Friday, February 5, 2016

Main Street Time Lapse, Ansonia


PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: The first photo was easy to take at 7:15, on Sunday evening, 2011. The last, taken last Sunday evening when I thought there would be few cars, put me in the path of headlights. It’s good to see the changes.


Sunday, May 1, 2011, 7:15 PM




 Tuesday, March 17, 2015, 7:30 PM




Sunday, January 31, 2016, 6:17 PM






Monday, February 1, 2016

Cutting Up


PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: I wasn’t there the day the crane came down, but an i-phone video they showed me the next day, suggests it was done with masterful indelicacy. They cut it loose and dropped it. I already posted a picture of the fork lift they used to move and turn the fallen carcass as Mike cut it apart. Here is the rest of the drama.




















Sunday, January 31, 2016

Control


NEXT SLIDE TALK:
Housatonic Museum of Art - Housatonic Community College, Bridgeport
February 10 @ 11:45, HCC Events Center


PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: When Anson Phelps, in 1845, built a well-watered canal from the Kinneytown Dam in Seymour for a mile-and-a-quarter, to bring power to mill sites in a new industrial village he called, “Ansonia,” he put his own brass and copper mill in buildings somewhere near the back of this picture. We are looking north from the south end of the extrusion mill on the southeast corner of the American Brass crossroad.

Ansonia Copper & Brass (AC&B), that until December or 2013 still had operations on this site, claimed its ancestry back to Anson Phelps original Ansonia Brass & Copper (AB&C). Shortly after 1900 it became part of American Brass with mills throughout brass valley and covering all four corners of the crossroad. We are looking down the conveyor of the last, major piece of new equipment installed in the Ansonia millworks, I’m told sometime in the 1960s or 70s when this mill went by the name, “Anaconda American Brass.” 

The ladder leads to a bridge crossing the conveyor, and the giant extruder is to the left. Ladders run up its sides and catwalks cross the top. It is like a small ship with its decks leading fore and aft; ladders lead to spaces “below deck,” where motors churn, yet it is small next to its conveyors. I never saw it in operation. I’m told it could extrude continuous lengths of metal rod which could be sent down the conveyor or wrapped on spools that rotated automatically and looked to me a bit like the amusement park ride known as, “The Whip.” When the extruder was installed, it was state of the art.

The yellow crane in the distance is the same 5-ton crane discussed in the last paragraph of the previous photograph in this series, “Picking.”




Friday, January 22, 2016

Post-Deco




PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: Since I began photographing it in 2011, this sand elevator in Ansonia, has drawn me back like no other structure I know. In that time I’ve taken images of it that pleased me; posted some publicly.  Until I took this image earlier this week, none had caught the full potential of this monument as I feel it until this one. It sings a song of us.





Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Picking



PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: (refer to http://rothphotos@blogspot.com for earlier posts in the series)

The southeast corner of the brass mill crossroad was where Anson Phelps set his first Ansonia brass mill, though this building, in the photo, is of a later era. Mike is cutting apart one of the 5-ton traveling cranes, cleaning the building for efficient demolition. It has been an idle extrusion mill through the wink of time that I’ve been coming here. By spring, they say, the building may be gone.

The maps of 1884 and 1890 paint a picture of what happened here then. This photograph begins at what was then, probably, the edge of the mill yard. The yard is behind me in this image, and I’m beside the yard-office, cartloads coming and going, men swearing in many languages. By 1890 the perimeter of the yard has been nibbled away by many small buildings, and the central yard office of 1884 has become a new shipping department with testing facilities connected to the large mill which once stood in my picture. 

The 1890 map calls this large building, “Muffle R’m,” and says it has an “Iron Floor.” It is the largest building on the property. The map shows the “Casting Shop,” off to the right, and in the bay in front of Mike stood the Rolling Mill with two sections, one for “Brazed Tube,” and the other identified as the “Rod R’m.” Further back and probably dug into the hillside and/or raised to a second level, beside the canal, were a series of small rooms, some showing furnace blocks. A stair indicates a partial second floor, and one room is designated for pickling and must have been nearly as high as, and accessible to, the adjacent rolling mill. 

Even this only covers half of the current building site, and at the time of the 1890 map Ansonia Brass & Copper was building a new rod mill on the other half of the site. It would be on property between the brass mill and Farrel that had belonged to, “Postal Telegraph & Cable Co.”  More departments would mean new workers, more managers, and people moving up. Younger workers watching, considering opportunities. It would mean more people riding trollies and shopping on Main Street. It would mean telephones and later radio and automobiles.

The 1895 map shows the rod mill completed, and the old mill yard is filled in, all the small buildings gone, and a new mill for seamless tube abuts the existing structure covering the space to the factory road across from the Three Gables. The map shows the new tube mill with raised skylights down the middle of the building, two rows at right angles and crossing at the midpoint; four narrow gables are in the middle of each facade; one looks across at the Three Gables. I imagine beneath the tube mill skylights are aisles, where people pushed carts between benches, and cranes moved seamless tube, and the sounds of steam and heavy metal were constant. 

The Ansonia Brass & Copper company of Anson Phelps had grown to fill the southeast corner of the crossroad. It had become a complex cluster of brick buildings, stacks, skylights and gables. By 1906 it would all be part of American Brass. The southeast corner structures of 1890 are essentially, what is shown on the 1921 aerial, though the tube mill was a short-lived venture. The crossed skylights are gone, and after 1906 it was designated as a machine shop. However, none of these structures appears to be what exists on this corner today. 

Above Mike’s head in the photograph, parked and waiting at the top of the next bay, is another 5-ton crane that Mike will drop to the floor and pick apart like a bird of prey at the bones of a carcass. However, there is machinery yet in this place to merit its immensity.

[Anaconda American Brass Company, Extrusion Mill, Ansonia]



Sunday, January 17, 2016

Demolition Crossroad




PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: [Anaconda American Brass, Ansonia, Dec. 2015]
(earlier posts in this series are below)

Since before 1900 paths have been crossing here, midway along the east-west factory road between Liberty Street, at the top of the Hill, and the riverside yard, at the bottom. That is where the east west factory road crosses the north-south factory road that runs beside Naugatuck rail corridor. Even today people find each other here beside the tracks. Sometimes they stop in conversation - have a smoke - wait for a passing train or pause conversation while it passes. Today conversation is about gas tanks for Mike's torch as the site is picked for scrap and junk.

On three of four corners around this crossroad the three major manufacturing buildings of Anaconda American Brass in Ansonia still converge: the extrusion mill in the southeast where the round mirror hangs; the rod mill, diagonally in the northwest and shown reflected in the round mirror: the flat-wire mill in the northeast and out of the conversation. 

Today's conversations concerned removing part of a large crane being chopped for scrap. There was also a track crew from the railroad who drove in on rubber tires and, after some moments of adjustment, drove off on steel wheels. Nifty!

The powerhouse, shown here suffering through neglect, scrap & salvage, claims the fourth corner. Behind it are Ansonia’s two, remaining, giant, masonry stacks: Closest is the casting house stack of American Brass; Farther off and connected to the Farrel campus is the stack that appears on the 1906 map. It serves a building with a "Dynamo Rm” and three “force pumps.” A note on the map suggests these may have been for fighting fire, and carefully located beside the river.

Traffic from the American Brass casting house often followed the road from the riverside up the hill to the metal labs, in the administration building on Liberty Street where an engineer checked to make sure the alloy sample they carried matched specification. Meanwhile the men waited at the casting furnace below for approval to pour. 

Along another axis, the offices behind the giant extruder at the south end of the extrusion mill and the machine shops by the high windows at the north end of the flat-wire mill sometimes exchanged envoys. I rarely saw people at either place, though there were always nervous cats by the high north windows of the machine shop. But envoys could sometimes be found here.


SLIDE TALK / BOOK SIGNING schedule

Jan 28 @ 7 PM - New Britain Industrial Museum (snow date Feb. 4)
Feb 10 - Housatonic Museum of Art
Feb 16 @ 7 PM - Woodbury Public Library (snow date, Mar. 1)
Feb 25 @ 6 PM - Ansonia Public Library
March 1-29 - Photos on exhibit at Silas Bronson Library, Waterbury 
Mar 10 @ 6 PM - Silas Bronson Library (snow date, Mar 14)
Mar 12 @ 6 PM - Railroad Museum of New England, Thomaston
April 7-29 - Photos on exhibit at Hagaman Library, East Haven, CT
Apr 27 @  6:30 PM - Hagaman Memorial Library, East Haven
May 4 @ 7 PM - Windsor Locks Public Library
May 17 @ 6 PM - Wolcott Public Library
November 12 - January, 2017 - Photos on exhibit Minor Public Library, Roxbury
Nov. 12 @    - Minor Public Library, Roxbury, CT



Thursday, January 14, 2016

Delivery




PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL:  Shadows shift as the fork lift of the previous photo has passed beside ragged gables that mark the vanished line between Wallace Brass and Phelps Brass. As previously noted, the 1906 map clearly shows three gables, the old boundary line has become the primary east-west passage across a mostly continuous north-south barricade of parallel factory sheds, and the map now labels it all "American Brass Company."

The map of 1900 offers other annotations to the noteworthy building on the corner. Its roof, where the heady tin vent-ware now sits, was labeled, “iron roof on iron truss,” and what seems, a door was drawn at what may be either the midpoint in the long, slightly wedge-shaped building, or a point where two structures were melded into one building. On one side of the door is the “Wire Dep’t,” and “Riveting.” On the other side is the drawing of the roof above the iron truss. Later maps add skylights to it, in 1921 there are cupolas drawn onto the aerial of Ansonia.

Revelation: I’ve stood at that door, opened it and looked along a splintered matchstick catwalk through concentric truss-work triangles diminishing in the distance.  It glowed under skylights like those shown on the 1906 map. There is a platform beyond the door, 20 or 25 feet above the factory floor. I never dared trust it with my weight. To the right, shards of stair treads hang from a failing stringers that descend 25 feet to the floor below with, as I recall, balusters and banisters dangling. The 1906 map shows a narrow passage there. Such a passage might make sense if it contained a stair.

It is now apparent that this place where I have stood, between the "Wire Dep't" and the crumbling catwalk, was there as early as 1900. It lies where the wall jogs. All the maps from 1895 back to 1884 show that the wall jogs just there, and there has always been, as there is today, a division of spaces there. However at that spot the older maps show a thicket of slender stacks rising from furnaces. 

In 1884 three furnace blocks are marked 600hp. An adjacent section is marked “Tumbling Bbl’s.” The 1890 and 1895 maps show a fourth furnace block with a square chimney, and the adjacent building/section has been labeled, “Dipping & Tinning Rivet R’m.” Architecturally, it seems, from 1884 through 1895 the building is essentially unchanged, and when the chimneys disappeared from the maps in 1900, the place at the upper level was still devoted to riveting. There is a modern picture of what may have been the riveting room in Brass Valley: The Fall of an American Industry (p.117). The picture looks down an aisle in a hall of rowed and vacant shelving that once was a busy workplace.

The fork lift, balancing scrap buckets 300 and 314, turns the corner, passing in front of the old shed with the skirted cupola vents and the pentangle finials, which the maps suggest goes back to at least 1884. On the 1867 map a similarly proportioned block, a free-standing structure, appears in the  same location as the current building. Is it the same building? Not enough information in the maps to know, but as scrap buckets are carried to be scrap, if it is the same building, it probably riveted through the Civil War.


Finding Brass Valley, a Place in Time that Has Almost Vanished
UPCOMING SLIDE TALKS

Jan 28 @ 7 PM - New Britain Industrial Museum (snow date Feb. 4)
Feb 10 - Housatonic Museum of Art (time to be determined)
Feb 16 @ 7 PM - Woodbury Public Library (snow date, Feb. 23)
Feb 25 @ 6 PM - Ansonia Public Library
March 1-29 - Photos on exhibit at Silas Bronson Library, Waterbury 
Mar 10 @ 6 PM - Silas Bronson Library (snow date, Mar 14)
April 7-29 - Photos on exhibit at Hagaman Library, East Haven, CT
Apr 27 @  6:30 PM - Hagaman Memorial Library, East haven
May 17 @ 6 PM - Wolcott Public Library


Saturday, January 9, 2016

The Three Gables and the Wallace Brass Co.



PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: Another day and (for those who have been following this series of images) the camera is repositioned so as to still catch the corner of the building with the skirted cupola vents and Pentangle finials (though no vents or finials are in view here) as well as the factory road which cuts across the American Brass site in Ansonia. Shadows like bat wings, cast by the low, winter sunlight claw the rutted pavement of the factory road that crosses from Liberty Street down to the riverside. Two rusty scrap bins, on the teeth of a fork lift, are being brought from the casting house to an uncertain future. Once hundreds of these steel hampers, numbered and tracked, circulated between mills carrying scrap metal back to the foundry.

On the 1868 map of Ansonia, this passageway lies at the boundary between “Wallace and Sons Brass Works,” in the north and “Phelps Brass Works,” in the south. The three gables of the north wall lie along the old property boundary. Both companies were founded here in 1845. They prospered and grew side by side through the Civil War. The canal still flows here, that Almon Farrel built for Anson Phelps in 1845 to power his new industrial village which he called, “Ansonia," but the canal was long ago buried underground. The steel girders that line the sides of the road hint at the whole bridge now half sunk in a sea of asphalt.

By 1884, the map shows that  the bridge was a “covered bridge,” that crossed the canal here. It led into the main yard of Phelps brass works, on that map identified as Ansonia Brass and Copper. The map shows the “coke shed” lies ahead, but if you turn right, you will soon find, “the office.” 

On the map, the coke shed is hard up against the wall of a large building containing the the “Rolling Mill" and “General Mach’y,” facilities of Wallace & Sons, brass works. The back section also contains iron and annealing, “furn’s” whose forms are carefully marked. These facilities fill the area roughly covered by the three mills on the right side of this picture. 

By the 1906 map, both the Phelps mills and the Wallace mills are all labeled as, “American Brass Company,” and one can plainly see on that map the outline of three great gable ends facing onto the crossway through American Brass from Liberty Street to the riverside.


[American Brass, Ansonia]


PRELIMINARY SLIDE TALK SCHEDULE: 

Jan 28 @ 7 PM - New Britain Industrial Museum (snow date Feb. 4)
Feb 16 @ 7 PM - Woodbury Public Library (snow date, Mar. 1)
Feb 25 @ 6 PM - Ansonia Public Library
Throughout March - Photos on exhibit at Silas Bronson Library, Waterbury
Mar 10 @ 6 PM - Silas Bronson Library (snow date, Mar 14)
Throughout April - Photos on exhibit at Hagaman Library, East Haven, CT
Apr 27 @  6:30 PM - Hagaman Memorial Library, East haven
November 12 - January, 2017 - Photos on exhibit Minor Public Library, Roxbury
Nov. 12 @    - Minor Public Library, Roxbury, CT



Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Starlight



PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: The mills of Farrel and American Brass in Ansonia make little fuss about appearances. They are a haphazard collection of additions, adaptations, and replacements, patches and hacks, whose only goal was getting the job done. And so since 2011 I’ve often stopped and sometimes photographed where the American Brass, Flat-Wire Mill sprouts skirted, tin cupolas with pentangle finials. When was this bit of virtuoso twinkle put in place?

Historical maps of Ansonia are a treasure trove of information (http://www.historicmapworks.com/Browse/United_States/Connecticut/). The building with the skirted, cupola vents lies at a recognizable intersection. The row of vents parallels the old Ansonia Canal which lies a half-dozen yards off. A bridge crosses the canal just where the building ends, and the factory road across the bridge continues down the slope and across the rail corridor to the river. As the road descends toward the tracks, the wall reveals three gable ends tracing the roofs of sheds behind them. From inside they now function as a single large space: the Flat-Wire Mill. The Canal is now invisible, buried underground, but the old iron bridge still erupts from the lumpy macadam in a way that only makes sense when you realize it is the truss and road of a forgotten bridge.

In the 1921 aerial map of Ansonia (https://www.loc.gov/resource/g3784a.pm000770/) three gables are clear, though the road beside them looks level. The top gabled roof, nearest the canal sports five (not four) tin cupola vents. Does the map even show a bit of an iron truss of a bridge over the canal. On maps before 1921 identification becomes more tenuous. Even in 1884, however, there are three long sheds close to this location. 1890 looks far different. A new rod mill is under construction, and the map includes detailed notes about what is happening in each section of the factory. Along the canal a long building is divided into lots of little shops. Could one of these be the current building? 1895 shows expansion of the same plan. One room holds in place in this long building through 1900; it is the tinning room. Could the skirted cupolas have been made there?

The 1906 map shows big changes have been made. For the first time the company is called American Brass Company instead of Ansonia Brass and Copper. Now the road across the mill site clearly shows the three gables, and, while the top building shows no cupola vents, it shows skylights similar to those on either side of the the vents that are still there today. The bridge over the canal is there as well. 1911 further confirms my view that these are the buildings that make up today’s Flat-Wire Mill, but the possibility remains that the building with the cupolas survives from an earlier time when this was the tinsmith’s shop, and so I continue to believe it was those tinsmiths who made starlight at the brass works.

PRELIMINARY SCHEDULE OF SLIDE TALKS, 2016:

Jan 28 @ 7 PM - New Britain Industrial Museum (snow date Feb. 4)
Feb 16 @ 7 PM - Woodbury Public Library (snow date, Mar. 1)
Feb 25 @ 6 PM - Ansonia Public Library
   -Throughout March - Photos on exhibit at Silas Bronson Library, Waterbury
Mar 10 @ 6 PM - Silas Bronson Library (snow date, Mar 14)
   -Throughout April - Photos on exhibit at Hagaman Library, East Haven, CT
Apr 27 @  6:30 PM - Hagaman Memorial Library, East haven
November 12 - January, 2017 - Photos on exhibit Minor Public Library, Roxbury
Nov. 12 @    - Minor Public Library, Roxbury, CT


Monday, December 28, 2015

Farrel Yard



PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: A moment after it pulls away from the station platform in Ansonia, the northbound train on the Naugatuck line passes beneath the pedestrian bridge of Farrel Machine Company and enters the Farrel yard, where the bridge and buildings (all out of the picture on the left) are casting their shadows. The rear masonry stack marks the American Brass casting shop, where this series began, beside the river. The front masonry stack serves the old “dynamo room” and powerhouse (1911) of the Farrel Machine Company at its northern edge.

The previous two photographs in the series were taken from points on the track between the two bridges. The first faced north; the second faced south. Between those pictures and this lies the heart of the old Farrel Machine company. The two campuses taken together, Farrel and American Brass, are a unique, pre-flood survival, and local residents will be quick to remind visitors of the roles both played in WWII, but the truth is, they were important as far back as the Civil War.

Anyone with a bent for metal will be drawn to the sand elevator rising on the left, a corrugated tin giant with tin stairways and pipe-railings and balconies dangling treacherously from unreachable operation centers and offices high in the elevator tower. One can still trace the old track that ran below the elevator and into the long "coke and sand" storage shed. It first appears on the Ansonia maps in 1890, but the bridge from it doesn’t appear until 1895.

The bridge across the track is two stories high and enters the eastern sheds of Farrell near their midpoint. Half the length of the bridge is hidden in this picture. It continues an equal distance across the roofs of three rows of work sheds before reaching the giant foundry, perched a level higher on the hill. There, the sand was used to make molds for casting giant machine parts.The foundry was built between 1884 and 1890.  Once the old Ansonia Canal ran along the North Main Street edge of the Farrel Foundry, between the foundry and Main Street. 

Inside the three rows of sheds, a half dozen architectural styles, at least, tell of the incremental adaptations by which Farrel grew and changed. The first of these sheds appears on the 1900 map. At some point the pedestrian level of the bridge where it crossed the lower sheds was removed to allow for increased ceiling clearances in the sheds below. In another place an interior wall was once the fine masonry facade of the pre-1900 shed. 

Perhaps the most curious feature of the Farrel Yard is the rustic green, wooden structure that seems to upset the geometries of the place. It is not just a wall set a-kilter to shelter trains that once entered at the first opening; it is that a whole shed has been set at an angle that produces difficult to utilize corners where it bumps against the sheds of the  foundry section. A second large opening permits an old road to run beside the angled shed, as the road climbs the hill to Main Street. It’s not a surprise to discover much of this angled section and probably the green wooden facade were already in place on the 1884 map of Ansonia. These are the most ancient geometries that crept toward where the trains had been passing since 1849.



Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Arriving, Ansonia




PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: I’ve stepped through the opening in the chain link fence in yesterday’s photo and turned 180 degrees to look down the rails the other way. 

The track passes under two bridges that unite multiple buildings of the Farrel Machine Company. Anson Phelps, who established the brass and copper mills that became American Brass in Ansonia (from whose property this picture is taken) hired millwright Almon Farrel to dig the mile-and-a-quarter canal that powered the industrial village that Anson Phelps named, "Ansonia.” Afterward, Farrel began his own mill in Anson Phelps’ Ansonia. About that time the railroad came through.

Through the chain link on the left can be read the name, “Farrel Birmingham.” The windows line the first of seven parallel rows of sheds where Farrel machinists cast and finished machine parts for some of the largest factory equipment of the 19th and 20th centuries. The high windows, that project over the track, lie just where the famous, “tunnel,” beneath Farrel work sheds emerges (a public right-of-way, I understand); the road runs on beside the track.

The near bridge is two stories high and connects the Farrel Foundry at the top of the hill to the tall, tin sand elevator (the most distinctive single "architectural" relic of Naugatuck Valley industry) and to the shed below where Farrel Foundry stored sand for molds. The bottom level of the bridge was for pedestrians. The top level is a crane-way for the crane that moved materials between the train siding and the foundry. The crane and much more is intact.

Near the back, the irrepressible Ansonia Opera House, an early work of Robert Wakeman Hill shows off its crisply detailed cornice. It is matched by an energetic facade on Main Street - a gem of a building! It is a relic of what Ansonia once was. Just beyond the Opera House the train arrives at the Ansonia station platform beside gray flood walls.




Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Anyplace, USA




PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: The railroad corridor cuts through the center of American Brass in Ansonia. When this looked like anyplace because such corridors were spreading everyplace, this was someplace to stay. Now that it is no place, and will soon be gone, its antiquity begins to make it someplace worth remembering.

The building on the left with the sawtooth roof and the extended bay of corrugated metal is all connected to the casting house of the previous photographs. Opposite, on the right, a large mill space still houses a giant extruder that can turn out metal rod in almost limitless lengths. I’ve never seen it run. The bridge connecting them is inaccessible and unused. Once it housed a monorail crane that could circle through all of the buildings.

Further down the track on the left is the powerhouse, where a roofed structure carries utility lines across the track. Beyond the Powerhouse the main road through the complex crosses from Liberty Street to the riverside.  Beyond this crossing are the longest buildings on the property. On the right, the light colored buildings are known collectively as the “Flat-wire Mill.” Harder to distinguish on the left side of the track are the damaged, high windows of the, “Rod Mill.”

Long before the train gets to this place, whether from north or south, the train’s horn begins sounding - no longer a whistle, but a throaty horn with a distinctive and threatening bend in its pitch. Wherever I am in the buildings I stop to listen to the sound that rolls off the hills and absorb the full cadence as it rises and falls with the rumble of the train in the middle.




Monday, December 21, 2015

March, 2012: Willy at the Priming Furnace



PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL:  Making pictures in the casting house was a series of experiments, as I learned to shoot in conditions I’d never experienced before. At its best, it was highly hit or miss. No shoot was more difficult than the priming of the casting furnace where there was always both too much and too little light. Priming and the challenges of photographing it are both described in "Brass Valley: The Fall of an American Industry." The casting house was and continues to be a learning experience.

I’m still figuring out new ways to get more out of the original RAW files. and I’ve re-developed this image, from 2012, to achieve better clarity and textures. 

[Anaconda American Brass, Ansonia, casting house]




Saturday, December 19, 2015

Husk



PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: If this were a church, we’d be in one arm of the transept looking into the crossing, climax of the nave. But this is a casting house, and the liturgy for this crossing with its high crystal skylight, climax to the dark place where the last furnaces ran, has long been lost to time and memory as casting house fires went dark and movement ceased.

[Anaconda American Brass, Ansonia, casting house]



Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Fire Works




PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: It’s not at all clear that there can or should be any further use for this old building. The wrecker’s torch is already at work, picking it for junk and metal scrap to prepare it for final burial, but those who care about the history of Ansonia and of Connecticut might take note. This is the inside of the casting house of American Brass in Ansonia as it looked yesterday.

People who know the history tell me the art of mixing copper alloys was refined and perfected here beginning before the Civil War. Those who worked here knew the secrets for mixing alloys to enhance machinability, conductivity, or corrosion resistance, for pouring alloys with extra spring or for resisting torque or for releasing the antibacterial qualities the copper. This is where that knowledge was crystallized as metal for manufacturing. At its peak, 40 furnaces ran here. When the casting house closed in 2013 a single furnace was still mixing metal for critical marine applications such as the U.S. fleet of nuclear subs. 

[Anaconda American Brass, Ansonia, CT, casting house]




Monday, December 14, 2015

Belly of the Beast



PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: When the shutter opened for this picture, though the men were away on break, the world inside the casting house remained dark and intestinal; soot-saturated and sweaty; cinder-soiled, buttered in grease, and filled with a hanging haze. It required a very long exposure. I was back in the casting house again this week for the first time since work stopped in 2013. It’s gone slack; only dark, dirty junk for the rites of the junk men.

[Anaconda American Brass, Ansonia - casting house]




Saturday, December 12, 2015

Spaghetti


NOTE: The last of the slide talks is done until after the new year. I’m just beginning to build a schedule of new talks for winter, spring and summer. I invite any suggestions for places I should speak, and I ask readers who would like me to come and speak in their area to recommend my slide talk, Finding Brass Valley, a Place in Time that has Almost Vanished, to your local library, art association, or historical society or to any other group that may be interested.





PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: My friend Bob tells me that the filters shown in yesterday’s photo were "cyclones, precleaning units that remove large cinders before the exhaust gases go thru the bag houses  - which are like large vacuum cleaners filled with cloth bags that filter the air   -- the rectangular boxes are the bag houses - the dust is collected in the hoppers at the bottom." 

Somewhere I have photos of the collected bags waiting for disposal from bag houses in the Waterbury tube mill. I enjoy knowing that the name for giant pastry squeezers is “cyclones,” while still appreciating that its all pasta.

[Anaconda American Brass, Ansonia - casting house filters]


Thursday, December 10, 2015

Tinker's Folly



PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: I can’t imagine this tin-can truss-works of filters and stacks becoming other than junk. For the moment it represents a part of Ansonia that many probably wish to leave behind. Nor can I imagine it amounting to much once the sad ruin of a casting house behind it is gone. -just junk waiting fore the junkman.

Since I first saw it, it fascinated me. I suspect I’m not the only one who has imagined climbing on it like a jungle gym. Viewed from across the river, and always from behind awkward obstacles, it’s hard to get to know, but it blossoms up the side of the Anaconda American Brass casting house, and it sends fat tendrils over the rooftop. They tell me these are filters for the huge furnaces within. From a spot on the hill across the river, I enjoy the silhouettes of ladders climbing inside metal cages, and stair rails angling into catwalk rails, where ant-sized people can go everywhere.

The reality of unexpectedly getting access was quite different. Getting up the first ladder with backpack and tripod was neither pretty nor quick. Level one was nowhere. I was still below the flood wall, and I knew I was trying to be so careful that I had talked myself into absolute terror. I tested the safety of each stretch of catwalk before trusting it with my full weight. Below was concrete if fate did not impale me on the way down. 

Getting above the flood wall was my first goal. Whatever level this is, it’s as high above the wall as I reached - perhaps level 3. It was not unlike finally, after extraordinary effort, reaching level three in a computer game, but the reality was not virtual. I took a few pictures sheepishly, though with tripod and camera extended as far out from the structure as I dared. And then I very carefully climbed back down, and I have tried repeatedly to photograph the shapes of the filters and stacks from the ground. My friend Lazlo, who once worked as a window washer in NYC, went up over the rooftop.

[casting house filters, American Brass, Ansonia, CT]




Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Millworks


BOOK SIGNING: Brass Valley: The Fall of an American Industry
Thursday, December 10, 11:30 to 2:00 PM
John Bale Book Store
158 Grand Street
Waterbury




PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: Yesterday’s image showed the American Brass mothership mills in Waterbury where the surviving tube mill was the last functioning building of the South End mill complex, and one of the places in which I photographed active production. Here is the other. This is American Brass in Ansonia where the casting house still functioned turning out large billets of metal to be processed by the tube mill upstream in Waterbury.

The large Ansonia site is similarly distinguished in pedigree as the Waterbury site. It is descended from the brass company initially founded by Anson Phelps and Sheldon Smith when they built Birmingham in the 1830s. Later it moved to this site when Anson Phelps built Ansonia. It was known here as Ansonia Brass and Copper, and when I photographed the casting house here, until 2013, it was known as Ansonia Copper & Brass. 

The Casting House is the building on the right with the tin can sculpture crawling up the side. Directly across the bridge is the Powerhouse that drove all the mills. On the left we see the front of the Rod Mill which extends a long way beyond the edge of the picture.  A second row of buildings across the rail corridor includes a flat-wire mill and an extrusion mill, as well as a bunch of other shops and warehouse spaces, and at the very top is the corporate office building and labs. The canal, that Anson Phelps paid for and Almon Farrel dug to bring power to the new industrial village of Ansonia, runs through this property still. 

Both the site shown yesterday and this site are facing imminent demolition. I have been following and photographing the deconstruction of both sites. These two images mark the start of a series of images I’m titling, “Postindustrial."




Monday, December 7, 2015

Milltown


BOOK SIGNING: Brass Valley: The Fall of an American Industry
Thursday, December 10, 11:30 to 2:00 PM
John Bale Book Store
158 Grand Street
Waterbury




PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL:  These are the mothership mills of American Brass Company, once the largest brass manufacturer in the world. In the years just before 1900 American Brass Company was formed from smaller brass companies up and down the Naugatuck River Valley, but two companies dominated the consolidation. 

The red brick building with the Victorian tower is the 1880’s lampworks of Holmes, Booth and Haydens. It’s what’s left of a larger group of buildings. Israel Holmes was one of the founders of the brass industry; Hiram Haydens was one of its most inventive innovators. Because of his interest in photography the company also made lenses and photographic plates. The Naugatuck River makes a loop here, and old maps indicate a canal once crossed the loop, a natural spot for Holmes, Booth and Haydens to set their earliest millworks. Lamps from this surviving building lit rooms, wherever there was oil, throughout world. 

The river winds around the east side of Holmes, Booth & Haydens and between the gray stack of a recently added power plant and the old brick stack from the powerhouse of Benedict and Burnham. Aaron Benedict was another founder of the brass industry. Benedict and Burnham’s success made it the first brass factory in Waterbury to incorporate. Holmes, Booth & Haydens sits on the west side of the Naugatuck, Benedict & Burnham is on the east.

As lawyers and bankers worked out the details that would stitch together American Brass, evidence suggests workers at Benedict & Burnham were pioneering new benches for making metal tube and assembling a tube mill. The tube mill, however, was being built on the Holmes, Booth & Haydens side of the river. The second Victorian tower was added at that time. The sawtooth roof was added when the tube mill was scaled up for World War I. By then it was all American Brass.

Those who follow these postings will have realized that mill, scaled further and updated for World War II, was the working mill I photographed until it closed in 2013. It is the working tube mill pictured and discussed in Brass Valley: The Fall of an American Industry. 

Across the river, beside the brick stack on the powerhouse wall are what look like chalk marks. Although the company has not existed for over a century, up close those marks spell out, “Benedict & Burnham.”



Monday, November 30, 2015

Behind Time


Placing Brass Valley
slide talk & book signing

Seymour Public Library, Seymour, CT
December 1 at 6 PM

Scoville Library, Salisbury, CT
December 5 at 4 PM



Farrel Machine Co., foundry, Ansonia

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: Those who knew the Farrel Foundry may remember this spot. It is at the northern end of an extension I have referred to as, “the arm,” that parallels Main Street and extends south beyond the front of the Grand Foundry space. This area was distinct because the east wall of the arm seemed to be part made from the hillside and heavy concrete structures, and somewhere there the canal once flowed alongside Main Street. 

The canal had been cut short long ago at the Farrel property line. It still flowed to an open pool to the north of American Brass property and the water was processed in some way by American Brass. The area where the canal used to flow through Farrel had long ago been incorporated into building space, and over the top of this area rose a four story nest of stairways, catwalks, and offices rising several stories around tanks and stacks and filters and fans. Had anyone been up there since the factory closed in 1989? But the concrete and stone at the base had openings into dark, moist, stone rooms, some with empty shelves. Perhaps others know the meaning of these cave-like spaces.



Friday, November 27, 2015

Time Out



PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: American Brass flat-wire mill, Ansonia.