Brass Valley: The Fall of an American Industry

Brass Valley: The Fall of an American Industry
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Sunday, September 18, 2011

Rolling Mill Playground



PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL:

The truck with Mike's billets arrives here at what's left of the old Brass City campus of American Brass, though old-timers and historians may know it as Holmes, Booth, & Hayden or Benedict & Burnham, but it's the same company. Tracing the old buildings' pedigrees through mergers, acquisitions, and divestitures reveals continuity through changing names.

Even today the factory is an enormous beast made of many buildings that hugs both sides of the Naugatuck River at a point just before the Mad River adds its waters to the flow south. Once it was an industrial tiger. At least a dozen buildings remain, but most are empty shells. The flow of brass is down to a trickle now, and the trains that carried it are gone. It is as if the beast is moribund, cooling and diminished to one building at the center where Mike's billets arrive to be made into tube. From this field I can still hear the growling engines that power the mill and make the copper glow.

I spotted this angle on a walk around the neighborhood, but I was on the wrong side of a chain link fence, trying to shoot between the links. As for neighborhood, my side of the fence was more like a cheerless, crumbling corridor funneling cars and occasional pedestrians toward a gap beneath the north-south infrastructure of highways and partially abandoned train lines. It is the only place where people from communities on the east and west sides of the valley might drearily get across for a visit. I appreciated their trek. Getting from where I stood on the wrong of the fence from a decent picture was a long way around, and at the time I was going the other way.

Only later did I find my way to the right side of the fence through a retailer's parking area. The lot I'm standing in is behind his one-story structure selling lighting fixtures and other building supplies. The chain link fence is his and he closes it each evening after work. He almost locked me in. It appears he once stored sand or gravel here. Is it the bad housing market that has let the meadow in? Tonight I learned that Google Maps has a name for this meadow between the dying beast and the traffic's rush; they call it "Rolling Mill Playground," and the city of Waterbury considers it as, "public parkland," that must be protected.