In 1824, prosperous gunsmith Asa Waters II set out to build the stateliest residence in the country. It took two full years to amass the necessary materials for what is now known as the Asa Waters Mansion and Mr. Waters spared no expense. Asa Waters II (1769-1841) was born in Millbury in 1813 to Asa Sr. and Sarah Waters. Asa earned the art of gunsmithing from his father, and in 1808 the junior Asa and his brother Elijah opened the Waters & Co. Armory along the banks of the Blackstone River, in what is now Millbury Center. Following the untimely death of his brother in 1814, Asa Waters carried on the business solo and secured lucrative arms contracts with the United States government. His invention of a lathe to turn gun barrels into the first seamless barrels revolutionized the manufacture of guns throughout the world, and provided his company a stockpile of cash. As a result, he hired Boston-based architect Asher Benjamin, to design a country house suitable of his stature. The mansion features two prominent facades with the primary distinguished by a colonnade of fluted two-story columns with composite capitals. The mansion remained in the Waters Family until 1929, when it was sold to the Roman Catholic Diocese of Worcester, as a rectory of a local church. In 1977 the Town of Millbury acquired the Asa Waters Mansion, and with little funding to maintain the property; in 1994, the Asa Waters Mansion had fallen into quite a bit of disrepair. The town proposed to demolish the mansion for a parking lot, but a group of locals worked together as the Asa Waters Task Force and petitioned to save the house: funds were raised, tradesmen in the community donated materials and labor. Saving the architectural landmark for generations to come.
Located in downtown Millbury, MA, the town’s local post office stands as a great example of Art Deco and Colonial Revival architecture styles, showing how well different styles can be incorporated into a single, complimentary design. The Millbury Post Office building was constructed in 1940 from plans by Louis Adolph Simon, who served as Supervising Architect in the Office of the Supervising Architect for the U.S. Treasury from 1933 until 1939, when the office was moved to the Public Works Administration / Works Progress Administration. The post office was designed at the tail end of the New Deal programs to help stimulate local economies by building infrastructure and providing jobs to locals. Inside, a mural “An Incident in the King Philip’s War, 1670” was painted by Joe Lasker and installed in 1941 and was “revivified” in 1991.
Elijah Waters (1773-1846), a hardscrabble farmer in West Millbury inherited his father’s large farm and resided there for over thirty years before wanting something more his style. Unmarried and without children, Elijah (who was 72 at the time), had this impressive Greek Revival farmhouse constructed near his old family homestead. He was possibly looking to spend money saved up and without a wife or heirs to will it to. The massive temple-front Greek Revival mansion has a stunning doorway and six columns supporting a projecting pediment. Within a year after the home was built, Elijah died. The home was willed to his nephew, Jonathan Waters. The house is for sale for $384,000 which is a STEAL!
The Cunningham Block in Millbury was constructed by, and named for Winthrop P. Cunningham (1820-1895), and his son and business partner, Russell Clark Cunningham (1845-1907). Winthrop Cunningham had come to Millbury in about 1837 and worked for Waters, Flagg & Harrington prominent gun manufacturers in town. His foundry work there brought him into a partnership with Matthias Felton in the Millbury Foundry Company. The Cunningham Block is sited on a prominent corner lot and built into the slope of the hill which drops down toward the river. I am especially fond of the curved corner facade and repetition of the paired round-arched windows on the second floor.
William “Willie” Winfred Windle (yes that is a real name) was born in Millbury at the height of the town’s industrial growth and prosperity. He ran the W.W. Windle Mill just west of downtown and with his wealth, was able to buy a house lot on one of the most fashionable residential streets in town. His home was built in the early 20th century and is a stunning example of Tudor Revival architecture. In 1911, Windle traveled to England to inspect mills there and was likely inspired by some of the residential architecture he viewed on the trip. The house elegantly blends stone walls with half-timbered wood, with a prominent entry. The timber and stone entrance porch which has decorative bargeboard and corbels, has been enclosed. The home remained in the Windle family at least into the 1940s, when it was occupied by William Winfred Windle’s son, Winfred Woodward Windle. By the 1970s, the home was occupied as the Millbury Society of District Nursing.
One of the many large brick mills in Millbury, the S&D Spinning Mill (originally Singletary Mill) sits on Singletary Brook, which historically provided power for the facility. The four-story mill building was constructed in 1846 and is believed to be the oldest extant mill structure in town. Beginning in the late 1820s, successive textile mills used the waterpower here, including the companies: Singletary Manufacturing Company, the Boston & Millbury Company, and Farnum & Jenks. Fires destroyed all mills on this site, sometimes within just a couple years of each other. The last mill was destroyed in 1846, and Mowry Farnum, who owned the site, rebuilt a brick mill here, which is what we see today. After a couple companies occupied the building, the Mayo Woolen Company (which was featured on here previously) purchased this mill in 1910, and renamed the structure Mayo Mill No. 2. In 1961 a newly formed company, S&D Spinning Mill Inc. occupied the building. They are best-known today as the sole-manufacturer of the yarn which fills Major League Baseballs! Manufacturing is not dead in New England!
A short distance to the Lapham Woolen Mill, this historic fire station can be found right on the street in Bramanville, an industrial village in Millbury, MA. The fire station was built in 1883 by the Lapham Woolen Mill owners as an insurance protection from fire and complete loss of their lucrative business. After Lapham’s death in 1893, the company sold the mill, worker’s housing, store and fire station to the Mayo Woolen Company which began production almost immediately. Sadly, like many former industrial buildings nearby, the future is unclear for this amazing old building. What would you repurpose the Bramanville Fire Station into?
In western Millbury, the Grass Hill school was constructed to provide a place of learning for children in the agricultural section of town. The district school, a remnant of the system of autonomous school districts that characterized the educational system of Massachusetts in the 19th century, this is a larger example of many of them. West Millbury had many wealthy farmers and they financed a district school here as far back as 1814. After two earlier, smaller school buildings, this two-story school was erected and was one of the most substantial. At one time, students in eight grades taught there, all at the same time, with grades 1-4 downstairs and 5-8 upstairs. As there weren’t many students, each grade only took up one or two rows. The building remained as a school for the town until 1968, and the building was leased to the Millbury Historical Society long term. They just completed a massive restoration project for the building, it looks great!
I have gotten a lot of requests recently to feature an old New England mill town, and I wanted to highlight a lesser-known one, so here is Millbury, Massachusetts! This gorgeous mill building was constructed between 1879-1919, impacted by over forty years of growth and design. The Lapham Woolen Mill is the largest and most intact 19th century industrial building in Millbury and sits in the middle of Bramanville, an industrial village in the town, off Singletary Brook, a branch of the Blackstone River. The Lapham Woolen Mill was built on the location of the former Burbank paper mills, which were in operation in Bramanville between 1775-1836. The Lapham Woolen Mill was started in the mid-1870s by Mowry A. Lapham, who oversaw the company’s growth after the Civil War, manufacturing clothing and other woolen goods. After Mowry’s death, the company’s pollution into the brook got the best of them and they disbanded, selling it. The mill was then purchased by Josiah and Edward Mayo, and their business partner Thomas Curtis. The group renamed the existing business the Mayo Woolen Company. The complex was occupied by Steelcraft Inc., a manufacturer of medical supplies, until recently. The building’s future was threatened until 2020, when a proposal to restore the old mill, and add new housing on the site was proposed. Fingers and toes are crossed to see this gorgeous building restored!
Not just your typical white New England church here… this one was moved! This church was built in 1804 in the north parish of Sutton (present day Millbury, Massachusetts). In the 1700s, the members of the northern part of Sutton petitioned to have a parish church of their own, rather than trekking across the large town to gather for town meetings and religious purposes. They were permitted to erect a parish church inn 1743, and built a church. The building was replaced in 1804, thanks to the wealth and new members of town moving there for manufacturing. Years later, the parish petitioned the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to have the North Parish of Sutton become the town of Millbury, due to the difference in needs being a mill town compared to Sutton’s more pastoral living, and they were designated as a town in 1813. The first town meeting of Millbury was held at First Congregational Church of Millbury that year on the town common. As industry along the Blackstone River picked up, so came waves of workers, many of whom were recent immigrants to New England. It was soon decided that the town church should relocate to provide a new center for town. In 1835, this church was moved about a mile away and erected high on a hill, in Bramanville village, a bustling industrial village. The church has remained in its location in Bramanville, even after the town center again moved, this time eastward to its present location. The Greek Revival style church elegantly reflects the significance of ecclesiastical buildings in early New England towns.