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 1832, William D. Meeker of Brookfield purchased a c.1780 gristmill on the banks of the Still River, which ran through the agricultural town. He immediately invested in it, rebuilding the structure upon the original foundations, but as a four-story building. Meeker must have hired engineers to create a system to transfer water power from the basement water wheel up four stories. The mill was later sold to a Gregory Knapp in town. Knapp died in 1868 and his properties (including the mill) went to his widow Angeline, who became a very wealthy, and eligible, bachelorette. She remarried not long after. Fast-forward to 1952, the grist mill was occupied by the Brookfield Craft Center, which is recognized as one of the finest professional schools for creative study in America, dedicated to teaching traditional and contemporary craft skills, and fostering the appreciation of fine craftsmanship. Gotta love adaptive reuse cases like this!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.