Wednesday, March 15, 2017


Half way down the “nave” of the Farrel Foundry is the transept. That is where the metal was poured into molds made of sand. Workers associated in any way with the Farrel foundry usually have stories to tell. Grime, danger, and heroism seem to be widely remembered, and there is a special regard given those who poured the metal. Founders, casters and molders are the priesthood of the metals and machine industries. Once theywere alchemists whose coveted secrets imparted the spirit to the metal and on whose crystal magic all future success depended. 

In 1731 quality iron ore was discovered in Salisbury, CT, and by the mid-1740s they were producing pig iron in East Canaan, Salisbury, Sharon and Kent, and the Northwest HIlls had become the center of America's iron industry. By the time of the Revolution there was hardly a community in the region that had the power of a good stream that did not also have a puddling furnace for refining the impurities from the pig iron produced in blast furnaces. Local farmers forged the purified wrought iron into the tools they needed, and the region developed an expertise in metal working. But forging and founding were different arts, and the most precious secrets belonged to those who poured the metal.

With ores and metals of uncertain purity and the fluctuating heat of charcoal, coke or, later, coal, they learned to make fires that would sustain the high heat required and relied on their senses, knew by the sound or smell, when it was time to add ingredients or mix or pour. The region developed an experimental curiosity about making and working metal that grew to expertise and drew the metals industries to the Naugatuck Valley and to Connecticut.

I’ve been told that existing journals of Barnum & Richardson, with furnaces in East Canaan and Salisbury show deliveries of iron to the Farrel foundry right up through WWI and deliveries still being made as late as 1925, two years after the smelting operations had shut down. The last delivery of Connecticut iron came in 1941, exclusively made up of old pieces of salamanders probably for a widening Second World War. The superintendent who kept those journals was reportedly, "proud that ‘Salisbury' iron had served the country from the Revolution through WWII. 

The people of the Lower Valley are also quick to talk about Farrel’s past importance to the nation’s defenses, and I’ve been told the foundry was hidden in camouflage during WWII. Pigs of iron, whatever the source, were delivered here, to the transept, where the metal was poured.

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