before placing it in the Webster Hose Memorial Park on Center Street.
“I’d like to see it there by spring,” he said.
Once that’s done, Martin plans to use $1,500 to create the framework for the Cassetti-Della Volpe Passway on the Riverwalk section that empties onto Pershing Drive.
The framework top will be about 25 feet with 15 feet for each side.
“We’ll need about 55 feet of trolley track for this,” he said.
The third project proposes spelling ANSONIA in five-foot high block letters that will be bolted onto a wall at 65 Main St., the site of the new police station.
Above the metal letters will be a wooden sign that reads “Welcome to Downtown” with ANSONIA spelled out in trolley tracks underneath.
“We’ll need about 125 feet of track and maybe $10,000,” Martin said.
But whether all can get done depends on how successful the mementos sell.
“I’d love to sell 1,000 of these,” Martin said. “But I’m not carrying a lot of inventory. We’ll have John make 25 at a time.”
In addition to being available at City Hall, they can be purchased during the Dec. 1 Holiday Market featuring arts and crafts from area vendors in the Ansonia Armory, 5 State St., from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.