History of the Button Factory

History of the Button Factory

By Gary Metras

By the time the button factory
depleted all the fresh water mussel shells
from three rivers and was about to shut down,

the Civil War began. It switched
to ripping up earth and blasting rocks
to mine tin and lead, to manufacture

buttons for uniforms and bullets for death.
Everyone in the factory smiled for years
as they paid bills, got married, bought land.

Their kids graduated high school
instead of working farms or mines.
The owner and managers’ sons

went to Harvard and Yale, became lawyers
and politicians, who voted for more war.
But after the war, the factory closed.

The owner retired, spent months
at his summer home in the woods of Vermont.
Some wage workers got jobs at the new

shoe factory, others stayed home
watching their tomatoes grow
as their wives went to work at the thread mill,

while others just drank and died.
When the owner died, his granddaughters
funded the town library in his name.

Today, the factory dam on the river
still keeps shad and herring from spawning.
And people hike the gully far upstream

marveling at nature’s beauty,
not knowing it was once a rolling hill side
until the button factory tore it apart

and scattered the waste around the town
and in the three rivers where children
sometimes catch a funny colored bass.


This poem originally appeared in Peace & Planet News.

One Response to History of the Button Factory

  1. Malcolm Sharps says:

    A short history of a button factory, it has to be good. I’ve been back to this poem 3 times and it has something, I think it’s in the selection of details and the way the great and the small aspects of life level out.