Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Tank & Hose

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: My eye was held by the large rivets on the compression tank and the coils of hose. It may have been used for nothing more than watering a lawn. Meanwhile, in a darker space behind me, too tight for good picture-making, the key to the dry dock’s operation remained still undiscovered, easy to miss while fixed on the eye of this serpent. 

Might I have gotten closer - made the serpent lunge? On a first shoot there’s always tension between the urge to stay and study, the need for an overview of all there is, and a reluctance to poke into the dark and damp.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

From the Gates of the Dry Dock

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: For me, part of the fascination of a place like this comes from understanding what it did and how it worked, and the essential photographic challenge is how to make it all clear in a single shot, not merely the crane as it is now, slackened, spiritless, resting on wood blocks. Can it be seen in its stilt-walking glory, overseen by the crane operator in his matchstick tower, yanking and poking at levers and pedals to rotate the wheel that swung the boom that lifted steel plates onto and off of waiting barges where welders made repairs? The age of mules and wooden barges was gone; in 1917 motorized steel barges sought to make the Erie Canal competitive with the railroads, and dry docks like this kept commercial barges afloat on the  Erie Canal for another half century.

Monday, May 18, 2015


PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL:  The dry dock was the first thing on the agenda for day two of the Erie Canal workshop. The site had been described as “uncertain”; nobody had yet seen if anything worth shooting was there. If it proved uninteresting, we were set to move on. However, we stayed. The dry dock was a relic from 1917 when the canal was rebuilt and enlarged. It ended the era of tow paths, mule boats and the complex routines in which teams of mules or horses pulled the barges in six-hour shifts. When the canals were widened, the mules were gone, and there was a need for large dry docks along the canal’s length with machine shops, mechanics, welders, and machinists to keep the large barges in repair. 

The postcard shot, the obvious angle from which to reveal the workings of the dry dock, was from behind the great wheel on which the crane sat. I got there quickly, but I had barely begun to study its complex geometries when, all the other workshop participants streamed into my picture. Conscious that the shot I wanted meant clearing one side of site where half a dozen might shoot, I relinquished my postcard perspective after only a couple of quick shots. I went instead where I could shoot uncontested and tried to photograph intimations.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015


PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: Just off the Erie Canal a disused dry dock, once a busy place with a truss-boomed crane, rested ghostly and still. A canal keeper who let us in had run the crane, swung the boom, lowered the plates to repair rusting canal barges, but he was much younger then. He said the dock and crane were built in 1917.

The opening in the boom lattice was just large enough for my DSLR and fist. An LCD viewfinder is essential here. This is the kind of task where small lens cameras, with their extended depth of field, excel. I was uncertain if my DSLR would handle the task. We become the tools we use.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

On the Canal, Just Fishing

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: Most people think the tripod’s purpose is primarily to steady the camera, but tripod shooting fosters compositional seeing, allows one to study and fine-tune compositional detail, and probably aids in habituating the mind to compositional strategies. Unless I am doing street photography, on vacation, or shooting family, I almost always shoot from a tripod. However, tripod shooting has important disadvantages. It is awkward to use at interesting angles and low to the ground, hard to nuzzle into corners and often just recalcitrant.

When my friend and I reached the canal we decided to walk a bit and leave our tripods behind. As we began shooting both of us saw this opportunity at the same moment from different angles. Had I been shooting from a tripod, I would have scrambled to get in position in time to catch the fisherman in his pose. Camera in hand, exposure already set, I focused, aimed and clicked three times in fast succession. The whole thing took me no more than two seconds, but by the second shot he was already turning to leave, and the moment was lost. I recall wondering, “Would it suffice if the first shot were blurred?"

The devil is in the details; compositional thinking begins below consciousness. Years of tripod shooting led me to watch the edge where the pylon must be carefully placed and the opposite corner where the tip of the triangle must not be lost. Shooting hand-held encourages tunnel vision. I recall making a quick choice to leave no more than the triangular wedge of the bridge’s outer face. On reflection, it was the right choice leaving the parallel undersides of the girders to lead the eye with the river’s flow.

Luck, nature, or instinct placed the bit of branch and the diagonal post where they needed to be, leading your eye to the fisherman. In finding a tonal solution for the image I discovered that brightening the squarish end of the concrete crosspiece in the upper right corner reinforced the mass of the structure and the geometries within the picture frame. When it all works like this, I receive it as a gift, whatever its merit. Although a bit later in the day the light might have been truly spectacular on the river and the pier, I’m happy with the story of the patient fisherman, contemplating the flow beneath the thundering highway.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Canal Gate

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: My friend and I arrived in Rome, New York, a few hours before the Erie Canal workshop was scheduled to begin. With a few free hours we decided to explore, and after passing through the center of town we found ourselves at the intersection of the Mohawk River and the modern Erie Canal. Two large gates were held open along the canal beside where the river joined it.

The Erie Canal was begun in 1817. Sometimes called, “Clinton’s Ditch,” the original 389 mile canal was complete in 1825 connecting Lake Erie in Buffalo to the Port of New York via Albany and the Hudson River. It was a a landmark achievement that transformed a new nation and made New York City into the nation’s commercial center, and it provided quick access to the midwest. It quickly became, not just a single canal, but a canal system that opened a broad commercial region in upstate New York. It was rebuilt twice, and as “The Erie Canal National Heritage Corridor,” it continues operating today.

“Obliques are dynamic.” Those were the words Freeman Patterson used to cement in my mind a principle I already knew. That was in 2001, and I’ve thought of it often since then. Socrates was right, all important learning is really just remembering what you were born knowing. It was the first of Freeman's lectures on the syntax of photography, and it was the first formal photo workshop I had taken. 

The angle here is determined by where the oblique begins and ends and how it relates to all four corners. There are many choices to be made in processing. My intent was to contrast the dark massiveness of the gates with the wispiness of the clouds. Monochrome allowed me to maximize both.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

I'm Back

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL:  It’s hard for me to think of the Erie Canal without hearing the strains of “Fifteen miles…” and imagining the mule barges bringing their cargoes to market. I’m just back from a five-day workshop with Tillman Crane on the Erie Canal near Rome, NY. Tillman has been systematically exploring and  photographing along the canal for several years, and has offered yearly workshops at different locations along the canal system. He was an excellent guide, leading us all to good photo sites that revealed the canal’s twisted history and provided rich opportunities for making pictures, and I look forward to seeing Tillman's finished collection of images for his unique vision.

I’ve found the experience of shooting with a bunch of strangers, and sharing images nightly is invaluable in learning new ways of seeing. The group of photographers who tend to follow Tillman’s workshops are often devotees of medium and large format photography. It is a different medium than 35mm photography with a long tradition of chemical processing that is fundamental to photography as an art form. Tillman’s license plate number is made from the chemical symbols for platinum (Pt) and palladium (Pd), and he is known as an expert in the intricacies of chemical processing and large format imaging. For me, his workshops provide a rare chance to focus a bit on what distinguishes 35mm photography from larger formats. Many of those who brought samples of their work to show brought only monochrome images. 

This image comes from the afternoon of the workshop’s first day spent in an empty amusement park. It followed a morning spent in “Erie Canal Village,” a recreated town made from 19th century salvage that had seen better days. 

Another workshop participant took a similarly composed shot. However, I was surprised by many of the elements that others found to isolate from the chaos of carnival rides and signage. A considerable part of the skill one learns as a photographer involves mentally imprinting strategies of pictorial composition. Head-on, frontal symmetry is a core strategy. That does not make it less apt in the right situations, but those who see primarily in monochrome will find very different things to isolate here. Either way, the devil is always in the details.

Be sure to view this large and against a dark background. You may even need to zoom in.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Back to the River: Upstream Headwaters


It has been a hectic week with much to be happy about, but by Friday I ached to be out making photographs, and I followed the Naugatuck River past a series of dams to this one which impounds Hall Meadow Brook Reservoir near the top of the Torrington Hills. If pushed for a word to describe these hills, I might say “primeval." I would say it despite knowing that the land was timbered and mined even as it was dammed and milled. First came iron and timber. Climbing the hill I passed Wolcott Road, named for the woolen mill that that opened here at the beginning of the 19th century and Brass Mill Road, named for the brass mill that followed it. And yet it feels primeval.

I left my car at the northern end of the Reservoir and explored the ruins of some sort of concrete bunker, now roofless, but otherwise impervious to all except gang graffiti. In a scrubby area, where land turned to swamp, a pile of asphalt had been dumped, and I climbed to the top to see if elevation would better tip the pond into my picture. The muffled light of the clouds made the wet hillsides thatchy and added a bit of color. Finally, I walked south along the side of the reservoir on what must once have been the old road into the valley to the point where the road goes under and becomes a highway for fish mostly. In front of me was the rubble wall of the dam with a tiny hut and a stair down that seemed only big enough to let insects climb inside the dam. The dam was one of a series installed by the insects to control the river’s surge and keep it from washing over the flimsy villages in its path. 

That was 1955, and it was remembered as the year of the great flood. There is nothing primeval here it is only that here the world feels momentarily in remission while old scars heal a bit and the hills seem again to become ancient and holy.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

The Farrel Sand Elevator

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: Even before I wanted to know what it was, I imagined what it might be like up in those tin can offices with their rickety terraces and dangling stairs, and what treasures had been left moldering deep in the bowels of the beast? It is as much a relic of industry as of railroading and an archetype for model railroad enthusiasts to miniaturize. Some of the track remains in place that threaded the rail yard to carry trains through the opening under the elevator and into the long shed that stretched to the end of the property.

I didn’t know then that the bridge and tower dated at least to the start of World War I, nor had I yet discovered what was still up in the long passageway or how deeply it penetrated the rows of Farrel, work sheds to deliver sand from train cars to molds used by the foundry to make giant rubber and sugar calenders for which Farrel-Birmingham became famous. 

What does Connecticut want to remember from what’s left of Ansonia’s industrial heritage? What does future Connecticut need to know about those who came before? Should any part of this place be salvaged to help tell its story or provoke a question? 

I’m only a photographer, and my photographs are not meant to answer those questions, only to show the things that caught the camera-eye of one of time’s vagrants looking for shelter along the track. 

Thursday, April 9, 2015


PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: Final furnace fires were extinguished in 2013, and the fate of this corridor of industry is coming at us like a speeding train. A century and a half of expansion, adaptation, refinement and economics can be read in an anthill of sheds, workshops and passages where the greatest of Brass Valley furnaces cast metal into billets, blocks, and giant machine parts. 

The corridor follows the river and the rail through downtown Ansonia from Bridge Street to the power plant by 6th Street. This was the home of two companies that have been here as long as Ansonia. The giant calenders made by Farrel Birmingham built the rubber and sugar industries. The metal Mike is tending in this American Brass furnace wound up as large diameter tubes inside the Navy's atomic submarines.

Before the old mills are swept away and the ground under them leveled to anonymity, is anyone asking: What does Connecticut want to remember here? What does future Connecticut need to know about those who came before? Should any part of this place be salvaged to help tell its story or provoke a question?

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Old Paint

PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL: I was asked to do something decorative.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015


PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL:  I photographed this headstone somewhere in the hills of Sharon in 2011. It was a single shot between places I know, but I have only vague recollections of making the exposure or of which path I might have followed, no gps tracking.  

Monday, April 6, 2015

The Victory Theatre, Holyoke, MA


The Victory Theatre

Steeply raked to carry sound 
to the last seat in the top balcony, 
it is the drama of slow collapse that 
makes the pregnant silences now. 
The orchestra pit has filled with spring rain 
as icicles linger in the fly space. 
The scene changes with the seasons 
and transfixes audiences in their seats.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Attic Pigeons

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: Friends tell me houses are haunted by spirits who dreamed their lives there, but old factory buildings are haunted mostly by pigeons. I’ve learned to be wary of the sudden flash and brush of wings urgently scooping air out of the shadows. They were my constant companions, dimly cooing, as I explored and photographed in the attic of Holmes, Booth & Haydens lampworks, and more than once I photographed their attic graves.

Until December of 2013 the 1880, Holmes, Booth, & Haydens lamp works, in Waterbury, was still part of an active brass mill, the last in Brass Valley. I learned yesterday it is to be demolished.

Holmes, Booth & Haydens developed this site before the Civil War. It straddles the original roadbed of the Naugatuck Railroad in the South End of Waterbury. Israel Holmes is the one who in the 1830s unlocked the secrets of England’s brass industry, smuggling the workers and equipment who built the brass industry in America. Hiram Haydens was a mechanical wizard, photographer, sometime artist who held more patents than anyone in Brass Valley. His machine to spin kettles transformed kettle-making. He held patents for oil-burner designs for oil lamps and patents for photographic processes including what is probably the first successful process for photographing directly onto paper. This is the last building standing from the Holmes, Booth and Haydens campus.

The building has three floors and an attic and two stair towers. It is structurally sound and could be used as the cornerstone of new development on this beautiful, but polluted, riverside site.

I know that it’s easy to stand on the sidelines and call for preservation with no real knowledge of the underlying difficulties and costs involved. I also know and respect that most people in the neighborhood look at the old wrecks of factories, and they properly see only blight and danger. It’s hard to discern the gem from the trash. This is a routine mill building, but it is honest masonry laid at the same time as nearby St. Anne’s. Age has given the Holmes, Booth & Haydens Lampworks character and history; it could be a gem if given a new setting. It could be a living link to our past.

Here is a photograph of the exterior of the building that appeared on this blog awhile ago:

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Watercolors No.8

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL:  Time to dream of spring.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Southington Forge 3

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL:  The first time we visited, the gate was wide open. Neither of us had seen an industrial forge before. They looked Wagnerian in their grim grandeur, and we felt dwarfed. We’d seen presses but not like these. I couldn’t quite imagine how their brutality was finessed into usable products or what those products might be. 

Today I met a fellow along the Farmington Canal who told me he used to work here. I asked what they made. He said, “We made everything,” and carefully pointed out some of the shops he had worked in and other places he’d worked. It seems common among the retired machinists and metal workers, the pride in what they did. So I let him reminisce - it was a privilege listening - before I pressed my question. He finally suggested, “elbow joints,” and I managed to understand that they received blanks and there were forms, and I’m still having trouble imagining the stamping of elbow joints, and I suspect the truth is, one really had to be there amid the racket and the grease and the soot, but standing inside the sanctuary helped me understand. The dirt underfoot was real.

What is the importance of knowing that elbow joints were once forged on Wagnerian presses in two sheds along the canal that was built in 1826 from Massachusetts to Long Island Sound? What is added by the experience of being there and seeing them? How does it enrich living there to know how Southington helped forge our world?

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Southington Forge 2: Beside the Farmington Canal, 2014


3/26/15: Today they are dream. These two tin cathedrals were industrial forges. 

Since 1826, when Irishmen dug a canal from Massachusetts to Long Island Sound, this has been a busy industrial community, and people who lived here earned good livings from the work they did in the mills beside the canal. 

Before the Civil War the railroad replaced the canal, and on the town green there is a memorial to the men who served in that war, and many of the things needed at the front were made by people back here, and by the the next century and those other wars, mills along here were ready to meet all challenges. 

Today the old railroad is a greenway, and the ancient canal is teeming with mallards, and this stretch, especially, has several blocks of old mill building, some beautifully restored. In one I visited an immaculate metal fabrication shop and saw a variety of light industries operating and authentic grunge as well. The greenway brings people here daily. They walk their dogs, wheel their babies, jog and ride bicycles through a memorial greenway that is a hymn to American Labor. Removal of the forges is like suddenly silencing the bass line.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Southington Forge 1: Jaws


My buddy and I were down in Southington today to try to photograph a pair of old forges. One has four large forge presses, ovens and other workshops inside. When we got there a power arm was high above the roofs, with a beak like a garden nipper, pulling at chunks.  I could see a forge standing beside rubble, 12 feet high, inside a partially demolished shed. My friend said we should come back Sunday when we can get into the other shed, but my hunch is that it's already gone.

I wrote that into an email shortly after returning home from this shoot yesterday. It is filled with the self-righteous anger and disappointment I felt immediately after shooting this. Saner minds than mine can tell me all the reasons why saving these asbestos-seasoned, corrugated metal sheds with 12 foot tall forge hammers, was more trouble than it was worth.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Back to the River - Ansonia Skyline

PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL: A skyline as pretty as a smiling set of teeth. Even the classic signage on Farrel is intact. I need to photograph it carefully. 

Monday, March 23, 2015

Copper Monster

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: Through his working life, the Copper Monster lived here at the American Brass tube mill in Waterbury. Installed at the beginning of the 20th century, he spent his life stretching cold metal tubes and served through two world wars. This photo was taken in December of 2014, after most of the factory had been either scrapped or sent to Mexico.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Farrel Corridor

This is a special edition of TODAY'S PHOTO. Click the "Emery Roth II" link below. You will be linked into my new Facebook Page as a visitor. You do not need to register to Facebook to see it all. However, I ask registered Facebook users to go to the top of the page and LIKE the whole page. Doing so will help spread the word about my new book: Brass Valley: The Fall of an American Industry. Then scroll down and click on the Farrel Corridor image to see the pictures and read the text. In the future, I will periodically offer other similar "special edition," TODAY'S in order to gather multiple pictures into mini exhibits.

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: Many years ago I was told that if I wanted to take better pictures, the secret was to show fewer of them. Therefore, when I began this blog I decided to select no more than one picture per day. I’m now in my ninth year of TODAY’S PHOTO, and I look back with some satisfaction at the record of this work, but more and more I’m feeling the need to let multiple pictures tell a story. Facebook Special Editions will answer to that need for now, and at the same time they will help me bring my photographs and new book to the attention of a wider audience. Thank you to all those who have subscribed to TODAY’S PHOTO and for your regular comments. They never go unanswered, and they are always much appreciated.

People are surprised when I refer to, "the beautiful skyline of Ansonia, CT., and here is one of the best vantage points. Between the river and Main Street lie the properties where Ansonia began. The track passes through the flood gate on the far right and reaches the Ansonia platform and the back of the old Opera House. For a mile north the track passes through one of the rustiest canyons of industry left in Brass Valley.

In the middle of the picture, up on the hill, is the Ansonia Armory and further left a workshop of the Farrel Works. Maple Street Bridge was under construction when this was taken, and more of the red passageway is exposed that carries Farrel workers over the tracks that run through the middle of Farrel Works.

Almon Farrel was the millwright Anson Phelps hired in 1845 to build the Ansonia Canal that powered his industrial village. [His story is told in my book.] The Farrel Foundry and Machine Company has been here as long as the village and still operates in some of these buildings.

Grandly above it, and facing away toward North Cliff Street, is the Roman Catholic Church of the Assumption. The church, designed by Patrick Keely, opened in 1907. The story of its building is told here:

But for the need to cross the Naugatuck frequently in Ansonia, one might almost forget it was a river town. However, it is still the hillscape and the river that open space for the beautiful skyline.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

On the Birmingham Green, Friday the 13th, 2015, pt.3, Top of the Green

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: According to the Connecticut Historical Society, on July 4, 1883, more than 8000 people came to the Birmingham Green from all around the region for the dedication of the completed Civil War Monument. Derby was a town on the move, and Birmingham was its center.

In 1891 the original, 1836 Methodist Church was replaced by a new building designed by George Washington Kramer in the popular style of H.H. Richardson and uniquely laid out to serve the litergy and practice of Methodism. The building is grandly commanding at the top of the green, bursting with self-confidence. It’s two arched windows seem to embrace the green and town laid out before it.

Just two years earlier the Sterling Opera House, including Derby City Hall, had opened across the Green, even though Derby was not yet a city, and in 1891 the fury over Derby’s underhanded politics was still raging in Ansonia and Shelton and Hartford. Even so, when John Philip Sousa brought his band to town, Stars and Stripes echoed off these walls. Even without further knowledge of the personalities involved, one can still feel the dynamics of the time working their way into the cityscape and endowing the Green with layers of meaning.

See Robert Novakx's authoritative explanation of the events that led to the creation of the three cities:

Monday, March 16, 2015

On the Birmingham Green, Friday the 13th, 2015, pt.2, Unspired

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL:  If this were a hill town, the Congregational Church would have pride of place on the town green, but this is a mill town, planned and built by industrial entrepreneurs, proud to have a stake in building a local economy. In 1845 the Congregational Church was the last religious body to join the community of faiths gathered by Sheldon Smith and Anson Phelps to the Green.

Across the Green, Elizabeth Street runs parallel to Minerva. Since 1845 the Classical democratic temple of the Congregational Society of Birmingham on Elizabeth Street and the crenelated spiritual fortress of St. James Episcopal on Elizabeth have stared across the Green as if in eternal dialogue.

Birmingham was famous for the production of pianos and organs. It isn't surprising to discover that music had an important role in the service here.

"In the early history of the [Birmingham Congregational] church the music was vocal and instrumental. At one time the latter consisted of a bass-viol, two violins and a flute. In 1856 an organ displaced these instruments. In 1871 the pulpit was removed from the recess at the west end of the church and the organ transferred from the gallery to it, and a movable platform with a neat plain desk substituted for a pulpit, occupying a few feet in front of the former. With this change the gallery choir was abandoned and singing was congregational, led by a precentor, the organ being accompanied by a flute. In 1874 an orchestra was added and has continued to the present time, mostly without a precentor.

"This church has been harmonious and prosperous, and now numbers 221 members."

1880, from The History of the Old Town of Derby , 1642-1880 Orcutt/Beardsley

Sunday, March 15, 2015

On the Birmingham Green, Friday the 13th, 2015, pt.1, Minerva Street

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL:  Minerva Street rises from the business district of Birmingham to the green on the hill above the city. There Sheldon Smith and Anson Phelps envisioned a common around which legal and spiritual transactions of the community might harmonize. They gave the land for the public green and for the Methodist, Episcopal, and Congregationalist churches, and they named the streets for their wives and daughters. 

Both Smith and Phelps were self-made men, and the green was a centerpiece for and a testament to what they had accomplished in only a decade: They had built a dam across the Naugatuck river and a canal and reservoir system leading to the Housatonic River and used the waterworks to power numerous manufacturing mills and supply drinking water to the whole community. 

In 1843, when St. James Episcopal Church (above) was built on the green, the village was home to numerous manufacturers including the Birmingham Company that made large mill equipment, the Phelps-Smith Brass Mill, and the all-important Howe Pin Company that turned the work of skilled metal craftsmen into the common pin. In another six years the railroad would rouse the Naugatuck Valley from its eternal slumbers. Birmingham then was busy and dreaming an urban future; today it is an intact, planned metropolis that never metamorphosed, a Pittsburgh that never happened.

For additional information, here is an excellent web resource:

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Monday, March 9, 2015

Electric Dream

PHOTOGRAPHERS JOURNAL: Electricity’s magic made the world push button, sending pulsed current on copper threads to a marionette of levers that became us, as we became it.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

1897 DC

1897 vintage electric motor at the former Anaconda American Brass / Ansonia Copper & Brass tube mill, Waterbury, CT

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: When the compass point veered from the current and magnetized Faraday, the problem began: How to leverage that tiny impulsion, give numbers to impulse and impulses, set standards in a nebula of variables, trick out armatures and commutators, quantify and regulate their spin. It was a universe of thought opening its mindscape.

Unlike steam engines, an electric motor could start with the touching of wires or the throwing of a switch, it required no fire, and unlike the river, its current could flow anywhere, even up hill. It was half a transaction of moving parts and half the stuff of magic.

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.)