Wednesday, June 22, 2011


WILLIAM PAPE, Waterbury, 1918: "Our industries might be gathered into the grasp of giant corporations whose controlling spirits, destitute alike of local affiliations and decency of sentiment, would cold-bloodedly close down many factories on the ground that Waterbury was not a logical site for an industry."

PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL: These turbines stand at the head of the factory shed where American Copper & Brass made pipe. The Naugatuck River, thirty of forty feet beyond the back wall, drove these turbines which animated machines the size of railroad cars and men by the train-load. The river has been unplugged. The trains are gone.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Factory Landscape

PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL: Interstate 84 heading east leaps from the western bluff of the Naugatuck Valley, and motorists find themselves looking down across the City of Waterbury from the top deck of a gangling, graceless structure known as, "the mixmaster," that spans the valley and connects I-84 with the city and the north-south highway.

Waterbury sits approximately half way up the Naugatuck Valley. It is the land of many rivers where the valley spreads out. It has always been too wet and rocky to farm, but mosquitos thrive. The local tribes called it Mattatuck, the land without trees, and wondered why white men would want to live there. The settlers called it, "Waterbury," and built mills on the rivers to manufacture buttons.

Through this window in the stair tower of an empty factory you could have watched Waterbury grow. Although the French Gothic towers and spires of St. Anne's and the French-Canadian community it served were probably there first, workers, some among them French-Canadian, probably stopped at this window to listen to the bells peal at the topping off ceremony when the dome was completed and the sanctuary finally occupied. That was shortly after World War I. It was the sort of day one might not even notice the smog.

Workers also probably stopped here around the start of World War II, when the smog was worse, to watch glaziers finish the shed roof over the pioneering, seamless pipe, production line going into service beneath. Some of them may have been baptized at St. Anne's, a church built with their parents' and grandparents' scrimped pennies.

French-Canadians were still working here in the 1950s when the new, double-barrelled, limited access "Route 8" carved its way up the valley, and in 1955 it's possible that workers entered here to salvage valuable equipment and documents from the factory as the city flooded and the copper tube production line was all under water. There's a sign in the shed to mark how high the water rose.

There were already fewer French-Canadians watching in 1971 when St. Anne's caught fire for the first time. It's said that after Interstate 84 set it's big footprints across the city, Waterbury was never quite the same, though at the time (1967) they envisioned a new city of gleaming, brass-trimmed towers.

The skies over Waterbury are clearer now. To those who drive Interstate 84 frequently, the spires of St. Anne's Church, shown here, the tall, slender tower of Union Station, and Holyland's cross on top of the eastern bluff of the Valley are familiar landmarks. Unless traffic is snarled, motorists have a two minute window on Waterbury and then it's gone. It's almost the blink of an eye.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Brass Mill Extrusion Press

PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL: When one steps into the past the air should be chalky and the sound disjunct, but here the wheels are still oiled and turning, and the steam is still hissing and purring softly. I watched a man hoist 20 foot lengths of copper tubing out of a bath of hydrochloric acid, the liquid cascading from the far end back into a long tub beneath. The bundle of tubes was then carried out of sight on a giant crane that straddled the building.

The enertia of great wheels keeps them spinning slowly, long after all other wheels have ceased. So it is here where a small amount of large diameter copper tubing is still made using technology put in place during World War II. No trains run here now, and only a few men work the floor. Beyond are other buildings of the complex, silent but for the haunting of pigeons, but its appropriate to start here where the music still plays in what is, as it were, a grand ballroom of another era.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

The Naugatuck Line No. 2


Train Departing

The past is a cacophonous tumult
a maelstrom of melodies
some singing
some wailing
some marching defiantly. 

A railroad coach abandoned half way up the Naugatuck Valley
it's ruined upholstery, a nesting place for rodents and small birds
the meaning of the train
the track
the valley 
whiplash through time 
factory gears flash
amassing brassy fortunes
sparking dreams
winning wars
grinding lives to ash
populating suburbs with 2-car families. 
If not quite music, may it be chaos akin to the orchestra tuning up!
The black track along the river, where does it come from, where does it lead?

On the side of the coach a swastika has been spray-painted, an ancient tune. 
Who put it there and when? How does it reverberate out of the valley's past? How does it partake of the Valley's bigotries and rivalries, its compromises and its compassion?  Or is it the scornful howl of those who have come unhinged from history, beside the walls of Bedlam while the rest of us try to remember the past.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

The Naugatuck Line


Next Stop High Rock Grove, 1876

The train is sidetracked, loitering, killing time while the rails rust. They say the conductor died, but I've heard his voice, the conductor who became Superintendent of the Railroad and spoke with quiet authority.

"Tickets, fifty cents. Children under 12 half price. Leaving the station at 9 AM, please deposit lunch baskets in the special baggage car provided at the rear of the train, and watch your step. Proceeds will help support the Poor Children's Excursion Fund. Ten minutes to board"

The black track that runs along the river leads back in time 'til we near the hiss of steam and the whistle's white shriek, and we pass the surging hum of production for two World Wars. When we pass Seymour remember to look for the old natural falls and the channel they built there before the highway climbed over it.

"All aboard the Brass Valley Special with stops in Shelton, Birmingham, Ansonia Station, Seymour, Beacon Falls, and final destination, High Rock Grove."

That's where railroad superintendent, George W. Beach, has built a people's park at that point in the river where the hills narrow to a gorge. It's a cool spot in the shadow of the valley, a cool spot above Beacon Falls Dam, a quiet spot where the dam channels the water to make rubber shoes and woolen shawls and bronze piano-panels and leather belting and laces. We're near High Rock Grove when we see Rock Rimmon, like a plug in the valley, 400 feet high, but the train slips through, and as we slide back in time you may catch the strains of the Home Woolen Band riding on the wind from their daily noontime concert, but as we slip over the centennial the band fades and the mill's making rubber shoes.

"Beacon Falls; All aboard!"

Beacon Falls that brought fire to America with the first strike anywhere matches had been a flickering light, sometimes abandoned, but as we near our destination it is thriving and has recently been incorporated. We're almost there. Above the dam the river narrows to a deep defile, pauses so young men flaunting mutton chops can row on still waters as women recline in the backs of boats under mushroomy parasols.

"High Rock Grove, last stop."

A simple platform tames the wilderness and the letters "HRG," spelled in floral planting and children's laughter. We follow the music of the Thomas Full Orchestra to a grand pavilion and a shady grove where we spread blankets, picnic, and play croquet. There's skating at the rink to the Wheeler and Wilson Band, and Mr. Marsh our gentlemanly caterer furnishes refreshments at reasonable rates.

"Joy and gladness is the order of the day."

We follow trails deep into Sherman's Gorge, a precipitous course, past thick-thighed cataracts, dark pools, and mossy caves to where the world still grows wild, and adventures might yet be (though the indians have gone), until we arrive atop Lookout Point where some think the Indian Toby fell to his death, and a grand pavillion rises above the hills so our eyes can follow the full arc of the day.

At the opening celebrations even the well-heeled from Winsted have come in coaches down the rails to mix with the recently scrubbed, and occasionally since on the 4th of July.

At the Naugatuck Railroad's peak one could catch several trains daily to Bridgeport and New York City, but High Rock Grove was a favorite stop for families and especially children. Today a new commuter service as far up as Waterbury struggles to grow, the grove is now a forest and the High Rock, a hash of graffiti and shredded American flags, the trails are untended, but magical transports like this lie on idle sidings along the partially abandoned line.

When the trains pass down the black track, where do they lead. Can we still count the ties to yesterday and find the valley as it was when George Beach built the pavillion atop High Rock with the park at its feet, a new parthenon for picnics and parasols and rowing behind the dam?

Friday, June 3, 2011

The Hook


I've been shooting recently at what's left of the old Farrel works in Ansonia. In 1848, the year the railroad went into operation, Almon Farrel, who had engineered construction of Ansonia and the Ansonia Canal for Anson Phelps, went out on his own. He founded Almon Farrel & Company to manufacture things for manufacturing and to supply heavy machinery to manufacturers throughout the Naugatuck Valley. By the 1850s Farrel also had a factory in Waterbury.

At the time Charles Goodyear had recently patented his process using sulphor to harden rubber and called it, "vulcanization." His brother Henry Goodyear had built a rubber factory upstream in Naugatuck, the town that eventually made Naugahyde. Charles Goodyear famously died penniless (You can read about him here.) but vulcanization made rubber useful for seals, shoes, tires, gaskets, elastic bands, bumpers and balloons. It was the first, plastic "plastic." It fired imaginations, changed how simple things were done, provided much work and added a robust, sulfurous mix of seasonings to the Naugatuck River brew.

Both Birmingham Corporation and Farrel Corporation began manufacturing the equipment to manufacture rubber, and the entire Naugatuck Valley was becoming a powerhouse of industry in time for the Civil War.

In the 1870s under Almon's son Franklin Farrel, Farrel Corporation began manufacturing machines for grinding sugar cane. A single machine filled 80 freight cars on its way down to Bridgeport where it filled an entire ship bound for Cuba, and Franklin Farrel bought sugar estates in Santo Domingo and Cuba as inexpensive sugar became available to the middle classes in the U.S., and uprisings were managed in the Caribbean and, especially in 1919 and 1920, at home. During both World Wars Farrel works was running round-the-clock shifts.

The Farrel Corporation long ago merged with the Anson Phelps copper and brass works and with the old Birmingham Foundry. On May 6, 1981, Franklin Farrel IV resigned as assistant secretary of the Farrel Machinery Group ending family participation in the business. Today Farrel has offices in more than 30 countries, but the worldwide headquarters and the old hook in this photograph are still in Ansonia.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011


FRANK PACHRON: "When I was in high school, they gave me a tour of the brass mill, and they said, 'This is your college.'"
(from Brass Valley by Jeremy Brecher, Jerry Lombardi, and Jan Stackhouse)