Friday, December 30, 2016

Monday, December 19, 2016

Canal Bridge

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: It has been called the first "industrial park" in Connecticut, a place designed and built, not for a particular company or manufacturer, but with the aim of offering for sale multiple factory sites with power to turn machinery, and transportation to move goods for visionary manufacturing entrepreneurs. At it’s center was a five-and-a-quarter mile canal that allowed barges heaped with goods for market to more easily pass the falls and shallows below Enfield on the Connecticut River. 

In 1827, when work was begun, hopes were buoyed by the transformative success of New York's Erie Canal, two years earlier. Unlike that canal, where barges were pulled by draft animals along a tow path, the new canal was structurally reinforced to withstand steam-driven tug boat traffic. The project would open the single greatest bottleneck in the passage of goods along the Connecticut River all the way into Vermont, and it would sustain the commercial viability of Hartford against the competing interests of New Haven which were then at work on the Farmington Canal. Canals were being planned everywhere. There were plans for a canal between Albany and Boston.

The new canal would be designed with locks to raise and lower boats thirty feet along its course. It required the building of a large dam on the river and an aqueduct to carry canal water 104 feet across Stony Brook to feed apertures with steady flow past mill wheels at five factory sites. The passion to move goods by canal boat faded quickly as the steam that had begun powering tug boats along the Connecticut River began powering locomotives at greater speed with fewer interruptions over evenly graded tracks through the same valleys where the rivers flowed. Did this bridge once swing to admit visitors from the railroad to the right over a canal becoming less busy? Though the canal’s value for transportation diminished, it’s value for power generated increased as mill wheels became turbines and later as turbines turned electrical generators. The Windsor locks were a monumental undertaking; the first time Connecticut River water had powered mill wheels, one of the largest construction projects ever attempted in the state, and it grew to be a community.

[The Montgomery Company, Windsor Locks, CT - July, 2016]


Sunday, December 4, 2016

Factory Light

Come to the slide-talk, see the exhibition
Dec. 10 @ 1 PM, 
Minor Memorial Library, Roxbury, CT (just off Rt. 67)

slide-talk and book signing

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

Brazen Grit: Images of Brass Valley

photographs by Emery Roth

exhibit runs thru Jan. 7, 2017

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL (continuing the story of the Last Machine): At the opposite corner of this shed Art and Ben are disassembling the last machine. While they cut and scrap there, here their smoke filters through sunbeams that fall into a space built shortly after 1890. If we could slip between the decades to before the Civil War we’d find Anson Phelps old brass mill here, the one he built on the canal that brought power to the mill town he built and the town he created.

These mills have long been patchworks. I suppose it’s a measure of the vitality that kept them reconfiguring to meet changing demands. However, this shed, except for the back wall seemed uninterestingly new. I never paid attention to this shadowed corner, though I passed it daily. There is no sawtooth of rowed clerestories here, as elsewhere, to fill the aisle with light, and nothing ever happened here when I visited.

I try to imagine it in 1895 when it was the new casting shop for the company Anson Phelps had established here. There would have been furnaces, buggies full of coke and metal and radiating heat and danger. They built the new casting shop with a monitor roof beside the old one, closer to the tracks. The old one had been smack up against one side of the furnaces, and when the new Rolling Department shed was completed there would be space all around the furnaces. The 1895 tax map shows the new casting shop beside the old one which is labeled, “Vacant 16.” And the large muffle room beside the furnaces is labeled, “This building to be rebuilt at once.” By the 1900 map, the area that includes “vacant 16,” the furnaces, and the “Muffle Room” has been incorporated beneath a second monitor roof, long gone, that paralleled this one.  

The published maps let me travel back through one more layer of sooty shadows to 1884. No large furnaces are shown, but at the end of what I guess to be the old casting shop there is a single, small chimney. And on the spot of ground where these smokey sunbeams shine, Ansonia Brass & Copper had some sheds for storing lumber and coke beside the tracks.