Tuesday, December 29, 2015


PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: The mills of Farrel and American Brass in Ansonia make little fuss about appearances. They are a haphazard collection of additions, adaptations, and replacements, patches and hacks, whose only goal was getting the job done. And so since 2011 I’ve often stopped and sometimes photographed where the American Brass, Flat-Wire Mill sprouts skirted, tin cupolas with pentangle finials. When was this bit of virtuoso twinkle put in place?

Historical maps of Ansonia are a treasure trove of information (http://www.historicmapworks.com/Browse/United_States/Connecticut/). The building with the skirted, cupola vents lies at a recognizable intersection. The row of vents parallels the old Ansonia Canal which lies a half-dozen yards off. A bridge crosses the canal just where the building ends, and the factory road across the bridge continues down the slope and across the rail corridor to the river. As the road descends toward the tracks, the wall reveals three gable ends tracing the roofs of sheds behind them. From inside they now function as a single large space: the Flat-Wire Mill. The Canal is now invisible, buried underground, but the old iron bridge still erupts from the lumpy macadam in a way that only makes sense when you realize it is the truss and road of a forgotten bridge.

In the 1921 aerial map of Ansonia (https://www.loc.gov/resource/g3784a.pm000770/) three gables are clear, though the road beside them looks level. The top gabled roof, nearest the canal sports five (not four) tin cupola vents. Does the map even show a bit of an iron truss of a bridge over the canal. On maps before 1921 identification becomes more tenuous. Even in 1884, however, there are three long sheds close to this location. 1890 looks far different. A new rod mill is under construction, and the map includes detailed notes about what is happening in each section of the factory. Along the canal a long building is divided into lots of little shops. Could one of these be the current building? 1895 shows expansion of the same plan. One room holds in place in this long building through 1900; it is the tinning room. Could the skirted cupolas have been made there?

The 1906 map shows big changes have been made. For the first time the company is called American Brass Company instead of Ansonia Brass and Copper. Now the road across the mill site clearly shows the three gables, and, while the top building shows no cupola vents, it shows skylights similar to those on either side of the the vents that are still there today. The bridge over the canal is there as well. 1911 further confirms my view that these are the buildings that make up today’s Flat-Wire Mill, but the possibility remains that the building with the cupolas survives from an earlier time when this was the tinsmith’s shop, and so I continue to believe it was those tinsmiths who made starlight at the brass works.


Jan 28 @ 7 PM - New Britain Industrial Museum (snow date Feb. 4)
Feb 16 @ 7 PM - Woodbury Public Library (snow date, Mar. 1)
Feb 25 @ 6 PM - Ansonia Public Library
   -Throughout March - Photos on exhibit at Silas Bronson Library, Waterbury
Mar 10 @ 6 PM - Silas Bronson Library (snow date, Mar 14)
   -Throughout April - Photos on exhibit at Hagaman Library, East Haven, CT
Apr 27 @  6:30 PM - Hagaman Memorial Library, East haven
November 12 - January, 2017 - Photos on exhibit Minor Public Library, Roxbury
Nov. 12 @    - Minor Public Library, Roxbury, CT