Brass Valley: The Fall of an American Industry

Brass Valley: The Fall of an American Industry
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Tuesday, June 7, 2011

The Naugatuck Line



PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL:


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?