Posted to Open Discussion Forum on 4/16/2016
More mind chum,chew on this one
Good day all. We have returned from our trip to New England
to visit with family and some friends.Staying with my son
and oldest daughter in Manchester N.H. Driving through these
areas of my youth, now as a grown man it might sound a
little strange, but as we drove around observing some of the
magnificent architecture in the old mill buildings,i can't
help but think of the role that they played in this
Visiting home, for myself it literally is like going back to
this countries earliest roots of the industrial revolution.
Having done some research on these mill buildings,it stands
as testimony to the care that many were built with. Most are
well over 130 years old.
In my mind I travel back to a simpler and hardier time. Back
before labor unions, back before child welfare laws were
enacted. A fourteen hour work day was not uncommon. And
working six days a week was also not uncommon. And on the
seventh day they rested.
Many of the single girls were put up in boarding houses with
each floor having a house "Mother" in residence to make
certain that no hanky panky was going on. Many of the girls
were farm girls that had come to urban areas such as
Manchester, to seek out a better life for themselves.
A large lot of the employees were new immigrants from all
over the globe, coming to America to find those fabled
streets paved with gold. A select few did find their
fortunes by being clever mechanics and inventing better ways
of making the machinery more productive and efficient.
Improvements in the machinery made the mills more productive
which in turn helped to make more product. The products in
this case being woven goods.
Driving through the downtown of Manchester I am still in awe
of the size of these structures. The largest of these is the
Amoskeag mills which stretches for a mile in length and at
its height employed over 9000 people from all areas of the
world. This mill building still exists and is one of the
very first buildings that greets ones eye upon crossing into
the Manchester downtown.
The diversity of the cities neighborhoods was one of many
small communities. People find comfort in what is familiar
,so small neighborhood markets would open, these were
crucial in the makeup of the neighborhoods, places to gather
and get the latest gossip on what was going on about the
town. Growing up I now realize that these mills were the
reasons for the pockets of Italians ,or Poles,as well as the
Germans, from my own background the French Canadians and the
Armenians .Enter the Lithuanians ,a lot of the Baltics were
also represented.Greeks the Irish the Scots the English ,
and to a lesser degree the people from Sweden and Finland
and Norway, the list goes on. All of these individual groups
brought to the Americas their own individuals rights and
customs.To be celebrated as they were back in their own
The mills of themselves were simply vessels, a brick, wood
and mortar container for the machines of industry. Many were
built after disasters had struck, such as fires,or floods.
Almost every major urban area has had conflagrations of epic
destruction. Partly due to crowded conditions and also due
to crude firefighting methods of the times.
These major fires brought with them improvements in building
construction and standards for fighting of fires. Floods
were another one of the destructive elements that could wipe
out buildings and bridges in moments.
Stories have been written of communities where connecting
bridges over major rivers would have to be rebuilt every few
years,due to being flood damaged. As most of the mills were
water dependent,very few safeguards were implemented to
prevent damage by flooding. Not until the advent of the Army
corps of engineers in the early part of the 20th century,
did dams and floodgates get installed to better control the
flows of rivers after either major rainstorms or spring
melts,which brought along high water and ice blocks which
could cause severe damage. A very few early water control
projects were built ,but most were for the entrepenurial use
of selling the water rights to the mills for power usage.
And did little to control flooding, many actually increased
the damage that was a by product of poor engineering and the
understanding of the power of water.
All of the mills from the era of 1870 and on were designed
with water turbines installed in the lowest levels.Canals
had been hand dug many by the Irish that had come to America
to escape the potato famine and would do the most menial of
tasks, eager to find work,and to get some cash flowing for
their families. These canals were crucial to the operations
of the mills .Water gates were controlled by companies
formed for the sole purpose of controlling and selling the
water to these mills.
A whole industry was formed just for designing and
maintaining the mills turbine engines.And these are not what
we all would think that a turbine is. These engines were
nothing more than a vertical shaft with a wheel on the end,
supported by a casing with bearings and seals. Attached to
the outer perimeter of this wheel would be specially shaped
cups where the jet of water would hit spinning the turbine.
The flow was regulated by valves on the intake pipes to
increase or decrease the flow as was needed. Many, many
different designs were created over the years,each being
touted as the most advanced and efficient turbine
As the mills became more sophisticated the turbine was
eventually replaced by a steam engine that was more capable
of driving the many machines in the mill. A complex system
of shafts and gearboxes were installed in the mills.And with
all of the machines in use being driven by flat wide leather
belts. Seeing pictures of the mills using these drive
systems it is visual chaos.
These drive systems had their own separate maintenance
division inside the mill as these power systems were the one
item crucial to how the mill operated. All of the shafts and
gearboxes had to be precisely aligned or the belts would not
stay in place. When the steam engines started replacing the
turbines it was a twofold for the mills. Eletrification
could now start happening .The steam plants were often
centrally located and would divide and sell the power to the
individual mills. It was very common to see advertising from
these early mills boasting of a 25,000 shaft horsepower
steam engine or larger. Remember in these times all of
industry was done on a grand scale .So whomever had the
biggest most powerful steam plant was deemed the king, as
well as boasting rights.
As a mechanic the skills that were needed to keep these
machines in operation were crucial. Apprenticeships were not
entered into lightly, as you were expected to carry on your
chosen profession for the remainder of your working life. It
is the same today, the most highly skilled and creative were
always in very high demand, Also it seems that the standards
expected from a mechanic were very high. There was also the
notion of being proud of what you did and not being ashamed
to sign your name to it. Some things unfortunately, have
changed with time.
I can almost hear these mills today while driving past them,
imagining them humming like a huge hive. The buildings past
grandeur is still visible in their immense size and scale.
The stone and brickwork are now becoming lost art forms.As I
found out from my research , when the Italians started
coming to America ,the stonemasons that did most of the work
were the Italians. and they were prized .The work they did
has stood the test of time,To my eyes these buildings are
beautiful to look at and the history in them simply boggles
my mind .Anybody that has passed them by ,please take the
time to take a closer look, you just might be observing the
work of your families long lost relatives. till the next
time, thanks for reading, Bruce
Brunswick, Georgia, USA