Mayor: Federal money cleaning up old Star Pin site in Shelton

SHELTON — Millions of dollars in federal funds and private investment will bring new life to what was the historic Star Pin factory site devastated by fire nearly nine months ago, Mayor Mark Lauretti said.

The federal government has provided $2 million, Lauretti said, to clean up the property, once home to a 145-year-old structure but now sequestered from the area by a fence restricting access to the gutted, contaminated site.

“This property should be ready to go in couple months to begin a new work program,” Lauretti said while walking along Canal Street East, adding that “we look forward to more productivity along Canal Street.”

The fire destroyed the six-story vacant brick building on the banks of the Housatonic River in a blaze that burned for hours with asbestos billowing from the site and falling, like snow, along the immediate area. The property was known to contain lead, PCBs and asbestos.

The cause remains under investigation, according to Fire Marshal James Tortora.

Lauretti said the city had taken the property in a tax foreclosure three years earlier — the prior owner owed the city nearly $700,000 in back taxes when he vacated the building — with the intent to restore and rehabilitate it and return to the tax rolls.

“Buildings like this are not anything new to Connecticut or the northeast of the United States,” Lauretti said. “Once upon a time we made everything in the world in this great state, and Shelton is part of that equation.

“When all that changed, these buildings became abandoned and run down and became a blight and a drag on the tax tolls,” the mayor said.

Lauretti said new construction on both sides of the railroad tracks over the years has resulted in more tax money coming to the city. The Star Pin site would be another property turned from eyesore to asset.

“We’ve done this for 28 years,” Lauretti said, adding that, overall, the city has brought some $23 million in federal money to rehab contaminated old factory sites all along Canal Street. “Shortly after this fire at Star Pin, the federal government, through DEP, approached me and wanted to participate in the cleanup. That was welcome news to me and the city.”

The fire came three months after the city agreed to sell the property to Primrose Companies, owned by John Guedes, for $500,000. At that time, Guedes told officials he would be submitting plans to convert the building into 77 market-rate studios and one-bedroom apartments.

The Board of Aldermen approved the sale in March 2020. Lauretti stated that the fire has forced the city to start the process from scratch and while he expects Guedes to remain the buyer, the purchase price and development plans will be different.

Guedes said, on his end, the scope of the project will be different now the building is gone but the intent remains the same — to continue the redevelopment of Canal Street into a vibrant piece of the city’s downtown.

“I can’t implement the design I had envisioned when I started putting this together,” Guedes said, adding that his plans included refurbishing the historic structure. He said one possibility is constructing a new building — with a similar number of units — that attempts to mimic the old structure.

“I’m excited about this project … about the rebirth of Canal Street and the downtown,” Guedes said.

As part of the original deal, Guedes said he had planned to purchase a neighboring lot for parking. With the building now gone, he can design a building with parking underneath, he said. The prior plan using the original structure did not allow for under-building parking, he said.

In 2019, the state Department of Economic and Community Development approved a $750,000 grant for remediation of hazardous building materials at the site. The grant money was earmarked for lead, PCBs and asbestos removal from the 118,000-square-foot building. Work was under way when the fire occurred.

Over the past 30 years, the property housed a variety of manufacturing firms, some of which conducted plating operations. The property has been largely vacant over the past 15 years and age and weather were beginning to exact a toll on the building’s structural integrity, officials said.

The Star Pin company was founded on Sept. 25, 1866. Its first location was along the Far Mill River in the Wells Hollow area of Shelton. The company moved to Canal Street in 1875. After more than a century, the company closed its doors in December 1977.

Star Pin manufactured pins, hair pins and hooks and eyes for clothing. Its peak came during the 1920s, when 400 employees toiled there. By the early 1950s, the company also produced folding paper boxes and numbered 140 employees.

According to, one of the founders and early officers of the company, James C. Hubbard, is credited with inventing one of the first automated hair pin making machines in the United States.

Hubbard’s son, Henry Franklin Hubbard, joined the company during the 1890s and was active with the firm for 57 years. During his time, he attained the title of “dean of American pin makers,” after designing the machine that produced the first “bobby pins.”