Sunday, April 26, 2015

Back to the River: Upstream Headwaters


It has been a hectic week with much to be happy about, but by Friday I ached to be out making photographs, and I followed the Naugatuck River past a series of dams to this one which impounds Hall Meadow Brook Reservoir near the top of the Torrington Hills. If pushed for a word to describe these hills, I might say “primeval." I would say it despite knowing that the land was timbered and mined even as it was dammed and milled. First came iron and timber. Climbing the hill I passed Wolcott Road, named for the woolen mill that that opened here at the beginning of the 19th century and Brass Mill Road, named for the brass mill that followed it. And yet it feels primeval.

I left my car at the northern end of the Reservoir and explored the ruins of some sort of concrete bunker, now roofless, but otherwise impervious to all except gang graffiti. In a scrubby area, where land turned to swamp, a pile of asphalt had been dumped, and I climbed to the top to see if elevation would better tip the pond into my picture. The muffled light of the clouds made the wet hillsides thatchy and added a bit of color. Finally, I walked south along the side of the reservoir on what must once have been the old road into the valley to the point where the road goes under and becomes a highway for fish mostly. In front of me was the rubble wall of the dam with a tiny hut and a stair down that seemed only big enough to let insects climb inside the dam. The dam was one of a series installed by the insects to control the river’s surge and keep it from washing over the flimsy villages in its path. 

That was 1955, and it was remembered as the year of the great flood. There is nothing primeval here it is only that here the world feels momentarily in remission while old scars heal a bit and the hills seem again to become ancient and holy.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

The Farrel Sand Elevator

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: Even before I wanted to know what it was, I imagined what it might be like up in those tin can offices with their rickety terraces and dangling stairs, and what treasures had been left moldering deep in the bowels of the beast? It is as much a relic of industry as of railroading and an archetype for model railroad enthusiasts to miniaturize. Some of the track remains in place that threaded the rail yard to carry trains through the opening under the elevator and into the long shed that stretched to the end of the property.

I didn’t know then that the bridge and tower dated at least to the start of World War I, nor had I yet discovered what was still up in the long passageway or how deeply it penetrated the rows of Farrel, work sheds to deliver sand from train cars to molds used by the foundry to make giant rubber and sugar calenders for which Farrel-Birmingham became famous. 

What does Connecticut want to remember from what’s left of Ansonia’s industrial heritage? What does future Connecticut need to know about those who came before? Should any part of this place be salvaged to help tell its story or provoke a question? 

I’m only a photographer, and my photographs are not meant to answer those questions, only to show the things that caught the camera-eye of one of time’s vagrants looking for shelter along the track. 

Thursday, April 9, 2015


PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: Final furnace fires were extinguished in 2013, and the fate of this corridor of industry is coming at us like a speeding train. A century and a half of expansion, adaptation, refinement and economics can be read in an anthill of sheds, workshops and passages where the greatest of Brass Valley furnaces cast metal into billets, blocks, and giant machine parts. 

The corridor follows the river and the rail through downtown Ansonia from Bridge Street to the power plant by 6th Street. This was the home of two companies that have been here as long as Ansonia. The giant calenders made by Farrel Birmingham built the rubber and sugar industries. The metal Mike is tending in this American Brass furnace wound up as large diameter tubes inside the Navy's atomic submarines.

Before the old mills are swept away and the ground under them leveled to anonymity, is anyone asking: What does Connecticut want to remember here? What does future Connecticut need to know about those who came before? Should any part of this place be salvaged to help tell its story or provoke a question?

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Old Paint

PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL: I was asked to do something decorative.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015


PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL:  I photographed this headstone somewhere in the hills of Sharon in 2011. It was a single shot between places I know, but I have only vague recollections of making the exposure or of which path I might have followed, no gps tracking.  

Monday, April 6, 2015

The Victory Theatre, Holyoke, MA


The Victory Theatre

Steeply raked to carry sound 
to the last seat in the top balcony, 
it is the drama of slow collapse that 
makes the pregnant silences now. 
The orchestra pit has filled with spring rain 
as icicles linger in the fly space. 
The scene changes with the seasons 
and transfixes audiences in their seats.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Attic Pigeons

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: Friends tell me houses are haunted by spirits who dreamed their lives there, but old factory buildings are haunted mostly by pigeons. I’ve learned to be wary of the sudden flash and brush of wings urgently scooping air out of the shadows. They were my constant companions, dimly cooing, as I explored and photographed in the attic of Holmes, Booth & Haydens lampworks, and more than once I photographed their attic graves.

Until December of 2013 the 1880, Holmes, Booth, & Haydens lamp works, in Waterbury, was still part of an active brass mill, the last in Brass Valley. I learned yesterday it is to be demolished.

Holmes, Booth & Haydens developed this site before the Civil War. It straddles the original roadbed of the Naugatuck Railroad in the South End of Waterbury. Israel Holmes is the one who in the 1830s unlocked the secrets of England’s brass industry, smuggling the workers and equipment who built the brass industry in America. Hiram Haydens was a mechanical wizard, photographer, sometime artist who held more patents than anyone in Brass Valley. His machine to spin kettles transformed kettle-making. He held patents for oil-burner designs for oil lamps and patents for photographic processes including what is probably the first successful process for photographing directly onto paper. This is the last building standing from the Holmes, Booth and Haydens campus.

The building has three floors and an attic and two stair towers. It is structurally sound and could be used as the cornerstone of new development on this beautiful, but polluted, riverside site.

I know that it’s easy to stand on the sidelines and call for preservation with no real knowledge of the underlying difficulties and costs involved. I also know and respect that most people in the neighborhood look at the old wrecks of factories, and they properly see only blight and danger. It’s hard to discern the gem from the trash. This is a routine mill building, but it is honest masonry laid at the same time as nearby St. Anne’s. Age has given the Holmes, Booth & Haydens Lampworks character and history; it could be a gem if given a new setting. It could be a living link to our past.

Here is a photograph of the exterior of the building that appeared on this blog awhile ago:

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Watercolors No.8

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL:  Time to dream of spring.