“We used to always walk by and wonder about this place as kids. So when it went up for sale, we wanted to see the inside more than anything else. But once we came here we started to imagine what this could become.”
This is what Kevin Daly told me as he clicked open the padlock, and swung out the chain-link fence surrounding the future home of the Ball & Socket Arts Center. Kevin is the Co-Founder and Artistic Director of Ball & Socket, along with childhood friend and Co-Founder Jeffrey Guimond. Kevin was giving me a tour of the factory created around 1850 to produce buttons for Civil War uniforms, with continued production until the 1990s, when the company cleared out and moved to another location.
We strolled through a linked network of cavernous spaces, as Kevin transformed each new vista with a description of what it is to become. A large windowed hall with old buttons embedded in the wide-planked floor is the site of an art gallery, “maybe with some moveable walls” Kevin tells me, to overcome the lack of wall space for hanging visual art. Down the hall, the old furnace stands intact, ornamented with a handsome Ball & Socket insignia. The furnace will be preserved, and the immediate area will become a whiskey bar. A triangular wing of that building may become the future home of bike shop. Appropriate, since the room exits outdoors to the nearby Cheshire rail trail.
The Foundry/ Site of Future Whiskey Bar
I grew up not far from the Ball & Socket factory, just over the town border, in the Milldale section of Southington. In fact, the same rail that swings by the factory ran by my neighborhood (we could hear the trains at night) and I still have my prize penny that was flattened after laying overnight on the track. Behind the tracks were the closed old Clark Street factories, which piqued our curiosity as the old Ball & Socket building did Kevin and Jeffrey’s. In fact, as Kevin and I explored the complex, it felt like the old way that we would play outdoors, in between trees, declaring a room here, a grand staircase there, a secret passageway to a kitchen where you could have your favorite foods. The difference is: the Ball & Socket Arts organization is planning on spending 12 million dollars over the next few years to make those dreams a reality. So when Kevin shows me the site for a future teaching kitchen, dance studio, theater, shared co-working space, food court, shops, and more, I imagine the decayed floors, broken windows, and partially excavated foundation transformed into a modern arts complex the likes of which Connecticut has not seen before.
In the meantime, Ball & Socket has already turned another nearby space into a realized vision. Art Garage is just across the street—a former tow truck garage turned art gallery with white-washed walls and contemporary art.
Revolving shows are happening there at least until October, with open hours on the weekends. On October 3rd, Ball & Socket is raising funds with an Art Auction at Art Garage. Visit ballandsocket.org for more information about the auction and upcoming events at Art Garage, and some that will take place at the factory, even before the renovation is completed. If you find yourself near West Main Street in Cheshire, check in on Ball & Socket as the dream becomes reality.
This article will appear in the forthcoming September issue of The Arts Paper