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Author with Hamden roots brings early 20th Century
Hamden back to life in "The Web Shop"
Hamden Fire Department Featured
A recently published novel should pique the interest of any history-minded Hamdenite, and anyone else who enjoys a good story, with a murder or two thrown in.
"The Web Shop," by author Louis E. Tagliaferri, is a fictionalized account of Italian immigrants during an early 20th century labor vs. management struggle in Hamden's Web Shop, a long-gone landmark that was once Hamden's largest employer.
The Web Shop manufactured various kinds of fabric goods. The massive factory complex stood beside the Mill River on the east side of Whitney Avenue from 1876 until 1940, when it was razed to make way for the Wilbur Cross Parkway.
Having read our 2013 website article on the Web Shop, Mr. Tagliaferri contacted the HFRA and the Hamden Historical Society hoping to acquire some photos of the old factory. He also requested technical assistance for his novel, as one of the subplots involves a response by the Hamden Fire Department in its earliest days. Both organizations were happy to oblige.
Celebrating his own Italian heritage, Mr. Tagliaferri has infused some of his own Hamden ancestors and many of their acquaintances into his story, sharing with the reader many facets of Italian family life and work life in early twentieth century Hamden.
The author captures a feel for the times. The reader follows characters on trolley rides to Savin Rock, and on a pleasant Sunday trip to Sleeping Giant that was preceded by an embarrassing but hilarious incident during Mass at the old Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Church.
Other ethnicities are also well represented in this patchwork of early Hamden, including the Norwegian-born assistant foreman who champions his fellow workers' concerns, the Scottish-born Manufacturing Manager and his Irish-born secretary (and later wife), who clearly sympathize with many of the workers' grievances.
The Web Shop in 1904
But all are at the mercy of a truly despotic and paranoid boss, a stereotypical descendant of early New England settlers who, at the peril of the Web Shop, makes the lives of his workers miserable. And he is not the only villain in the story, which winds its way from a small European village to our small town just north of New Haven.
In much the same way that E.L. Doctorow wove fictional and real characters and events throughout his 1975 novel, "Ragtime," Mr. Tagliaferri takes some real Hamden people of the early 1900s and makes them actual characters in his novel, which takes place against the backdrop of the real Web Shop in Hamden, Connecticut.
The author provides fascinating and frequently disturbing insights into the lives of average factory workers in those days, from what the various and often dangerous Web Shop tasks entailed to the way the employees were treated when there was no union to monitor their safety and ensure job security. These, along with the disappearance of a factory foreman, who could be best described in 21st century jargon as a "dirtbag," are major elements in Louis Tagliaferri's story of "The Web Shop," the ending of which may yield some surprises for you.
"The Web Shop" is a really fun read for anyone who enjoys the history of our town and a good mystery at the same time. It is available at Barnes & Noble and from Amazon in both print and Kindle editions.
Author Louis Tagliaferri
Louis E. Tagliaferri is a retired executive and management consultant. A U.S. Air Force and U.S. Naval Reserve veteran, he earned his BA degree from the University of Maryland, and MBA and PhD degrees from California Western University (now California Coast University). He is also a graduate of Yale University's Institute of Foreign Languages (Diploma 1957), which is how he came to Hamden - and his wife.
With hundreds of writing credits, including one other novel, Mr. Tagliaferri is currently working a third novel.
Finally, an image showing the Centerville fire station next to the old town hall!
The postcard photo below shows the Centerville Volunteer Fire Co. No. 4 firehouse (middle building), situated immediately north of the old Hamden Town Hall. Thus far, this is the only known image showing both buildings together in one photo. This photo was most likely taken between 1913, when the building at the far right was built, and 1918, when a WWI honor roll was erected in front of the town hall.
Postcard image from the James Strain family, courtesy of the Hamden Historical Society
The old Town Hall, erected in 1888, was designed by architect David R. Brown and cost $12,872.88. The firehouse and the old town hall were both razed in 1924 when the present Memorial Town Hall was built. The building at the far right was torn down two years ago to make way for an addition to Eli's Restaurant.
The photo of this beautiful brand new 1939 American-LaFrance Series 500 pumper was taken August 20, 1939 at the Connecticut State Firemen's Association Convention Parade at Bridgeport. The Series 500 apparatus were introduced in June 1938.
Photo by G. Donald Steele
The lettering on the hood might elicit a chuckle, perhaps even a remark like, "Well, at least they got it out before 'the Wall' went up." But seriously, from an historical viuewpoint, this photo was taken exactly two weeks before England declared war against Germany for its invasion of Poland two days earlier. The ensuing six-year worldwide chaos would eventually result in the creation of the more (in)famous East Berlin.