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Mind chum number 9 The old mills
Posted to Open Discussion Forum on 10/28/2016 34 Replies

Well it has been a while since my last "Chum" For this one i will give some credit to my daughter Grace. You see, Grace took a walk a couple of weeks ago with our neighbor lady and her two kids.We have a nice walking path not 300 yards down the street from my house , This trail follows along the Swift river.Which was a crucial water supply to this areas early mills.Grace took a picture,that instantly got my curiosity roused ,It was a picture of the remains of an abandoned mill.

The Swift river drops approximately thirty feet in a 600 yard stretch.Early industrialists looked for these stretches of river,as the drops were ideal places for dams.Which equates to water power for driving the mills machinery.

Now on this particular stretch of river was located the Boston Duck mill. This mill was built in 1845 and was composed of ten buildings,all constructed of red brick. The largest building was the spinning building ,at 1/4 of a mile in length and five stories in height it was at the time a very huge building to construct. The product the mill produced was a heavy sail cloth,and cotton canvas duck,hence the name. One of the owners of this mill had interests in the shipping industry,it all ties together.

On the path down to the remains, the rivers banks are composed of huge granite blocks.Constructed into the blocks are various inlets and outlets some small and some much larger,almost the size of a car ,which are clues as to what was once here.A little further down the path you come to the falls and the weirs which controlled the flow of water into these mills. No hiding that this was built for one specific purpose ,which is now lost to the average person.And time...

A fellow is fishing down in the river,oblivious to our passing. As we continue on down the path ,there is more evidence that there was something very large that used to be here.There are abandoned rail trestles,and large concrete structures,one that is dated from 1905. Very cool stuff

Then,looking through the trees, there it is,standing like a sentinel.Looming over the river is all that is left of the Boston Duck mill. It is a red brick end wall ,two stories tall,no windows remain ,only the arched window openings which as i have observed is a mill trademark of sorts,and like eyes to the past they stare vacantly down on the river.

There is a smaller path that leads over to this structure.Bits of broken fire brick litter the ground.I tell my wife ,"This was where the boiler house was".An iron ring embedded into the crumbling concrete,is all that remains of a smokestack.Lisa asks me" How do you know this was a boiler house?"The firebrick is one clue,large ten inch pieces of steam pipe hidden away under neath another structure are another.

The end wall sits atop a culvert also of concrete that allows the river to flow freely underneath it. After we got back to the house i fired up my laptop and started my research .I find the end wall was actually part of the mills dye house and yes the other structure was in fact the boiler house.

Looking at some old pictures of the mill complex,it covered around 12 total acres.Now? just an old red brick wall standing tall staring out at the river,waiting for one more winters abuse.

The history of this mill was one of modest success.Owned by several partners one of these men A Mr. Elijah Loring,he was involved in the shipping industry and the heavy sailcloth was one of his areas of interest. The mills were also crucial to the advent of early rail roads coming into the western Mass. area .with the first of these coming in 1839. By the mid 1870's this was an area that had five rail lines converging.

A beautiful original depot,located in Brimfield mass.was one that served most all of these rail lines.After the civil war, the mills continued to thrive.When the first world war broke out,the demand for cotton canvas duck was met with out problem. Soon afterwards the economy started to slow,and when the stock market crashed in 1929.hard times fell and the Duck mill was sold off in 1936.

The new owners,the Endelson family, reorganized and sublet some buildings to try to make ends meet. When the second world war broke out ,the Duck mill once again rose to meet the demand. Along with the demand for the canvas cloth also came a demand for workers.From the French Canadians to the Polish, the area mills employed upwards of 1000 hard working folk.which is partly the reason for this areas rich ethnic heritage.

After the war years,the mills sort of slowed to a halt.When the fire happened in October of 1968 the mills owners had the property sublet to eight different businesses. The cause of the fire was never determined as the fires destruction was very total in its intensity,leaving very little for investigators to conclude as to how and why it happened.This mill was typical in the fact that the floors were wood and soaked in a hundred and twenty eight years worth of machine oil. Very difficult to ignite,but once they do ignite it then becomes a very stubborn fire to extinguish.

This old mills remains lie quietly amongst the woods and shrubs. My mind as it works to imagine what this area must have been like back in the hey day of Americas industrial might,and i look on The condos that are now built on the mills old sight ,it makes me sad to think that we will never be the makers of things and stuff,like this country once was. These old buildings are magnificent structures.The beauty that was built into them is from an era long past,yet many still stand.And i drive past many every day,as i silently admire the brickwork ,knowing that skilled tradesmen,masters of their craft put hard work into something that still stands, so defiantly, 171 years old.

Bruce Caron
Educator/Instructor/Technician
Robison Service Company
Springfield, Massachusetts, USA

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