Tuesday, December 29, 2015


PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: The mills of Farrel and American Brass in Ansonia make little fuss about appearances. They are a haphazard collection of additions, adaptations, and replacements, patches and hacks, whose only goal was getting the job done. And so since 2011 I’ve often stopped and sometimes photographed where the American Brass, Flat-Wire Mill sprouts skirted, tin cupolas with pentangle finials. When was this bit of virtuoso twinkle put in place?

Historical maps of Ansonia are a treasure trove of information (http://www.historicmapworks.com/Browse/United_States/Connecticut/). The building with the skirted, cupola vents lies at a recognizable intersection. The row of vents parallels the old Ansonia Canal which lies a half-dozen yards off. A bridge crosses the canal just where the building ends, and the factory road across the bridge continues down the slope and across the rail corridor to the river. As the road descends toward the tracks, the wall reveals three gable ends tracing the roofs of sheds behind them. From inside they now function as a single large space: the Flat-Wire Mill. The Canal is now invisible, buried underground, but the old iron bridge still erupts from the lumpy macadam in a way that only makes sense when you realize it is the truss and road of a forgotten bridge.

In the 1921 aerial map of Ansonia (https://www.loc.gov/resource/g3784a.pm000770/) three gables are clear, though the road beside them looks level. The top gabled roof, nearest the canal sports five (not four) tin cupola vents. Does the map even show a bit of an iron truss of a bridge over the canal. On maps before 1921 identification becomes more tenuous. Even in 1884, however, there are three long sheds close to this location. 1890 looks far different. A new rod mill is under construction, and the map includes detailed notes about what is happening in each section of the factory. Along the canal a long building is divided into lots of little shops. Could one of these be the current building? 1895 shows expansion of the same plan. One room holds in place in this long building through 1900; it is the tinning room. Could the skirted cupolas have been made there?

The 1906 map shows big changes have been made. For the first time the company is called American Brass Company instead of Ansonia Brass and Copper. Now the road across the mill site clearly shows the three gables, and, while the top building shows no cupola vents, it shows skylights similar to those on either side of the the vents that are still there today. The bridge over the canal is there as well. 1911 further confirms my view that these are the buildings that make up today’s Flat-Wire Mill, but the possibility remains that the building with the cupolas survives from an earlier time when this was the tinsmith’s shop, and so I continue to believe it was those tinsmiths who made starlight at the brass works.


Jan 28 @ 7 PM - New Britain Industrial Museum (snow date Feb. 4)
Feb 16 @ 7 PM - Woodbury Public Library (snow date, Mar. 1)
Feb 25 @ 6 PM - Ansonia Public Library
   -Throughout March - Photos on exhibit at Silas Bronson Library, Waterbury
Mar 10 @ 6 PM - Silas Bronson Library (snow date, Mar 14)
   -Throughout April - Photos on exhibit at Hagaman Library, East Haven, CT
Apr 27 @  6:30 PM - Hagaman Memorial Library, East haven
November 12 - January, 2017 - Photos on exhibit Minor Public Library, Roxbury
Nov. 12 @    - Minor Public Library, Roxbury, CT

Monday, December 28, 2015

Farrel Yard

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: A moment after it pulls away from the station platform in Ansonia, the northbound train on the Naugatuck line passes beneath the pedestrian bridge of Farrel Machine Company and enters the Farrel yard, where the bridge and buildings (all out of the picture on the left) are casting their shadows. The rear masonry stack marks the American Brass casting shop, where this series began, beside the river. The front masonry stack serves the old “dynamo room” and powerhouse (1911) of the Farrel Machine Company at its northern edge.

The previous two photographs in the series were taken from points on the track between the two bridges. The first faced north; the second faced south. Between those pictures and this lies the heart of the old Farrel Machine company. The two campuses taken together, Farrel and American Brass, are a unique, pre-flood survival, and local residents will be quick to remind visitors of the roles both played in WWII, but the truth is, they were important as far back as the Civil War.

Anyone with a bent for metal will be drawn to the sand elevator rising on the left, a corrugated tin giant with tin stairways and pipe-railings and balconies dangling treacherously from unreachable operation centers and offices high in the elevator tower. One can still trace the old track that ran below the elevator and into the long "coke and sand" storage shed. It first appears on the Ansonia maps in 1890, but the bridge from it doesn’t appear until 1895.

The bridge across the track is two stories high and enters the eastern sheds of Farrel near their midpoint. Half the length of the bridge is hidden in this picture. It continues an equal distance across the roofs of three rows of work sheds before reaching the giant foundry, perched a level higher on the hill. There, the sand was used to make molds for casting giant machine parts.The foundry was built between 1884 and 1890.  Once the old Ansonia Canal ran along the North Main Street edge of the Farrel Foundry, between the foundry and Main Street. 

Inside the three rows of sheds, a half dozen architectural styles, at least, tell of the incremental adaptations by which Farrel grew and changed. The first of these sheds appears on the 1900 map. At some point the pedestrian level of the bridge where it crossed the lower sheds was removed to allow for increased ceiling clearances in the sheds below. In another place an interior wall was once the fine masonry facade of the pre-1900 shed. 

Perhaps the most curious feature of the Farrel Yard is the rustic green, wooden structure that seems to upset the geometries of the place. It is not just a wall set a-kilter to shelter trains that once entered at the first opening; it is that a whole shed has been set at an angle that produces difficult to utilize corners where it bumps against the sheds of the  foundry section. A second large opening permits an old road to run beside the angled shed, as the road climbs the hill to Main Street. It’s not a surprise to discover much of this angled section and probably the green wooden facade were already in place on the 1884 map of Ansonia. These are the most ancient geometries that crept toward where the trains had been passing since 1849.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Arriving, Ansonia

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: I’ve stepped through the opening in the chain link fence in yesterday’s photo and turned 180 degrees to look down the rails the other way. 

The track passes under two bridges that unite multiple buildings of the Farrel Machine Company. Anson Phelps, who established the brass and copper mills that became American Brass in Ansonia (from whose property this picture is taken) hired millwright Almon Farrel to dig the mile-and-a-quarter canal that powered the industrial village that Anson Phelps named, "Ansonia.” Afterward, Farrel began his own mill in Anson Phelps’ Ansonia. About that time the railroad came through.

Through the chain link on the left can be read the name, “Farrel Birmingham.” The windows line the first of seven parallel rows of sheds where Farrel machinists cast and finished machine parts for some of the largest factory equipment of the 19th and 20th centuries. The high windows, that project over the track, lie just where the famous, “tunnel,” beneath Farrel work sheds emerges (a public right-of-way, I understand); the road runs on beside the track.

The near bridge is two stories high and connects the Farrel Foundry at the top of the hill to the tall, tin sand elevator (the most distinctive single "architectural" relic of Naugatuck Valley industry) and to the shed below where Farrel Foundry stored sand for molds. The bottom level of the bridge was for pedestrians. The top level is a crane-way for the crane that moved materials between the train siding and the foundry. The crane and much more is intact.

Near the back, the irrepressible Ansonia Opera House, an early work of Robert Wakeman Hill shows off its crisply detailed cornice. It is matched by an energetic facade on Main Street - a gem of a building! It is a relic of what Ansonia once was. Just beyond the Opera House the train arrives at the Ansonia station platform beside gray flood walls.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Anyplace, USA

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: The railroad corridor cuts through the center of American Brass in Ansonia. When this looked like anyplace because such corridors were spreading everyplace, this was someplace to stay. Now that it is no place, and will soon be gone, its antiquity begins to make it someplace worth remembering.

The building on the left with the sawtooth roof and the extended bay of corrugated metal is all connected to the casting house of the previous photographs. Opposite, on the right, a large mill space still houses a giant extruder that can turn out metal rod in almost limitless lengths. I’ve never seen it run. The bridge connecting them is inaccessible and unused. Once it housed a monorail crane that could circle through all of the buildings.

Further down the track on the left is the powerhouse, where a roofed structure carries utility lines across the track. Beyond the Powerhouse the main road through the complex crosses from Liberty Street to the riverside.  Beyond this crossing are the longest buildings on the property. On the right, the light colored buildings are known collectively as the “Flat-wire Mill.” Harder to distinguish on the left side of the track are the damaged, high windows of the, “Rod Mill.”

Long before the train gets to this place, whether from north or south, the train’s horn begins sounding - no longer a whistle, but a throaty horn with a distinctive and threatening bend in its pitch. Wherever I am in the buildings I stop to listen to the sound that rolls off the hills and absorb the full cadence as it rises and falls with the rumble of the train in the middle.

Monday, December 21, 2015

March, 2012: Willy at the Priming Furnace

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL:  Making pictures in the casting house was a series of experiments, as I learned to shoot in conditions I’d never experienced before. At its best, it was highly hit or miss. No shoot was more difficult than the priming of the casting furnace where there was always both too much and too little light. Priming and the challenges of photographing it are both described in "Brass Valley: The Fall of an American Industry." The casting house was and continues to be a learning experience.

I’m still figuring out new ways to get more out of the original RAW files. and I’ve re-developed this image, from 2012, to achieve better clarity and textures. 

[Anaconda American Brass, Ansonia, casting house]

Saturday, December 19, 2015


PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: If this were a church, we’d be in one arm of the transept looking into the crossing, climax of the nave. But this is a casting house, and the liturgy for this crossing with its high crystal skylight, climax to the dark place where the last furnaces ran, has long been lost to time and memory as casting house fires went dark and movement ceased.

[Anaconda American Brass, Ansonia, casting house]

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Fire Works

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: It’s not at all clear that there can or should be any further use for this old building. The wrecker’s torch is already at work, picking it for junk and metal scrap to prepare it for final burial, but those who care about the history of Ansonia and of Connecticut might take note. This is the inside of the casting house of American Brass in Ansonia as it looked yesterday.

People who know the history tell me the art of mixing copper alloys was refined and perfected here beginning before the Civil War. Those who worked here knew the secrets for mixing alloys to enhance machinability, conductivity, or corrosion resistance, for pouring alloys with extra spring or for resisting torque or for releasing the antibacterial qualities the copper. This is where that knowledge was crystallized as metal for manufacturing. At its peak, 40 furnaces ran here. When the casting house closed in 2013 a single furnace was still mixing metal for critical marine applications such as the U.S. fleet of nuclear subs. 

[Anaconda American Brass, Ansonia, CT, casting house]

Monday, December 14, 2015

Belly of the Beast

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: When the shutter opened for this picture, though the men were away on break, the world inside the casting house remained dark and intestinal; soot-saturated and sweaty; cinder-soiled, buttered in grease, and filled with a hanging haze. It required a very long exposure. I was back in the casting house again this week for the first time since work stopped in 2013. It’s gone slack; only dark, dirty junk for the rites of the junk men.

[Anaconda American Brass, Ansonia - casting house]

Saturday, December 12, 2015


NOTE: The last of the slide talks is done until after the new year. I’m just beginning to build a schedule of new talks for winter, spring and summer. I invite any suggestions for places I should speak, and I ask readers who would like me to come and speak in their area to recommend my slide talk, Finding Brass Valley, a Place in Time that has Almost Vanished, to your local library, art association, or historical society or to any other group that may be interested.

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: My friend Bob tells me that the filters shown in yesterday’s photo were "cyclones, precleaning units that remove large cinders before the exhaust gases go thru the bag houses  - which are like large vacuum cleaners filled with cloth bags that filter the air   -- the rectangular boxes are the bag houses - the dust is collected in the hoppers at the bottom." 

Somewhere I have photos of the collected bags waiting for disposal from bag houses in the Waterbury tube mill. I enjoy knowing that the name for giant pastry squeezers is “cyclones,” while still appreciating that its all pasta.

[Anaconda American Brass, Ansonia - casting house filters]

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Tinker's Folly

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: I can’t imagine this tin-can truss-works of filters and stacks becoming other than junk. For the moment it represents a part of Ansonia that many probably wish to leave behind. Nor can I imagine it amounting to much once the sad ruin of a casting house behind it is gone. -just junk waiting fore the junkman.

Since I first saw it, it fascinated me. I suspect I’m not the only one who has imagined climbing on it like a jungle gym. Viewed from across the river, and always from behind awkward obstacles, it’s hard to get to know, but it blossoms up the side of the Anaconda American Brass casting house, and it sends fat tendrils over the rooftop. They tell me these are filters for the huge furnaces within. From a spot on the hill across the river, I enjoy the silhouettes of ladders climbing inside metal cages, and stair rails angling into catwalk rails, where ant-sized people can go everywhere.

The reality of unexpectedly getting access was quite different. Getting up the first ladder with backpack and tripod was neither pretty nor quick. Level one was nowhere. I was still below the flood wall, and I knew I was trying to be so careful that I had talked myself into absolute terror. I tested the safety of each stretch of catwalk before trusting it with my full weight. Below was concrete if fate did not impale me on the way down. 

Getting above the flood wall was my first goal. Whatever level this is, it’s as high above the wall as I reached - perhaps level 3. It was not unlike finally, after extraordinary effort, reaching level three in a computer game, but the reality was not virtual. I took a few pictures sheepishly, though with tripod and camera extended as far out from the structure as I dared. And then I very carefully climbed back down, and I have tried repeatedly to photograph the shapes of the filters and stacks from the ground. My friend Lazlo, who once worked as a window washer in NYC, went up over the rooftop.

[casting house filters, American Brass, Ansonia, CT]

Tuesday, December 8, 2015


BOOK SIGNING: Brass Valley: The Fall of an American Industry
Thursday, December 10, 11:30 to 2:00 PM
John Bale Book Store
158 Grand Street

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: Yesterday’s image showed the American Brass mothership mills in Waterbury where the surviving tube mill was the last functioning building of the South End mill complex, and one of the places in which I photographed active production. Here is the other. This is American Brass in Ansonia where the casting house still functioned turning out large billets of metal to be processed by the tube mill upstream in Waterbury.

The large Ansonia site is similarly distinguished in pedigree as the Waterbury site. It is descended from the brass company initially founded by Anson Phelps and Sheldon Smith when they built Birmingham in the 1830s. Later it moved to this site when Anson Phelps built Ansonia. It was known here as Ansonia Brass and Copper, and when I photographed the casting house here, until 2013, it was known as Ansonia Copper & Brass. 

The Casting House is the building on the right with the tin can sculpture crawling up the side. Directly across the bridge is the Powerhouse that drove all the mills. On the left we see the front of the Rod Mill which extends a long way beyond the edge of the picture.  A second row of buildings across the rail corridor includes a flat-wire mill and an extrusion mill, as well as a bunch of other shops and warehouse spaces, and at the very top is the corporate office building and labs. The canal, that Anson Phelps paid for and Almon Farrel dug to bring power to the new industrial village of Ansonia, runs through this property still. 

Both the site shown yesterday and this site are facing imminent demolition. I have been following and photographing the deconstruction of both sites. These two images mark the start of a series of images I’m titling, “Postindustrial."

Monday, December 7, 2015


BOOK SIGNING: Brass Valley: The Fall of an American Industry
Thursday, December 10, 11:30 to 2:00 PM
John Bale Book Store
158 Grand Street

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL:  These are the mothership mills of American Brass Company, once the largest brass manufacturer in the world. In the years just before 1900 American Brass Company was formed from smaller brass companies up and down the Naugatuck River Valley, but two companies dominated the consolidation. 

The red brick building with the Victorian tower is the 1880’s lampworks of Holmes, Booth and Haydens. It’s what’s left of a larger group of buildings. Israel Holmes was one of the founders of the brass industry; Hiram Haydens was one of its most inventive innovators. Because of his interest in photography the company also made lenses and photographic plates. The Naugatuck River makes a loop here, and old maps indicate a canal once crossed the loop, a natural spot for Holmes, Booth and Haydens to set their earliest millworks. Lamps from this surviving building lit rooms, wherever there was oil, throughout world. 

The river winds around the east side of Holmes, Booth & Haydens and between the gray stack of a recently added power plant and the old brick stack from the powerhouse of Benedict and Burnham. Aaron Benedict was another founder of the brass industry. Benedict and Burnham’s success made it the first brass factory in Waterbury to incorporate. Holmes, Booth & Haydens sits on the west side of the Naugatuck, Benedict & Burnham is on the east.

As lawyers and bankers worked out the details that would stitch together American Brass, evidence suggests workers at Benedict & Burnham were pioneering new benches for making metal tube and assembling a tube mill. The tube mill, however, was being built on the Holmes, Booth & Haydens side of the river. The second Victorian tower was added at that time. The sawtooth roof was added when the tube mill was scaled up for World War I. By then it was all American Brass.

Those who follow these postings will have realized that mill, scaled further and updated for World War II, was the working mill I photographed until it closed in 2013. It is the working tube mill pictured and discussed in Brass Valley: The Fall of an American Industry. 

Across the river, beside the brick stack on the powerhouse wall are what look like chalk marks. Although the company has not existed for over a century, up close those marks spell out, “Benedict & Burnham.”

Monday, November 30, 2015

Behind Time

Placing Brass Valley
slide talk & book signing

Seymour Public Library, Seymour, CT
December 1 at 6 PM

Scoville Library, Salisbury, CT
December 5 at 4 PM

Farrel Machine Co., foundry, Ansonia

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: Those who knew the Farrel Foundry may remember this spot. It is at the northern end of an extension I have referred to as, “the arm,” that parallels Main Street and extends south beyond the front of the Grand Foundry space. This area was distinct because the east wall of the arm seemed to be part made from the hillside and heavy concrete structures, and somewhere there the canal once flowed alongside Main Street. 

The canal had been cut short long ago at the Farrel property line. It still flowed to an open pool to the north of American Brass property and the water was processed in some way by American Brass. The area where the canal used to flow through Farrel had long ago been incorporated into building space, and over the top of this area rose a four story nest of stairways, catwalks, and offices rising several stories around tanks and stacks and filters and fans. Had anyone been up there since the factory closed in 1989? But the concrete and stone at the base had openings into dark, moist, stone rooms, some with empty shelves. Perhaps others know the meaning of these cave-like spaces.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Time Out

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: American Brass flat-wire mill, Ansonia.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Knights of Industry

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: Today [Nov. 21] I bit into a slice of buttered rye toast, crunched hard, and pulled from my mouth what looked, at first, like a strange tack or a part from some machine. I imagined a small industrial bakery somewhere in Brooklyn, my Connecticut grocer’s source. I pictured ovens and slicers, one of which was missing the thing I had found in my mouth. Then I realized that the thing attached to the tack point was a tooth, from the gum line up. I fear I'm becoming “postindustrial.”

Tuesday, November 17, 2015


Placing Brass Valley
slide talk & book signing

Oliver Wolcott Library, Litchfield, CT
November 19 at 2 PM

Seymour Public Library, Seymour, CT
December 1 at 6 PM


Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Landing On Time

Four More Slide Talks before Thanksgiving

Friday, Nov. 13, 2 PM: Southbury Public Library

Saturday, Nov. 14, 11 AM: Danbury Public Library

Frederick G. Mason Lecture
Monday, Nov. 16, 5:30 PM: Mattatuck Museum, Waterbury

Thursday, Nov. 19, 2 PM: Oliver Wolcott Library, Litchfield

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: Time is everywhere, but the manufacturing of time was a Brass Valley specialty. Clock and watch companies spanned the entire Naugatuck River Valley from the “still place," where the Naugatuck empties into the Housatonic, and the Derby Silver Company made clocks in Shelton, to just north and east of the Naugatuck’s headwaters where the Gilbert Clock Company made clocks in Winsted. From the wooden clocks of Eli Terry to Timex “keeps on ticking," Brass Valley was always busy with time. The Naugatuck flowed from sundial time and church bell time to timetable and punch-clock punctuality. Nothing could be more central to Brass Valley than the four faces of Union Station tower in Waterbury where the eight hands of Seth Thomas still tell Brass Valley Time. 

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Seth Thomas

Brass Valley: The Fall of an American Industry

Thursday, November 5, Gunn Memorial Library (Washington, CT), 6:30 PM

Saturday, November 7,  Thomaston Public Library, 1:00 PM

Monday, November 9, Derby Public Library (Elizabeth St.), 6:30 PM

Woodbridge Town Library, November 10, 7:00 PM

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: Long after Seth Thomas Clock Company has ceased to be, leaving Thomaston shorn of the jobs that created the town, the Seth Thomas Building remains an iconic presence that still resonates the glory of the brass industry throughout the Naugatuck Valley. Clock-making flourished here because clocks used lots of brass. Across the river the old Plume & Atwood buildings are mostly gone.  They rolled brass for Seth Thomas clocks.  

I will never forget the first time I drove up Main Street in Thomaston and was struck by the grand and imposing presence of the Seth Thomas Building, like a town-sized grandfather clock. I knew I was someplace, and I knew I wanted to go back. 

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Fallen Leaves, Winchester

PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL: Caleb Beach knew this place as Green Woods, and he built his house at the top of a long valley, on a slope above Hall Meadow Brook. The remains of the Old Valley Road still pass by his door before they disappear into the pond a half mile on. Just north of Caleb's house, apple trees, running wild, explode with several varieties of apples and the air smells of cider. Further on where the brook crosses the upland are the remains of millraces and the foundation of an old mill, but there is nothing here to tell if these pieces belong to each other. 

Caleb Beach built on a mound on the west side of the gently sloping valley we call “Hall Meadow." Farther west a rocky spine of forested hillside still rises steeply and separates Caleb's valley and watershed from the valley that channeled what we call "Ruben Hart Brook.” However, Caleb Beach built his house where the late rays of the sun would still touch his doorsteps, even as the shadows of the hillside to the west slid east across his valley lifting a veil of twilight over the orange and red blaze of the opposing hillside. 

Today both Valleys are dammed; Hart Brook fills a reservoir managed by the Torrington Water company, and Hall Meadow serves as a flood impoundment. Where their waters unite, the East Branch of the Naugatuck River begins.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Tuesday, October 27, 2015


PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL:  Driving over Connecticut’s hills I am entranced as the line of trees on each side of the road swells as I approach and pass, and I have had the recurring delusion that I am in the midst of an unending fireworks finale. 

The road between Warren and Kent is of special beauty, and the angle of the sun at sunset as it lights the trees around numerous ponds offers photographer’s a ready made palette from which to compose. I spent over an hour making photos here yesterday, and it was not my first visit this fall. 

While I was shooting from my tripod another photographer appeared. We exchanged greetings. He had spotted the pond, as I had, from the roadside. He made sure he was not in my field of view, explored angles, took a few photographs, and left. These are services the Kent Land Trust, which protects the pond from development, have no idea they provide to people they never meet.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Phantom Way

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: Concrete piers, marching across the swamp, a phalanx of mourners in close formation or at rest like headstones. We know from those who came before us that once they carried a cable system for harvesting ice from Bantam Lake to keep perishables cool through long summers to the final harvests of Thanksgiving. It was part of the routine of life, and through much of the year this alley was busy with traffic.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Monument Mills Water Tower

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: A rain of yellow leaves drifts, twirls, drifts again across my window. Autumn’s call has never been so insistent. One of the first places it drew me was to Housatonic, MA, where I photographed early yellows from within the ruins of an old Monument Mills textile factory. I processed several color versions before turning to black & white. In the end, I thought I liked it better. I wonder what others think.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Habits of Mind

NOTE: For those who ordered copies of Brass Valley: The Fall of an American Industry, at the Washington Art Association, the latest information I have is that a large shipment of books will reach the U.S. on Oct. 22. I still have a limited number of copies which will be on sale at the upcoming book presentation / signing at the library in Meriden on October 20. As soon as I have the books, I will make arrangements with Washington Art Association to notify those who placed orders there. Thank you for your patience.

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: Habits of mind– Where do they come from? How are they connected to learning? to culture? to genetics? to individuality? What is their relation to spontaneity and ecstasy? to style?

Today we are Information Technology people. When we kept the wheels of 19th and 20th century industry turning we were machinists and machine operators and mechanical engineers. At another time or another place we were stone cutters. The thriving culture is fertile, innovative, and we become our tools.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Smoke Out

6:30 to 7:30 PM
Washington Art Association

Finding Brass Valley
slide show & book signing
Emery Roth

In this expanded version of my book at the Washington Art Association, I’ll preface my usual talk about Brass Valley with images and comments about the nature and evolution of my photography and what I’ve been working on most recently. 

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: At Farrel Foundry, Ansonia, CT

 “Burnt out ends of smokey days.”  T.S. Eliot

Tuesday, September 1, 2015


Everyone is invited to our opening at the Washington Art Association on September 12, from 4 to 6 PM. We look forward to meeting new people and renewing old friendships, and we want everyone to see our show. I will have a limited number of advance copies of Brass Valley: The Fall of an American Industry for sale at the opening.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Inside Bristol's, Waterbury, 2013

PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL: Brass Valley overflows with stories. By telling who we were, they help us know who we are. We forget them at our peril.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Bristol's, Freight-Side, 2013

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: The news of the fire at "Bristol’s,” came while we had house guests, and I have only today taken a ride by to see what remains, though the web video told me it would be inconsequential. This image was shot in 2013 on one of several visits. The blaze is a sad end to a place with a noble history, and I mourn its passing personally, while knowing it will be better when the earth is leveled over the site. It should not have lingered so long.

Professor Bristol’s story deserves to be better known, his passion for creating devices for metering and recording anything, his appearances at the great World’s Fairs of the 19th century, his part in controlling industrial waste and pollution, his early years in the Workingman’s School of the Ethical Society, and his role in the creation of the first full-length talkie a year before the "Jazz Singer." He is one of the great, unsung innovators of Brass Valley.

This morning I drove past the site, and the gates were open and lights flashing beyond. These were, I assume, security people and investigators. It appeared as if at least one of the high walls was still standing for cranes to demolish.

The buildings (I’ve read there were as many as 15) have for many years been beyond re-purposing. What might they have added to this South Waterbury area had Bristol’s not been left for a quarter century to rot and burn? How does one measure the value that would have accrued had they been re-purposed as the William Henry Bristol technical school, training teens for new technologies? Imagine kids learning new media skills inside walls where talkies were invented? …or if they had become the Bristol Garden Apartments anchoring the community in time and culture at a spot beside the Naugatuck where I often see people fishing? Imagine possibilities. We worry about the cost of clean-up but are far less scrupulous of the on-going bill for mess-up and decay that transgress property lines. 

These buildings were lost a quarter century ago. Brass Valley has vanished, and what is left is its fading afterglow, alas in this case too literally so.  What fragments can yet be preserved to give future generations something to touch and connect them to a proud tradition? –to connect the future to the achievements and lessons of the past?

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

On Composition

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: As a photographer I appreciate the concentrated focus of the welders craft, as he adds metal in order to even out worn train wheels. What others find tedious, he finds centering. Like a farmer plowing, row by row, his fields, the welder lays down rows of new metal that the wheel can be milled to precision and turn true.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Bread Yard

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: To me, it has always been the “Bread Yard,” though I’m quite certain there was never more bread here than it takes to supply a few workers' lunch boxes. The bread crane, with its vine-covered hook and its shantytown cab as photographed from above through that chain link fence in 2011, drew me to Farrel Foundry. (http://rothphotos.blogspot.com/2011/06/farrels-hook.html) At the time I had no idea whether the Bread Yard was within Farrel or was on the property of the neighbor to the north, Ansonia Copper & Brass. 

After searching unsuccessfully at Ansonia Copper & Brass, it was one of the first places I tried to find when I briefly got inside Farrel Foundry in 2011, and I found it. However, it was so clogged with semi-trailors that I realized the best photo had been the one I took through the links of the fence, though I had thrown away thousands of pixels. 

Bread or no bread, it was a senseless place to put a yard for semis, hemmed in on all sides and at farthest remove from street or rail, a place only reached by bringing semis through the busy, dirty, danger-filled center of the foundry with cranes shuttling 60 ton castings overhead. 

The reason for the Bread Yard lies hidden beyond the tin building at the back of this picture, in a space like the secret compartment on an old desk, and accessible behind an unused building at Ansonia Copper and Brass. It was another year before I found my way to the long pool that lay between the buildings of Ansonia Copper and Farrel. Even when I saw it I was too dense to realize that the pool and pump house marked the aborted end of the old Ansonia Canal which still flows from the Kinneytown dam, a mile and half north, and which once continued south, before there was a pump house, through the Bread Yard and on along one edge of Farrel Foundry beside Main Street, then crossing under Main Street and the firehouse and flowing south, eventually looping back to the river. The eastern bay of Farrel sheds and the Bread Yard had been built where the canal once flowed.

Finally, last fall the semis were removed, all but the bread truck, and I took a number of pictures of the Bread Yard through which the canal once flowed, though the vine that had filagreed the hook was long gone. When the bread truck is gone, will there be cake? 

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Big Hook

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: I first began noticing hooks at Farrel Works. Even before I got permission to shoot inside in 2011 I was shooting through the chain link fence trying to photograph a vine-covered hook the size of a gorilla that once spanned Farrel's sunken courtyard beside Main Street. It seemed to say everything that needed to be said about heavy industry in the valley, though it resisted becoming a photograph. 

I’ve been noticing cranes ever since. Like silos on old farms, lingering long after the barns have blown away, cranes are often the last hint of the scale of what went on in a place after the looting is done. The large bridge cranes are frequently tucked up at each end, rusted in place. The big ones may have more than one trolley and more than one hook. And along each aisle, at every station, jib cranes mark the size and sometimes the nature of the work done there. Even in the most ruined sheds, one can still usually read, painted on the side, the load for which each crane and hook was built. From what still exists, 3 to 5 tons seems to have handled much of what had to be hefted up and down Brass Valley, even in big sheds. 

Inside the abandoned basilicas of Farrel Works there are probably twenty to thirty traveling, bridge cranes. The smallest is rated at 5 tons. Many are rated at over 40 tons. This is part of one of two bridge cranes that span the main foundry aisle and travel the length of the nave, a space in which half a dozen football teams might practice simultaneously. The large hook is rated at sixty tons. The bridge is rated for carrying ninety tons of load. Whatever it lifted had to be passed through the factory to reach the siding where it could be loaded onto a railroad car. The hooks here at the south end are shy, hiding up in a shadowy corner, hard to photograph, but they are the largest I’ve found. 

In a dark attic byway threaded through the roof trusses of two abutting sheds, in a space which happened to have its own crane, I came upon a spare hook. The space was high and narrow, and I had to point my flashlight into the shadows to be sure the massive shape wasn’t the carcass of a beast, but it was another 60 ton hook, lying on its side at the base of an attic crane-way, an inert remnant in a place once well prepared and humming. These are among corridors to be visited on a magical mystery tour of Farrel Works.