Sunday, April 24, 2016

Through the Tunnel, No.3 - "Behind the Times"

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

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: Farrel Foundry & Machine Company has prospered and adapted, remaining vital across 160 years of change, and early buildings stand encrusted within expansions and repurposing that healed over awkward junctures never anticipated when the buildings were set parallel to Main Street, not Parallel to the railroad track. It would take an expert to peel back the layers of the onion to date each fantastic protrusion and bay, but at the bottom of geometry defying walls, bridges, catwalks and machinery, the old factory, road that circled the buildings before the Civil War and maybe before the railroad, still crosses the railroad siding remnants and ascends in shadows through two light wells to Main Street. Once understood, it is a journey through time more surprising than any amusement park fun house or tunnel of laughs.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Through the Tunnel N0.2, "Bodies in Motion"

Through the Tunnel, No.1

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

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: A full trip through the tunnel might begin here. Behind me the roll-down gate has rusted shut, but that’s where the yard locomotive could push a flat car, so workers in the machine shop above could roll back the wooden roll-top cover and lower giant, crated machine castings for assembly in factories near and far. They say one machine for crushing sugar in Cuba required 60 train cars on its way to the docks in Bridgeport and one whole ship to take it to Havana. 

Beyond the shadowy passageways on the left is where the original dirt road passed beneath the cantilevered corner of the machine shed above, and that road still continues by these sheds and turns and enters another portal where light first pierces inside the tunnel ahead.

Once this track rolled on through the next portal, where the tunnel continues behind a wall of ancient, paned glass, across the factory road and on past a new gate to a shed where a truck is the only object left in a roll shed where machinists and welders finished and packaged giant calenders and chilled iron rolls bound for copper mills and rubber mills and paper mills and plastic mills and sugar mills and anywhere that rolling was part of manufacturing, and the track continues beneath the intersecting bridge to the sand elevator into a final shed that ends where the Farrel property ends and American Brass abuts. The shed is marked on the 1911 map, “Heavy Machine Work,” and is still, today, surmounted by two massive sixty-ton cranes. 

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Sport Utility Vehicle

(continued from previous post) 

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: Once, broad-beamed wagons followed the old factory road beneath the first tunnel segments, and later yard engines pushed rail cars for loading and unloading there.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

The Tunnel

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: When I asked a native if there was a name for the odd, alley roadway that snakes beneath the Farrel Foundry & Machine Co., up the hill to the just where Main Street crossed the canal; a name for the lane that divides the Farrel foundry and roll shops to the north from the other Farrel machine shops to the south, the name was given instantly: “The Tunnel.” I suspect there’s history in that name. 

Had we stood with the men who surveyed for the insurance map of 1884, we might have noted a patchwork appearance, as now. However, many of the quirky details would have made sense. Of course there was no tunnel yet, and all the buildings north of the tunnel, the foundry and the large roll mills had not been built; it was just what we see from the green gable to the brick shed with the Farrel signage. Back then the green gable was the roll mill, and the back end of the brick shed was the foundry; this end was the machine shop. That was all there was and the dirt factory road that encircled it.

The surveyors might have ridden down the dirt factory road, which their map shows descending the hill from Main Street before passing under the corner of the building with the signage, on the right. The passage is there today, though the reason seems obscure. It is just behind the brick wall that supports the cantilevered corner of the work shed above. The wall is neatly reinforced and protected with iron trim against the abuses of haulers. 

The surveyors might have tied their horses there where they would not be frightened by a passing train? The corner is an odd detail, and the map makers chose an odd way to represent it graphically. The same graphic device appears twice more. The device is used to show the opening beneath the green gable where the old factory road passed under another corner of the shed, and it is used again where the road slips under one back corner of the shed's opposing gable, as the road ascends again to join North Main Street. No tunnel, just a dirt road to carry wagons underneath the work floor at three corners so heavy rolls and large machine parts might be lowered down and pigs and sand raised up.

It wouldn’t be until 1906 that a siding would extend beneath the building. The track is still there where it passes through the opening beneath the word Machine in the signage. From the start, the factory was designed as a kind of machine. By 1911 most of the foundry sheds north of the road were in use, and the track would enter beneath the gable where the factory road had previously run, and continue across a yard and into a new, narrow shed designated for, “Heavy Machine Work,” beyond the sand elevator bridge.

And so the factory road had to be moved to the outside and allowed to cross the track outside the building to follow it’s old course back to Main Street even as factory passages crossed over it, enveloped it, and narrow stairways and passages opened onto it, and eventually the the final yard would be filled in between the factory road and the bridge to the sand elevator, and the factory road would enter a third opening, as it does today, where cars routinely cross blindly over the siding. It is the bottom gateway to the tunnel.

NOTE: If you were unable to clearly see small details referred to above, be assured the original from which it is made is a stitched pan which may be printed up to about 14 feet in length.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Pig Dinosaur

PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL: The Carrie Blast Furnaces, part of Andrew Carnegie's Homestead Steel Works along the Monongahela River above Pittsburgh, are awe inspiring for many reasons, not least because workers fed raw materials to a ceaseless conveyor into the furnace blast at one end while other workers withdrew liquid slag and pig iron in equal measure at the other, a balanced blast system running uninterrupted for periods of 4 to 8 years, fed by a constant flow of trains and barges and systems of overhead cranes and conveyors, unless all was stopped by a strike.

On Sunday I spent five hours at what is left of the Carrie Furnaces in a photo shoot made possible by Abandoned America Photo Workshops. My thanks to Matthew Christopher who does the leg work to make such shoots possible.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Brass Skyline

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL:  Anson Phelps played an important role in the creation of three of Brass Valley’s industrial mill cities: Torrington, Derby, and Ansonia, but because he was a metals trader and therefore also often a banker, he was known, and his influence was felt everywhere in Brass Valley. However, this city, which takes his name, was his consummate enterprise, and he died in 1853, before the end of Ansonia's first decade, but the beginnings of skyline were not far off.

The skyline of a city has many secrets known to its residents, but out of reach to those, like me, who never “skinned" their knees as children there. Other secrets lie hidden in plain site to locals, and it sometimes takes the outsider to at least give them a nod. When I speak of “Ansonia’s Skyline,” if listeners don't pass the phrase over as idle nonsense, they ask, “Ansonia has a skyline?” 

Ansonia’s skyline is a history of it’s creation. The stack at the back marks where Anson Phelps put his brass mill when the canal was dug in 1845 (still there), that once passed all the way through the middle of town. The next stack marks the back edge of the Farrel Foundry & Machine Company. Anson Phelps hired Almon Farrel to build the canal from the Kinneytown Dam to provide reliable power for his community of entrepreneurs. The railroad was coming, and the future of the valley looked bright. Almon Farrel put his own mill here, and Farrel Foundry & Machine Company grew prosperous manufacturing industrial equipment for the Valley and the world, and it is still at work inside the brick sheds near the center. However, the brick sheds partially conceal wood sheds that were already arming soldiers as the town grew through the Civil War. Peel the skyline like an onion and find layers of stories.

By the 1870s the town was in need of a meeting room. Immigrants were arriving, the town was growing, and a group of townsmen saw a chance to provide a service the town needed and maybe earn a profit, and they hired a rising young architect to build the town a finely detailed Opera House of red brick with a whimsical cornice, seen here from the back. It provided a large space for everything from roller-skating to weddings and high school graduation and became the essential meeting place in town. At the same time, up the street, newly settled Irish workers, having finished long shifts in the mills, spent the hours afterward digging a foundation so Ansonia could have its own Catholic church. In a generation the church had become cramped even after the Italian Catholics moved to their own church. The second Church of the Assumption, which stands above town, was completed in 1907 and tells the world how Ansonia had changed.

Just below the Church of the Assumption is the Ansonia Armory, built between 1919 and 1921. The town was growing; the Opera House was too small, and there was so much more one could do with an armory. Local newspapers reveal it was a valuable town facility in times of war and peace, a place for policemen’s balls, Veterans’ dinners, and automobile shows, for expositions on progress and for food banks; it was a place for the drills of EMTs, brass bands, units and brigades, and it was the home of the Purple Heart Association. It’s worth noting that it was built at a time of union busting and civil unrest with barracks to house troops to do what they had to do to prevent a repeat of the 1919 strikes.

Of skinned-knee memories, few can be passed on, they lie in our nostrils and on our tongues and at the edges of our eyes and are harder to convey. Those who were ten and remember antediluvian Ansonia are my age now, and these things are far older. However buildings from the past that were built for the ages connect us with time, lest we scatter like weeds.