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.
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!)
This five-story granite mill building was one of the major catalysts for the 19th century population surge in Ware, Massachusetts. As New England’s fledgling textile industry of the era played a vanguard role in transforming the U.S. into an industrial nation, the significance of this type of mill can hardly be understated. The Otis Mill #1 in Ware is one of the last remaining granite textile mills of this early period in central/western Massachusetts. The mill was built in 1845 for the Otis Company, which initially manufactured woven cotton fabric, but later branched out into stockings, woolen shirts and drawers underwear. The company was Ware’s largest employer for about 100 years! The company prospered thru WWI employing over 2,500 people. During the 1920’s the business began a decline due to the southern state’s mills and lack of modernization. In the mid 30’s the Otis Co sold its property to the citizens of Ware, which they formed Ware Industries, Inc to continue the major employer in the town. Due to this Ware came to be known nation-wide as “The Town That Can’t Be Licked.” The mill is now home to local small businesses as a sort of incubator, providing jobs to local residents!
There’s not much that is more picturesque and stereotypical New Hampshire than old, wooden mill buildings. When I was looking for a town to explore in NH, I got stuck on a photograph of the old Cragin-Frye Mill in Wilton, and off I went! Daniel Cragin (1836-1921) was born in Merrimack, NH of Scottish descent. In 1856, age 21, he rented a room in a woolen goods mill, and he built knife trays and wooden toys which he turned into a business. He started his business with ten dollars, and turned a profit from the beginning, so much so that by 1858, he accumulated enough money to purchase a nearby existing building for his own operation. The mill was water-powered and grew quickly. The Daniel Cragin Mill began production of sugar boxes and dry measure boxes. The mill closed briefly after Cragin retired in the early 20th century. In 1909, Whitney Morse Frye and his father, Dr. Edmund Bailey Frye, bought the mill from Cragin. Frye continued the Cragin line of wooden trays, boxes, and pails in addition to his normal processing of grains. Whitney Frye died in 1961, and his employee, Harland Savage Sr. purchased the old mill, continuing operations. After his retirement in 1981, his son Harley and his wife Pam Porter Savage took over operations and they have operated the mill to the present day as Frye’s Measure Mill. The mill is one of a few remaining operating water-powered measure mills in the United States!
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!
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!
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.
Driving down the dirt roads of rural Vermont with no cell phone service can be a great way to explore, so imagine my delight when i drove past this stunning old building tucked behind a historic cemetery! The building was erected in 1835-1837 by Levi Bailey, a local entrepreneur and mill owner who, in 1794, in partnership with a George Betterley, purchased the mill site and proceeded to build a dam, for later development. Legend says, in 1808, he required the good will of David Hapgood, his next door neighbor, so he could buy more land in front of his proposed mill. But, in fact, Levi had so irritated Hapgood somehow, that he instead donated the coveted acre to the Town of Reading for use as a town cemetery, ensuring that Bailey could never control it. Thus a “spite” cemetery was laid out, the only one I am aware of! Underterred, Bailey erected over the next two decades the series of buildings to manufacture goods, the buildings we see today. Bailey’s Mills in Reading, Vermont, is actually three connected, 2 1/2-story, brick, Greek Revival style buildings with several attached wood frame appendages added over time. He lived in the building and a store was run out of the building for locals. The building is now home to the Bailey Mills Bed & Breakfast.
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.
This large mill complex on Main Street in Warren was built by the Warren Manufacturing Company in 1896. Due to a fire in 1895 destroying all three of the original mill buildings of the Warren Manufacturing Company’s built in 1847, 1860, and 1872. These five-story buildings, containing a total of 58,000 spindles, totally dominated the north end of Warren. Only the handsome Italianate stair tower survived. It rises today from the middle of the new mill complex which was rebuilt in 1896 and enlarged in 1902 and 1907. The current mills were designed by architect Frank P. Sheldon, a Rhode Island mill engineer and designer. The Warren Mfg Co. continued in operation here until July of 1930, when President William Grosvenor gave control to a bank. In April 1934, the Warren Textile and Machinery Supply Co. purchased the mill to be used as a machine shop and for the manufacture of reeds, roll coverings, and curtains; employment was between 300 and 500. It was later occupied by the American Tourister Company and has since been restored and converted to apartments.