Manufacturing and Water Power

In addition to travel and shipping, the Connecticut River has also been used to provide water power since the mid-1800s.

In 1848, Samuel Colt, producing revolvers in Hartford, and Robbins and Lawrence, making rifles in Windsor, Vermont, were among the first manufacturers in America to produce goods using interchangeable parts.

Holyoke Massachusetts became the first planned city using a dam and a series of canals to harness water power, and prospered, producing goods needed for the Civil War. Turner Falls, Massachusetts, was also developed in the later 1800s after the war, with the help of a dam and water power. Many manufacturing plants used falling water as a source of energy.

Mills in Bellows Falls, Vermont, and Claremont, New Hampshire, produced paper and textiles. Other mills sawed lumber, ground grain, and powered various woodworking and metal-working machinery.

However, these dams, built about 200 years ago, dealt a significant blow to anadromous fish, such as the salmon and shad, which spawned in the Connecticut River, but returned to the sea to live. The salmon was the hardest hit, and was completely eliminated because these fish must travel to the feeder streams or tributaries to lay their eggs. Shad spawning habitat, on the other hand, exists downstream of the dams; thus, shad were never completely eliminated.

In the late 1800s, technology for converting water power into electricity arrived in the valley. Dams were improved and efficiency increased. Industrial development, however, caused pollution of our waterways. This, along with pesticides and population growth, put stress on many remaining species of fish and wildlife.

A successful fish lift (elevator) was built in Holyoke and began operating in 1955. The Turner Falls fish ladders were completed in 1980. Additional fishways have been built in Vernon (1981), Bellows Falls (1984) and Wilder, Vermont (1987), to help restore salmon and shad.

Today, these valuable species are making a comeback, and conversation efforts are also underway to help conserve such unique species as the shortnose sturgeon and other fishes. The river now supports a large population of sport fish including largemouth and smallmouth bass, brook trout, northern pike, and channel catfish. Efforts supported by taxpayers and anglers have turned the Connecticut River into a premier recreational resource enjoyed by thousands of boaters, anglers, birders and the general public.

Today, our environment contains a diverse mix of land uses and our challenge is to maintain a healthy ecosystem while still allowing for sustained economic growth. There are 50,000 business employing over 640,000 people in the 99 cities and towns that touch the river.

The Connecticut River Compact has been signed by many of the groups involved with river projects who have agreed to work together "for the betterment of the River Valley," a shared vision that includes economic development, protection of the river ecosystem, farmland preservation, reduction of river pollution, and public recreational usage. One typical project is the creation of a tri-state Connecticut River Scenic Byway that would promote heritage tourism in rural areas in Vermont, New Hampshire and Massachusetts. Other projects include Riverfront Recapture in Hartford and the Riverfront Development Program in the Springfield, Massachusetts, area.