Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Mile Long No More

Driving down Thomaston Avenue yesterday, I had to stop and take photos. The old Chase Metal Works is disappearing rapidly.

The Metal Works factory complex was built starting in 1910 (expansion was constant for years, partly because the company's production increased during World War I). The entire Chase complex of buildings sprawled over 211 acres in two towns. The bed of the Naugatuck River was re-routed to make room for the factory. By the 1940s, the plant was nearly a mile long, rivaling Scovill’s mile-long mill (now the Brass Mill Mall).

A portion of Chase Metal Works in the 1930s.
The section currently being torn down is in the upper center and right of center in this photo.
(Collection of Mattatuck Museum)

Roger Freeman, MIT graduate, was the construction engineer for the Chase Companies. He put together a construction team of about a dozen assistant engineers and four hundred laborers. The engineers included another six graduates of MIT; the others were from Dartmouth, Rensselaer and Yale. In a report to his alumni newsletter, Freeman reported that they designed and built reinforced concrete and structural steel factory buildings for the Metal Works and for Chase Rolling Mills and Waterbury Manufacturing  over two years’ time during WWI. The last concrete building was a six-story flat slab structure, 200 feet by 60 feet, constructed at a pace of six days per floor.  

The factory building with the sawtooth roof was constructed in 1916 and was considered very modern at the time. It was a challenge for the Metal Works’ Chief Engineer, John E. Williams, to heat the building. He wrote in 1928 that “the amount of glass used in its roof of modern saw-tooth construction and its huge rooms, make the heating a serious question for consideration by the modern engineer.” He solved the problem by installing a then-unique heating system connecting over 78 miles of hot water pipe directly onto the condensers in the power house.

In October 1915, Chase Metal Works reported that they had begun work on several additions to its facilities: a one-story brick and steel factory building, 140 x 180 feet; three two-story additions, 60 x 260 feet, 60 x 320 feet, and 60 x 120 feet; two two-story brick additions, 60 x 160 feet and 60 x 200 feet; and two other additions, 60 x 80 feet and 60 x 120 feet.

Seeing it being torn down, I felt like it was the end of an era. But what era? Chase shut down the Metal Works factory in 1976. The only thing ending now is the era of abandoned factory buildings. However, without those visual relics, the past will seem more distant and unrelated to our present.


alexandracabral@sapo.pt said...

I'm Alexandra Cabral, I' m portuguese and I'm searching information about my grand-grand father who lived and died in Waterbury.
His name was Henry Gaspar dos Santos, born in 1879 in Portugal.
In the World War Draft registation I found he worked in Chase Brass and Copper company. His mailing address was 1225 Thomaston Avenue.
I like very much your informations about his workplace.
Could you tell me if you know,please, how can I find informations about my grand grand father's life?
Alexandra Cabral

OLDAZE5647..... said...

I grew up in Thomaston and Oakvile in the 60's and travelled Thomaston Av. regularly, although Chase was in decline it was still in operation. As a child in the back seat of my parents car I was fascinated by the Red Neon Chase Centaur logo and the sawtoothed building. I am saddened that it has all been tore down, but the memories live on as I have been collecting Chase Art Deco items from the 30's. Thanks for posting these pics!