Thursday, March 24, 2016

Rod Mill Sunset

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: Factories cluster along a rail corridor like swine at a food trough, and bridges carry everything from people to cranes to utility conduits over the tracks. There were many bridges, but there was only one road crossing the mill site. Sunset illuminates the road from the riverside up to Liberty Street. The old rolling mill was in the dark building on the left, though for modern workers it was the flat wire mill. The rod mill is on the right and stretches an equal distance behind me as in front of me. This is a universal landscape of industrial America, the landscape that Gropius idealized and aesthetized.  

A bridge was built here sometime between 1890 and 1895. There is a trick to this bridge, and for a long time it puzzled me. (text continued below)

The bridge does not end at the factory wall but continues across the bay to an attic-like space that runs above much of the length of the rod mill. Like this bridge, the bridge that crossed the tracks in 1895 reached well beyond the rail corridor to a narrow work shed which the map labels, “Burner Shop,” of "Wallace & Sons Manuf’rs of Brass and Copper Goods.” Men worked there on edging lathes, and in a press room. Was this the bridge that carried the finished burners across the tracks to the “Lamp Depart" and “Stock R’m” at about the time Edison and Tezla fought the battle of the currents in White City? (text continued below)

After White City was done glistening, factories became even more like big machines. The dark “dormer,” which casts it shadow beside the old rolling mill, is really the stub end of a missing bridge over which rode a monorail crane. The old crane is still parked inside the stub of the bridge (shown here:, and the track still runs down the length of the attic and turns right at the end of the rod mill. Once, it crossed the yard to the casting house, turned left and crossed back over the track, connecting finally to what used to be the rolling mill built by Ansonia Brass & Copper, the company started here by Anson Phelps. One can see both bridges for the first time in the 1921, aerial map of Ansonia ( The second monorail bridge is the covered bridge with the skylight and roof vents. Behind it is the two-story bridge of the Farrel sand elevator.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Inside the Three Gables


March 1-29 - Photos on exhibit at Silas Bronson Library, Waterbury 
Mar 22 @ 6 PM - Derby Neck Library, Derby
April 7-29 - Photos on exhibit at Hagaman Library, East Haven, CT
April 12 @ 6:30 - Beacon Falls Public Library
April 23 - "Picture It” visual harmony to  the Waterbury Symphony Orchestra 
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

[This is the continuation of a series of posts begun on this blog in December, 2015, concerning the rail corridor in Ansonia that runs through the last great mill sites of Brass Valley. Those interested in picking up from the beginning might start at, “Anyplace USA,” Dec. 22 blog post.]

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: I’m standing in the great space that ends in the Three Gables of American Brass, Ansonia, two of which lie in front of me. Readers of this blog will be familiar with the exterior; the windows at the end of this great central row of bays are stepped to match the incline of the cross-factory road, that rises from the riverside to the bridge across the canal and to Liberty Street. 

In tha back aisle late-day sun through skylights lights old stone foundations that hint at secrets of the work-sheds lineage. Between the rows of skylights I can’t see (but which I know are there) are the cupola vents with the pentangle finials; it is this space, beside tinning and riveting, about whose lineage I’ve been speculating. It is the oldest section of the mill site.

If I stood and looked this way in 1866, I would have been looking into the Wallace and Sons rolling mill as men and machines rolled brass that would be used for a hundred different items supporting the North. Back then there would have been walls where the columns march. Those columns and trusses were set in place between 1900 and 1906 as the property passed from Wallace & Sons, to Coe Brass, and was then quickly consolidated into the new American Brass Company. From the outside this building looks like a cluster of sheds, but from inside, except for the surviving riveting room which hangs over the eastern aisle, it is one space with three aisles of bays. 

Beneath the stepped windows, embedded in the factory wall, are the piled stones of the ramp, built to get over the canal to Liberty Street. It’s hard for me not to think of old man Wallace and his sons supervising the the laying of those stones to assure the easy commerce between upper and lower portions of his milll. Where the ramp reaches it’s greatest height, stone masons have carefully laid a heavy arch of stones over some tunnel, long ago bricked over. Where did it lead and why? Who once went there? On the other side of the ramp was Anson Phelps own brass mill.

However, the old stone wall beneath the cupola vents may be far older than the rolling mill, and the stones along the back wall, now splashed with late-day sun, seem even earlier than the stones of the ramp. They are larger and set with more care for fitting puzzle piece contours but with less concern for rising vertically, and somewhere a dozen or more feet behind them is the Ansonia canal, and it’s easy to believe Wallace & Sons set their early, two-story building on this site behind a dike wall that Almon and Franklin Farrel constructed to contain the canal they built for Anson Phelps on the founding of Ansonia. Almon and Franklin Farrel were laying the foundations of a future city, and the canal lured the industrialists and entrepreneurs to buy the metal Anson Phelps traded and which fueled 150 years of rising expectations and expanding opportunities amid work that was dirty and dangerous and purposeful.

[American Brass, Ansonia, flat wire mill; formerly the site of the original Wallace & Sons and later American Brass rolling mill.]

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Removing the Distributer Cups

On Exhibition Now & Throughout March

Six Images from the Casting House

photographic images by Emery Roth

slide-talk: March 10 at 6 PM

Silas Bronson Library
267 Grand Street
Waterbury, Connecticut

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL:  The distributer cups break the single flow of metal into small streams, as it flows into the molds, so that bubbles don’t form. They must be removed before the freshly poured billets can be pulled and set to cool. The last casting furnace stopped in December, 2013. The large prints in this exhibit try to capture the moods of the casting house in its last three years. It was at once one of the most beautiful and dirtiest places I've ever been.