•COMING IN SEPTEMBER, 2015•

Brass Valley: The Fall of an American Industry

by Emery Roth

Saturday, August 13, 2011

The Foundry



PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL: The foundry sits on the site where Anson Phelps founded the original Ansonia Brass & Battery Co.  At the center of the foundry the furnace rumbles. It's so large that its ducts and stacks disappear among the dark trusses of the foundry's roof, so large its hard to find a place to stand back and take it all in. It's a twisting, sculptural pile of ducts, pipes, wires, a tin dragon with the giant crucible at its center.

"Foundry"! I'd forgotten the origin of the word, from fundus, bottom or base. The founder was the one who gave the base metal its form and properties. He was the magic man who knew the spells and recipes and the Birmingham secrets, who summoned furious fires and tempered their burn, who charged the crucible, melted the charge and balanced the melt with alloys, and refined it to purge unwanted gases and who determined at last when the time was right for tapping. The founder was a magic man who toned and tuned the molecules and engineered machines and factories that turned base metal into wealth and power.

The great, Faustian beast still rumbles and roars, the fire in its belly kept hot by a few machinists and engineers with a supply of parts, grease and belts. The fire is reduced and the output of brass, a trickle. Looking closely around the rusting stacks and pipes, bins and tanks, someone with knowledge could read a furnace history in the alterations, adaptations and innovations, encrustations wrought by earlier generations to make founding foolproof. Abandoned machines sit idle and corroding, becoming fossils even as core operations churn slowly. It's the last of its kind, the end of a line. In it are the alchemists' secrets, though the alchemists themselves have moved on.