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01/26/2021 03:06 PM

Follow the Falls Project Takes Closer Look at Centerbrook

Employees of Connecticut Valley Manufacturing, which is now Centerbrook Architects. Photo courtesy of the Essex Historical Society

The second installment of Follow the Falls, a multi-year project spearheaded by the Essex Historical Society (EHS) and the Essex Land Trust, was recently completed, with a special focus on the Village of Centerbrook.

The main impetus for the project is to explore in greater depth how the Falls River contributed to the growth of the three villages of Essex: Centerbrook, Essex, and Ivoryton.

“We own a number of properties along the Falls River, so we are interested in its history as well as the preservation of that area,” said Essex Land Trust President Jim Denham. “The two come together in this project.”

The first installment of the project, on the Falls River Cove in Essex, was completed in 2018. The Centerbrook portion was completed in 2020 and research is currently underway for the Ivoryton segment.

As completion of the first installment was celebrated with a public event, Essex Historical Society Director Melissa Josefiak said, “We’re continuing with Centerbrook in 2021 because we don’t want to lose the public event connection.”

To celebrate the project’s second installment, available now at, EHS is tentatively planning a lobster bake in September, with Josefiak cautioning, “so much is dependent on COVID protocols, but for right now, we’re penciling the event in for mid-September.”

Extensive historical research was done over a 10-month time period on the Village of Centerbrook for the project, which Josefiak said “is the oldest of the villages,” being formed as a village in 1664 and a town in 1722 with creation of the Congregational Church, according to EHS.

“It’s the perfect crossroads because the land is so flat there,” said Josefiak, who added later that “it was a natural place for all forms of transportation to come through.”

Another key characteristic, she continued, was industry.

“When you think of Centerbrook, you have to think about transportation and early industry and they both rely on each other,” said Josefiak.

The power for several mills were derived from two of the three dams built on the Falls River in Centerbrook.

Centerbrook Architects and Planners

The most powerful dam, providing the largest vertical drop in the Falls River, was the Williams-Clark Dam, built in 1721. The dam, which is located behind the present-day architectural firm, Centerbrook Architects and Planners, powered a variety of mills and factories for more than 200 years, according to the project’s digital magazine. It was also a manufacturing site, once home to Connecticut Valley Manufacturing.

“The Follow the Falls team saw the Centerbrook [Architects and Planners] component of the project as being one that tied together uniquely the history of this part of town,” said Christopher Hill, director of business development for Centerbrook Architects and Planners.

“They saw that the different uses of this property from 1700 showed kind of the Yankee ingenuity of the Connecticut experience and that people sort of figured out on the fly how to make a business run and how to make a drill bit, how to bloom iron, separate wheat from chaff, that all happened there,” said Hill.

Principal Architect Mark Simon said that the location resonated with the firm’s founders.

“What appealed to them, is this site represents that continuum of innovation,” said Simon. “That really resonates with us.”

The firm currently uses a modern turbine system to generate electricity for a building on the property that houses offices and drafting space. A geothermal system using water from Mill Pond, which was formed from the Centerbrook Architects Dam, is also used for a portion of the facility’s heating and cooling system.

Working closely with Josefiak, the firm contributed a three-minute virtual flyover video tour of Centerbrook as it was in 1910 for the Follow the Falls project.

The video was created pro-bono over three months using 3D drafting software, primarily by Architectural Designer Andrew Wait, said Hill.

Graphic Designer Derek Hayn also contributed with post-production work by superimposing historical photographs, modifying the pacing, and adding music.

The video adds a unique perspective to Follow the Falls, according to Hill and Simon.

“When you watch it, the video is flying up Main Street,” said Hill, who added later, “you feel as though you are immersed in the village in 1910.”

“I think you just understand a place better when you can see it in 3D,” said Simon. “And when you can fly over it and it’s in 3D, you get a better understanding of the place, it’s arrangement.”

The Final Installment: Ivoryton

The Follow the Falls project team is now focused on researching the village of Ivoryton, which Josefiak anticipates tentatively rolling out in 2022, with additional programming in 2023.

“We’re actually starting the background research now, knowing full well what goes into creating one of these larger publications,” said Josefiak.

The Millrace, which is a seven-acre parcel of land in Ivoryton owned by the Essex Land Trust, will be a particular focus, as the property once contained glass drying sheds required in the manufacturing process of ivory, according to Denham.

“We’re going to talk about the history of the Millrace, how it links to the history of the ivory facilities and also how it has become a natural environment that is protected and is indeed accessible for passive recreation,” said Denham.

Like the other installments, the uniqueness of Ivoryton will be celebrated while reinforcing the commonalities it shares with the other villages.

“Essex, with its three villages, they all have three different personalities, I think that is what makes Essex so special,” said Josefiak, who discussed the motto, “3 Villages. 2 Rivers. 1 History.”

“We can celebrate our differences and unique characteristics of each village, but we are one town…what pulls it all together is Falls River,” said Josefiak.

The project’s digital magazine, Centerbrook: Crossroad–Community–Change, which discusses Centerbrook in-depth, was created by Overabove, a strategic marketing firm located in Centerbrook. The magazine and a link to the flyover video is available at

Gladwin’s Blacksmith Shop, which is now Essex Volunteer Ambulance. Photo courtesy of the Essex Historical Society
Looby & Farg Brushworks on Deep River Road, which is now Amelie Michele and offices. Photo courtesy of the Essex Historical Society