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!
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!
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.