Brass Valley: The Fall of an American Industry

Brass Valley: The Fall of an American Industry
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Friday, November 30, 2012

Command Post



PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL: In 1844 when Anson Phelps was looking for water power for the new mill he wanted to build in Birmingham, and he found all the best land taken, he crossed the Naugatuck River and stood somewhere here. The Naugatuck flows through that cleft between the hills at a point very close to where it joins the Housatonic. That was as far inland as ships could sail. 

Phelps purchased this land and called it Phelpsville, but by the time the water channels were engineered and built, and Ansonia Brass and Battery was battering out kettles for Phelps-Dodge, Anson Phelp's new town was known as Ansonia. Soon a wire mill was added, and in 1869 Phelp's company was incorporated under the name Ansonia Brass and Copper.

We are looking through the window of an abandoned office from the mostly abandoned headquarters of Ansonia Brass and Copper.  Whoever had this office had an important command post.  The main east-west axis through the campus is just behind the newly sprouted willow, and anyone driving through the gate would pass in front of him. The sawtooth roof by the back chimney covers what's left of the foundry that once had more than 30 furnaces cooking, and where a single furnace still turns out giant, copper billets. The front chimney belongs to the powerhouse. Those chimney's mark the most volatile areas of the factory and if there was an explosion or fire there, the person sitting here wouldn't need to be told about it later.  

Even today Ansonia Brass and Copper is an extensive conglomeration of buildings with three main north-south streets and sheds reaching far to the right. The railroad that went into operation in 1849, just as production must have been getting underway, still runs north-south between the two, far rows of buildings, and the Naugatuck River still flows just behind the back row. However, like this administration building, most of the sheds lie silently accumulating the patina of disuse while roofs crumble and flake.

(You can read an earlier entry on the founding of Ansonia here: http://rothphotos.blogspot.com/2011/05/back-room-shelton-ct.html)