Officials Announce New Push For National Heritage Designation
Valley Indy
U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro speaks Oct. 20 at Ansonia Riverwalk Park off Division Street.

Valley officials are hoping the third time will be lucky for the region to receive federal recognition as a “National Heritage Area.”

The designation — which officials pursued unsuccessfully in 2011 and 2014 — would make the area eligible for up to $10 million in federal funds to help draw visitors to the area, according to U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro.

DeLauro stopped in Ansonia Thursday (Oct. 11) to announce she plans to introduce legislation that, if passed, would direct federal officials to do a study on whether 14 municipalities should be designated a new “Naugatuck River Valley National Heritage Area.”

About 25 local officials and residents turned out for the announcement under the gazebo on Ansonia’s portion of the greenway trail that officials hope will one day extend 46 miles along the river all the way to Thomaston.

What’s a National Heritage Area, you ask?

“National Heritage Areas are designated by Congress as places where natural, cultural, and historic resources combine to form a cohesive, nationally important landscape,” according to the National Park Service’s website.

The towns in the proposed Heritage Area are Shelton, Derby, Ansonia, Seymour, Oxford, Beacon Falls, Naugatuck, Waterbury, Watertown, Thomaston, Plymouth, Litchfield, Harwinton, and Torrington.

Though DeLauro sought the same recognition for the area in 2011 and again in 2014, she said Thursday that the time is right to seek it again.

“Why? Because if you don’t try you don’t go anywhere,” DeLauro said. “We keep at it and we keep at it and keep at it and we will be successful.”

After her announcement, she said “that’s the way that the Congress works.”

“It took Sen. Dodd seven years to pass family and medical leave,” DeLauro noted. “You keep at this and that’s the way you get things done.”

In announcing the renewed effort, DeLauro said remnants of the Naugatuck River Valley’s industrial past — Waterbury’s brass, Thomaston’s clocks, Ansonia’s copper, Naugatuck’s rubber — could lead to tourism in the future.

She also noted several of the historical figures who hailed from the Valley — like George Washington aide-de-camp David Humphreys, U.S.S. Constitution commander Isaac Hull, and John Howe, who patented a machine to make pins in the 1800s.

The region also has several historic buildings of note, DeLauro said, from the first law school in the United States in Litchfield to the Sterling Opera House on Derby’s Elizabeth Street.

Ansonia Mayor David Cassetti thanked DeLauro and U.S. Sens. Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy for bringing the legislation forward.

“Our communities are linked by our rich history of manufacturing,” Cassetti said. “I can’t think of a better way to memorialize this connection.”

In an email, Blumenthal said “The Naugatuck River Valley is a shining example of American history—equally priceless for its rich historical and economic significance and its immense physical beauty.”

“A National Heritage Area designation would bring new vitality into the region — enabling towns along the river to attract new visitors and investment,” Blumenthal went on. “I will be reintroducing this bill when Congress reconvenes in November, and am committed to continuing to fight for this measure until it passes.”

Jack Walsh, the longtime president of the Valley United Way who is retiring this year, referenced “A River Runs Through It,” an autobiographical novella by Norman Maclean that posed profound metaphysical questions set against a tale of siblings growing up in Montana.

The Naugatuck River has been as important to the Valley as the Blackfoot River was to the Macleans, Walsh said.

“It runs through our life and our history,” Walsh, who also serves on the Naugatuck Valley Greenway Steering Committee, said. “The thing that ties us together in this project is the river.”

He noted that 1,200 people per day walk on the greenway in Derby, a marked change from decades ago when the waterway coursed with industrial pollution.

An economic impact study would be out soon with more details, Walsh said.

Greater Valley Chamber of Commerce President William Purcell emceed Thursday’s announcement and said the third time will be the charm for the federal recognition.

“This is the moment,” he said.

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