Situated along the Shetucket River in Sprague, Connecticut, lies the remains of what was once the nation’s largest textile mill. At its peak, over 1,000 employees operated 1,750 looms and 70,000 spindles to produce some of the country’s finest cotton. The Baltic Mill (as it became known) not only helped reshape Connecticut’s economic and cultural landscape, but its geographic one as well, giving rise to the founding of an entirely new village. The Baltic Mill did very well until the economic Panic of 1873 set in, decimating the company’s finances. The mill was forced to scale back their operations. Then, in 1877, a fire destroyed the interior of the mill, bringing an end to the complex for decades. At the turn of the 20th century, a businessman from Pawtucket, Rhode Island, named Frederick Sayles purchased the property with an eye toward revitalizing the local textile industry. He founded the Baltic Mills Company and set about making extensive repairs and upgrades to the property, including this c.1890 storage building for materials and finished textiles. Unfortunately for Sayles, the New England textile industry had already begun to decline and it wasn’t long before the company’s depleted finances forced Sayles to sell off much of its assets. The company did survive long enough to produce uniforms, parachutes, and life rafts for soldiers in World War II, but the mill’s operations ultimately came to a halt in 1966. The large 19th century mill would eventually be demolished, but this old Warehouse (a fraction of the size of the mill) is one of the last industrial pieces of the former sprawling complex and is now occupied by local businesses.
Otis Company Mill #3 // 1856
One of the later mill buildings constructed in the mid-19th century for the Otis Company is this brick building which contributes to the rich industrial heritage of the town. Built in at least three stages, this long industrial building probably grew from a middle section dating 1856, expanded in both directions over the next several decades and but was largely completed by 1869. The building was a major manufacturer, supplying thousands of jobs for the town until it closed after WWII. In 1945, the top two stories of this building along with their towers were removed in 1945, which echoes the history of many similar mills all over New England (but hey, at least this one is occupied today!)
Ware Town Hall // 1885
After learning a little about some of the buildings in Dorset, Vermont, which were saved and relocated to the town from land flooded for the Quabbin Reservoir, I wanted to visit one of the surviving towns there to see it for myself. I found myself in Ware, Massachusetts, a town with a history that parallels many in central and northern Massachusetts. The town was first settled by white European colonists by 1717, and incorporated in 1775. The town was named after the English town of Ware in Hertfordshire. The Town of Ware began as a sleepy farming town with inns and taverns dotting the landscape until industrial sites were developed on the banks of the Weir River. The post Civil War era (1860s–1900s) brought a new prosperity to the now established textile mill town. “Ware Factory Village” sprang up overnight and formed the basis for new growth and development, to the east of the former town center. From this, a new Town Hall was needed, and where better to locate it, than the economic and population center of town?! The Ware Town Hall was built in 1885-1886 from plans by the prominent Boston firm of Hartwell & Richardson. Sadly, a fire gutted much of the building in 1935, but the shell remains (though needing much repair). The town, like many former industrial centers, has struggled to re-invent itself, but a growing population is a great indicator of good things to come!
Herreshoff Manufacturing Complex // 1853+
In 1859, 18 year old John Brown Herreshoff (1841-1915) of Bristol, accepted his first commission to design and build a yacht. The fact that he was blind, having completely lost his sight at 15, didn’t seem to slow him down. He became known as the “blind boat builder.” In his early years, John Herreshoff had acquired such a keen knowledge and “feel” of boats that his blindness was no obstacle. The handwork however, was done by his brother, Nathanael Greene Herreshoff, later known as “the Wizard of Bristol.” His skill in shipbuilding became well-known; so in 1863, John took on space in an old rifleworks, hired a crew of shipwrights and established what would become the Herreshoff Manufacturing Company. From 1864 to 1869, the boatworks built forty-three steam yachts, including Seven Brothers, the first steam-powered fishing boat in America. In 1876, Lightning, the first United States Navy torpedo boat, was completed. Construction of larger craft soon followed, including the 94-foot Stiletto, considered the fastest boat in the world, and was later purchased by the Navy, and was its first torpedo boat capable of launching self-propelled torpedoes. J.B. Herreshoff died in 1915 and the company continued under his brother Nathanael, until it was taken over by a syndicate of New York and Boston yachtsmen. Business stagnated after WWI and the business closed after WWII. Today, Burnside Street in Bristol showcases the lasting legacy of the Herreshoff Manufacturing Company and their impact. Also, the Herreshoff Marine Museum sits at the end of the street, continuing that legacy.
Hayward & Kibby Mill // c.1830
Historically, towns and cities were typically settled on rivers or another body of water for many reasons, one of which is for power. This unique grist mill was constructed around 1830 after the Cushman brickyard began providing bricks for new buildings in the town of Tunbridge. The mill stands on a site that has seen industrial activity since the 1780s, which was seen as advantageous due to the cascade created by a topographic constriction in the river flow at this point. The mill building has as its core a 1-1/2 story brick structure, built about 1820 as a gristmill, to which a larger wood-frame sawmill was added about 1870. The building is starting to deteriorate which is troubling as it may be one of a kind in Vermont, if not New England as a whole.
Gamewell Fire Alarm and Telegraphic Company // 1889
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.
J. J. Smith’s Oil Works // 1837
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.
Annisquam Cotton Mill Machine Shop // 1864
Located in the middle of Downtown Rockport, Massachusetts, a lasting remnant of the towns early industrial past remains. This stone building was once part of a larger mill complex constructed as the Annisquam Cotton Mill between 1847 and 1864. Designed by the architectural firm of McLean & Wright, the complex was transitional Greek Revival and Italianate styles. In operation since 1847, the mill was destroyed by fire in 1882. Even though the mill never reopened, its ruins remained standing for another 22 years, until they were finally removed in 1904. The fire gutted much of the building besides one wing, the machine shop, which was one of the last constructed buildings on the site. In 1904, the then-owner of the former machine shop, George J. Tarr, deeded the property to the town of Rockport, who subsequently turned the building into an elementary school, named in Tarr’s honor. Today, this former machine shop and former school building has a new use, as the town’s library.