Waterbury: A Challenge for Community and Economic Developers

Waterbury’s clock tower rises above burned-out section of American Brass building

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American Brass was one of Waterbury’s “Big Three” brass manufacturing firms. American was formed in 1893 as a holding company for six brass firms and by 1909, American manufactured two-thirds of all the brass produced in the United States and consumed one-third of all the copper produced in the county. American was bought by in 1922 by the Anaconda Copper Mining Corporation and was merged into Anaconda’s other businesses in 1960. Thenceforth known as Anaconda American Brass, the name which adorns the facade of the Freight Street rolling mill, the company continued as an entity of gradually lessening importance until all operations were moved out of state.

The American Brass complex lies on a parcel of land between Freight and West Main Streets not far from downtown. The majority of the buildings were constructed in 1910. These include a single-story 150,000 square foot rolling mill on Freight Street and a smaller three story structure located at the foot of Crane Street. I explored both of these buildings during my two trips to the site. Environmental Waste Resources, a hazardous waste disposal company, operated out of the complex during the 1980s. Phoenix Soil, another waste disposal company, rented the facility from 1992 until 2012, when they moved their operations to Plainville, CT. It has sat vacant since.

Exterior and interior of Crane Street building

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Some of the American buildings were razed to make way for a small strip mall anchored by a Walgreens store. This mall also contains a liquor store and auto parts store and is frequented by panhandlers. If you park in the mall lot and walk past the Kentucky Fried Chicken, the Crane Street building comes into view. Chances are, you will be able to walk into the building without attracting the attention of passers-by. There are no fences or signs warning against trespassing. This building is three stories but the main portion is one large open space. It is possible to climb to the second story of the building but rotting floors and hordes of wasps make it difficult to reach the top floor.

From the Crane Street building, it is possible to walk through the lot to the rolling mill. This is a large wide-open structure where some of Phoenix Soil machinery can be seen. There are 55-gallon drums and 50,000 gallon tanks near a large apparatus of undetermined usage. The rest of the space is vacant, and water has fallen through the gaps in the decaying roof creating a large pool in one portion of the building. I ended my exploration here. There is another structure located to the north but I elected not to check it out as there was activity in the area.

Exterior and interior of rolling mill

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Post written by former Extension intern, John McDonald. More of John’s writing can be seen at writtenonthelandscape.wordpress.com