The Connecticut River: A Photographic Journey through the Heart of New England

By Schneider, Micah | Historical Journal of Massachusetts, Summer 2012 | Go to article overview

The Connecticut River: A Photographic Journey through the Heart of New England


Schneider, Micah, Historical Journal of Massachusetts


The Connecticut River: A Photographic Journey Through the Heart of New England. By Al Braden. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 2009. 168 pages. $35.00 (hardcover).

Professional photographer Al Braden has put together a singularly impressive book. Spanning 136 pages, it is a photographic tour of the Connecticut River, from its humble origins along the Canadian border, gradually southward over its four hundred mile length to the river's mouth in Long Island Sound. The other thirty pages largely consist of two essays that serve as bookends.

Let's start with the obvious. This book is visually stunning. Braden travelled throughout the length of the river, in all seasons, to capture its spirit and character. Simple scenes of nature's beauty sit across the page from shots of dams, power plants, and the industry of man. People familiar with the river, especially those that live alongside it, will recognize many of the places Braden visited. But others are mysteries.

Among the surprises are interior shots of power plants, normally closed to the public; an abandoned rail bridge near Hinsdale, New Hampshire, that gets few visitors; and an unusual aerial shot of the white dividing line between the freshwater current of the river and the surrounding salt water of the sound. Few people have made the trip to the headwaters of the Connecticut River. The four lakes that mark its beginnings are remote, even by northern New Hampshire standards. The river widens as it travels south and comes to dominate the landscape it passes through.

History's course has been shaped by the river's course. Early settlements, including Indian, Dutch, and English habitations, dotted its length. Some changed hands more than once, while others, such as Deerfield, MA, were destroyed multiple times. The river's importance as a navigable route into the interior of New England only increased with the advent of the Industrial Revolution. Factories and canals sprang up along its banks, taking advantage of the waterpower of Mother Nature.

Braden captures all of this history with his lens. Overhead shots of Holyoke, MA, the nation's first planned industrial city, and Bellows Falls, VT, illustrate the Industrial Age, while shots of the reconstructed Fort at No. …

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