Thursday, February 23, 2017

Cathedral Space

4 slide-talks in March

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

exhibits also in Millbrook, NY and Milford, CT
Brazen Grit: Images of Brass Valley

photographs by Emery Roth

Mar. 4 @ 2 PM Merritt Bookstore, Millbrook, NY (Come also to see the exhibition)

Mar. 12 @ 4 PM - Wilton Public Library (part of series: "Finding our Place: Evolving American Identity")

Mar. 20 @ 7 PM - Milford Public Library, Milford, CT (Come also to see the exhibition)

Mar 27 @ 6 PM - Cheshire Public Library

PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL: Foundry Collapse! The news of the building collapse at Farrel Foundry came with the city's commitment to demolish it. The story seemed to pass through the news cycle causing barely a blip, even among those of us who care about such places. By the next day it was gone. 

Demolition is probably long overdue, but it seems irreverent to let it pass without memorialization of some sort. Farrel Foundry was recognized as “the archetypal foundry building of its day,” and it was probably the largest machine tool foundry in New England. It was surely the Valley’s grandest industrial cathedral.

The foundry was built in the early 1890s by the Berlin Iron & Bridge Co. The enormous basilica was the culmination of the family company that Franklin Farrel inherited from his father in the town whose dam and canal they had built together in the employ of Anson Phelps almost a half century earlier. Almon Farrel was a millwright who had been building millworks and mill dams for new industry up the river in Waterbury, when he was asked by Anson Phelps to build the millworks for an industrial village that would be named Ansonia. 

In 1847, two years before there was a railroad, Almon Farrel acquired a tract of land from Anson Phelps, plus “one half square foot of permanent water,” from the canal the Farrels had built. Farrel began by making brass and iron castings, wooden mortise gears and parts for water-powered plants.

Essential to industrial growth in America was the ability to cast the metal parts needed for the machines of manufacturing. Soon Farrel was manufacturing the rolling mill equipment for the rapidly expanding copper and brass industries up and down the valley, and as the river valley became famous as Brass Valley, industries that used brass parts wanted to be near the companies that made them, and some of them would need machines that Farrel made. 

The central aisle of Farrel's foundry is 55 feet across with wide side aisles. From the start, an important feature was an immense traveling crane that spanned the central aisle and traveled the full 300 foot length (soon extended) of the shed. By the 1890s, this was the key to moving the heavy rolls that Farrel was making and assembling in calenders for rolling paper, rubber, and metal, and for crushing stone, ore, sugar and grain; anywhere large, hard, metal rolls were needed in giant sizes. 

The crane girders were carried on unusual, round, iron columns, three feet in diameter and tapering gracefully. But for their color, one might expect to find them on the portico of a Congregational church. One of these columns can be seen clearly on the right. The crane at the back of the picture, one of two that were there when this picture was made, is rated at 60 tons.

At the midpoint of foundry nave is a transept, just behind where the duct is broken off on the right. That is where the heating and pouring of the metal happened in three great casting pits. The art of heating, mixing, pouring and, especially, cooling the metal required secrets coveted by the alchemists who ran the casting furnaces. From the beginning, the men who cast the metal and the places where they cast it were regarded with a special reverence. What should be said at its passing? What token of its existence should be passed to future generations?

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