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