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.”