Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Southington Forge 3

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL:  The first time we visited, the gate was wide open. Neither of us had seen an industrial forge before. They looked Wagnerian in their grim grandeur, and we felt dwarfed. We’d seen presses but not like these. I couldn’t quite imagine how their brutality was finessed into usable products or what those products might be. 

Today I met a fellow along the Farmington Canal who told me he used to work here. I asked what they made. He said, “We made everything,” and carefully pointed out some of the shops he had worked in and other places he’d worked. It seems common among the retired machinists and metal workers, the pride in what they did. So I let him reminisce - it was a privilege listening - before I pressed my question. He finally suggested, “elbow joints,” and I managed to understand that they received blanks and there were forms, and I’m still having trouble imagining the stamping of elbow joints, and I suspect the truth is, one really had to be there amid the racket and the grease and the soot, but standing inside the sanctuary helped me understand. The dirt underfoot was real.

What is the importance of knowing that elbow joints were once forged on Wagnerian presses in two sheds along the canal that was built in 1826 from Massachusetts to Long Island Sound? What is added by the experience of being there and seeing them? How does it enrich living there to know how Southington helped forge our world?

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Southington Forge 2: Beside the Farmington Canal, 2014


3/26/15: Today they are dream. These two tin cathedrals were industrial forges. 

Since 1826, when Irishmen dug a canal from Massachusetts to Long Island Sound, this has been a busy industrial community, and people who lived here earned good livings from the work they did in the mills beside the canal. 

Before the Civil War the railroad replaced the canal, and on the town green there is a memorial to the men who served in that war, and many of the things needed at the front were made by people back here, and by the the next century and those other wars, mills along here were ready to meet all challenges. 

Today the old railroad is a greenway, and the ancient canal is teeming with mallards, and this stretch, especially, has several blocks of old mill building, some beautifully restored. In one I visited an immaculate metal fabrication shop and saw a variety of light industries operating and authentic grunge as well. The greenway brings people here daily. They walk their dogs, wheel their babies, jog and ride bicycles through a memorial greenway that is a hymn to American Labor. Removal of the forges is like suddenly silencing the bass line.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Southington Forge 1: Jaws


My buddy and I were down in Southington today to try to photograph a pair of old forges. One has four large forge presses, ovens and other workshops inside. When we got there a power arm was high above the roofs, with a beak like a garden nipper, pulling at chunks.  I could see a forge standing beside rubble, 12 feet high, inside a partially demolished shed. My friend said we should come back Sunday when we can get into the other shed, but my hunch is that it's already gone.

I wrote that into an email shortly after returning home from this shoot yesterday. It is filled with the self-righteous anger and disappointment I felt immediately after shooting this. Saner minds than mine can tell me all the reasons why saving these asbestos-seasoned, corrugated metal sheds with 12 foot tall forge hammers, was more trouble than it was worth.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Back to the River - Ansonia Skyline

PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL: A skyline as pretty as a smiling set of teeth. Even the classic signage on Farrel is intact. I need to photograph it carefully. 

Monday, March 23, 2015

Copper Monster

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: Through his working life, the Copper Monster lived here at the American Brass tube mill in Waterbury. Installed at the beginning of the 20th century, he spent his life stretching cold metal tubes and served through two world wars. This photo was taken in December of 2014, after most of the factory had been either scrapped or sent to Mexico.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Farrel Corridor

This is a special edition of TODAY'S PHOTO. Click the "Emery Roth II" link below. You will be linked into my new Facebook Page as a visitor. You do not need to register to Facebook to see it all. However, I ask registered Facebook users to go to the top of the page and LIKE the whole page. Doing so will help spread the word about my new book: Brass Valley: The Fall of an American Industry. Then scroll down and click on the Farrel Corridor image to see the pictures and read the text. In the future, I will periodically offer other similar "special edition," TODAY'S in order to gather multiple pictures into mini exhibits.

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: Many years ago I was told that if I wanted to take better pictures, the secret was to show fewer of them. Therefore, when I began this blog I decided to select no more than one picture per day. I’m now in my ninth year of TODAY’S PHOTO, and I look back with some satisfaction at the record of this work, but more and more I’m feeling the need to let multiple pictures tell a story. Facebook will answer to that need for now, and at the same time they will help me bring my photographs and new book to the attention of a wider audience. Thank you to all those who have subscribed to TODAY’S PHOTO and for your regular comments. They never go unanswered, and they are always much appreciated.

People are surprised when I refer to, "the beautiful skyline of Ansonia, CT., and here is one of the best vantage points. Between the river and Main Street lie the properties where Ansonia began. The track passes through the flood gate on the far right and reaches the Ansonia platform and the back of the old Opera House. For a mile north the track passes through one of the rustiest canyons of industry left in Brass Valley.

In the middle of the picture, up on the hill, is the Ansonia Armory and further left a workshop of the Farrel Works. Maple Street Bridge was under construction when this was taken, and more of the red passageway is exposed that carries Farrel workers over the tracks that run through the middle of Farrel Works.

Almon Farrel was the millwright Anson Phelps hired in 1845 to build the Ansonia Canal that powered his industrial village. [His story is told in my book.] The Farrel Foundry and Machine Company has been here as long as the village and still operates in some of these buildings.

Grandly above it, and facing away toward North Cliff Street, is the Roman Catholic Church of the Assumption. The church, designed by Patrick Keely, opened in 1907. The story of its building is told here: http://www.assumptionansonia.org/history.html

But for the need to cross the Naugatuck frequently in Ansonia, one might almost forget it was a river town. However, it is still the hillscape and the river that open space for the beautiful skyline.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

On the Birmingham Green, Friday the 13th, 2015, pt.3, Top of the Green

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: According to the Connecticut Historical Society, on July 4, 1883, more than 8000 people came to the Birmingham Green from all around the region for the dedication of the completed Civil War Monument. Derby was a town on the move, and Birmingham was its center.

In 1891 the original, 1836 Methodist Church was replaced by a new building designed by George Washington Kramer in the popular style of H.H. Richardson and uniquely laid out to serve the litergy and practice of Methodism. The building is grandly commanding at the top of the green, bursting with self-confidence. It’s two arched windows seem to embrace the green and town laid out before it.

Just two years earlier the Sterling Opera House, including Derby City Hall, had opened across the Green, even though Derby was not yet a city, and in 1891 the fury over Derby’s underhanded politics was still raging in Ansonia and Shelton and Hartford. Even so, when John Philip Sousa brought his band to town, Stars and Stripes echoed off these walls. Even without further knowledge of the personalities involved, one can still feel the dynamics of the time working their way into the cityscape and endowing the Green with layers of meaning.

See Robert Novakx's authoritative explanation of the events that led to the creation of the three cities: http://derbyhistorical.org/Derby%20Division.htm

Monday, March 16, 2015

On the Birmingham Green, Friday the 13th, 2015, pt.2, Unspired

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL:  If this were a hill town, the Congregational Church would have pride of place on the town green, but this is a mill town, planned and built by industrial entrepreneurs, proud to have a stake in building a local economy. In 1845 the Congregational Church was the last religious body to join the community of faiths gathered by Sheldon Smith and Anson Phelps to the Green.

Across the Green, Elizabeth Street runs parallel to Minerva. Since 1845 the Classical democratic temple of the Congregational Society of Birmingham on Elizabeth Street and the crenelated spiritual fortress of St. James Episcopal on Elizabeth have stared across the Green as if in eternal dialogue.

Birmingham was famous for the production of pianos and organs. It isn't surprising to discover that music had an important role in the service here.

"In the early history of the [Birmingham Congregational] church the music was vocal and instrumental. At one time the latter consisted of a bass-viol, two violins and a flute. In 1856 an organ displaced these instruments. In 1871 the pulpit was removed from the recess at the west end of the church and the organ transferred from the gallery to it, and a movable platform with a neat plain desk substituted for a pulpit, occupying a few feet in front of the former. With this change the gallery choir was abandoned and singing was congregational, led by a precentor, the organ being accompanied by a flute. In 1874 an orchestra was added and has continued to the present time, mostly without a precentor.

"This church has been harmonious and prosperous, and now numbers 221 members."

1880, from The History of the Old Town of Derby , 1642-1880 Orcutt/Beardsley

Sunday, March 15, 2015

On the Birmingham Green, Friday the 13th, 2015, pt.1, Minerva Street

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL:  Minerva Street rises from the business district of Birmingham to the green on the hill above the city. There Sheldon Smith and Anson Phelps envisioned a common around which legal and spiritual transactions of the community might harmonize. They gave the land for the public green and for the Methodist, Episcopal, and Congregationalist churches, and they named the streets for their wives and daughters. 

Both Smith and Phelps were self-made men, and the green was a centerpiece for and a testament to what they had accomplished in only a decade: They had built a dam across the Naugatuck river and a canal and reservoir system leading to the Housatonic River and used the waterworks to power numerous manufacturing mills and supply drinking water to the whole community. 

In 1843, when St. James Episcopal Church (above) was built on the green, the village was home to numerous manufacturers including the Birmingham Company that made large mill equipment, the Phelps-Smith Brass Mill, and the all-important Howe Pin Company that turned the work of skilled metal craftsmen into the common pin. In another six years the railroad would rouse the Naugatuck Valley from its eternal slumbers. Birmingham then was busy and dreaming an urban future; today it is an intact, planned metropolis that never metamorphosed, a Pittsburgh that never happened.

For additional information, here is an excellent web resource:

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Monday, March 9, 2015

Electric Dream

PHOTOGRAPHERS JOURNAL: Electricity’s magic made the world push button, sending pulsed current on copper threads to a marionette of levers that became us, as we became it.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

1897 DC

1897 vintage electric motor at the former Anaconda American Brass / Ansonia Copper & Brass tube mill, Waterbury, CT

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: When the compass point veered from the current and magnetized Faraday, the problem began: How to leverage that tiny impulsion, give numbers to impulse and impulses, set standards in a nebula of variables, trick out armatures and commutators, quantify and regulate their spin. It was a universe of thought opening its mindscape.

Unlike steam engines, an electric motor could start with the touching of wires or the throwing of a switch, it required no fire, and unlike the river, its current could flow anywhere, even up hill. It was half a transaction of moving parts and half the stuff of magic.

Thursday, March 5, 2015


PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: Before the age of electricity, factores ran either on water power, wind power, thermal power, or animal power. Of the four, the last was the most common well into the industrial age. Animal power was the only one that did not need a wheelhouse and was, therefore, easily portable. A man might use his animals anywhere. 

Factory people know this as a wheelhouse, a place where spin is distributed through drive shaft and belts to multiple pieces of equipment. Before electric motors made spin easily portable, even small operations might need a complex wheelhouse to run multiple machines. Workers on a floor of machines would know, among other sounds and dangers, the constant whirr and jabber of many belts ready to snag loose clothing or hair. I’ve seen only four such wheelhouses since I began exploring old factories. This one is in one of the old Stanley factories. It is in a fragile state as the shafts of light through the roof suggest. Can you hear it spin - transferring the power of the turned wheel?