The site along the southern bank of the Souhegan River in East Wilton, NH has been the location of successive mills since 1814. These wooden mills were wiped out by fire, and the land was vacant until 1882, when members of the mill-owning Colony family of Keene, NH bought the site for a new cotton mill. That year they built a three-story brick mill building atop a raised basement level. Colony Bros., the company, began their manufacturing in early 1883. They produced woolen flannel and other woolen goods and employed 70 workers in the factory. The building was powered by steam and water from the adjacent Souhegan River. In 1894, the Colony Bros. mill passed into the hands of Philip Amidon, who formed the Wilton Woolen Company, who produced everything from traditional woolen goods to the finest cashmere. In 1932, the struggling mill was purchased by the Abbotts, owners of two local mills and others in Massachusetts. Abbott Worsted produced a very fine finished cloth, with much of their product going to New York City where it was made into fine men’s suits. The building was later purchased in 1971 by Leonard Peterson, to house his growing company, Label Art. The company has for many years been a nationwide distributor of pressure sensitive labels. Their occupancy likely saved the buildings from the wrecking ball, like so many others did at the time!
Oh, and how cute is the 1885 office for the mill?! The date is found in the brickwork!
The first ready-to-use axes produced in the United States came from the Connecticut-based Collins Company, which was founded in the early 1800s. Prior to the firm’s establishment, consumers either purchased unground axes imported from Europe or looked to a local blacksmith who, along with his other activities, might also make axe heads. The Collins Company factory opened in 1826 by Samuel W. and David C. Collins, with the purchase of an old gristmill and a few acres of land along the Farmington River in Canton. As the company grew, the village of South Canton grew around it, and was later renamed Collinsville after the company (imagine if we had Starbuckstown or Walmartville!) In the 1840s, the company expanded and sold internationally with their machete; it sold more than 150 varieties of machetes in 35 countries, supplying 80% of the world’s machetes at that time. In the 1860s, the company built several dams along the Farmington River to produce hydroelectric power to run its factory. It saw steady growth during World Wars I and II. However, after the Flood of 1955 wiped out the railroad line, the company could not match the foreign competition. Portions of the business were sold to the Stanley Works in New Britain and to other firms. In 1966, the Collins Company closed after 140 years in business. Some of the old buildings along the river have since been demolished, others left vacant. Some have been repurposed into other uses, thankfully.
In 1823, the Newmarket Manufacturing Company built its first mill along the Lamprey River, dominating the waterfront and the economy of Newmarket, New Hampshire. Harnessing water power at the base of the falls, the cotton textile manufacturing community grew to include seven textile mills, with factory buildings, a machine shop, office, storage buildings, and corporate boarding houses; totaling some 140 buildings in all. During its peak production, 700 employees made up to 300,000 yards of cotton products each week, and 2.7 million yards of silk cloth each year. The mills operated continuously at this site until 1929 when a dispute between mill owners and workers erupted leading to their closure. Between 2010 and 2012, eight large mill buildings within the Newmarket Manufacturing Company property underwent a conversion to mixed use, including residential, retail, and office units, thanks to Historic Preservation Tax Credits, and many professionals who worked together with the vision to see such a large project through. Today, the complex is a excellent case-study on the power of adaptive reuse and historic preservation.
In 1886, Hopedale, Massachusetts separated from Milford, almost entirely due to the young, and successful Draper Corporation growing in The Dale village of town. When George and Eben Draper succeeded in creating their own town of Hopedale, with their factory at the center, it gave the Draper brothers almost complete control over the development of a 3,547 -acre community. In the ensuing decades the factory village of Hopedale became a “model” company town. The Draper Corporation controlled every aspect of the town and worker life in a paternalistic program that extended beyond social structure to include architecture and urban planning of the village, with the company developing hundreds of homes for workers, a town hall, library, churches, schools, and recreational facilities, generating an entire town centered around the industrial giant. Draper Corporation originally made doors, window sashes and blinds and ran a printing office, but they discovered early on that their most profitable business was making textile machinery. By 1892, with the advent of the Northrop Loom, Draper became the largest producer of textile machinery in the country! Due to their success at the end of the 19th century, much of the complex was built and rebuilt in fire-proof brick factory buildings with large windows to allow light and air into the facilities. Draper’s dominant position within the textile machine manufacturing industry began to erode shortly after World War II, and the company began to sell its company houses to their occupants as private homes in 1956. During the 1960s American textile machinery makers such as Draper lost their technological leadership to foreign manufacturers due to cheap labor, and the general American textile industry collapsed. The plant eventually closed in 1980, and has sat vacant until the bulldozers came this year. The site is undergoing a full demolition, which is striping this town of its historic heart. It is truly sad to see.
Founded in 1835, Paine’s Furniture Company was at one time the largest furniture manufacturer and dealer in New England and had a nationwide business. The company was founded by Leonard Baker Shearer, who was joined in business in 1845 by John S. Paine, his son-in-law. Upon the death of Shearer in 1864, the name of the firm was changed to Paine’s Furniture Company. The company occupied a couple wooden and metal buildings on this site in the Bulfinch Triangle until a fire destroyed the complex. The growing firm took this opportunity to hire one of the most successful architect Gridley J. F. Bryant who worked with a colleague, Louis P. Rogers, to design the fire-proof building. The Second Empire style building with mansard roof was split into three sections with the rear two rented out to other companies, while Paine’s occupied the south-facing (main) facade. When Paine’s moved to their new building in the Back Bay, they sold this building and later alterations severely diminished the original design of the building. The current hodgepodge of alterations creates a mess of what was once an undeniable architectural landmark.
The Dexter Richards and Sons Woolen Mill is the last surviving textile mill in Newport, New Hampshire. It was one of the city’s largest and most successful industries and employers. Built in 1905 on the banks of the Sugar River – which supported industrial activity as early as 1768 – the mill reflects the evolution of water-powered mills throughout the city and the region for more than a century. Designed by Peterborough native Edward A. Buss, Richards Woolen Mill is a typical three-story brick mill building from the early 20th century with granite, brick and metal architectural flourishes; it stands out for its five-story Romanesque tower with three tall arched windows on each side. At the base of the tower, above the entrance, are two slate roundels with the dates “1848” and “1905,” marking when both a previous mill on the site and the existing mill were built. In addition to running the mill, the Richards family was instrumental in establishing the Newport Electric Company (1892) and brought both Western Union Telegraph service (1866) and the Concord & Claremont Railroad (1871) to Newport. Richards and Sons, Inc. dissolved in 1926. The property was purchased by Harry W. Brown and Associates and was renamed the Gordon Woolen Mill. That business made wool linings for Army clothing during World War II. The mill was later owned by William Ruger Jr. an heir to the Ruger Firearms Company. Within the last couple years, the mill was purchased for redevelopment into housing, which has not yet materialized.
The first practical fire alarm system was developed in Massachusetts during the late 1840’s by Dr. William F. Channing and Moses G. Farmer, a telegraph operator. Their experimental system was installed in Boston in 1851, being the first urban fire alarm system in the country. Before this, people would have to run and notify fire stations of a fire, who then rang a bell, to rally the citizens and firefighters. John Gamewell, realizing the potential of such a system, purchased the patents and continued to improve the system. While the headquarters for the business was in New York, the units were manufactured in Newton, Massachusetts. By 1886, Gamewell systems were installed in 250 cities across America and Canada. Four years later in 1890, Gamewell systems were installed in 500 cities. To meet the growing company’s needs for space, it relocated from Newton Highlands to Upper Falls and built a new factory, a wood frame structure. As the company continued to grow, it built a brick addition in 1904 and another on the other end in 1912. The system has been used all over North America, visible by the large red boxes on street poles and buildings with the lightening bolt logo. The business remained in Upper Falls until 1970, when it became a division of Gulf and Western. The company moved out and the buildings have been restored, with many small and local businesses located inside.
Located in the Wauregan Village of Plainfield, Connecticut, this massive mill complex is a lasting memory of a neighborhood which once thrived. Like hundreds of mill villages all over New England after WWII, the mill and surrounding neighborhood saw decline with the shift from manufacturing to service jobs paired with the globalization of the U.S economy.
Wauregan, which means “Pleasant Valley” in Mohegan (a native tribe in the area), began in about 1850 when Amos D. Lockwood, bought water privileges and land on the east side of the Quinebaug River in present day Plainville. The Wauregan Mills Company became well-known for their specialty cotton goods, with an emphasis on cotton flannel sheeting. The first mill building was constructed in 1853 of local stone and comprised of a singular four-story building. Within five years, Lockwood sold the mill and the surrounding land for much more than he invested to James S. Atwood, who sought to develop a “model hamlet” around the mill building which would allow factory employees to live and shop near their work.
Worker housing in the village included 104 company-owned buildings containing 255 tenement apartments for rental to workers, plus two boarding houses for unmarried female workers. A railroad station was built in 1859 and a post office was established in 1860. Atwood also expanded the mill at this time and constructed a near-identical structure behind the old building and a small connector between.
On August 1955, torrential rains from Hurricanes Connie and Diane caused many dams along the Quinebaug River to break, including the one at Wauregan. The mill was flooded to the level of the first floor ceilings. Workers tried to salvage as much cloth, raw materials and machinery as they could but ultimately the company lost more than $1,500,000. In 1957, James Arthur Atwood III, grandson of James S. Atwood, and the rest of the company directors decided to cease all operations resulting in the company’s final closing. The building remains vacant to this day.
Located in the center of Chester, CT, this historic mill located on the Pattaconk Brook, a tributary of the Connecticut River, stands as a lasting example of a traditional wood-frame mill building in Connecticut. The C.L. Griswold Co. mill was the third industrial complex on this site, all sought the valuable location for the ability of water power from the river.
The shop produced auger bits, wood screws, corkscrews, reamers and other light hardware before closing in 1919. A Masonic Lodge bought the mill in 1924 and over the years, made some less fortunate alterations and deferred maintenance which left its future uncertain.
In 2000, the mill was purchased by the Chester Historical Society which was converted to a museum in 2010, which features Chester’s history.