Friday, March 16, 2018

New England Pin Company, No. 3 - "Imposing Frontage"

Gallery Opening - Saturday, March 24, 6-8 PM
The Cornwall Library, Cornwall, CT
Brazen Grit: Images of Brass Valley
photographs of Lazlo Gyorsok & Emery Roth
The exhibition will be on view through April 4 during regular library hours

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL:  In “Winsted—The Development of an Ideal Town” Robert Hulbert wrote in 1903-4:

“One of the most conspicuous buildings that the visitor notes on his arrival in Winsted, is the magnificent plant of the New England Pin Company, situated on Bridge Street immediately opposite the Naugatuck railroad station. With an imposing frontage of over 100 feet on Bridge Street, the handsome new building, five stories in height, erected in 1901, is a testimonial to progressive industry in Winsted. . . . The product of this industry is pins of many varieties, and the output is enormous, the modern machinery of the plant turning out from 12,000,000 to 15,000,000 pins per day, equal in weight to about one ton of solid metal. . . . About 125 skilled operatives are busily engaged in the manufacture of the shining product of the company that has a market not only in this country but abroad.”

How the New England Pin Company building came to stand on that prestigious site opposite the railroad station in 1901 has taken me back to 1852 and one more tale of the diversity of influences through which Anson Phelps fanned the furnaces of his metal trading. For those who have forgotten, Phelps was the founder of Phelps Dodge. His early success came trading Southern Cotton for English Metal. It’s hard to find a spot along the Naugatuck his entrepreneurship didn’t touch. He founded the first brass mill in Torrington in the early 1830s. At the same time he was engaging with Sheldon Smith to build a canal and an industrial village called Birmingham along the Naugatuck in Derby. Phelps promised a reliable flow of water for power and a reliable flow of metal for manufacturing to leaders with energy and ideas for making things with it. Among those persuaded by Phelps to make things in Birmingham was John Ireland Howe, who moved his business from New York in 1841 as he received his final patent for his pin-making machine. 

In 1841 there was still no railroad, but pins had long been a staple of Yankee peddlers serving homespun needs. They fanned out in wagons through the the South and West carrying Connecticut pins, buttons, cloth, clocks,, kettles, tools and household trinkets and necessities. The Phelps shipping agency had been transporting peddlers since the 1820s on a fleet of schooners that brought them up the Mississippi and opened new markets inland as the nation added new states. 

Phelps would have been part of plans that brought the railroad up the Naugatuck Valley in 1849; they ended the era of Yankee peddlers. It was no accident that Phelps owned the prestigious site with water privileges and frontage on Bridge Street where track would be laid and the Winsted station would be built. There was an old woolen mill on the site, and in 1852 Anson Phelps would sell the mill and property to the Hartford Pin Company which would outfit it with the latest pin-making machines to reach an expanding market. However, they would be stopped by a breach of patent lawsuit from the Howe Pin Company. It was not the pin-making machines of the Hartford Pin Company that violated Howe’s patent, but the machines Hartford Pin used to stick the pins in paper. Loose pins without papers were unsellable. Howe’s most valuable patent was for  the pin-sticker.

By 1854 or 1857, depending on whose history we trust, the land, water rights and two buildings, one outfitted for making pins, became the property of J. Wetmore who began the New England Pin Company. Not quite a half century later New England Pin would tear down the old woolen mill to create their  "imposing frontage of over 100 feet on Bridge Street.” 

The station and the railroad are gone, and the streets meet awkwardly in front of the Pin Company Building. We drive automobiles now and drivers aren’t always sure how to navigate the intersection, but there’s no rush here either. There is nothing left to suggest the prominence claimed except the handsome building itself, humanly proportioned and built from bricks, each one imprinted with the hand of a Winsted brick layer in 1901.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

New England Pin Co., No. 2 "On Pins & Needles"


[Working Title] Work in Progress

postponed due to snow
NEW DATE: Apr. 9
Charter Oak Photographic Society
Elmwood Community Church
26 Newington Road, West Hartford

This variation on my usual “Finding Brass Valley” talk will explore issues I faced and strategies I found as a photographer and how writing and photographing Brass Valley: The Fall of an American Industry changed my photography.

The talk is free and open to the public.

The photo below was taken last week at the former New England Pin Co.

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: The point is that although needles need eyes where pins need heads, one might think the manufacturing technologies were similar. However, pins may be needed by the dozens, and before machine-made pins, they were hammered out by tinkers; yet one good needle, properly sized for the task at hand, will finish the suit or the saddle; it must be as slender as possible and it must not bend under pressure; it must be highly polished and hard but not brittle. Before manufacturing, the best needles were jeweler-made, and a fine needle might be made of silver and passed down through generations. While there is extensive history on pin-making in Connecticut, I have found few references to needle making here.

From the 16th to the 20th century the best needles were said to come from Redditch, England, but over eighty percent of common pins in America came from Connecticut.  Around 1870 Redditch needle factories were producing 3,500 million needles per year. Not too much later the New England Pin Company, one of many pin-makers in Connecticut, was turning out 3,900 million pins per year. In spite of Redditch fame, Yankee inventors in Brass Valley transformed the manufacturing of both pins and needles. 

Brass Valley is the birthplace of modern pin manufacturing. John Ireland Howe famously patented technology that mechanized pin-making and opened his factory with land and water rights he bought from Anson Phelps along the Birmingham Canal in Derby in 1841. Soon there were pin-makers throughout the Valley. New England Pin Company founded on the Mad River in Winsted in 1854 was among them.

Brass Valley is also where the critical technologies were put in place to make the needles for the first sewing machines that Elias Howe (no relation to John Howe) was making in Bridgeport. In 1841 Howe had invented a machine that would sew but not the needles that would let it stitch. Needles at the time were too crude and failed. It would be 1866 before Orrin Hopson and Herman Brooks developed the "cold swaging” process of pointing and working the metal. The Excelsior Needle Company opened its factory along the West Branch of the Naugatuck in Wolcottville in 1866 to manufacture needles by cold swaging. Excelsior Needle would soon make all kinds of needles and bicycle spokes and would eventually become the Torrington Company with operations around the world. 

Too my knowledge, Howe’s pin-making machine was never used for needles and Hopson's & Brook’s cold swaging process was never used for pins. Despite the success of Torrington’s needles, Connecticut's fame is for pins, and the histories of the two industries seem oddly disconnected. What is it I’m missing?

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Tube Mill

Shelton History Center
Annual Meeting
January 28, 2018
2:00 pm
 Huntington Congregational Church
19 Church St

on the Huntington Green

Guest Speaker will be
Author and photographer Emery Roth II presenting the program
Brass Valley: The Fall of an American Industry

General Electric motors installed in 1898 powered ancient machinery to make specification-critical brass tubing at the last brass mill of old Brass Valley. View photographs, learn how Brass Valley came to be and what happened to it. Hot soup will warm your soul, and the talk is free an open to the public. The Shelton Historical Society welcomes donations.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

First Snow

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: This morning at about ten along River Road at the entrance to Steep Rock Preserve. The wind has just loosened snow from branches above the road; a crystal scrim flickers and falls, back where River Road winds. It only happens once, but, for whatever it’s worth, the picture is made.

It is a perfect snow: deep enough to cover yet not so deep as to limit access, sticky and well-behaved clinging to tree trunks and along branches even into the afternoon. By noon it is warm enough to feel my fingers again. 

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Deep Woods 5: Holiday House

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: The women and girls who came here, many of them, were from Brooklyn and probably lugged their scuffed travel bags and duffle rolls over two recently erected Washington Roebling bridges to find the healthful river valley and the broad veranda where maids poured them tea, they sipped from china cups swirling local honey and silver spoons. It was a long way from their Brooklyn.

“Holiday House,” as it was known, was a memorial established in 1892 in grief over a lost daughter by the van Ingen family and administered by St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church in Brooklyn. Edward Hook van Ingen had been the first wealthy Brooklynite to build his country home above the Shepaug River when the winding Shepaug Railroad made the valley accessible in 1872. Others followed to enjoy the forest balm. Fine air that made hives flourish might also revive mortal lungs fouled by fourteen-hour, stale air days at the sewing machines and spinning mules of Brooklyn’s woolen factories. 

I try to imagine the women and girls with their bundles as they stepped from the railcar at Valley Station and crossed Roebling’s delicate Arts & Craft bridge, the grand, three-story gables of the 65-bed Holiday House visible on the hill above them. Mr. Van Ingen would welcome and escort them up the hill to a small reception. For two weeks the girls would see few men and be as idle as they chose, until they returned down the path and over the same two suspension bridges to their mills and their mules.

Holiday House was closed before WWI and dismantled sometime after the war. It’s said parts of Holiday House are in homes all over Washington but the veranda on the hill where labor leisured is today deep woods, practically stone age.

NOTE:  An excellent discussion of Holiday House by Louise Van Tartwijk can be found here:

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Deep Woods 4: Spirit

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: My daily log tells me that I’ve been hiking in the preserves of Steep Rock almost steadily, several times a week, since the first of July, though for the first weeks I didn’t carry a camera. That's not long considering the river has been here since before the glaciers.
The first day I brought my camera was August 9 when the sun was high in the sky, Other pictures posted so far were taken more recently. My aim is to open perspective where none seems to exist.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Deep Woods 3

“Beauty is now underfoot wherever we take the trouble to look.” –Robert Rauschenberg

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: Few things seem more mundane than a walk in the woods until one has walked deep enough to feel like a stranger with an uneasy welcome there. One needn’t even lose the trail between endless hills to feel the chill of forest presences and the authority of crows.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Deep Woods Self

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: It’s called “Hidden Valley,” an apt name. The valley winds, deep and invisible, from the Romford section of Washington, CT, where the Bantam and Shepaug Rivers join, until the enlarged Shepaug River emerges five miles downstream at Bee Brook and the new highway bridge. Between these points the river winds behind Baldwin Knoll, Robin Hill and the Pinnacle, looping back and forth and back and forth, at various times flowing north, south, east and west, until the water passes under the highway. Some rivers wind where the ground is level and the river gets lost. The Shepaug cuts steeply following rock’s discipline. 

The Baldwin Knoll entry to Hidden Valley is on the back side of Baldwin Knoll. From there I can descend by any of four trails that surround a shadowy cleft that cuts deep to reach the most remote region of the Shepaug River. The cleft falls to the west and catches sun through much of the day in summer, but at this time of year on a clear day the sun is always winking through forest and is gone early in the depths, and my climb back up in late afternoon is a climb to the light.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Deep Woods No.1

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL:  Robert Frost famously described the woods as “lovely, dark and deep,” but did not linger there, had “promises to keep.” When I first began carrying a camera on hikes through the woods I wanted to capture the austere beauty I found there, but when I got my pictures home, they were anything but deep; in photographs the depth of the forest became a flat wall. I realized the perception of those timeless depths came, in part, from the busy gossip of leaves, birds and streams, and from the phenomenon of binocular vision and from my forward motion along the trail.

This is the first posting of a new photographic project I’m calling “Deep Woods.”  To make these photographs I am closing one eye and trying to be still.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Iron by Iron Geist, Photo by Roth

Next Brass Valley slide-talk

Stratford, Ct. Library, Nov. 5, 2-4 PM

Friday, October 20, 2017

Save Stanley

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: It’s time to stop and reconsider before the historic Stanley Works factories in New Britain are demolished forever. On Monday the New Britain Historic Preservation Commission voted to halt demolition for 90 days.

What is the value of preserving historic buildings in our communities even after they’re no longer of use for the purposes for which they were built? I live in a different part of Connecticut, grew up in another state entirely, but I knew the name Stanley from the first time in my childhood when I measured a length of board and made a cut to build a bird house as a gift for my father. Currently, guests visiting me from the Netherlands describe similar recognition of the name, “Stanley,” and find delight in learning that Stanley Tools were made here, in the state they are visiting. Stanley, even beyond Colt and Sikorsky, is an iconic Connecticut brand that evokes immediate recognition to all who hear it. The name brings recognition to the city of New Britain.

For the past seven years I have been photographing the few remains of the region of Connecticut once known as "Brass Valley." With few tangible reminders of the brass industry's past, the central importance of this region to American industrial development is vanishing, and even in the Naugatuck Valley where it was centered, the name “Brass Valley” is being forgotten, though once brass was Connecticut’s leading industry and part of a metals and machine tools culture that built our state and the nation. For seven years I have photographed this region as it disappears, and Brass Valley: The Fall of an American Industry (Schiffer Books, 2015) is my attempt to hold on to something of the brick and mortar reality that changed lives and that has almost vanished.

Stanley still stands. For generations of those who worked there it provided, not only a respectable living, but a path to opportunity and advancement. Men and women who worked there saw career options, and their children grew up in an American Dream of possibilities. Their children and grandchildren live among us. As factories closed we unknowingly closed down part of our educational system, but the buildings still speak of the world they created, and preserving tangible remains of that world provides a living connection to what we were and to what we can be. Stanley Works is more than a collection of brick work sheds. Just as forts and battlefields remind us of past struggles and our ability to overcome adversity, historic factories re-purposed for future generations tell those generations of the paths we have followed and provide the inspiration for deeds and enterprises yet to be accomplished. Historic buildings tell us who we were that we may know who we may become. New Britain should think long and hard before allowing demolition of this legacy.

Those who are moved by this issue can write to the Hartford Courant or to the New Britain Herald.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

A Town Called Sunset

Photographs from “Brazen Grit” on exhibit:

Warren Public Library, Warren CT
thru October & November
SLIDE-TALK: Saturday, Oct. 14 @ 2 PM

Whiting Mills, Winsted, CT
Oct 14 to Oct. 27

Stratford Library, Stratford, CT
SLIDE-TALK: Sunday, Nov. 5 @ 2 PM

Mattatuck Museum: part of “I Believe in Waterbury” exhibit
thru Dec 3, 2017

Democratic Headquarters, Ansonia, CT

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL (Continuation of August’s travels in Maine): I hadn’t come to Deer Isle to photograph sunsets, but I was there for the constantly changing weather that would be s[ecially lit when the sun was low. When I arrived at the Pilgrim’s Inn ( in Deer Isle I was given a warm welcome from Nicole and Scott. Built in 1793 and turned into an Inn in 1890, the building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and well deserves to be. 

When I let Nicole know I was looking to make photos and would appreciate any hints on where to shoot, she quickly told me that the place to shoot sunset was Sunset. Amazed that there was a place just for shooting sunsets, I asked where one shoots sunrise. She immediately directed me to Sunshine. However, it was on the causeway, just beside the inn on August 6 I watched simultaneously as the sun was extinguished in the west as the full moon rose in the east. 

Friday, October 6, 2017

Stoninngton Harbor, Maine

Photographs from 
Brazen Grit” 
on exhibit:

Warren Public Library, Warren CT
thru October & November
SLIDE-TALK: Saturday, Oct. 14 @ 2 PM

Whiting Mills, Winsted, CT
Oct 14 to Oct. 27

Stratford Library, Stratford, CT
SLIDE-TALK: Sunday, Nov. 5 @ 2 PM

Mattatuck Museum: part of “I Believe in Waterbury” exhibit
thru Dec 3, 2017

Democratic Headquarters, Ansonia, CT

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: (A continuation of August’s travels in Maine) In Southwest Harbor, ME, my GPS told me that my destination, Stonington, was only 17 miles away but that it would take almost 90 minutes to get there. Stonington, Maine, lies on the edge of the ocean along a mountain ridge, one of many carved by glaciers. It became popular to a yacht-owning, sailing elite that began traveling beyond the fringe in the 1870s. Getting anywhere overland then was a long and punishing journey. Even today it takes nearly an hour to get “inland” to the “coast road."

Today the road to Stonington, ME, crosses over two sea passages. First a slender 1939 suspension bridge arches high across Eggemoggen Reach, to Little Deer Island. Then comes a causeway over to Deer Island where Penobscot Bay penetrates to Eggemoggin Reach. It is an island of bays, inlets and coves with a granite core. Beyond Stonington is Isle Au Haut that can be reached by ferry. Between lie countless islands, minor mountain-tops; even today it's a world best traveled by boat, and I’m told it is the center of lobstering. Steinbeck wrote about it; Eliot Porter photographed it.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Valley Names


Sunday, Sept 24 @ 4:00pm

The Norfolk Library, 9 Greenwoods Rd. E.

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: The names are nearly forgotten: Israel Holmes, Aaron Benedict, Hiram Hayden among others. The name "Brass Valley” is rarely heard. We pass surviving building clusters without recognition. Few know why brass mattered or that by 1890 brass was Connecticut’s leading industry or that the towns along the Naugatuck River down to Bridgeport and New Haven,  produced 85% of the rolled brass and brass products of the United States.

The Naugatuck River flows across this picture from left to right between the two stacks. On the far side of the river next to the masonry stack chalky smudges on the brick powerhouse still spell out “Benedict & Burnham,” though the company has not existed for more than a century. They made brass wire, rods, tubes, and sheets in buildings on the property around the powerhouse.

On the near side of the river beside the metal stack there is no old sign to identify the property. The brick, gabled building with the Victorian tower was the lampworks of Holmes, Booth, & Haydens, built in 1880 after their original lampworks, on the same site, burned. Between the lampworks and the second Victorian tower can be seen the tube mill building added before 1900. Holmes, Booth & Haydens manufactured a range of brass parts and products in buildings that are no longer grouped around the lampworks and tube mill.

In about 1900 it all became part of a new entity, the American Brass Company, largest brass manufacturer in the world, and the brass industry in the Naugatuck Valley fueled the dreams from which the cities and countryside around Brass Valley flourished. At the same time the old names began to fade, though from the riverside one can still read letters spelling Benedict & Burnham.

Jose at Pickling, 2011


Tuesday, September 5, 2017


PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: I used to think that art was as natural as crabgrass, hemlocks and rabbits; to ask its purpose was to miss the point. While I still believe that, I also believe that art which is lasting explores ones relation to oneself and others, to the planet and nature and to universal forces. Art which dazzles, fades quickly. Art which touches us with some truth has a chance to hold our attention longer and even stay with us. 

After a weekend photographing lobstermen, harborscapes, water and sunsets in the area around Bass and Southwest Harbors I drove to Rockport for a weeklong workshop with, photographer, Keith Carter. His work as represented on this web site ( had touched me, and I wondered who the man behind the lens might be, and what he might do to help me open new work. There were 14 of us, and I suspect we all sought the same thing, the path forward. Class time was largely spent reviewing the portfolios we brought and learning about the pictures that most inspired Keith and about many he had made and why. 

Each day we also reviewed photos we’d taken in response to daily assignments which were completed outside class time. Keith provided poems as a springboard to seeing/making new images, but mostly the places around Rockport looked to me as they had looked on previous trips. On the second afternoon, however, we went to an artist’s barn, home and studio where four models were ready to pose for us among an array of curios. My best photos were made there.

One of Keith’s pleas was to ignore the rules. I recalled Freeman Patterson describing the beauty of a roll of pictures that one of his students thought she had ruined by overexposing. Keith told about his own discovery of the power of accidental blurring in his first recognized image. For whatever it’s worth, prior to this workshop I would have rejected this image and not thought to develop it. Although I recalled the moment when Maya’s hands came into full blossom, I had hoped to have stopped them still; I never would have developed the softness of their motion or the moving catchlight in her eye.

By the end of the week we had seen much of Keith’s excellent photography, but it was clear that the roadblocks to new work were at least as difficult for him as for us, and that our most important answers lay in ourselves and in our work. 

I was helped in my photo by Maya who was as much an artist in her modeling as I struggle to be in my pictures. She internalized each of our requests to her as if it was part of a story she was living. Much of the credit for this image goes to her.