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.”