Friday, January 30, 2015

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Standoff on Rabbit Hill

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: The television weather man had us buried in snow, but the satellite maps on the iPad convinced me it would be only six inches. Though the snow plows had the road clear, travel risked fines, so here’s a storm from February 2011, developed today on my computer while it snowed. 

It takes standing in snow to recall when there were no fence posts, and this land was Waramaug’s realm, his tribe’s summer encampment just over the hill. It’s only when my lips burn, fingers are numb, and the deep woods are silent, that I’ve had the sense of walking in steps still warm from Waramaug or just missing his hunting party with a catch of turkeys. I’ve been climbing Rabbit Hill for the view and the exercise for at least fifteen year, and I’ve never seen a rabbit, though there must have been rabbits once.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Back to the River: Dead Center

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL:  Climbing to the top of the Union Station Tower is the same as climbing a twenty-story building. The shaft of the column is hollow, dimly lighted, and all masonry with metal steps climbing clockwise around the perimeter wall. It’s divided by a full landing every 5 or 6 flights, so it’s hard to know just how far you’ve climbed. After winding through the hollow of the shaft I had to find myself on the dizzying terrace around which Waterbury whirls.

From the terrace I looked out on “the flats,” that the natives called “Mattatuck," the treeless place where mosquitos thrived and Pequots hunted, and the settlers found abundant streams descending from the hills to set mill wheels spinning, turning spring melt, summer storms, and the surge from autumn hurricanes into things people needed: buttons, pots and pins. And in the middle they set their Green and built a fence around their city. One of the gates was still there when Henry Bronson wrote his history in 1858. The Civil War would change Waterbury. A half century later important people were doing big business on Grand Street, to the right, and wealthy people were living high on Willow Street, to the left.

At the top of Union Station Tower perspective comes at the cost of detail. At the far left of this 180° panorama it’s clear where the valley narrows heading north, and I know the river is rushing at the bottom. At the far right the gray double strip of the expressway follows the valley south, and I see the river beside it flowing toward the narrows where I know the river also rushes.

In 1955 the great rains came. Where the Valley was narrow the waters rushed furiously, where the Valley spread out, the waters backed up, puddled deep and wide. One thing everyone agrees on: Nothing was ever the same. Immediately below, behind, and clustered on the river and the rail, lie the the empty yards and factories of American Brass. In the bottom center foreground the headquarters of American Brass disappears off the picture’s edge. Union Station Tower stands at the center of the universe that was once Brass Valley. 

The stories remembered in words and photos in

from Schiffer Books
or wherever fine books are sold.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Back to the River: Crossroads

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL:  Whether or not we know the meaning of a place, meanings may accumulate over time. The tower, of course, belonged to Waterbury's Union Station, the architects: McKim, Mead, & White who set the tastes of Yankee elites. 

When it opened for business in 1909, as the Railroad Consolidated, Union Station gave new form and focus to the head of Grand Street, commanding a grand, broad boulevard soon to pass harmoniously between brass and government dedicated to a City Beautiful, a place for parades and ceremony in an age before the Model “T".

Union Station Tower stands at the crossroad where the Naugatuck Line, following the valley, once crossed lines heading east to the Connecticut River and New England, and lines heading west to the Harlem Valley, Hudson Valley, New York City and the World. I’ve read of sixty trains a day stopping here, exchanging goods, transacting business. Salesman with sample cases and young mothers with babies in bunting passing between rowed platforms as steam rose around waiting trains, and further back the freight yard sprouted branches from branches to the river. I’ve crossed over sixteen branches of rusting track and found rails, ties and broken abutments along the river all the way to Freight Street. Of course Union Station was always a sham; never really a "union station,” the lines it united were all NYNH&H-owned.

Today Union Station is no longer a station. The building is owned, preserved, and used by the Republican American Newspaper, regional successor to Waterbury's last newspapers which many of us read on our smart phones. Trains still arrive at a nearby platform, northern terminus of the Naugatuck Line and Union Station’s Tuscan Tower still ceremoniously points the way.

For more memories of Union Station order:
BRASS VALLEY: The Fall of an American Industry

from Schiffer Books
or wherever fine books are sold.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Interlude at Union Station


Grandfather Clock

There are places where nobody thinks to look for places, and there are places that announce our arrival, while we’ve mostly forgotten quite why. Passing north, passing south, passing east or west Waterbury’s omnipresent monument is seen by an omnipresent stream of vehicles that look down on the city from omnitangled, limited access expressways. Some know the Tower is Sienese deja vu, and others just know, “It’s Waterbury,” as they drive on.

For people in town the Tower’s a marker to find the train or the Home Depot - near a park, nice for lunch after the robins appear. What’s in the tower? One man told me, “Pure Yankee, built by the railroads, once stocked with weapons, now its newspaper.” Another said the Chairman’s bones were buried there with those of his wife and favorite chef. 

Few can say what it is or means though it’s a reassuring presence, like the resonant tick and hourly chime of a grandfather clock or the clock high in the tower where Seth Thomas still spins time. 

How venerable it seems now! How progressive it looked in 1908 as Waterbury watched it rise, the city’s first skyscraper, taller than anything around.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Back to the River: Intersection


The Post-Twentieth Century

There are places where nobody thinks to look for places. This one hides behind a meadow of rotting rail ties and rowed & rusted rail spurs sprouting with small trees; it is behind a lazy municipal yard where machines with treads and man-sized wheels have piled a small sierra, a jagged wall of brick and broken tiles, patio stones and paving blocks that have lost the shape of neighborhoods. Here, amid the boscage that grows where people rarely go, and surrounded by the ceaseless grim clatter of iron, concrete and rubber reverberating another national anthem, is the busiest intersection in the Naugatuck Valley. For good reason they've called it "the Mixmaster."

I’ve come to stand beneath the legs of a colossus to the Twentieth Century. This is where the homeless sometimes set tents in summer beside our Ganges where fish again are swimming. 

Be sure to click and view this one full screen.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Back to the River: Beside the Dam, Thomaston


Beside Seth Thomas Dam

Built, they say, for clocks to pass the time of day, though the day kept passing anyway, differently in every city and town. They say, if you stood on a hilltop you could hear time changing from steeple to steeple as the sun went down and the earth spun round.

Time was money and there was money to be made in time. Seth Thomas sold time pieces, others sold time; standardized it, regulated it, packaged it in pulses on wires following rails to every train station and jewelry store, with train-catching accuracy, and the Pullman’s smile. And the steeples chimed together, though after the roads were paved people stopped hearing them.

Of course time today is heaven-made, they call it Terrestrial Time and they calculate it from astronomical observations, computed with precision and corrected to be free of bumps, lumps or wobbles in the earth’s rotation. The duration of the second is set in cesium with nuclear accuracy; its measured decay transmitted to our technology in packets from satellites that spin with the moon and earth to keep us harmonious.

Sunday, January 18, 2015


PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: Viewed from across the river it was beautiful, viewed along the rails it was iconic, but what drew me back repeatedly to Seth Thomas / Plume & Atwood was the yard and the long narrow passage that twisted beyond it, threaded by traces of track through an alley of broken brick sheds like bruised faces, whose variety of styles and frequent modifications spoke of the passage of time and the hands of many masons and builders. The passage led to an undefined paved area. There were usually a few cars by a blank-looking door that never opened. I seldom saw people.

The yard itself probably wasn’t a yard at all but rather the space left by the collapse of an earlier building. A steel column holding up an overhang displayed warning signs intended for people inside a building that had almost vanished.  I heard it was a foundry - always meant to find out. 

Plume & Atwood was different from other ruins. Most old factories go with grand gestures, gut-wrenching chords from the organ, defaced by breaking windows, collapsing chimneys, graffiti, metal thieves, and demonic presences. One feels it when they are silent as much as when they creak and groan. Plume & Atwood wasn’t like that. It seemed to be wearing away the way a river bed wears, rounding out the corners and rough edges, eroding the surfaces, breaking apart shard by shard. What had been grease and soot had been sandblasted by time. That’s why it surprised me when it fell.

I had visited often, drawn on by my thirst for noir, but I developed little of what I shot, never sure they were up to my other images. Eventually I moved on, never quite opening its secrets. I’ve looked at those Plume & Atwood images once again and developed several. You will find them on a Blog Page.

To see the other images,  look down the right column for TODAY’S PAGES and choose PLUME & ATWOOD YARD. 

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Like Clockwork

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: Our nineteenth century legacy: Where there’s a river, there’s usually a rail, and once they were lined with factories. Several days ago the view was the river; hop over the Seth Thomas / Plume & Atwood Yard, and there’s the rail. It all says nineteenth century, and it feels filled with purpose and momentum. Time is a railroad train carrying us down the track to unknown adventures never dreamed by humankind. 

This was the place that pioneered time, and here is the rail that quickened it, and integral to every rail line was the telegraph that synchronized time and made information instantaneous just in time for the Civil War. The North had the network and proved the superiority of technology over slavery. We have yet to prove the superiority of humanity over technology.

Whenever these buildings were built, it was well after the Civil War. Thanks to Mark at the Torrington Historical Society for maps that show the site at several dates. The 1874 tax map shows an arrangement of buildings very much like what’s left of the yard - also a mill and a coal yard here, along the rail. 

I used to visit often. It was a melancholy, quiet place for photographing noir that felt timeless before the buildings fell. 

Monday, January 12, 2015

Bolland Farm Interlude

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: This Sharon farmstead lies well with the land, and when I was shooting lots of farms I’d often pass here to see what the light was doing or how the fog was drifting. It seemed to me it must have been built by someone who loved the operations of earth and wind. 

It was many years before I finally met the man who owned the farm; it had belonged to his father, some time deceased. He gave me permission to explore and photograph. There were sheds of rusting machine parts and parts with no shed, old motors and workshops left to the squirrels. Somewhere I have the pictures. And there were hills to explore. 

I followed a farm road that led down to a ravine and across a stream. I wanted to look back at the farm, see how it met the wind on the other side. Along the path, mounted on a wall where the bank fell away to the stream, were poles supporting ingenious whirligigs: people and animals and windmills made from welded junk and holding pinwheels that turned in the wind spinning gears and fantasies. Like the decaying workshops, the whirligigs were not all working and far from complete. But some still spun as I followed the linkages, there in the curve of the hill where the wind was gently blowing.


I was sure I had posted several images of this farm to my blog, but I only turned up one previous post in 2009:

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Back to the River: Plume & Atwood Dam, Thomaston

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL - “On Forgetting”: While it existed, few spots on the Naugatuck River could so easily transport me to the 19th century. Not the most elegant, but these may be among the most venerable buildings on the Naugatuck River.

Seth Thomas clocks built Thomaston. When it left town in 1979 it was unquestionably the oldest clock company in America. In fact it was one of the oldest U.S. companies of any kind. Seth Thomas had been a partner in 1806 when Eli Terry invented interchangeable machine parts and made knowing time affordable, and Thomas bought the company. The clocks were still made of wood, but it was a seminal moment in the birth of modern mind. The whole story and others are retold in Brass Valley: The Fall of an American Industry. [shameless advertising: click & order now, or order it on Amazon.]

What I know about these buildings isn’t much, but the documents I’ve seen make clear, Seth Thomas rolled metal for clocks on this site before the Civil War. Later he sold the operation to Plume and Atwood. Joseph Wassong’s excellent book, Images of America, Thomaston, contains wonderful, old photos and discussion of the buildings. It can be viewed at Google Books or also purchased on Amazon. 

Which among these buildings is a pre-Civil War, original building? I don’t know. People tell me there’s good fishing behind the dam, but I don’t know that for sure either. What I know is that this ancient mill complex provided context for the Railroad Museum of New England next door. You could look along the period platform past the beautiful old station, now the museum’s home, and see the track disappearing, and along side it was a genuine period rolling mill, possibly a Seth Thomas original. It did what a museum of its sort should do: Take us back in time, remind us of where we come from, who we’ve been. 

A short while after that mill building fell, men bulldozed the rubble and knocked down the building on the right in this picture as well. Yard’s gone!  So’s the view. That’s the way the river flows, I guess. They call this the Plume & Atwood Dam. One day I hope to know when it was built and what it powered. Online it is merely described as, “obsolete industrial.”

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Back to the River: Meander South

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: There’s barely a valley to be discerned here in the flatlands south and east of Torrington’s Five Points intersection. The two branches of the Naugatuck meander and find each other here. After the rail finds the river, the valley narrows, deepens and grows wild between Harwinton and Litchfield. 

Detailed plans for the Naugatuck River Greenway, through here and in area in the previous photos, were completed in 2004. Detailed discussion and pictures of the proposal can be found here: 

Friday, January 9, 2015

Back to the River: West Branch Behind Water Street, Torrington

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: I learned from Thoreau that rivers are the bloodstream of the planet. That was just an idea until I’d walked many miles beside one. The West Branch of the Naugatuck is all but invisible behind Water Street. I’ve come as close as I can to walking its banks from Main Street and the Five Points intersection, through the back lots of Water Street, up Church Street and beyond. If Torrington had grown into a big city, much of this would long ago have disappeared underground as the best way to contain its stench. It’s a long way upstream before one can spend a moment near the water without an intervening chain link fence, but there’s beauty to be peeped at along the way. The only stench now is from occasional dumpsters, in the service lots behind Water Street.

If these cataracts ran through a hill town, there would already be a greenway here, but Valley towns have turned their backs to the river for so many decades, they remain that way in inevitable arthritic paralysis. After the flood of 1955 the barriers to the riverfront got higher, deeper, and the containment past valuable factories and infrastructure put sections of the river out of reach to all except shiftless grocery carts with the knack for getting past fences. The river is clean, the factories are gone. Can the riverfront be reimagined to save it from the grocery carts and to help us cherish its rushing waters?

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Back to the River: East Branch at East Main, Torrington

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: I’ve read that the first, non-native settlers of Torrington lived in the Hills in the northwest, where the Naugatuck originates, and on Torringford Hill, in the east, from which come tributaries. Like other settlers in the towns of the Northwest Hills, the settlers lived like hill people, by farming. The central business district was only established later by Frederick Wolcott when he opened his woolen mill in 1813. It was an industrial village between the two branches of the Naugatuck River. They called it Wolcottville and it developed like a Valley town, a mill town. It was a perfect spot for a world that ran on water.

There is an 1875 rendering of Wolcottville from the air here: ( You can zoom down and almost walk the streets. Follow the two branches of the Naugatuck through the rendering, and note the many dams, canals, and impoundments. You can find this intersection in the rendering where the river winds south from Route 4 along the back of Main Street through the gully around the old cemetery and comes out at East Main Street here, in the picture. Even the cemetery turns its back to the river.

Torrington was built for a world that is gone. How can it be re-imagined for a world not fully here yet? (

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Back to the River: West Branch at Main

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: The East and West branches of the Naugatuck River bracket downtown Torrington. The East Branch crosses Main Street here, near the intersection with Route 4. The West Branch crosses Main Street below the Warner Theater, at the Five Points intersection.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Back to the River: Headwaters

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL:  The waters that once primed the industrial revolution in Brass Valley begin today in ponds and impoundments in the quiet hills north and west of Torrington. The West Branch of the Naugatuck River begins here, behind the dam, in Stillwater Pond and in two more ponds upstream. The Naugatuck River Watershed Association says it falls 540 feet, or approximately thirteen feet per mile before spilling into the Housatonic River downstream in Derby. Some say it is the steepest major river in the state; it was once also one of the most toxic in the nation. 

Today in the fog at the headweaters it was noiseless.