Thursday, March 5, 2015


PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: Before the age of electricity, factores ran either on water power, wind power, thermal power, or animal power. Of the four, the last was the most common well into the industrial age. Animal power was the only one that did not need a wheelhouse and was, therefore, easily portable. A man might use his animals anywhere. 

Factory people know this as a wheelhouse, a place where spin is distributed through drive shaft and belts to multiple pieces of equipment. Before electric motors made spin easily portable, even small operations might need a complex wheelhouse to run multiple machines. Workers on a floor of machines would know, among other sounds and dangers, the constant whirr and jabber of many belts ready to snag loose clothing or hair. I’ve seen only four such wheelhouses since I began exploring old factories. This one is in one of the old Stanley factories. It is in a fragile state as the shafts of light through the roof suggest. Can you hear it spin - transferring the power of the turned wheel?

Friday, February 27, 2015

Moving Force

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: When the hydraulic pump was dismembered, for the first time I saw the immense, herringbone flywheel that turned the crankshaft, so that I could almost feel the steady torque as it leveraged the spin of the electric motor, even before the hydraulics added additional mechanical advantage to the push. It was Charlie who pointed out that the flywheel was cast in two halves and bolted together.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

The Red Rag

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: At the very back on the right is what the machinists at the factory called, “a vertical extrusion press.” Raber puts its date at 1917. Nobody remembers it ever running. Beside it is a deep pit into which, I'm told, it extruded tube. Behind it is a deep pool of PCBs.

The motor next to it is similar to the three that lined the north wall of the shop and were dated 1897.  I don’t believe the motor was connected to anything.

Only later did I think about the large wheel housing on the end of the pump and what it might contain and how it might link to the axis of the motor, deep in shadow, behind the railing.

Should anyone accuse me of staging the red rag, I promise that it is genuine rag and brilliantly red and had rested right there for, I believe, two years when I took this picture. It was there whenever the pump was running, and it stayed there nearly to the day the pump was scrapped.

Monday, February 23, 2015


PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL:  There is grime, and there is obnoxious grime; the area around the hydraulic pump was second only to the casting house in grime obnoxiousness. Either grime overpowered our washing machine. Neither had met a solvent that was it’s equal. The floor around the pump and motors was a patchwork of greasy and slippery, metal plates that covered, I assume, raceways for hydraulic pipe. To slip was to be forced into grabbing an unsavory surface. 

The pump sat in an alcove where oil puddled on puddled water and where I wouldn’t walk. One of the previous posts below will make clear why. My last Subaru was scarred by the mess tracked onto the back seat by my tripod. And yet the pump repeatedly drew me to wade into its murky corner; it is the essence of Art Deco and a model of sublime finesse.

Note the brick arches in the wall behind the pump, ghosts where windows once lit the 1895 stair tower to a building long gone. The tower just behind the wall is now elegant housing for a tank of hydraulic oil.

For earlier photographs of the hydraulic pump:

Sunday, February 22, 2015


PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL:  Where do the grease monkeys, and cam shafts, the gear heads, and crankpins go, when their world dissolves in a cloud of data packets, and page servers, fibre optics, and free cache?

In 2007, when Raber Associates completed their report on the tube mill, the three electrical motors were no longer working, and the hydraulic pumps they drove were gone. Two new electrical pumps kept the old benches running. Wally says that the missing pumps looked very much like the one that remained, and the photo shows mounting bolts where a machine of similar size has been removed.

The surviving hydraulic pump has a brass plate giving its date: 1917. The Raber report describes it as, “an obsolete pumping unit.” However, Wally ran it for me several times, and I passed while work was going on and saw it cranking. My understanding is that it was still driving one of the benches. The wooden structure rising over it is what remains of an improvised awning to keep off the rain where the roof leaked. For most of the time I shot in the mill, the awning blocked successful photos of the motors and the pump.

It’s hard to look at this today and think, “cutting edge.” However,  Holmes, Booth & Haydens were known for riding and driving the edge of the technology curve. They were manufacturers of cameras and lenses and had patents for a new process for making metal photographic plates. With an extensive catalogue of oil lamps, by 1881 they were manufacturing lamps for use with electricity. In 1890 they were making electrical wire. The Raber report suggest they may, in fact, by 1905 have been too far ahead of the curve, and, the Raber report suggests, their collaboration with Benedict & Burnham on the tube mill may have been a financial necessity.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Last Tube Mill

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: If there is a place called Brass Valley lingering in time, then for awhile its center of gravity must have been here. Standing here, facing this way in 1905 would have looked little different than in this 2014 photograph. However, in 1905 all this would have been cutting edge. 

The giant hydraulic cylinder at the center of this shot is the muscle end of an expansion bench used to work cold metal as if it were taffy. Three expansion benches of graduated sizes lay parallel here. To see what the business end looks like while at work, click here: ( The benches could be refitted with different mandrils and dies to customize tube of all shapes, sizes, and gauges in alloys for every environment. I've read that Benedict & Burnham developed these technologies.. This seems to be the place.

The electric motors along the back wall are pioneers. The plans give their date as 1898. That is just five years from the lighting miracle at White City when the world first saw electrified night. Power generation was a very local affair. It is ten years from the dramatic opening of the first electric trolley network. Each of the electric motors here turned a hydraulic pump that could apply sufficient force to crack open the hydraulic cylinders.

The mergers that created American Brass began to be implemented in 1899. By 1917 the new American Brass had assembled a state of the art tube mill here, no doubt figuring it all out as they expanded, and the finished tube mill was all still functioning, turning out specification-critical tube for nuclear submarines, until 2014. On my first day photographing in this mill one of the men here referred to it as, “paleolithic.” The hook marks the spot where for more than a century men hoisted the parts needed to refit the expansion benches for the next job.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Attic View

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL:  A shrine is a place for special remembering. At the Shrine of St. Anne, in the upper right hand pane, they ask us to remember the sanctity of life through honoring motherhood. One might also stop there to remember the French-Canadian community that scrimped pennies from twelve and fourteen hour shifts in the mills in order to build and decorate their church, as they made their lives around it.

Across town in the first pane on the left is, I believe, the spire of St. John’s Episcopal Church at the head of the Waterbury Green. It is the fourth church of the Congregation that founded Waterbury in 1732. It was built after the congregation’s third church was destroyed by fire on Christmas Eve, 1868. The families that worshipped at St. John's were leaders among those who created the town and the mills and ran both. It’s hard to regard it without thinking about the expanse of time and continuity, and remembering all that has been endured and accomplished and gained and lost. 

The tower in the next pane marks a different kind of shrine. How extraordinary it was! ...I’m still just grasping. The tower and patched together rooflines tell the story of mill expansion. They are duplicated beneath by large chunks of active mill technology representing all eras from 1897 through WWII and beyond. These were key processes that had been invented and perfected here, and they were all still in place and functioning, an elaborate time machine to the era when the large mills like this first electrified. Wally, head of Maintenance gave me a news article about the first electric bill in history being sent by the Edison Company to American Brass. What memories were lost here when this shrine was turned to scrap and salvage last summer?

It is the same tower as in the previous photo from Bank Street Bridge with the river flowing by. This photo is taken from the attic of the 1880s lampworks of Holmes, Booth, and Haydens that was still operating as they built the tower and the tube mill grew slowly and the river flowed by.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Back to the River: Winding through Brass

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: From the Bank Street Bridge the river is closer and now feels almost lazy where it winds through the middle of the overgrown campus of American Brass Anaconda. It is a place that has become dear to me through four years of regular photo shoots there.  The river winds in front of the old chimney to the powerhouse, whose wall still carries giant letters spelling out, "Benedict & Burnham.” All the buildings on that side of the river closed down ages ago and have suffered the indignities of abandonment: gangs, metal thieves, leaking roofs, final cave-ins. When I go there I’m careful not to back up for a shot, as all the manhole covers have been stolen.

Meanwhile, on the west side of the river the old extrusion mill was still using processes and machines put there sometime after 1903 to produce specification-critical, metal tube for our nuclear subs. I’d photographed the last pour of the casting furnace in the fall of 2013, and I'd watched the last of that metal pass through this extrusion mill ( which closed two months later.

However, standing on the Bank Street bridge I wasn’t thinking of the men or machines I had photographed there, but of the stratified remains of 150 years of industrial adaptations which I had begun to learn to read in the awkward junctures of the extrusion mill architecture and read about in a Raber Associates report. Sections went back to the Civil War. An 1880s section began as Holmes, Booth, & Haydens lampworks. Changes in window details there whispered of carefully paced expansion, but south end truncation revealed itself where structure embedded in the brick end-wall itched like phantom limbs toward lost passageways.

The tower in this picture and the windowed wall on either side mimic the forms and detailing of the Holmes, Booth & Haydens’ lampworks, though also clearly different. I’ve read they were added in 1895. Inside the tower is a tank for hydraulic oil, though the shadow of a missing stair tiptoes up two walls. The walls flanking the tower were built to enclose motors, hydraulics and the long steel expansion benches and draw benches of a tube mill that was later expanded. It was still being used in 2013 ( when I photographed there, though the phantom stair in the tower and the place to which it once led were were a mystery to all.

WWI produced the biggest addition, expanding the capacity of the tube mill beneath a broad, sawtooth roof. That’s probably when the pylons were set in the river to carry a single branch line past the tube mill in the place where once the Naugatuck Railroad’s, double-tracked, trunk line had run before 1909 and the opening of Union Station. 

The extrusion mill was modified again in 1931 and again at the start of WWII. That was when the second extruder was added, the one that was still running when I shot there. It was the factory’s centerpiece, and at the end it became the reason for the factory’s existence: the last place in the U.S. where the sub's tube could be produced. The factory closed in December of 2013. I watched them scrap, and I saw the salvage leave for Mexico nine months later.

The story of the active Brass Mill is told in:
BRASS VALLEY: The Fall of an American Industry
Available as of September from most book sellers.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Back to the River: Tracking Waterbury, #2

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: Looking downstream from the rotting bridge where we just looked upstream, the river winds east then south by the old stack, cracked at the top, that belonged to American Brass. Looking between ties the river is always grinning and moving faster than I expect. Pausing there, I can begin to imagine the roar and smoke of locomotives steaming down the track and into town from five directions. Electric traction lines called “trolleys,” were adding more options for travel and we were changing even if we weren’t going anywhere.

Downstream, beyond the Bank Street bridge (shown here), down in the river are two concrete pylons marking the area where the original Naugatuck Railroad entered town in 1849, and grew to be a busy, double-tracked trunk line by 1899. And when the trains came up through Derby and Ansonia from Bridgeport and New Haven, they still stopped at Bank Street Station where Bank crossed Meadow Street, before continuing up the Valley to connections in Winsted. The old Bank Street Station is pictured and marked on the 1899 map ( in the middle of industry and congestion.

The Naugatuck Line was owned by the Consolidated. The bridge I’m standing on carried the Boston, Waterford and Erie Railroad, more recently consolidated by the Consolidated. South of town the tracks turned west and passed through Hawleyville and Danbury before connecting to the Hudson River rail corridor. In the north they went on to Bristol, New Britain, Hartford and Boston.

The 1899 map shows another line passing here as well. It comes into town from the east, loops through the South End, and joins this line at the bottom of the map. Theres still a bit of trestle and track at the corner of Washington Street and South Main. That was the route used by the Meriden, Waterbury, and Connecticut River Railroad to bring passengers to a station variously at Meadow Street near Grand Street or at West Main Street, a few blocks north.

For a long time the Connecticut River Line was the region’s only competition to the the high freight prices of the Consolidated Railroad, and they hustled to keep the line rolling. They carried freight east to the Connecticut River to send it by boat south and west to New York City. It was a strategy to break the stranglehold of the Consolidated. It was a bitter contest. They say it never really had a chance. Before the new century had come the Connecticut River Line was consolidated into the hegemony of the New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad. If it passed through New England, NYNH&H carried it.

Before the “union" station opened in 1909, Waterbury had multiple train stations: Main Street, Bank Street, Meadow Street, Dublin Street. The fire of 1902 provided opportunity. The time was right. The map of 1917 illustrates the change ( The angle has shifted, but there’s no difficulty in spotting Union Station where all lines meet. It is the largest thing on the map. Zoom in to see people arriving in their horse-drawn carriages and waiting on multiple platforms. Take a carriage ride up Grand Street past celebrated buildings that are still used today. Then follow the Naugatuck River left toward all the smoke stacks and you’ll find the Bank Street Bridge I’m standing on. If you look closely on the map you’ll see where this track must cross the river, though the area is mostly concealed by the perspective.

A bit further downstream at the spot where the pylons are is a metal bridge carrying a single spur of track through the vast new expanses of American Brass, created in a giant merger in 1899. Look again at the 1917 map and American Brass seems to have smokestacks everywhere, though not so tall as the station’s single tower.  On this day from this spot on the rotting bridge I know why the river grins, but I doubt I’ll remember it for long.

(Special thanks to Phil Benevento for information used in this series of posts. Information used in tracing these routes also came from additional online maps and Wiki)

Monday, February 2, 2015

Back to the River: Tracking Waterbury, #1

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: One track is active, used by the Naugatuck Division of Metro North. On the other I watch my step on a walkway of metal grid laid across rotting ties and spaces where a tie has fallen away, and where I see river like a toothless grin. Of course, we’re always following history’s tracks, but along this track the light has suddenly shown a more distant horizon.

In 1909 Union Station opened on Meadow Street. Once you know where to look in this picture, you can see the Union Station Tower directly behind the white, tractor-trailer truck on the Mixmaster. The track makes a smooth arc and ends at the terminal at the foot of the tower. Follow the riverbank and you might almost be able to imagine a crescent of meadow beneath the boscage between track and river.

Meadow Street! It’s a name with a memory to remind us why Waterbury was called Mattatuck, the treeless place. I’ve often walked by the grave stones set into the Meadow Street wall of Library Park, where the city’s cemetery used to be, and wondered where the meadow may have been. This view suggests an answer. It’s reinforced by the 1899 illustrated Waterbury map ( You can find this bridge where the railroad crosses over Bank Street at the bottom of the map. The crescent of open space west of the rail suggests it may still have been mostly open meadow then. 

Another set of tracks, the old Naugatuck Railroad tracks run along Old Meadow Street on the map. When those tracks were laid, there was no industrial development west of Meadow Street, and citizens of old Waterbury at rest in the town cemetery still had a clear view across the treeless meadows of Mattatuck to the flowing Naugatuck waters at their edge. In time the city would rise up. Then the cemetery would be buried. Finally, the Mixmaster would cross the valley and fracture Meadow Street with its giant feet.

(Special thanks to Phil Benevento for information useful to this series  of blog posts.)

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Meditation near Meadow Street Cemetery

William Blake: "Drive your cart and your plow over the bones of the dead."

Friday, January 30, 2015

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Standoff on Rabbit Hill

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: The television weather man had us buried in snow, but the satellite maps on the iPad convinced me it would be only six inches. Though the snow plows had the road clear, travel risked fines, so here’s a storm from February 2011, developed today on my computer while it snowed. 

It takes standing in snow to recall when there were no fence posts, and this land was Waramaug’s realm, his tribe’s summer encampment just over the hill. It’s only when my lips burn, fingers are numb, and the deep woods are silent, that I’ve had the sense of walking in steps still warm from Waramaug or just missing his hunting party with a catch of turkeys. I’ve been climbing Rabbit Hill for the view and the exercise for at least fifteen year, and I’ve never seen a rabbit, though there must have been rabbits once.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Back to the River: Dead Center

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL:  Climbing to the top of the Union Station Tower is the same as climbing a twenty-story building. The shaft of the column is hollow, dimly lighted, and all masonry with metal steps climbing clockwise around the perimeter wall. It’s divided by a full landing every 5 or 6 flights, so it’s hard to know just how far you’ve climbed. After winding through the hollow of the shaft I had to find myself on the dizzying terrace around which Waterbury whirls.

From the terrace I looked out on “the flats,” that the natives called “Mattatuck," the treeless place where mosquitos thrived and Pequots hunted, and the settlers found abundant streams descending from the hills to set mill wheels spinning, turning spring melt, summer storms, and the surge from autumn hurricanes into things people needed: buttons, pots and pins. And in the middle they set their Green and built a fence around their city. One of the gates was still there when Henry Bronson wrote his history in 1858. The Civil War would change Waterbury. A half century later important people were doing big business on Grand Street, to the right, and wealthy people were living high on Willow Street, to the left.

At the top of Union Station Tower perspective comes at the cost of detail. At the far left of this 180° panorama it’s clear where the valley narrows heading north, and I know the river is rushing at the bottom. At the far right the gray double strip of the expressway follows the valley south, and I see the river beside it flowing toward the narrows where I know the river also rushes.

In 1955 the great rains came. Where the Valley was narrow the waters rushed furiously, where the Valley spread out, the waters backed up, puddled deep and wide. One thing everyone agrees on: Nothing was ever the same. Immediately below, behind, and clustered on the river and the rail, lie the the empty yards and factories of American Brass. In the bottom center foreground the headquarters of American Brass disappears off the picture’s edge. Union Station Tower stands at the center of the universe that was once Brass Valley. 

The stories remembered in words and photos in

from Schiffer Books
or wherever fine books are sold.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Back to the River: Crossroads

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL:  Whether or not we know the meaning of a place, meanings may accumulate over time. The tower, of course, belonged to Waterbury's Union Station, the architects: McKim, Mead, & White who set the tastes of Yankee elites. 

When it opened for business in 1909, as the Railroad Consolidated, Union Station gave new form and focus to the head of Grand Street, commanding a grand, broad boulevard soon to pass harmoniously between brass and government dedicated to a City Beautiful, a place for parades and ceremony in an age before the Model “T".

Union Station Tower stands at the crossroad where the Naugatuck Line, following the valley, once crossed lines heading east to the Connecticut River and New England, and lines heading west to the Harlem Valley, Hudson Valley, New York City and the World. I’ve read of sixty trains a day stopping here, exchanging goods, transacting business. Salesman with sample cases and young mothers with babies in bunting passing between rowed platforms as steam rose around waiting trains, and further back the freight yard sprouted branches from branches to the river. I’ve crossed over sixteen branches of rusting track and found rails, ties and broken abutments along the river all the way to Freight Street. Of course Union Station was always a sham; never really a "union station,” the lines it united were all NYNH&H-owned.

Today Union Station is no longer a station. The building is owned, preserved, and used by the Republican American Newspaper, regional successor to Waterbury's last newspapers which many of us read on our smart phones. Trains still arrive at a nearby platform, northern terminus of the Naugatuck Line and Union Station’s Tuscan Tower still ceremoniously points the way.

For more memories of Union Station order:
BRASS VALLEY: The Fall of an American Industry

from Schiffer Books
or wherever fine books are sold.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Interlude at Union Station


Grandfather Clock

There are places where nobody thinks to look for places, and there are places that announce our arrival, while we’ve mostly forgotten quite why. Passing north, passing south, passing east or west Waterbury’s omnipresent monument is seen by an omnipresent stream of vehicles that look down on the city from omnitangled, limited access expressways. Some know the Tower is Sienese deja vu, and others just know, “It’s Waterbury,” as they drive on.

For people in town the Tower’s a marker to find the train or the Home Depot - near a park, nice for lunch after the robins appear. What’s in the tower? One man told me, “Pure Yankee, built by the railroads, once stocked with weapons, now its newspaper.” Another said the Chairman’s bones were buried there with those of his wife and favorite chef. 

Few can say what it is or means though it’s a reassuring presence, like the resonant tick and hourly chime of a grandfather clock or the clock high in the tower where Seth Thomas still spins time. 

How venerable it seems now! How progressive it looked in 1908 as Waterbury watched it rise, the city’s first skyscraper, taller than anything around.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Back to the River: Intersection


The Post-Twentieth Century

There are places where nobody thinks to look for places. This one hides behind a meadow of rotting rail ties and rowed & rusted rail spurs sprouting with small trees; it is behind a lazy municipal yard where machines with treads and man-sized wheels have piled a small sierra, a jagged wall of brick and broken tiles, patio stones and paving blocks that have lost the shape of neighborhoods. Here, amid the boscage that grows where people rarely go, and surrounded by the ceaseless grim clatter of iron, concrete and rubber reverberating another national anthem, is the busiest intersection in the Naugatuck Valley. For good reason they've called it "the Mixmaster."

I’ve come to stand beneath the legs of a colossus to the Twentieth Century. This is where the homeless sometimes set tents in summer beside our Ganges where fish again are swimming. 

Be sure to click and view this one full screen.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Back to the River: Beside the Dam, Thomaston


Beside Seth Thomas Dam

Built, they say, for clocks to pass the time of day, though the day kept passing anyway, differently in every city and town. They say, if you stood on a hilltop you could hear time changing from steeple to steeple as the sun went down and the earth spun round.

Time was money and there was money to be made in time. Seth Thomas sold time pieces, others sold time; standardized it, regulated it, packaged it in pulses on wires following rails to every train station and jewelry store, with train-catching accuracy, and the Pullman’s smile. And the steeples chimed together, though after the roads were paved people stopped hearing them.

Of course time today is heaven-made, they call it Terrestrial Time and they calculate it from astronomical observations, computed with precision and corrected to be free of bumps, lumps or wobbles in the earth’s rotation. The duration of the second is set in cesium with nuclear accuracy; its measured decay transmitted to our technology in packets from satellites that spin with the moon and earth to keep us harmonious.

Sunday, January 18, 2015


PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: Viewed from across the river it was beautiful, viewed along the rails it was iconic, but what drew me back repeatedly to Seth Thomas / Plume & Atwood was the yard and the long narrow passage that twisted beyond it, threaded by traces of track through an alley of broken brick sheds like bruised faces, whose variety of styles and frequent modifications spoke of the passage of time and the hands of many masons and builders. The passage led to an undefined paved area. There were usually a few cars by a blank-looking door that never opened. I seldom saw people.

The yard itself probably wasn’t a yard at all but rather the space left by the collapse of an earlier building. A steel column holding up an overhang displayed warning signs intended for people inside a building that had almost vanished.  I heard it was a foundry - always meant to find out. 

Plume & Atwood was different from other ruins. Most old factories go with grand gestures, gut-wrenching chords from the organ, defaced by breaking windows, collapsing chimneys, graffiti, metal thieves, and demonic presences. One feels it when they are silent as much as when they creak and groan. Plume & Atwood wasn’t like that. It seemed to be wearing away the way a river bed wears, rounding out the corners and rough edges, eroding the surfaces, breaking apart shard by shard. What had been grease and soot had been sandblasted by time. That’s why it surprised me when it fell.

I had visited often, drawn on by my thirst for noir, but I developed little of what I shot, never sure they were up to my other images. Eventually I moved on, never quite opening its secrets. I’ve looked at those Plume & Atwood images once again and developed several. You will find them on a Blog Page.

To see the other images,  look down the right column for TODAY’S PAGES and choose PLUME & ATWOOD YARD. 

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Like Clockwork

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: Our nineteenth century legacy: Where there’s a river, there’s usually a rail, and once they were lined with factories. Several days ago the view was the river; hop over the Seth Thomas / Plume & Atwood Yard, and there’s the rail. It all says nineteenth century, and it feels filled with purpose and momentum. Time is a railroad train carrying us down the track to unknown adventures never dreamed by humankind. 

This was the place that pioneered time, and here is the rail that quickened it, and integral to every rail line was the telegraph that synchronized time and made information instantaneous just in time for the Civil War. The North had the network and proved the superiority of technology over slavery. We have yet to prove the superiority of humanity over technology.

Whenever these buildings were built, it was well after the Civil War. Thanks to Mark at the Torrington Historical Society for maps that show the site at several dates. The 1874 tax map shows an arrangement of buildings very much like what’s left of the yard - also a mill and a coal yard here, along the rail. 

I used to visit often. It was a melancholy, quiet place for photographing noir that felt timeless before the buildings fell. 

Monday, January 12, 2015

Bolland Farm Interlude

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: This Sharon farmstead lies well with the land, and when I was shooting lots of farms I’d often pass here to see what the light was doing or how the fog was drifting. It seemed to me it must have been built by someone who loved the operations of earth and wind. 

It was many years before I finally met the man who owned the farm; it had belonged to his father, some time deceased. He gave me permission to explore and photograph. There were sheds of rusting machine parts and parts with no shed, old motors and workshops left to the squirrels. Somewhere I have the pictures. And there were hills to explore. 

I followed a farm road that led down to a ravine and across a stream. I wanted to look back at the farm, see how it met the wind on the other side. Along the path, mounted on a wall where the bank fell away to the stream, were poles supporting ingenious whirligigs: people and animals and windmills made from welded junk and holding pinwheels that turned in the wind spinning gears and fantasies. Like the decaying workshops, the whirligigs were not all working and far from complete. But some still spun as I followed the linkages, there in the curve of the hill where the wind was gently blowing.


I was sure I had posted several images of this farm to my blog, but I only turned up one previous post in 2009:

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Back to the River: Plume & Atwood Dam, Thomaston

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL - “On Forgetting”: While it existed, few spots on the Naugatuck River could so easily transport me to the 19th century. Not the most elegant, but these may be among the most venerable buildings on the Naugatuck River.

Seth Thomas clocks built Thomaston. When it left town in 1979 it was unquestionably the oldest clock company in America. In fact it was one of the oldest U.S. companies of any kind. Seth Thomas had been a partner in 1806 when Eli Terry invented interchangeable machine parts and made knowing time affordable, and Thomas bought the company. The clocks were still made of wood, but it was a seminal moment in the birth of modern mind. The whole story and others are retold in Brass Valley: The Fall of an American Industry. [shameless advertising: click & order now, or order it on Amazon.]

What I know about these buildings isn’t much, but the documents I’ve seen make clear, Seth Thomas rolled metal for clocks on this site before the Civil War. Later he sold the operation to Plume and Atwood. Joseph Wassong’s excellent book, Images of America, Thomaston, contains wonderful, old photos and discussion of the buildings. It can be viewed at Google Books or also purchased on Amazon. 

Which among these buildings is a pre-Civil War, original building? I don’t know. People tell me there’s good fishing behind the dam, but I don’t know that for sure either. What I know is that this ancient mill complex provided context for the Railroad Museum of New England next door. You could look along the period platform past the beautiful old station, now the museum’s home, and see the track disappearing, and along side it was a genuine period rolling mill, possibly a Seth Thomas original. It did what a museum of its sort should do: Take us back in time, remind us of where we come from, who we’ve been. 

A short while after that mill building fell, men bulldozed the rubble and knocked down the building on the right in this picture as well. Yard’s gone!  So’s the view. That’s the way the river flows, I guess. They call this the Plume & Atwood Dam. One day I hope to know when it was built and what it powered. Online it is merely described as, “obsolete industrial.”

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Back to the River: Meander South

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: There’s barely a valley to be discerned here in the flatlands south and east of Torrington’s Five Points intersection. The two branches of the Naugatuck meander and find each other here. After the rail finds the river, the valley narrows, deepens and grows wild between Harwinton and Litchfield. 

Detailed plans for the Naugatuck River Greenway, through here and in area in the previous photos, were completed in 2004. Detailed discussion and pictures of the proposal can be found here: 

Friday, January 9, 2015

Back to the River: West Branch Behind Water Street, Torrington

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: I learned from Thoreau that rivers are the bloodstream of the planet. That was just an idea until I’d walked many miles beside one. The West Branch of the Naugatuck is all but invisible behind Water Street. I’ve come as close as I can to walking its banks from Main Street and the Five Points intersection, through the back lots of Water Street, up Church Street and beyond. If Torrington had grown into a big city, much of this would long ago have disappeared underground as the best way to contain its stench. It’s a long way upstream before one can spend a moment near the water without an intervening chain link fence, but there’s beauty to be peeped at along the way. The only stench now is from occasional dumpsters, in the service lots behind Water Street.

If these cataracts ran through a hill town, there would already be a greenway here, but Valley towns have turned their backs to the river for so many decades, they remain that way in inevitable arthritic paralysis. After the flood of 1955 the barriers to the riverfront got higher, deeper, and the containment past valuable factories and infrastructure put sections of the river out of reach to all except shiftless grocery carts with the knack for getting past fences. The river is clean, the factories are gone. Can the riverfront be reimagined to save it from the grocery carts and to help us cherish its rushing waters?

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Back to the River: East Branch at East Main, Torrington

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: I’ve read that the first, non-native settlers of Torrington lived in the Hills in the northwest, where the Naugatuck originates, and on Torringford Hill, in the east, from which come tributaries. Like other settlers in the towns of the Northwest Hills, the settlers lived like hill people, by farming. The central business district was only established later by Frederick Wolcott when he opened his woolen mill in 1813. It was an industrial village between the two branches of the Naugatuck River. They called it Wolcottville and it developed like a Valley town, a mill town. It was a perfect spot for a world that ran on water.

There is an 1875 rendering of Wolcottville from the air here: ( You can zoom down and almost walk the streets. Follow the two branches of the Naugatuck through the rendering, and note the many dams, canals, and impoundments. You can find this intersection in the rendering where the river winds south from Route 4 along the back of Main Street through the gully around the old cemetery and comes out at East Main Street here, in the picture. Even the cemetery turns its back to the river.

Torrington was built for a world that is gone. How can it be re-imagined for a world not fully here yet? (

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Back to the River: West Branch at Main

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: The East and West branches of the Naugatuck River bracket downtown Torrington. The East Branch crosses Main Street here, near the intersection with Route 4. The West Branch crosses Main Street below the Warner Theater, at the Five Points intersection.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Back to the River: Headwaters

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL:  The waters that once primed the industrial revolution in Brass Valley begin today in ponds and impoundments in the quiet hills north and west of Torrington. The West Branch of the Naugatuck River begins here, behind the dam, in Stillwater Pond and in two more ponds upstream. The Naugatuck River Watershed Association says it falls 540 feet, or approximately thirteen feet per mile before spilling into the Housatonic River downstream in Derby. Some say it is the steepest major river in the state; it was once also one of the most toxic in the nation. 

Today in the fog at the headweaters it was noiseless.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Loose Change

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL:  Perhaps it’s a natural part of getting older to think more often about change. Recently, while reviewing old photo shoots I came upon this image I shot in August of 2007 with my friend Bob Lejeune, when my “Today’s Photo” habit was only 8 months old. Posting the finished gantry image here concludes my eighth year of trying to produce constantly better images and refining the relation between words and image. Though shot in 2007, I processed it last week. I can’t look at it without thinking about the ways I have changed and what remains constant.

Of course, as the title indicates, to me the picture itself is about change. The building under construction is now finished and fully occupied. The row of buildings stand where the last of Manhattan’s freight yards stood not long ago. I remember when those rail yards and their infrastructure approached where Lincoln Center now stands, and when the demolition of the neighborhood provided a key location for the 1960 filming of much of West Side Story. Personal memories lead me back to the fifties and trips and my father when he got in a mood to go driving on Sunday, riding beneath the highway and exploring the piers a bit further south where the giant ocean liners docked and finishing our explorations at the Fulton Fish Market. There’s no doubt neighborhoods have changed.

Of course, change is often part of a trajectory. The new year is the traditional time to consider altering trajectories. To do so requires thoughtful consideration of how things have changed.  

Have a very happy new year and remember it’s not too late to order: Brass Valley: Fall of an American Industry (

Monday, December 29, 2014

The Casting Shop

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: Dates on images indicate I’ve been coming here to shoot since 2011. Even then the Hendey casting shop was nothing but a pile of brick, rubble and a concrete base on which much of the plan of the building and the floor tiles of some of the rooms are still visible today. I walk from room to room though the walls are gone.

Though I’ve seen the pictures, it’s hard to imagine it whole again while standing here in the open yard between the wood pattern shop (yesterdays image) where the wooden molds for casting were made, and the buildings in the picture, where castings were finished and tested and assembled. By 1910 it would have been a tightly packed hub of intense industry with a tall stack and a staff of skilled toolmakers, machinists and engineers and apprentices and grunts and accountants and draughtsmen and bookkeepers and stenographers and secretaries and managers, and every day they all walked to work from houses nearby. Imagine.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Hendey Sunset (Wooden Pattern Shop)

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: For some time I have tried to give my answer to the question first formally posed by Edward R. Murrow and again later on National Public Radio. I call myself an atheist, but a classification by negation does not follow the phrase, “This I believe.” Being and the will to be, fill me with awe. Everywhere I look I see nature striving, not only to survive and reproduce, but to perfect itself; its not always pretty. Creation appears to contain will. The will to be is there in stone and the sun’s burning and precedes what we call life which forever experiments, striving until it finds better ways to be. The processes of selection have given humankind a brain unique to our sphere. It has given us two unique powers: dominion over nature and the knowledge that we are part of nature, part of a complex, balanced organism we call earth that exists in time. If anything is holy, it is the fertility of that organism, our common self. Together we must learn to pilot our biosphere. To do so we must learn to settle our differences justly and fulfill the Needs of all. To say the least, the challenge is daunting. Is this the challenge all life is pointed toward throughout Being?

The human brain is a child of Being. So far as I can tell, being is eternal. How could it be otherwise? The meaning of humanity, which we sometimes call the meaning of life, depends on our ability to continue being. More than that we will never know. Eternity is now. Anything else is, at best, beside the point.

NOTE: For more Hendey photos, find TODAY'S PAGES in the right hand column, and click "Hendey Page.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Industrial Quoins, Corbels, and Coping

NEW BLOG FEATURE: Because there are often photographs that may have interest as a set or as a documentary supplement, but have little to say standing alone, I will from time to time accompany TODAY’S posting with a “Page” of supplementary images. Because the fate of Hendey is currently being considered, the first page I've created  gathers previously posted Hendey photographs and supplementary photographs never before posted. 

To view the new and future photo pages:  Look in the right-hand column, below the Google Plus share button. You will find an area titled “TODAY’S PAGES.” The only page listed now is the “Hendey Page.” Click to see it.  When you’re done, click “home."

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL:  Ah!  "Serious Art!” Art is a prickly word that can be wielded like a mace to rule the world of taste creating rigid hierarchies of delight.

To some the lowly mason is a craftsman, no matter what tapestry s/he creates or how visceral the effect. Call a painter, “artist,” and it means only “s/he paints.” Call a photographer, “artist,” and s/he is in rarified company and has photographs that must sell for thousands of dollars.  One who photographs abandoned factories may be called an artist, but when the factories are still manufacturing, one will be judged a photo journalist. Where is that line between art and documentation that can be so crisply drawn, and from where does one stand to make pictures, if one disavows all interest in the things themselves and looks only for their forms, glow, and resonances? 

“Art,” it is a prickly word that hedges and climbs fences and walls. It keeps me from seeing. I try to avoid it, though, like a good chef, I always endeavor to transform the raw ingredients and hope the finished meal delights the palette and maybe stirs the soul.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

At the Top of Hendey Towers

ARCHIMEDES: “Give me a stick long enough and a pivot, and I shall move the world."

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL:  Essentially, Archimedes was saying that if we can overlook certain disadvantages, two times two can equal eight through “mechanical advantage." In fact, the world has moved far since the time of Archimedes, leveraged by ideas. Pascal saw that leveraging ideas was the power of God. 

Here, at the top of one of the Hendey towers is the old electric lift elevator. Archimedes was also reputed to have made the first. However, the need to lift things beyond our capacity is at least as old as Stone Henge. Oxen, elephants and slaves were replaced by screw type elevators, hydraulics, pneumatics, and steam, but it was Frank Sprague’s electrical motor that finally gave elevators a lift. Frank Sprague was born in Milford, Connecticut.

There was an aha moment for me in eleventh grade physics class when the teacher demonstrated that an electric motor, linkages and gears aside, was still a leveraging system. Fill it with electric power and you leverage spin; spin it and you leverage electrical power. Frank Sprague not only figured out how to harness the magnetic properties of electrical fields by making the first practical electric motors and dynamos, but he pioneered two chief applications for his idea. Sprague Electric Railway and Motor Company built the first practical street car system in Richmond, Virginia, and many subsequent systems everywhere. The company was eventually purchased by Thomas Edison. Afterward, Sprague Electric Elevator Company pioneered elevator systems. When the company had proven the system’s efficiencies over old style hydraulic lifts, it was purchased by Otis Elevator.

The invention of the electric motor leveraged space and labor in countless ways we barely think about. From plumbing to subways to freezers it has changed our houses, our cities, our world. Electrical motors are one of many levers we’ve used to gain dominion over space and time while accumulating unobserved disadvantages.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Hendey Towers Torrington

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL:  The photographer’s mantra must be, “check all setting.” This photo, which calls out to be printed on a wall, will never fill more than a small frame because of a grainy surface that all but spoils it. “Check all settings.” The defect occurred because I had earlier turned the sensitivity of the sensor (ISO) up high in order to shoot in a dark room. That was before I came outside in the daylight and found planets in alignment and Hendey posing. Check all settings. I'll never be There again.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Hendey Hall of Mirrors

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: From the outside, Hendey is a cluster of three and four-story factory sheds and five-story towers. Inside, Hendey is a multi-story maze. I wandered from building to building, through similar looking rooms, gridded with columns and with windows covered, some by translucent plastic that let in lights but concealed the surrounding landscape with its points of reference. Where the buildings joined I could sometimes enter the towers which linked similar floors via stairs that wound like corkscrews and lifts that were no longer running.

Each floor looked much the same except here. At this unique spot a short bridge connected the factory buildings to the 1880 executive building. Offices there had apparently sprouted an annex here, and partitions had been added to isolate offices from the work floor. Loading bays were a short way off.

Although I quickly became disoriented and lost track of where I was, I got to know the differences between the towers, and I used them to identify my position in the complex, and I always knew when I lost my way, that I could get here, and from here I could find my way to the only available exit door and out through the only active building where, it seemed, the last humans worked.