Waterbury Brass

Waterbury Brass

Long ago this region was founded upon brass, an industrious calling which found a great many factories sprouting along the banks of Mad River, replacing the tall marsh grasses and wildflower as it winds through the city of Waterbury, Connecticut. The backbone of the city remains to this day, though it has long been broken, now little more than weathering brick-red protrusions which stand above the shallow skyline.

From atop the bluff which the abandoned Holy Land theme park sits you can truly see the scope of how industrious Waterbury was during its prime, an era which can be more-or-less pinpointed to have began when the city was contracted to supply the United States military with the buttons needed for their uniforms during the War of 1812. Quickly the city became known as the brass capital of the country, a title which it held for well over a century, until the eventual collapse of the city's brass industry, which was all but a memory to most by the late 1970's.

We visited several sites on this chilly spring day, but focused primarily on the home of the once-famous Waterbury Button Company from the 1840's until its eventual purchase and re-branding to Waterbury Companies Inc. in 1945. The company still exists today, though in a markedly different form, with its headquarters across town from its former home on the edge of Mad River.

What greeted us within the hulls of the old factories was not unexpected - Severely decayed wood hung on loose supports which dangled from equally decayed brick walls. The steel skeletons and fireproof stairwells of the buildings were, by and large, the sole elements keeping these structures from utter collapse. All around were signs of vagrants, heaps of trash, and graffiti several generations thick. Not much remains of the industrious purpose which once called these streets home, or the American-made pride which emanated from it. In its stead we find literal mounds of trash and disused needles. The symbolism is obvious, and thus we see no point in dwelling upon it here.

Room after room, corridor after corridor, we experienced the same scene - Destruction, both man-made and natural, dotted with a few faded reminders of what once was. A repetitive and sobering pulse of ruin. However, in one of the larger structure we came upon an unexpected sight. At the bottom of a stairwell, just barely visible in the murky shadows, we spotted the shoulders of a torso protruding above the debris. Luckily this day we were joined by both Lerch and Vacant New Jersey, long-time colleagues of ours, who we have joined in numerous outings through the years. Together we stepped outside into the daylight to gather our thoughts, and prepare ourselves for the very real possibility that we were about to uncover a corpse in the derelict warehouse building. We decided that the best course of action was to immediately return and check to see if the person was alive, and if they were, see if they required aid. Walking back up the dark hallway we hoped against reality that the body would somehow have vanished during our short hiatus, but it remained. Long ago the stairs had been removed from this stairwell, and the landing which the torso now lay in was a drop of several feet onto a questionable pile of rubble and broken glass. We approached the edge of the cement flooring and yelled down, preying for a response. Silence. We yelled again, this time informing them that we were not police, but if they were indeed hurt, we would have to call it in. This garnered a reply, mumbled as it were. Slowly the body before us stood up and dusted themselves off. 

We helped him climb out of the hole, while he explained that he thought we were security and had hid away as to not be discovered. He then hugged us, and thanked us for being concerned enough to make sure he was safe. After a few minutes of small talk he said he was taking our chance meeting as a sign to move on and stay away from the property for good. His words seemed genuine, and we hope he did manage to find himself in a better way since our meeting.

 The old roof vent still spun freely, rusted metal screeching with every passing breeze.

 A small length of track remains, ruined as the factory it once ran to.

 The cross of Holy Land stands, just barely visible on the far hilltop.

 You never really know what you'll come across.