Sunday, January 31, 2016


Housatonic Museum of Art - Housatonic Community College, Bridgeport
February 10 @ 11:45, HCC Events Center

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: When Anson Phelps, in 1845, built a well-watered canal from the Kinneytown Dam in Seymour for a mile-and-a-quarter, to bring power to mill sites in a new industrial village he called, “Ansonia,” he put his own brass and copper mill in buildings somewhere near the back of this picture. We are looking north from the south end of the extrusion mill on the southeast corner of the American Brass crossroad.

Ansonia Copper & Brass (AC&B), that until December or 2013 still had operations on this site, claimed its ancestry back to Anson Phelps original Ansonia Brass & Copper (AB&C). Shortly after 1900 it became part of American Brass with mills throughout brass valley and covering all four corners of the crossroad. We are looking down the conveyor of the last, major piece of new equipment installed in the Ansonia millworks, I’m told sometime in the 1960s or 70s when this mill went by the name, “Anaconda American Brass.” 

The ladder leads to a bridge crossing the conveyor, and the giant extruder is to the left. Ladders run up its sides and catwalks cross the top. It is like a small ship with its decks leading fore and aft; ladders lead to spaces “below deck,” where motors churn, yet it is small next to its conveyors. I never saw it in operation. I’m told it could extrude continuous lengths of metal rod which could be sent down the conveyor or wrapped on spools that rotated automatically and looked to me a bit like the amusement park ride known as, “The Whip.” When the extruder was installed, it was state of the art.

The yellow crane in the distance is the same 5-ton crane discussed in the last paragraph of the previous photograph in this series, “Picking.”

Friday, January 22, 2016


PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: Since I began photographing it in 2011, this sand elevator in Ansonia, has drawn me back like no other structure I know. In that time I’ve taken images of it that pleased me; posted some publicly.  Until I took this image earlier this week, none had caught the full potential of this monument as I feel it until this one. It sings a song of us.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016


PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: (refer to for earlier posts in the series)

The southeast corner of the brass mill crossroad was where Anson Phelps set his first Ansonia brass mill, though this building, in the photo, is of a later era. Mike is cutting apart one of the 5-ton traveling cranes, cleaning the building for efficient demolition. It has been an idle extrusion mill through the wink of time that I’ve been coming here. By spring, they say, the building may be gone.

The maps of 1884 and 1890 paint a picture of what happened here then. This photograph begins at what was then, probably, the edge of the mill yard. The yard is behind me in this image, and I’m beside the yard-office, cartloads coming and going, men swearing in many languages. By 1890 the perimeter of the yard has been nibbled away by many small buildings, and the central yard office of 1884 has become a new shipping department with testing facilities connected to the large mill which once stood in my picture. 

The 1890 map calls this large building, “Muffle R’m,” and says it has an “Iron Floor.” It is the largest building on the property. The map shows the “Casting Shop,” off to the right, and in the bay in front of Mike stood the Rolling Mill with two sections, one for “Brazed Tube,” and the other identified as the “Rod R’m.” Further back and probably dug into the hillside and/or raised to a second level, beside the canal, were a series of small rooms, some showing furnace blocks. A stair indicates a partial second floor, and one room is designated for pickling and must have been nearly as high as, and accessible to, the adjacent rolling mill. 

Even this only covers half of the current building site, and at the time of the 1890 map Ansonia Brass & Copper was building a new rod mill on the other half of the site. It would be on property between the brass mill and Farrel that had belonged to, “Postal Telegraph & Cable Co.”  More departments would mean new workers, more managers, and people moving up. Younger workers watching, considering opportunities. It would mean more people riding trollies and shopping on Main Street. It would mean telephones and later radio and automobiles.

The 1895 map shows the rod mill completed, and the old mill yard is filled in, all the small buildings gone, and a new mill for seamless tube abuts the existing structure covering the space to the factory road across from the Three Gables. The map shows the new tube mill with raised skylights down the middle of the building, two rows at right angles and crossing at the midpoint; four narrow gables are in the middle of each facade; one looks across at the Three Gables. I imagine beneath the tube mill skylights are aisles, where people pushed carts between benches, and cranes moved seamless tube, and the sounds of steam and heavy metal were constant. 

The Ansonia Brass & Copper company of Anson Phelps had grown to fill the southeast corner of the crossroad. It had become a complex cluster of brick buildings, stacks, skylights and gables. By 1906 it would all be part of American Brass. The southeast corner structures of 1890 are essentially, what is shown on the 1921 aerial, though the tube mill was a short-lived venture. The crossed skylights are gone, and after 1906 it was designated as a machine shop. However, none of these structures appears to be what exists on this corner today. 

Above Mike’s head in the photograph, parked and waiting at the top of the next bay, is another 5-ton crane that Mike will drop to the floor and pick apart like a bird of prey at the bones of a carcass. However, there is machinery yet in this place to merit its immensity.

[Anaconda American Brass Company, Extrusion Mill, Ansonia]

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Demolition Crossroad

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: [Anaconda American Brass, Ansonia, Dec. 2015]
(earlier posts in this series are below)

Since before 1900 paths have been crossing here, midway along the east-west factory road between Liberty Street, at the top of the Hill, and the riverside yard, at the bottom. That is where the east west factory road crosses the north-south factory road that runs beside Naugatuck rail corridor. Even today people find each other here beside the tracks. Sometimes they stop in conversation - have a smoke - wait for a passing train or pause conversation while it passes. Today conversation is about gas tanks for Mike's torch as the site is picked for scrap and junk.

On three of four corners around this crossroad the three major manufacturing buildings of Anaconda American Brass in Ansonia still converge: the extrusion mill in the southeast where the round mirror hangs; the rod mill, diagonally in the northwest and shown reflected in the round mirror: the flat-wire mill in the northeast and out of the conversation. 

Today's conversations concerned removing part of a large crane being chopped for scrap. There was also a track crew from the railroad who drove in on rubber tires and, after some moments of adjustment, drove off on steel wheels. Nifty!

The powerhouse, shown here suffering through neglect, scrap & salvage, claims the fourth corner. Behind it are Ansonia’s two, remaining, giant, masonry stacks: Closest is the casting house stack of American Brass; Farther off and connected to the Farrel campus is the stack that appears on the 1906 map. It serves a building with a "Dynamo Rm” and three “force pumps.” A note on the map suggests these may have been for fighting fire, and carefully located beside the river.

Traffic from the American Brass casting house often followed the road from the riverside up the hill to the metal labs, in the administration building on Liberty Street where an engineer checked to make sure the alloy sample they carried matched specification. Meanwhile the men waited at the casting furnace below for approval to pour. 

Along another axis, the offices behind the giant extruder at the south end of the extrusion mill and the machine shops by the high windows at the north end of the flat-wire mill sometimes exchanged envoys. I rarely saw people at either place, though there were always nervous cats by the high north windows of the machine shop. But envoys could sometimes be found here.


Jan 28 @ 7 PM - New Britain Industrial Museum (snow date Feb. 4)
Feb 10 - Housatonic Museum of Art
Feb 16 @ 7 PM - Woodbury Public Library (snow date, Mar. 1)
Feb 25 @ 6 PM - Ansonia Public Library
March 1-29 - Photos on exhibit at Silas Bronson Library, Waterbury 
Mar 10 @ 6 PM - Silas Bronson Library (snow date, Mar 14)
Mar 12 @ 6 PM - Railroad Museum of New England, Thomaston
April 7-29 - Photos on exhibit at Hagaman Library, East Haven, CT
Apr 27 @  6:30 PM - Hagaman Memorial Library, East Haven
May 4 @ 7 PM - Windsor Locks Public Library
May 17 @ 6 PM - Wolcott Public Library
November 12 - January, 2017 - Photos on exhibit Minor Public Library, Roxbury
Nov. 12 @    - Minor Public Library, Roxbury, CT

Thursday, January 14, 2016


PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL:  Shadows shift as the fork lift of the previous photo has passed beside ragged gables that mark the vanished line between Wallace Brass and Phelps Brass. As previously noted, the 1906 map clearly shows three gables, the old boundary line has become the primary east-west passage across a mostly continuous north-south barricade of parallel factory sheds, and the map now labels it all "American Brass Company."

The map of 1900 offers other annotations to the noteworthy building on the corner. Its roof, where the heady tin vent-ware now sits, was labeled, “iron roof on iron truss,” and what seems, a door was drawn at what may be either the midpoint in the long, slightly wedge-shaped building, or a point where two structures were melded into one building. On one side of the door is the “Wire Dep’t,” and “Riveting.” On the other side is the drawing of the roof above the iron truss. Later maps add skylights to it, in 1921 there are cupolas drawn onto the aerial of Ansonia.

Revelation: I’ve stood at that door, opened it and looked along a splintered matchstick catwalk through concentric truss-work triangles diminishing in the distance.  It glowed under skylights like those shown on the 1906 map. There is a platform beyond the door, 20 or 25 feet above the factory floor. I never dared trust it with my weight. To the right, shards of stair treads hang from a failing stringers that descend 25 feet to the floor below with, as I recall, balusters and banisters dangling. The 1906 map shows a narrow passage there. Such a passage might make sense if it contained a stair.

It is now apparent that this place where I have stood, between the "Wire Dep't" and the crumbling catwalk, was there as early as 1900. It lies where the wall jogs. All the maps from 1895 back to 1884 show that the wall jogs just there, and there has always been, as there is today, a division of spaces there. However at that spot the older maps show a thicket of slender stacks rising from furnaces. 

In 1884 three furnace blocks are marked 600hp. An adjacent section is marked “Tumbling Bbl’s.” The 1890 and 1895 maps show a fourth furnace block with a square chimney, and the adjacent building/section has been labeled, “Dipping & Tinning Rivet R’m.” Architecturally, it seems, from 1884 through 1895 the building is essentially unchanged, and when the chimneys disappeared from the maps in 1900, the place at the upper level was still devoted to riveting. There is a modern picture of what may have been the riveting room in Brass Valley: The Fall of an American Industry (p.117). The picture looks down an aisle in a hall of rowed and vacant shelving that once was a busy workplace.

The fork lift, balancing scrap buckets 300 and 314, turns the corner, passing in front of the old shed with the skirted cupola vents and the pentangle finials, which the maps suggest goes back to at least 1884. On the 1867 map a similarly proportioned block, a free-standing structure, appears in the  same location as the current building. Is it the same building? Not enough information in the maps to know, but as scrap buckets are carried to be scrap, if it is the same building, it probably riveted through the Civil War.

Finding Brass Valley, a Place in Time that Has Almost Vanished

Jan 28 @ 7 PM - New Britain Industrial Museum (snow date Feb. 4)
Feb 10 - Housatonic Museum of Art (time to be determined)
Feb 16 @ 7 PM - Woodbury Public Library (snow date, Feb. 23)
Feb 25 @ 6 PM - Ansonia Public Library
March 1-29 - Photos on exhibit at Silas Bronson Library, Waterbury 
Mar 10 @ 6 PM - Silas Bronson Library (snow date, Mar 14)
April 7-29 - Photos on exhibit at Hagaman Library, East Haven, CT
Apr 27 @  6:30 PM - Hagaman Memorial Library, East haven
May 17 @ 6 PM - Wolcott Public Library

Saturday, January 9, 2016

The Three Gables and the Wallace Brass Co.

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: Another day and (for those who have been following this series of images) the camera is repositioned so as to still catch the corner of the building with the skirted cupola vents and Pentangle finials (though no vents or finials are in view here) as well as the factory road which cuts across the American Brass site in Ansonia. Shadows like bat wings, cast by the low, winter sunlight claw the rutted pavement of the factory road that crosses from Liberty Street down to the riverside. Two rusty scrap bins, on the teeth of a fork lift, are being brought from the casting house to an uncertain future. Once hundreds of these steel hampers, numbered and tracked, circulated between mills carrying scrap metal back to the foundry.

On the 1868 map of Ansonia, this passageway lies at the boundary between “Wallace and Sons Brass Works,” in the north and “Phelps Brass Works,” in the south. The three gables of the north wall lie along the old property boundary. Both companies were founded here in 1845. They prospered and grew side by side through the Civil War. The canal still flows here, that Almon Farrel built for Anson Phelps in 1845 to power his new industrial village which he called, “Ansonia," but the canal was long ago buried underground. The steel girders that line the sides of the road hint at the whole bridge now half sunk in a sea of asphalt.

By 1884, the map shows that  the bridge was a “covered bridge,” that crossed the canal here. It led into the main yard of Phelps brass works, on that map identified as Ansonia Brass and Copper. The map shows the “coke shed” lies ahead, but if you turn right, you will soon find, “the office.” 

On the map, the coke shed is hard up against the wall of a large building containing the the “Rolling Mill" and “General Mach’y,” facilities of Wallace & Sons, brass works. The back section also contains iron and annealing, “furn’s” whose forms are carefully marked. These facilities fill the area roughly covered by the three mills on the right side of this picture. 

By the 1906 map, both the Phelps mills and the Wallace mills are all labeled as, “American Brass Company,” and one can plainly see on that map the outline of three great gable ends facing onto the crossway through American Brass from Liberty Street to the riverside.

[American Brass, Ansonia]


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