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.
Back in the day, even power stations were gorgeous!
The Boston Elevated Railway Company, and its successor, the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA), operated Lincoln Wharf Power Station from 1901 to 1972. The Boston-based engineering firm of Sheaff & Jaastad, specialists in electric power and lighting plants, designed this 1901 power station to serve the Atlantic Avenue Line and provide supplementary
power for the Downtown Boston elevated and surface lines. Due to increased demand in 1907, a massive addition was constructed at the rear, facing Commercial Street, which now is the main orientation of the large structure. By 1971, all elevated tracks powered by this station were removed and the power station was sold by the MBTA to a private developer for housing. Eventually, San Marco Housing Corporation, hired the Boston Architectural Team, Inc., to renovate the power station in 1987 for low- to moderate-income housing. The result is an innovative and stunning example of adaptive reuse providing much-needed housing, while retaining historic fabric of old Boston.
On the outskirts of North Adams, in the village of Blackinton, you will find this massive decaying mill complex slowly being overtaken by Mother Nature and time. The complex is the Blackinton Woolen Mill, which was founded by Sanford Blackinton, who started his woolen mill on the banks of the Hoosic River in 1821 (later building his mansion closer to town). The mill increased production yearly and produced cloth during the Civil War for the Union cause. After, the mill increased production and ran 24 hours a day with the only time the mill would close down would be for mill fires, machinery repairs, or low water supply. In 1869, 162 men, 105 women, and 35 children worked in the mill with the length of the working day being eleven hours! After Blackinton’s death, the mill was succeeded by William Pomeroy, his son-in-law, who had marketed the Blackinton product through his own woolen goods store in New York. In 1917, the present main mill building was built; it is three stories high, with large windows in recessed bays between vertical brick members, resembling pilasters, which rise from the ground to the flat roof. The tower and parapet on the end facing the street are decorated with ornate castellation giving the complex a high-style design. The mill was constructed behind the weave shed (1908) which is a long one-story structure fronting the main street, decreasing the mill’s presence. As is the history of industry in New England, the mill struggled after WWII with a national shift to a service economy away from production. The building has been vacant since the late 1980s and has been eyed for redevelopment into loft and artist studios since.
North Adams in Western Massachusetts was incorporated as a city in 1895, separating from Adams, MA in 1873. The town was flourishing as an industrial center due to it’s location on the confluence of the Hoosic River’s two branches here. Thanks to the Arnold Print Works (now Mass MoCA), the town’s population doubled in twenty years after incorporation. Due to this, the United States Post Office and Treasury Department decided to build a large post office, a size that would allow the growing city to fill into. The Georgian Revival post office building is credited to James A. Wetmore, who was actually not an architect, but an attorney and Executive Officer of the Office of the Supervising Architect, within the Treasury Department (what a title). He later became the Supervising Architect without any known education in design. As Supervising Architect, he managed a staff of nearly 1700 architects and draftsmen who designed at least 2000 federal government buildings, including courthouses and post offices. The North Adams Post Office, remains a landmark of a city which has sadly seen a declining population every decade since 1940.
On a last-minute trip to the Berkshires, I couldn’t help but stop at the recently re-opened Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (Mass MoCA) in North Adams. Being a huge nerd for industrial history and repurposed mills and factories, it was an absolute treat to walk through the large brick and steel buildings and wings lined with steel casement windows providing the perfect scenery for some amazing artworks. What is now known as Mass MoCA, – one of the premier art museums in New England – was once Arnold Print Works, a one time world leader in textile manufacturing with offices in New York City and Paris.
The Arnold Print Works were built on the Hoosac River near the center of North Adams. The company was the town’s largest industry during the city’s economic heyday from the Civil War until the early 20th century. The company was founded in 1861 by the John, Oliver, and Harvey Arnold, who began production of printed cloth at an existing cotton mill. At the dawn of the American Civil War, the newly formed company became flush with money due to government contracts for manufacturing Union Army uniforms. The company expanded after the war until a fire destroyed nearly all of the wooden buildings on the site. After the fire, a majority share of the company was purchased by Albert Charles Houghton, who became the first mayor of North Adams, and he oversaw the expansion and prosperity of the company, starting with new buildings of fire-proof construction.
By the early 20th century, many textile and cotton manufacturing shifted to the American South severely crippling the mill’s profits. In 1929, Sprague Electric Company moved to North Adams from Quincy, Massachusetts, and began buying the Arnold Print Works buildings. The print works moved much of its operation to nearby Adams and concentrated on a few particular products in its North Adams plant. The print works was finally sold in 1942 for just $1.9 million dollars, a far departure from its once prosperous past. The plant was shortly thereafter acquired by Sprague Electric Company.
While largely leaving the building exteriors as they were, Sprague made extensive modifications to the interiors to convert the former textile mill into an electronics plant. Sprague physicists, chemists, electrical engineers, and skilled technicians were called upon by the U.S. government during World War II to design and manufacture crucial components of some of its most advanced high-tech weapons systems, including the atomic bomb.
[Outfitted with state-of-the-art equipment, Sprague was a major research and development center, conducting studies on the nature of electricity and semi-conducting materials. After the war, Sprague’s products were used in the launch systems for Gemini moon missions, and by 1966 Sprague employed 4,137 workers in a community of 18,000, existing almost as a city within a city. From the post-war years to the mid-1980s Sprague produced electrical components for the booming consumer electronics market, but competition from lower-priced components produced abroad led to declining sales and, in 1985, the company closed its operations on Marshall Street.] (Mass MoCA History)
The complex sat vacant briefly before the Williams College Museum of Art, led by its director, Thomas Krens—who would later become Director of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum—advocated for a museum space for contemporary art that would not fit in traditional art galleries. The nearby Arnold Mills seemed like a perfect, yet daunting task to repurpose. Bruner/Cott Architects of Cambridge were hired to repurpose the mills and oversee the massive adaptive reuse project which today totals nearly 300,000 square feet of galleries and art venues.
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 at 405 Water Street in Warren, RI, this two-story rubblestone structure is a lasting remnant of the industrial past of the quiet town. Originally constructed as a forge, the stone walls are about two feet thick. After the Civil War, the building was purchased by Francis Marble, who lived on nearby Washington Street. Marble converted the second floor to a meeting hall for seamen to drink and dine when home from months at sea.
This parged stone industrial building is one of the oldest remaining in Warren, Rhode Island and is directly related to the history of the town being the leading whaling port of the Ocean State. Built around 1837, this structure was built as a storage facility for Joseph J. Smith, a whaler and the wealthiest man in Warren by the 1850s. The stone structure was constructed to house the highly-flammable whale oil which he rendered from the blubber of those he killed off the shores of New England. By 1887, the structure was purchased by Joseph Stubbs, who ran an extensive oyster business and sold many of his catches to the gilded age estates in nearby Newport and Narragansett. The building is now occupied by a bicycle shop, showing the changing commercial character of Warren and many coastal communities all over the region. While the building may not be architecturally significant, it showcases the industrial and commercial history of the town.
The Russell Jennings Manufacturing Company was created by Russell Jennings (1800-1888), a Reverend from Deep River who later invented (and patented) the first extension drill bit in America. Seeing the opportunity for wealth and a future for his family, he began a company which manufactured the tools. He quit the church and became an inventor, quickly growing his family business from the ground up.
The auger bits were manufactured in a facility in Deep River and shipped all over the world, with the Connecticut River and rail lines providing easy transportation of their product. The business continued after Jennings’ death in 1888 and began to evolve, creating new tools. The business continued and grew, requiring a new facility.
The company moved north to Chester, CT and had a brick office building made in the Federal Revival style in 1906, shortly after their new tool handle was patented and production began. The 30’x50′ building is two stories and appears much like when it was built over a century ago. The first floor housed the company offices, shipping, and stock rooms and on the second floor, the director’s office and packing rooms.
The company was bought by Stanley Works by 1944, and the building was sold. It was occupied by a couple industrial companies, including Old Town Corporation until a fire gutted the building in 1976. It was vacant for years after. It appears that the building has been converted to residential use.