•COMING IN SEPTEMBER, 2015•

Brass Valley: The Fall of an American Industry

by Emery Roth

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Elegy



PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL:

I read Brent's email message late one Sunday evening, and I understood it was sent with the same spirit and urgency one gives to notes sharing news of the looming death of a dear, old friend. This note concerned a barn. It stood in the very center of the Great Hollow in Kent, Connecticut, and I had been exploring and photographing it with permission of the owner for several years. The barn was not especially old, but it looked massive, and even though it was not authentic (not even a real gambrel but a 1940's, hoop-less, barrel-like concoction), it completed the farmstead of an authentic 18th century farmhouse and was iconic New England. Though there were much older barns in the Great Hollow, no postcard would better proclaim the farm heritage of the place than one showing this farmstead.

Many times while shooting here I had walked the short ramp to the spot in the side where the barrel roof had been framed out to make a large door through which tractors and wagons once entered the barn. I had never dared to step inside. The floor was rotten. The space was dark and vast, and it took several visits before I noted a wooden structure, like a small silo near the back wall. Only then did I also find the narrow stair where the neighboring barn abutted, a stair which wound down to a passage and to what I took to be a cramped milking room. It must have been the height of modernity in the '40's when the complex was built. It had a well that seemed too narrow for cows. I would have loved to have seen how it worked. Grain was gravity fed from the previously mentioned bin in the hayloft above to several dispensers around the perimeter and above the milk room well. Locals occasionally recalled when this farm had filled the center of the hollow with cows.

I had, in fact, visited a few days before Brent's email and had noticed and photographed strange bulges in the roof, like the hemorrhaging of some internal organ beneath the skin of an animal or like a huge blister ready to pop. I had no idea then that the disease was fatal. When I finally got back a few days after Brent's email, I was too late.

Barns fail from the roof down, but it's usually the structural members that support the roof that rot and give way. This barn was all roof; the great barrel rested on the masonry of the lower level, dug into the hill and below ground; when the western two-thirds gave way it came down level with the ground. The world unwinds slowly, but sometimes the signature event is over so quickly nobody hears it fall or knows what's gone.