•COMING IN SEPTEMBER, 2015•

Brass Valley: The Fall of an American Industry

by Emery Roth

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Naugatuck Spring


PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL: As happens so often in my wanderings, the tracks up the Naugatuck Valley lead into the past. The Naugatuck River flows into the Housatonic at Paugassett, the town now known as Derby. That was the top of the Housatonic River's tidewater and as far upstream as the old, ocean-going, cargo ships could reach. Early settlers praised the quiet beauty of the rivers' confluence and the richness of the fishing grounds there. They built a landing at the point between the rivers and built a double width road up from the shore and called the area, "Birmingham."

It was sheltered harbor, well upstream, and it became an early center of ship building and trade. Ships from Derby served much of the East Coast and as far away as the West Indies with local fish and produce. By 1730 there were major industrial mills operating not only in Birmingham (Derby) but on the eastern shore in the area that is today Ansonia and on the west in the area that is today Shelton. By the 1830s it was a hotbed of industrial innovation and a bustling manufacturing center producing cotton and woolen goods, paper, sheet metal, wire and anything in shaped metal from augers to pins.

Between the three settlements lay the valuable resources of the rivers' confluence and above them the energy of the Housatonic and Naugatuck headwaters. While the Housatonic River wanders the Naugatuck rises with unusual speed. It is the largest Connecticut river whose waters originate in the state. By 1849 the Naugatuck Railroad had mastered its inclines and narrow passes as far north as Winsted permitting water-powered manufacturing to thrive and providing new access to markets for farm goods produced inland. The building of the railroad brought Irish immigrants, and each successive wave of immigrants made productive lives there in both industry and agriculture.