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.

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