By Kate Steinway
In the late 1800s, panoramic illustrations, known as bird’s-eye views, became a popular means of portraying towns throughout Connecticut as the industrial age transformed them from agrarian hamlets into booming economic centers. Bird’s-eye view lithographs, such as these of Winsted, an incorporated city within Winchester, earned their name because the city or town depicted was rendered as though seen from a high vantage point. The O.H. Bailey & Co., a prolific Boston-based publisher of bird’s-eye views from the late 1870s to the early 1900s, produced many of these.
Changes in Style Reflect New Technologies and Attempt to Win Back Consumers
By comparing Bailey’s 1877 view of Winsted with his 1908 view of the same town, developments in viewmaking techniques can be examined. The earlier lithograph is two-tone, made from blue and yellow stones, an expedient method typical of the majority of 19th-century bird’s-eye views. In contrast, the early 20th-century view reflects artists’ efforts to incorporate technical advances and reverse the bird’s-eye views’ decline in popularity. Festooned with ornate art deco leaves and circular-, octagonal-, and diamond-shaped vignettes, the 1908 view marks Bailey’s turn away from lithography to photomechanical reproduction. The addition of text about the town and its assets signals the beginning of the modern idea of advertising.
As an example of what was then considered to be a “panic-proof” economy, Winsted was not dependent upon a single industry but instead attracted many diverse enterprises, such as tanneries, clock factories, and undertakers’ goods. Accessible by two railroads, the town served as an industrial and economic center for the large, rural area in northwest Connecticut. Today, Winsted is an incorporated city in the town of Winchester.
Kate Steinway, Executive Director of the Connecticut Historical Society (CHS) in Hartford, curated the traveling exhibition, Hamlets & Hubs; Bird’s-Eye Views of Connecticut Towns, 1849-1908 (1987-88), from which this article is derived, while Curator of Prints and Photographs at CHS.