•COMING IN SEPTEMBER, 2015•

Brass Valley: The Fall of an American Industry

by Emery Roth

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.