Thursday, May 28, 2009

Star Mill: History

The history of the Star Mill and Middleborough’s woolen industry is a history of ironies. Though during the decades following the Civil War the Star Mill was Middleborough’s largest employer and its heaviest taxpayer, the town was better known industrially for its manufacture of boots and shoes. The Star Mill was a relatively paternalistic employer, but its successor company, the Nemasket Woolen Company, collapsed partially as a result of a protracted labor strike. And while retrospectively the local manufacture of woolen cloth was considered to have been a successful enterprise during the period in which it was carried out in Middleborough (1863-1924), it was consistently plagued by periods of inactivity when the sagging fortunes of the woolen market forced periods of idleness upon the local mill.

Nonetheless, the Star Mill and its successor companies – the Farwell Mills and the Nemasket Woolen Company - engaged large numbers of Middleborough residents in the manufacture of woolen cloth and transformed the face of the neighborhood which it occupied, an area which has since been known as the Star Mills. Star Avenue, and the mill houses which line it and neighboring East Main and Montello Streets, are all a product of the presence of the local woolen industry.

Historically, the Star Mill was an important link in the industrial development of Middleborough. Succeeding colonial and federal-era grist, fulling, carding and cotton mills which earlier had occupied the Nemasket River’s banks near East Main Street, the Star Mill followed the practice of earlier Middleborough cotton mills by erecting duplex tenement houses nearby to house mill operatives. Nonetheless, the sheer size and solidity of the Star Mill complex represented a marked advance upon any manufacturing operation previously seen at Middleborough, and it became a prototype for the local shoe industry which began to consolidate its own operations in similarly large wood-frame plants in the mid-1870s.

Arguably, the Star Mill is the most significant nineteenth-century industrial structure remaining at Middleborough and it is reflective of an era when Middleborough was evolving rapidly from Plymouth County’s leading agricultural town into an important center of manufacturing and transportation. It is architecturally significant as a building designed by Solomon K. Eaton (1806-72), a regionally important architect who was also responsible for the design of Middleborough Town Hall and other significant buildings throughout southeastern Massachusetts, many of which are listed upon the National Register of Historic Places. The Star Mill complex is not only the sole remaining industrial structure remaining from the period of Middleborough’s mid-19th century industrialization, but it is likely one of the few brick mill structures from this era remaining in Plymouth County. The fact that it remains intact and essentially unaltered architecturally is even more remarkable. Additions made to the original 1863 complex over time, including the large-scale Walker Company additions of the early and mid-20th centuries, well document the growth of the local woolen industry, as well as the community’s response following its demise in the 1920s when alternative industries were sought to take the place once held by the woolen manufacturing.

Presently the mill complex is included upon the Town of Middleborough’s Historic and Cultural Resource Inventory and it would likely be eligible for listing upon the National Register of Historic Places, either individually or as the centerpiece of a larger Star Mills Historic District which would include Star Avenue as well as portions of East Main and Montello Streets. Such a listing would make available federal tax credits for restoration and reuse of the structure. Not only does the 1863 mill with its later additions admirably document the growth of the local woolen cloth industry, but the survival of a large number of mill houses, constructed specifically for the Star Mill and its predecessors, further elaborates the story of the mill and the people who worked within its walls. The mill and its attendant residences comprise a coherent, compact, historically-significant neighborhood worthy of the community’s best preservation efforts.
Early Textile Manufacturing at the Lower Factory

The Lower Factory, the conjunction of the Nemasket River with what is now East Main Street, was the site of Middleborough’s earliest industrial development. Prior to King Philip’s War (1675-76), a dam and grist mill were erected here in the vicinity of the former Native fish weir. During the seventeenth-century ownership of the Bennett family, industrial operations at the Lower Factory were expanded, and the area became known as Bennett’s Mills. Because the original circa 1670 dam’s millpond held only enough water to power the gristmill, it is likely that the dam was raised to permit the operation of additional mills. The first addition, built sometime prior to 1803, was a fulling mill or “Cloathing Mill” for the processing of finished woven cloth. In 1803, Thomas Pratt contracted with his brother Holman and William Bennet to construct a carding mill, “being a Patent machine for carding wool” adjacent to the existing grist and fulling mills owned by Bennet and others. The carding mill was raised during the summer of that year, and its services immediately advertised by Holman Pratt in the Columbian Courier at New Bedford.

The subscriber has erected a CARDING MACHINE in Middleborough, at the Old Stone Wear [sic], for carding Sheep’s Wool into rolls suitable for Spinning. It is necessary that the Wool should be picked and greased before it is brought to be manufactured into rolls. As the cost of carding in the machine is but trifling compared with the cost of carding by hand, and the quality of the rolls much superior, he hopes to receive the encouragement of the public. [Greatest] attendance will be given, and the greatest punctuality observed in transacting the business. Price for carding only 10 cents per pound.

The venture, however, appears not to have been financially successful, undoubtedly to the local decline in sheep rearing, and it was the cotton industry which would ultimately first establish a foothold at the Lower Factory.

The local development of cotton manufacturing was initially dependent upon entrepreneurs engaged in the industry northeast of Providence and in the Blackstone Valley. In 1806, Silas Shepard, a cotton manufacturer at Wrentham, Massachusetts, acquired the Green Mill privilege at nearby East Taunton where in partnership with Samuel Leonard and Samuel Crocker he established the Green [cotton] Mill. The mill produced cotton yarn which was “put out” to local women who wove it into cotton cloth in their own homes which they returned to the mill for sale.

Four years later, additional members of Wrentham’s Shepard family established the textile industry in Middleborough when on December 14, 1810, Jacob Bennett sold to Captain Benjamin Shepard, Jr., Benjamin Shepard III, and Oliver Shepard, all of Wrentham, the land and water rights at Bennett’s Mills “for the purpose of working a Cotton Mill or any other Factory or works.” Excepted from the conveyance were the rights of the carding mill owners, the “Cloathing Mill” and Bennett’s own grist mill. The following year, in 1811, a cotton manufactory was built on the west bank of the river on the site later occupied by the Star Mill and on January 1, 1812, the Middleboro Manufacturing Company was formed for the manufacture of cotton yarn and cloth.

Control of the firm was eventually relinquished to one of its stockholders, Horatio G. Wood, and Wood’s partner, Peter H. Peirce, both of Middleborough. Peirce had previously established Middleborough’s second cotton factory along the Nemasket River at the Upper Factory on Wareham Street.

Peirce & Wood continued to manufacture cotton cloth at the site. However, the sluggishness of the industry prompted them to expand into the production of shovels sometime during the second quarter of the nineteenth century and probably after 1837. The shovel works were built at an original cost of $10,000 and included a large structure which stood athwart the downstream side of the dam, and a smaller building just east of the cotton factory.

There seems to be some uncertainty regarding the long-term financial health of Peirce & Wood. In 1855, the company sought “to see if the Town will cause the sluiceways of the bridge over the Nemasket River near the works of Peirce & Wood to be widened” indicating the apparent success of business, yet following a disastrous fire in October, 1859, which destroyed the hundred foot long shovel works building and drove the firm out of business, it was noted that of the operation’s five or six waterwheels, only three had been “in a tolerable state of preservation” previous to the fire, indicating perhaps that the operation had been in decline for some time. The works were not insured despite initial reports to the contrary and so the operation was not rebuilt.

Wool Manufacturing at the Lower Factory & the Star Mill

A year later, in late 1860, Peirce & Wood proposed selling the site which included the still extant cotton mill, several smaller buildings and the site of the former shovel works to Lawton & Esty of Tiverton, Rhode Island. Eventually, the site was acquired by a group of New Bedford investors including Loum Snow and George Brayton who proposed replacing the cotton factory with a large brick woolen mill. Like other New Bedford investors at the time, Snow, Brayton and their partners sought an alternative to whaling which was beginning to decline in importance, and textile manufacturing offered a potentially lucrative option. Consequently, the Star Mill corporation was established with a capitalization of $100,000, with Snow as President and Brayton as Treasurer and Clerk.
The Star Mill was a New Bedford project from start to finish. Financed by New Bedford parties, designed by New Bedford architects Solomon K. Eaton and Obed Smith, and constructed by New Bedford contractors, namely Paul Howland and G. T. Sawyer (masons) and Ezra Clark (carpenter), the mill was constructed with some 350,000 bricks supplied by Mitchell Hooper, also of New Bedford, and was completed at the close of 1863. At the time, it was given the name “Star Mill”.

Initially, the main product of the Star Mill was what was known as “fancy cassimeres”, finely woven wool fabrics generally used for suits. The mill early established a reputation for the high quality of its goods, even receiving a compliment in the pages of the prestigious Dry Goods Reporter during its first year of operation.

The operation was immediately the pride of the community, not only for its growing reputation for quality goods but for being Middleborough’s largest manufacturer at the time, as well. Not surprisingly, local Republic convention delegates were brought to visit the plant in May, 1868, during their stay in Middleborough, and the factory was decorated with elaborate flags and bunting for the Town’s bicentennial in 1869. Undoubtedly as a recognition of the nationality of the mill’s operatives, “a splendid show of flags and decorations with English and Irish ensigns” was made.

Manufacturing Woolen Cloth in 1864

At the time the Star Mill was constructed, the process of woolen cloth manufacture was already a highly mechanized process, one marked by the division of production into several specialized processes, with workers assigned to each. On record is an 1864 description of woolen cloth production in the Middleborough plant.

The process began with the purchase of raw wool. The Star Mill sent its wool buyers to Boston, the nation’s largest wool market, to purchase fleeces, the company mainly favoring American-raised wool. The wool buyer was an important position as he had to be knowledgeable concerning wool as well as wary of dishonest sheep raisers who understood that the amount of foreign matter in their wool increased the weight of a fleece and consequently the price for which it could be sold.

Once procured, raw wool was received in bales at the Middleborough depot by rail then transshipped to the mill by wagon. There the bales were carefully weighed then sorted, one of the most important steps in the entire manufacturing process as it was at this stage that the wool was graded. In the sorting rooms which were located on the first floor and attic of the eastern end of the Drying Building, unbaled fleeces were placed upon a lattice grating which allowed dirt, sand and other trash to fall out. Sorters would remove straw and any other material adhering to the fleece with shears. Fleeces were then divided according to grades, the uniformity of which the overseer of the sorting room, Francis Sharp, was responsible for.

Leaving the sorting room, the various grades of wool remained segregated and were passed into the neighboring scouring room. The wool was washed or scoured with alkaline water in iron troughs and dried by being squeezed through rollers. The process was repeated with pure water, during which the wool would lose up to 70% of its weight. Grease-filled waste water from this process was discharged directly into the Nemasket River, making the Star Mill one of the river’s heaviest polluters in its day. (Conversely, herring found their way into the factory, passing through the force pipe which drew water into the mill for the rinsing process).

Scoured wool then proceeded to the vapor-filled dye house. Dye tubs about 8 feet in diameter and 5 feet deep accommodated the wool which was placed in the tub and remained as long as necessary for the dye to set. Following this, the wool was partially dried in a centrifugal dryer or “extractor” which revolved 800 times a minute before being sent to drying room in the eastern end of the Finishing Building where it was dried by steam coils and two fans forcing hot air through the mass of wool. Mr. Wright was in charge in this room.

The colored wool was next sent upstairs to the picking room where foreign materials such as burrs (plant seed-vessels which find their way into the wool as sheep graze) and any remaining loose dyestuff were removed from the wool by means of a picking and burring machine. The wool, fed into the machine in the clotted mass which the washing process had left it, was drawn through fine gaps within the machine which were narrow enough to prevent the passing through of foreign matter and burrs.

Next, in the mixing room the wool was spread upon the floor and sprinkled with oil in order to prevent its compacting or "felting" during the subsequent processes. Sometimes done by hand, oiling was later accomplished mechanically as well. The oiled wool was then sent through a mixing picker in which two or more colors of wool were combined to make a single uniform color. For instance, should gray yarn be required, black and white wool stock would be run through the mixing picker blending the fibers to produce the necessary color in the shade required.

Although the importance of proper methods of mixing stock before subjecting it to the carding process is often underrated, it may be stated that with truth that the character of the yarn ultimately produced, depends, to a great extent, on the manipulation of the stock at this point.

From the pickers, the wool was ready to be made up and was sent to the adjoining carding room where it was fed into one of six large carding engines which combed and straightened the fibers. The wool self fed through the first and second breakers to the finishers which combed the fibers in uniform direction and produced a ropelike coil on a spool. Both the picking and carding processes were overseen by George W. Eldredge.

The spools of roping produced by the carding engines were then sent to the spinning department where the rope was drawn and spun by self-operating jacks which wound the yarn onto bobbins, each jack carrying up to 200 bobbins. Bobbins containing woof thread went directly downstairs to the weaving room. Those containing warp thread were placed onto frames which wound the yarn onto large spools set onto a reel in preparation for weaving. This reel fed a long cylindrical beam which hung on supports, the ends of the yarn being threaded into the loom harness by a female operative assisted by a small boy who singled out threads which the woman attached with a small crochet hook. The beam was then slipped into the power loom, the harness adjusted and weaving started.

By 1864, the mill had sixteen looms in operation and the weaving room was under the supervision of William Dunlop. From the loom, rapidly produced woven cloth was drawn over a roller, and inspected in strong light for imperfections which were marked with chalk and corrected if possible. As the cloth was rolled, its revolutions were calculated and the number of yards produced recorded.
The woolen cloth was then brought to the finishing room, spread on long tables and burled, a process which saw the removal of knots, ends and surface bits. The cloth was next milled or fulled where it was run for hours between rapidly revolving upright rolls while being constantly saturated with soap in a box-like mill. The soaping and kneading shrunk the fabric up to 12 inches from its original 65 or 68 inch width. The cloth was then vigorously machine washed to remove all remaining soap, centrifugally dried, drawn over rollers to straighten it, then drawn through a drying chamber where it passed alternately up and down over a series of rollers while hot air was blown onto it by a fan blower.
Next the cloth was gigged which was done by a machine with large cylinders set with teasles. As the cylinders of the gig revolved, the burrs on the teasles raised a nap on the cloth. The next machines, a brush mill and a shearing mill, brushed this nap while shears cut the nap to an even length, “a most delicate operation”.

Shearing is a most important process in the work of finishing woolens, not so much on account of the skill required to run the shear itself, but more particularly on account of the experience necessary to produce uniform work, as well as the mechanical training required by the operator to have and to keep the machine in proper condition for good work ....

Shearing required strong attention to detail and was a position generally held by a seasoned operative. The cloth was then finished by being brushed once more and passed through a rotary press with a large smooth iron cylinder revolving in a curved bed from which it emerged perfectly ironed. From the press, the cloth was finally sent to the packing room where it was inspected one last time, re-rolled and stored by pattern, weight and color.

The Business of the Star Mill

The business of the Star Mill throughout its history proved erratic, subject as it was to fluctuations in the wool and woolen cloth markets. Though a successful company, the Star Mill was susceptible to the vagaries of the woolen market which frequently dictated operations in Middleborough. As early as spring, 1865, the company was successful enough to increase its capital stock, and by early 1870, the company’s stock was being quoted at $95 a share. The following year, the company declared a dividend of 10% and throughout the year, business remained good, warranting full time operation of the manufactory. Undoubtedly, the mill was negatively impacted by the economic downturn following 1873. Certainly, the mill was forced to shut down at the start of summer in 1875. By the close of that year, however, business once more appears to have been thriving with Middleborough noted as having produced an estimated $300,000 in woolen cloth. By the following summer, business prospects for the company were reported as “good”, so much so that an addition to the weaving room later that fall was necessitated. In late spring, 1879, the plant was operating “over hours” and four months later remained “lively”. “They are working their full force of about one hundred hands, and produce on an average something like 400 yards daily”.

The mid-1880s, however, witnessed a severe slump in the market which adversely affected operation of the mill.

The dull state of the woolen market causing but little demand for goods, the Star Mill company, at Middleboro, has about concluded on closing its factory for the summer months. This course will be taken rather than to manufacture and store the goods without profit.

Though acknowledged locally, the worsening economic climate of the mid-1880s was treated somewhat dismissively by at least one regional newspaper.

On every hand mills are closing their doors; the wages of operatives by thousands are being reduced; …And yet there are no indications that a period of long continued depression has been entered upon, or that ‘hard times’ is again to take up its reign among us.

Despite these assurances by the Plymouth Old Colony Memorial, depression conditions did reign, and in December, the Star Mill announced that it would shut down temporarily until economic conditions improved. While the factory was idled, numerous operatives were forced to seek elsewhere, many finding jobs in Fall River and New Bedford. The period of enforced idleness was one of the longest experienced by the company, and for workers mercifully came to an end in mid-summer, 1885, when conditions had improved enough to warrant resumption of work. Operations were subsequently restarted on August 1, and within months, the plant was apparently operating once more at full capacity, producing 15,000 yards weekly. Business, in fact, was so strong that weavers, the most skilled of the mill’s operatives, were provided a 10% wage increase in March 1886.

The final years of the decade, however, brought with them a harsh economic climate. During the late spring of 1886, the corporation announced that it was to cease operations, though this decision was later revoked, and work was to continue. “Middleboro’ is elated at this decision of the stockholders.” Nonetheless, a year later, stockholders were petitioning for the dissolution of the corporation, which was granted by the Supreme Judicial Court. The corporation, apparently, was reorganized at this time, for it remained in operation, though its existence continued to remain precarious throughout the late 1880s into the 1890s. In early 1889, operatives were anticipating layoffs and rumors regarding a possible permanent shutdown of the mill were rife throughout the latter half of 1889. The mill did in fact cease operations temporarily amidst difficult market conditions, though it ultimately resumed operations when the market improved.

Not only was the mill susceptible to fluctuations in the woolen market, but operation of the mill was frequently hampered by inadequate sources of power. While it was reported in July, 1865, that the local Middleborough gas works was to provide power to the mill, the operation in fact remained dependent upon the Nemasket River for driving its machinery. The river, however, remained a frequently unreliable source which, a number of times and from a number of conditions, was responsible for shutting down the mill. In November, 1865, and August, 1876, the scarcity of water mandated shorter runs and the mill to go onto half-time while lack of water forced operations to cease entirely in July, 1873. In March, 1872, the plant’s operation was halted by ice in the river. In February, 1870, anchor frost destroyed one of the mill water wheels and was again responsible for hampering operations that December. In time, to prevent such occurrences, boilers were installed to provide the motive power for the plant to supplement the power provided by the river. To fuel the company boilers required massive amounts of coal, and Middleborough coal dealer John Burt LeBaron is recorded in May, 1879, as having received 700 tons of coal, 600 of which he sold to the Star Mill. In April, 1886, even larger boilers were installed; nonetheless, the mill remained reliant upon the Nemasket River as an auxiliary source of power, so much so that the Star Mill corporation brought a successful legal suit against the City of Taunton which was found to have drawn down the Nemasket River so substantially through its municipal water withdrawals from lake Assawompsett as to have hindered the operation of the Middleborough plant.

The Star Mill’s Owners, Managers and Operatives

To carry out the operations of the mill, the Star Mill engaged upwards of one hundred hands as sorters, dyers, carders, spinners, weavers, dressers, finishers, engineers and other occupations who became highly skilled in their defined roles.

Somewhat ironically for a community best known industrially for the manufacture of boots and shoes, the Star Mill at one time was Middleborough’s largest employer. An 1889 shutdown of the mill prompted by a depressed woolen market highlighted the economic significance of the company to the community. “The mill pay roll has been the means of distributing $5,000 each month or $60,000 annually among the workmen and through them among the various tradesmen in town.” Throughout the era, the company’s role as the town’s largest taxpayer was frequently noted as well. (Not surprisingly, this fact prompted the company to request a reduction in its valuation following a sustained work stoppage in 1885).

For the mill’s operatives, work could be rigorous. The mill operated six days a week with ten hour weekday shifts, and when business climate was favorable, night shifts would be run in order to keep the mill at full capacity. In late 1874, the mill started upon an eight-hour plan, a momentous change, and in time, the number of hours worked per week by each operative would continue to decline.

In contrast to some larger mills elsewhere, the Star Mill corporation throughout the period appears to have been a rather paternalistic employer, and operation of the manufactory consequently seems to have been relatively untroubled by labor actions. In 1886, a number of operatives unsuccessfully sought a wage increase and five years later, in 1891, the spinners struck for higher wages, but few other actions are on record.

As part of its observance of the welfare of its workers, the Star Mill was noted for providing its operatives with free turkeys each Thanksgiving. (Similarly, the mill maintained two cows on its property on the opposite bank of the river, and fresh milk was made available to officers of the company. Tom Sheehan, the supervisor of the mill’s power plant, was responsible for the delivery of the milk and possibly care of the animals).

More significantly, the corporation provided housing for workers. The first boarding house was ready in December, 1864, and was followed by the construction of several others on East Main and Montello Streets, and Star Avenue was developed by and named for the corporation. The mill appears to have been lenient in the collection of rents on its mill houses it let to workers and went so far as to suspend the collection of rents for its boarding houses during the 1885 shutdown, prompting the Plymouth Old Colony Memorial to remark that “the company has at least the indications of a soul”.

While the mill owned up to fifteen mill houses along East Main and Montello Streets and Star Avenue, many more workers resided elsewhere in the Star Mill neighborhood and throughout town, including North Main Street. North Main Street was the residence, also, of the mill management. George Brayton, the company treasurer, and Charles H. Tobey, the mill superintendent, resided in the two neighboring homes between North and Barrows Streets. So numerous were the mill’s workers and so important the business to the community that in July, 1887, “a few of Middleboro’s prominent citizens” were agitating for the construction of a horse-drawn trolley to run from the mill along Main and Center Streets to the Old Colony Railroad depot on Station Street. Though a novel idea, what would have been Middleborough’s first and only horse car line was never built, and workers continued to walk daily to and from the mill.

Farwell Worsted Mill No. 2

In September, 1899, the Star Mill closed, and the property was disposed of on November 15, 1899, to Frank S. Farwell of Rhode Island, a prominent woolen manufacturer in that state. Farwell owned and operated a much larger mill at Central Falls, Rhode Island, where several hundred hands were employed in the production of worsted suitings and “trouserings”, and the Middleborough mill consequently became known as Farwell Mill No. 2. Following his acquisition of the Star Mill property, Farwell immediately carried out unspecified renovations to the mill buildings.

Like its predecessor, the Farwell Mill was subject to constantly changing market conditions. The prevailing difficult economic conditions which had plagued the Star Mill’s final years, continued into 1900 and proved detrimental to the operation of the Farwell Mill. In August of that year, with no work forthcoming, the spinners were out “enjoying a few days vacation”. The Brockton Times, however, indicated that it was not lack of business that had idled the spinners, but rather the resumption of a different kind of work by the Farwell operation: "The company is making goods in which worsted filling is used, and as the spinning mules here are not adapted for anything but wool, they have to be made at Farwell's other factory, thus throwing many out of employment here." Again, in mid-January, 1901, it was reported that “the spinners at the Star mills are out for a few days, the work being slack at the end of the run”. In fact, the slow period continued for a number of weeks due to a lack of yarn, though “it is hoped to have it running full swing, possibly evenings,” by mid-February. Between 1903 and mid-1905, business remained soft, and the mill operated on half-time only. Conditions showed signs of improvement beginning in mid-1904 when prospects were reported as good. Samples were sent to New York buyers and the plant was expected to be operating at full capacity by mid-July. At the start of 1905, the mill began to devote more of its looms to the production of so-called “fancy work”. At the time, 20 of the mill’s 70 looms were designated for high-end production, while an additional 20 were refitted soon afterwards for the same purpose. The attention to fancy goods production may have helped the mill’s production, and in August, 1905, it was reported that the plant had started “on the longest run the company has had since it [had] started the local plant”. Business prospects seemingly were bright and at the start of 1906, when dressers and weavers in the mill were provided with a 10% wage increase. “The increase is in line with that in many woolen mills through New England”, stated the Middleboro Gazette at the time. Such increases were typical of Farwell’s non-confrontational management style. The two Farwell mills remained free from labor troubles “for he would rather make concessions to help than have any sort of controversy.”

The prospects for continued improved business, however, proved illusory. The Farwell company, in fact, was strapped for cash. “Lack of ready capital made it impossible to carry on the business satisfactorily”. Seemingly, it was only the presence of Farwell which prevented a financial collapse for just five days following Farwell’s death on March 10, 1906, the Farwell Worsted Mills filed a petition in insolvency in federal circuit court in Rhode Island. The petition was brought forward on behalf of a number of creditors including Stevens, Sanford & Jordan of New York with which Farwell had an outstanding loan of $15,000, and the Centredale Worsted Mills of North Providence which had supplied Farwell with $180,000 worth of yarn. James A. Lister was appointed receiver with the authority to continue operating the company.

Though some believed that the company would be able to satisfy its creditors, such ultimately was not the case. Against the $491,767.60 in liabilities, the company had only $463,874.98 in assets of which $375,000 was in the form of its two mill properties, mill machinery and stock on hand. Accordingly, on May 10, Lister was authorized to sell the company’s Middleborough mill and contents for not less than $25,000, which was the amount which had been offered by Stevens, Sanford & Jordan.

Not surprisingly, the Stevens offer was readily accepted, and a new company to be known as the Nemasket Woolen Mills was formed with a directorate comprised of H. B. Stevens, George B. Sanford and Crawford W. Barnes, the last formerly with the Farwell Mills. Barnes was named President of the new company, while Sanford was to act as Treasurer.

Nemasket Woolen Mills

Unlike its predecessor, the Nemasket Woolen Company which had been organized from the wreckage of the Farwell Worsted Company had ready access to capital which it invested into the Middleborough mill and used to implement a number of needed changes. Almost immediately, the layout of the manufacturing process was reorganized and the machinery rearranged “to give better service.” Old outdated machines that had been used by Farwell were replaced with modern up to date ones at a cost of $30,000. In March, 1907, 12 new looms arrived with an additional 12 to follow, greatly enhancing Nemasket’s ability to produce fancy work which had been limited on the existing looms. The first cloth produced by the new firm was loomed in August, 1906, and business was subsequently reported as good with 150 hands being employed.

Like the Farwell Mill before it, the Nemasket Mill at first did not produce its own yarn. Rather it purchased woolen yarn on large spools from other manufacturers and dressed the yarn into warps, before weaving and finishing it into fine worsted cloth for men’s clothing. However, in May, 1910, the mill began spinning for the first time since its establishment four years previously, producing heavy-weight yarn in anticipation of the winter run. The decision to resume spinning may have been prompted by a steep increase in the price of yarn, the high grade yarn used by the mill being 30 cents higher in November, 1909 than at the same time in 1908. To produce the vast amounts needed for the weave room, spinners were placed on a six-day work week, while the weavers went to a shorter week. “The machines are taxed to their capacity [in the spinning room] to get out yarn for the four days’ weaving”, wrote the Gazette in June, 1910. Such runs, however, could frequently prove short-lived. Over a year later, business had slowed so considerably that weavers were without work in December, 1911. Such periods of enforced idleness were hardly considered holidays, but were rather fraught with frustration, financial hardship and emotional stress for workers. So difficult could they prove to be that one unemployed weaver, John A. Callahan, committed suicide in December, 1911, by shooting himself through the heart in the room on North Main Street where he boarded. Fortunately, however, such drastic actions were rare.

A Modern Operation
In contrast to the Farwell Mill before it, the Nemasket Mill appears to have been a dynamic company, deriving success through innovative design and experimentation with novel products and new lines. While both the Star and Farwell Mills had employed designers and pattern makers, the Nemasket Woolen Mill appears to have paid a higher level attention to this aspect of the business (if the coverage in local newspapers is any indication). Immediately following the establishment of the company, a design department was established and in time would be located in the former picker house above the boiler room. Charles Buchanan served as the firm’s first designer and, was followed in 1908, by Ernest Lord. In his role as designer, Lord helped drive demand for the company’s woolens, and his contributions to the Nemasket Woolen Mill’s early success would eventually lead him to be named mill superintendent.

While gray woolens remained a staple of the period, Buchanan and Lord introduced new designs and patterns for the company beginning in 1907. “A radical change will come in with the fall goods, which will run to olives considerably. A lot of mixtures in checks and plaids …”. Lord’s designs for 1910 included stripes and were “’loud’ too, though not quite as noisy as the ‘horse blanket’ colorings and figures which a few years ago attracted so much attention”. Samples were produced seasons in advance and shown to buyers in New York and other cities who would book their orders with the firm. At the close of May, 1908, the mill began to produce samples for summer 1909 goods, and was busy producing cloth for winter 1908-09, all of which were in “loud and lurid colors, including both stripes and plaids”. The local newspapers frequently reported upon the patterns proposed by the mill, an indicator of fashion trends for the following seasons.

Not only new designs, but new products helped drive the business. For the 1911-12 season, the mill reintroduced heavy weight overcoat woolens, with samples being produced in during the fall of 1910, “this being the first time the mill has gone into this business in recent years”. “Included in the number are several lines of very heavy goods, really two pieces, which are sewed together in the weaving. The outside is one color, and the lining, which is attached in the making process, is of gay plaids. Already early showing of these samples has brought large orders.” Another new line was woolen cloth for cloth-top shoes which were very much in vogue. Hoping to capitalize of the demand for these shoes, the mill began experimenting with producing cloth during late 1914.

The high quality of the goods produced at the Nemasket Mill was readily recognized by buyers and manufacturers, and Middleborough woolens were consequently much in demand. In late 1914, Clarence Vail, an owner of the Dutchess Pants Company which produced 3,000 pair of trousers daily, commented to Middleborough clothier J. Augustine Sparrow that the Nemasket Mill ‘produced the finest worsteds of any concern [Dutchess] bought from.”

While the high grade of its product permitted the Nemasket Woolen Mill to develop a wide reputation for itself within the woolen and clothing industry and thereby secure customers, the mill nonetheless appears to have aggressively pursued clients. In March, 1907, the mill was producing woolen for some 270 customers and each successive year brought larger orders than ever. As a consequence, some departments were obliged to work evenings and overtime in order to keep pace with orders. In early 1910, the finishing room was working overtime in order to keep up with the other departments.

Business continued to be flush through 1917, and America’s involvement in World War I brought more business when in July, 1918, the mill secured a contract to produce 65,000 yards of 20-ounce worsted suiting for uniforms. The run commenced on September 1, and required nearly half of the factory’s capacity to produce. Demand for the company’s goods remained high through the early 1920s, so much so that the company was unable to keep pace with orders and, as a result, additions were made to the mill including the construction of a large Weave Shed to house 40 looms which nearly doubled the plant’s capacity and added 50 new jobs.
Despite the success of the Nemasket Woolen Mill, as had been the case with the Star Mill the local woolen industry remained largely overlooked by the community as a whole, an oversight which the Middleboro Gazette attempted to rectify as early 1907:

Few Middleboro people realize what is going on at the Nemasket Woolen Mills, and the prominent position which that company is taking in the community industrially. It can be safely said that the concern now in the hands of enthusiastic businessmen will so increase that Middleboro will shortly become a prosperous woolen town.

Workers & the 1924 Strike

The situation for the Nemasket Woolen Company’s approximately 150 workers through most of its history was “comfortable”, the company being a relatively benign employer. “The mill was known as a good place to work. Well managed, with a pleasant atmosphere and a product you could be proud to say you had a hand in. When you saw a picture of a New York banker in striped pants and morning coat you knew you just might have made that cloth yourself.” Even the radical I. W. W. labor union which formed a branch in Middleborough in 1912 found conditions in the mill so satisfactory "that there is to be no effort to bring about changed conditions" in the mill by the union.
Throughout the period mill workers saw their wages increase, thanks to the business which the mill was able to maintain. Just before Christmas, 1919, operatives received a 12½ percent increase in pay, a product of the company’s prospects for the immediate future. Meanwhile, the number of hours operatives were required to work correspondingly decreased. At the start of 1917, the mill’s 58 hour week was replaced with a shorter 54 hour week. Operations commenced at 6:45 in the morning, halted for a 45-minute “nooning”, and finished at 5.15 in the evening. Two and a half years later, the company went to a 48 hour week, with the starting time being pushed back to 7.20 a. m.
Despite the advances made by workers during the period, many of the benefits received by them were based upon the continuing success of the company, and when business slowed for the first time in Nemasket’s history in the early 1920s, workers felt the pinch. In January, 1922, the mill closed for nearly two months before partially resuming operations with 50 looms in early March.

Much more crucially, a decision taken by management in late 1924, would have far graver consequences, both for workers and the future of the mill. In the late summer of that year, management began requiring weavers to assume responsibility for two looms – one producing white work and one producing fancy work. Because production of fancy work required two fillings for the loom which considerably slowed the weaving process, and because weavers were paid “by the cut” (the amount of fabric they produced), they felt aggrieved, arguing that they were “getting about half as much work as they would if the old arrangements were in vogue”. In a later open letter to mill management, the weavers clarified their position:

The issue on which the suspension of work occurs is simply the matter of two kinds of filling for loom work. We desire to call your attention to the fact that some time ago, the superintendent, Mr. Lord, gave us his word that there would be no such task imposed on the weavers of the Nemasket Mill.

Lord appears to have been caught between the proverbial “rock and a hard place”; while he failed to deny the statement, he also failed to recollect having made such a promise. When Nemasket management subsequently failed to satisfactorily address the weavers’ concerns, the weavers at the mill struck, and on September 17, sought to affiliate themselves with the Amalgamated Textile Councils of America.

For its part, mill management made no move to replace striking workers, who appear to have picketed the mill regularly, the Gazette noting in November that “there has been quite a demonstration among the strikers each day as those who are working go to and from their work.” Meanwhile inside the mill, management and the remaining operatives were struggling to produce samples which were desperately needed to secure future orders as well as the future of the mill. “The management of the mill claims that if they are not allowed to make samples there will be no chance to get business and the strike matter will be further from settlement than it is now.” Striking weavers, however, disputed that the mill was producing samples. “There are no samples being made at the present time in the mill. It is regular work known as Jobbers’ Ends, made for the purpose of holding the orders, as all samples have been made.” Once again, the strikers added “If the management wish to have these made, all they have to do is to take the warp out of the loom with the two colors of filling, and the weavers will return to work ….”
As the strike wore on, the situation grew increasingly volatile. One young mill worker who was engaged in weaving was later “visited by some of the weavers and promised a good beating if he did not get out”. Though strikers denied having made any such threats, local police were called in, and were a presence at the mill “at practically all times”. At the close of the year, a fracas involving a striking weaver, a sewer at the mill and the young daughter of a striking operative demonstrated the passions which the strike aroused in the Star Mill neighborhood.
Tensions were further heightened in early November when the woolen company ordered tenants to vacate its mill houses within 14 days, a move the local newspaper characterized as “unexpected”. To aid strikers, a benefit attended by 500 people was held in early 1925. While the strike engendered strong views either way, it received little attention elsewhere in Middleborough which had historically overlooked the local woolen industry. Little coverage appeared in the local Gazette which seemed to have little sympathy for striking weavers. Following the eviction of striking operatives from the mill tenements in November, local furniture dealer William Egger sold new furnishings to the Nemasket Woolen Company for which he was chastised by local strike supporters. In his own defense, Egger somewhat fatuously argued that had he not sold to the company, another dealer would have. His more telling statement – “I do not know even what the strike is for” – was revealing and likely indicative of the views of most Middleborough residents at the time.
The strike was never resolved and the continued inactivity of the mill ultimately drove the company into liquidation. On June 28, 1928, the assets of the Nemasket Woolen Company at Middleborough were sold, including the mill complex, 13 mill houses, 3 store houses (which stood on the site of the 1966 Winthrop-Atkins addition) and 3 buildable lots on East Main and Montello Streets. Also auctioned at the time were the contents of the mill buildings which included the mill machinery.

Walker Company

The Nemasket Woolen Mill and storehouses were purchased by Judge Dennis D. Sullivan of Middleborough for $12,850, who was then reported as “already in consultation with parties who he hopes will locate here in some form of manufacture.” The bulk of the machinery was purchased in various lots, most by Rhode Island manufacturers. Unfortunately for Sullivan, the timing of his purchase was poor. Just over a year later, the stock market crash would precipitate the great depression, and in such a climate attracting manufacturers to the vacant mill proved impossible.

It was not until late 1935 that Sullivan was able to sell the newer 1920 section of the mill to the Walker Company of Middleborough, a manufacturer of ice bags, water bottles and electric heating pads, which had been established in 1918. Following the death of Albert Walker in 1936, the firm was acquired by William S. Bradford of Springfield, Massachusetts, who continued to manufacture under the Walker name, and who was responsible for the growth of the company which became a nationally-known producer and the leading producer of rubberized fabric ice bags in the country.
Under the ownership of the Walker Company, five additions were made to the plant which, in 1970 employed 100 workers and “contributed steadily and substantially to Middleboro’s economy.” The company closed in early 1972.


The older 1863 portion of the Star Mill complex was sold by Sullivan in mid-1936, at which time it was announced that the Standard Cut Sole Company of Brockton, a tanner and leather shoe sole maker, would occupy the remainder of the mill buildings and commence operations before July 1. “They suffered a substantial loss almost immediately when professional Boston thieves broke down the main gate and stole twelve thousand dollars worth of leather findings.” In 1939, the Gerlich Leather Company, a maker of leather belts and fancy goods, leased a portion of the 1863 mill building and employed 100 operatives before relocating to East Taunton in 1941.

In 1944, the Winthrop-Atkins Company acquired the 1863 Star Mill for use as a manufacturing and storage facility for its calendar business. Following the closure of the Walker Company in 1972, the 1920 portion of the mill complex was acquired and reunited once more under a single owner. It should be remarked that the preservation of the property relatively intact and unaltered since that time has largely been due to the efforts of the Atkins family and the sympathetic ownership of the Winthrop-Atkins company.

"Nemasket Woolen Mills, Middleboro, Mass.", J. H. Frank, Middleborough, publisher, color octochrome postcard, circa 1910
This view provides one of the best known views of the upstream side of the Lower Factory dam, seen here in the middle right just behind the boatman. In contrast to other views of the mill, here the level of the mill pond is substantially lower, exposing an extensive swath of riverbank in front of the Repair Shop, as well as the top of the dam and the adjoining granite abutments. The dam had been erected in 1833 by Peirce & Wood which at the time occupied the future Star Mill site where they engaged in the manufacture cotton cloth, shovels and other iron implements.

Carding Engine, Old Sturbridge Village, Sturbridge, MA, Michael J. Maddigan photographer, August 22, 2004
Such simple engines would have been typical of those featured in Thomas Pratt's carding mill at the Lower Factory in the early 1800s.
Star Mill, photograph looking south along (East) Main Street, 1865
Walter Thompson Collection, Middleborough Public Library
A beautiful photograph of the Star Mill from the middle of the 19th century, this view well documents how Middleborough’s agricultural economy was giving way to industrial development and the juxtaposition between the two. The mill complex, with its many different machines, was tangible evidence of the local Industrial Revolution and itself could be seen as a tightly-organized mechanism. Raw wool received into the end of the mill depicted at the left of the photograph was subjected to various processes, passing through the building as it went and ultimately emerging as finished cloth at the far end of the mill near the right hand side of the photograph. From left to right are the original Office and Drug Room located in the gambrel-roofed wing, the Drying Building with the cupola and mill bell, the hulking Finishing Building with its first smokestack just visible behind, the Weaving Building in the pontoon-roofed ell facing the camera, the Repair Shop in the gable roofed building and the Shipping Building. The only other structure visible in the picture is the duplex mill house located on Indian Hill just to the right of the Finishing Building. This house, along with several others, were built or owned by the company and rented to mill operatives. The mill pond may clearly be seen between the Repair Shop and Finishing Building. Notice that a neat sidewalk has been constructed alongside the stone wall up what would become known as Star Mill Hill. Many operatives, as well as management of the company resided along North Main Street at the crest of the hill.
Nemasket Mills, Fred F. Churbuck photographer, photograph, circa 1910
This view of the rear of the former Star Mill in winter indicates what this portion of the mill must have looked like. The two and one-half story building to the left served the Star Mill as a repair shop.

Wool Rovings, Paul Hart photographer
Rovings were coils of scoured and carded wool which were produced by the carding engines preparatory to spinning. Photo courtesy of Paul Hart:

Wool-washing Machine, C. G. Sargent's Sons, Graniteville, MA, illustration from Appletons' Cyclopaedia of Applied Mechanics, 1889, p. 943
"The machine consists of a series of stationary rakes, or racks, alternating with movable ones, which are actuated by a crank-motion, and arranged in a long box partially filled with scouring liquor. The wool is placed on the feed-apron, which carries it forward, and drops it into the box back of the first stationary rake. The rakes are suspended on pivots ar each end and allowed to swing a short distance freely. The wool remains behind this stationary rake until the first moving rake comes forward, passes its teet between the teeth of the stationary rake first mentioned, seizes a portion of the wool, and carries it forward to the action of the second rake. By the time the wool has arrived at the fourth rake (if that number is used), it has become thoroughly saturated with the liquor, the dirt, grease, and all foreign matter, loosened ready for removal by the squeezing rolls. It remains to conduct the wool out from the liquor. By means of the last rake in the bowl the wool is carried upon the convex table and left, where it is held" until carried up to the squeeze-rolls. "The more evenly the wool is delivered to the squeeze=rolls, the more perfectly the water is extracted and squeezed out" [Appleton, p. 944].
Wool-Drier, illustration from Appletons' Cyclopaedia of Applied Mechanics, 1889, p. 944.
"From the washing machine the wool is taken to the 'drier' ... which can be used either as a hot- or cold-air drier by reversing the direction of the fan. The fan, being put in motion, sucks the air down through the top of the air-box (which is open), passes the steam-pipes, and is heated in its passage to the fan, which forces it forward into the drier under the wire netting supporting the wool. The pressure of the air forces it up through the wool, and in its passage absorbs the moisture contained in the fibre. The air-box and coli can be placed under the floor, and take air from the room below, if more convenient. In warm, dry weather, the steam can be shut off from the coil, and simply cold air used, or sufficient steam admitted to do the amount of work required" [Appleton, pp. 944, 945].

Wool Picker, C. G. Sargent's Sons, Graniteville, MA, Illustration from Appletons' Cyclopaedia of Applied Mechanics, 1889, p. 945.
"From the drier the wool is taken to the wool-picker, which is a very simple machine, consisting of a pair of feed-rolls, which deliver the wool to the action of a toothed cylinder, or set of beaters armed with steel teeth, and supported at the end of radial arms attached to a central shaft. The cyliner or beater is usually 36 in. in diameter and from 30 to 36 in. wide, and revolves from 500 to 700 times per minute, detaching the fibres of the wool from the clotted masses in which they are left by the washer, and preparing them for the card....In this machine, the wool, taken from the feed-rolls by the picker-cylinder is carried by it to the burr-cylinder, which is composed of a series of circular saws, very similar to those of the cotton-gin, bolted together on an axle, and separated from each other by thin washers, which admit of the entrance of the wool between the saws, but not of that of burrs or other foreign substances... [The wool is carried round with the burr-cylinder]. passing between the teeth of the saw, while the burrs and other foreign matters adhering to the wool are knocked off by a revolving beater, the blades of which just clear the teeth of the saws.... A revolving brush and fan clears the wool from the teeth of the burr-cylinder and delivers it to the wool-burr, in readiness for the card" [Appleton, p. 945].

Wool Mixing Picker, Davis & Furber, North Andover, MA, Illustration from I. C. S. Staff, "Wool Mixing" (International Textbook Company: 1905), section 32, p. 16.
"After the materials composing a mix have been carefully spread in layers on the floor of the picker room, the next operation is to pass the stock through a machine designed to blend and intermingle the various components in such a manner that a homogenous mix is obtained....The machine most commonly used for this purpose is the mixing picker....Another object of the mixing picker is to open out the wool so that it will be in a suitable condition for feeding to the cards.

"The principle on which the mixing picker operates is that of opening the wool and intermingling the fibers by means of a rapidly rotating cylinder armed with storng teeth curved forwards in the direction in which the cylinder rotates" ["Wool Mixing, p. 16].
Carding Engine, Davis & Furber, North Andover, MA, Illustration from Appletons' Cyclopaedia of Applied Mechanics, 1889, p. 946.
"The wool is weighed out by the tender, and spread on the feed-apron A, from which it passes between a pair of feed-rolls B, and is delivered by a 'licker-in' to the main cylinder C, from which it is lifted by the strippers D, and passed to the 'workers' E, by which it is again returned to the main cylinder. It is then loosened from the cylinder by the 'fancy-roll' F, which is clothed with long straight teeth, and is finally taken from the cylinder by the doffer G, from which it is in turn removed by the doffing comb H, and passes through the drawing rolls I I, to be wound into a roving or sliver on the balling roll J" [Appleton, p. 946].

Wool Warping Machine, Davis & Furber, North Andover, MA, illustration from Appletons' Cyclopaedia of Applied Mechanics, 1889, p. 948.
"The yarn is first wound on spools A, which are placed in a proper frame or 'creel' in such numbers as are needed to form a section of the warp, and the yarn is taken from them through the size-rolls B, dried over the copper cylinders C, and wound upon the reel D. This reel is mounted in a frame, which travels longitudinally on a railway E, fixed in the floor so that when one section is filled the reel can be moved so as to bring another division opposite the centre of the dresser. This plan affords great facilities for preparing the particolored warps so common in woolen goods, and admits of the repition of the necessary pattern for shawls, plaid, cassimeres, etc., until the reel is filled to the width necessary for the goods to be produced. After the reek is filled, the belt connecting it with the dresser is removed, and yarn is transferred from it on to the loom-beam in a continuous sheet" [Appleton, p. 948].

Gigging Machine, Illustration from Knight's American Mechanical Dictionary, 1876
Shearing Machine, Illustration from Knight's American Mechanical Dictionary, 1876

"East Main Street and Nemasket Mills, Middleboro, Mass.", sepia postcard, circa 1908
A large number of operatives are depicted on (East) Main Street heading home for their 45-minute lunch or leaving at the close of their shift. The mill operations at the Star Mill employed upwards of 150 operatives, many of whom resided in the immediate neighborhood. For those that did not, there was a long trudge up Star Mill Hill to their homes along and off of North Main Street or the nearest trolley at Middleborough Four Corners. As seen in the picture, the plant was enclosed by a wooden fence. The building which appears just below the smokestack may be Hose House No. 3, a building erected by the Middleborough Fire District in the late 19th century to provide fire protection to the neighborhood. Originally the mill was equipped with fire pails to combat any threat of fire. Later, two hydrants were installed – one on the west end of the Finishing Building adjacent to the flume and the other on the east end between the Dye House and the Drug Room. In 1885, one of the town’s 75 hydrants was installed as part of the waterworks system constructed for Middleborough at that time. The new municipal hydrant supplemented the Star Mill’s existing fire protection at that time: 30 wooden pails, two fire extinguishers, 700 feet of two and a half inch linen hose attached to a vertical pipe on each floor, and a few pumps. By 1891, however, the mill was connected to the municipal water system and Grinnell automatic sprinklers had been installed throughout.

"Nemasket Worsted Mills, Middleboro, Mass.", The Leighton & Valentine Company, New York, publisher, color postcard, circa 1910
Michael J. Maddigan Family, photograph, c. 1898
The family of Michael J. Maddigan (1854-1931) was typical of those that resided in the Star Mill neighborhood and who found employment as operatives in the mill. Michael Maddigan was engaged as a fireman and night watchman for the Star Mill in the 1910s and 20s. In 1900, son John was working as a wool carder in the factory while daughter Jane was employed in the finishing department. Their home (pictured behind them) was located on Star Avenue where other mill families resided at various times, including those of James H. Russell, the spinning room overseer in 1895, and Charles H. Boehme, a dresser in the mill. In the 1928 auction of the woolen company’s assets, Maddigan purchased the duplex mill house on Indian Hill in the rear of the mill, and the property has remained in the family since.

Star Mill worker’s children, photograph, c. 1895
These children – identified only as Charlie, Martha, Elsie and Eddie – along with their dog Prince, lived at 36 East Main Street, directly opposite the Star Mill, in one of the corporation’s mill houses. Following the turn of the century, the house was occupied by Albert V. Jacques, boss carder at the mill, who himself had a young family similar to the one pictured above.

George Brayton and Priscilla Juliette (Tobey) Brayton, photographs, undated
At the age of 32, Brayton (1831-1913) was named Treasurer and Clerk of the Star Mill corporation and relocated to Middleborough from New Bedford to oversee day to day operation of the mill. Brayton, like his operatives lived nearby to the mill, residing in the home on the southwest corner of North and North Main Streets across the lawn from Charles H. Tobey, the mill superintendent. Brayton’s son, Edward Bond Brayton (b. 1865), was later employed at the Star Mill in the late 1890s as a pattern maker, while his daughter, Lucy Maria Tobey Brayton (1868-1904) was engaged as an assistant librarian with the Middleborough Public Library, a genteel occupation for a young woman of her class. The home in which Brayton resided is now part of the Downtown Middleborough National Register Historic District, as is the house of mill superintendent Charles H. Tobey. The silk dress of Brayton’s wife, Priscilla (1829-1914), in the photograph above would have been quite dissimilar to those worn by mill operatives and it is indicative of her prosperity relative to that of her husband’s employees.

Farwell Worsted Mill, photograph, c. 1905

Nemasket Woolen Mill, color postcard, circa 1910
Walter Thompson Collection, Middleborough Public Library
The mill buildings appear impressive in this view northeastwards across the millpond as they almost seem to float directly upon the pond’s waters. For years, the pond remained the mill’s primary power source until 1886 when large boilers were installed, replacing an earlier, smaller steam plant and the mill’s water wheel. The smokestack visible in the picture was constructed at that time and became a conspicuous landmark in the vicinity.

Crompton & Knowles Automatic Intermediate Worsted Loom, Crompton & Knowles Loom Works, Worcester, MA, catalog illustration, 1911
Crompton & Knowles was the largest, most prolific and best-known designer of loom machinery in the United States. The Nemasket Mill relied heavily upon Crompton looms which constituted the bulk of the machines used locally in weaving.
Nemasket Mills, George Morse photographer, photograph, 1910
The view depicts the rear of the Star Mill, obscured by the heavy vegetation is the Nemasket River. At the far left, a portion of the Nemasket Woolen Mill’s Repair Shop appears. At the far right, a wood-frame storage shed obstructs the former Drying Building. The shed was replaced in 1918 by the Nemasket Woolen Mill’s new Dye House which, itself, was greatly expanded two years later in 1920. The small shed in the middle center was utilized in conjunction with the local herring fishery, this site constituting Middleborough’s municipal fishing pool. As the owner of the site, the Star Mill in 1882 had opposed the town’s construction of a fish house on its property, arguing that it had no right to do so. The town remained undeterred by the hostile attitude of the company, and built the small structure anyway. Nonetheless, so wary of the mill’s intentions were town officials that they had a guard posted to protect the structure during the alewives’ annual spawning run that year. So as not to further antagonize the Star Mill’s officers, the town removed the building at the conclusion of the run though the site continued to remain in use for the taking herring until 1965.

Posselt's Textile Journal, December, 1914, page 109
Numerous trade journals within the industry documented advances and developments within
textile manufacturing. Posselt's is just one example and this page from December, 1914, hints at the technical nature of and preciseness required in creating and replicating woolen fabric patterns.

Nemasket Woolen Mills, from The Entire Holdings, Real Estate, Machinery, Equipment of the Nemasket Worsted Co. at Middleboro, Mass., half-tone, 1928
The view above is taken from the vantage point of a passer-by on East Main Street peering into the heart of the Nemasket Woolen Mill just four years after the 1924 strike which closed the plant. To the left is the 1886 Power Plant addition. Behind it is the large Finishing Building. At right of center is the smaller Weaving and Dressing Building. To the right is the small free standing brick Office Building constructed by the company in 1920 to replace its outdated office which since the opening of the Star Mill in 1863 had been located in the mill. The Office was relocated a short distance up Star Mill Hill in 1944 at which time it was connected with the 1920 Weave Shed with which it shares its design.
Weave Shed Doors, Michael J. Maddigan photographer, May 24, 2009
These doors are one of a pair on the front of the Nemasket Mill's 1920 weave shed addition which face East Main Street. Beyond the doors may be glimpsed the cavernous space which was utilized for weaving. The large windows, clerestory roof and glass panes in the upper halves of the doors themselves were designed to permit as much natural light as possible to flood the workspace.

"Nemasket Woolen Mills, Middleboro, Mass.", color postcard, circa 1910
During the second quarter of the 20th century, the slow gradual decay of the dam permitted the waters of the mill pond to drain and the Nemasket River to resume its natural channel on its approach to the mill. While consideration was given in the 1950s to rebuilding the dam, no action was taken. The last remnants of the 1833 dam were removed in 1964 preparatory to the realignment of the river. “Destruction of the old dam has been completed” announced the local press at the time.

The Entire Holdings, Real Estate, Machinery, Equipment of the Nemasket Worsted Co. at Middleboro, Mass., Samuel T. Freedman & Co., Auctioneers, Boston, auction catalog cover, June 28, 1928.

Brockton Times [Brockton, Massachusetts]
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Emery, Stephen Hopkins. History of Taunton, Massachusetts, From Its Settlement to the Present Time. Syracuse: D. Mason & Co., Publishers, 1893.
The Entire Holdings, Real Estate, Machinery, Equipment of the Nemasket Worsted Co. at Middleboro, Mass. Auction catalog. Bosoton: Samuel T. Freedman & Co., Auctioneers, June 28, 1928.
I. C. S. Staff, "Wool Mixing". Np: International Textbook Co., 1905.
“Insurance Maps of Middleboro Plymouth County Massachusetts”. New York: Sanborn Map Company, March, 1906. Sheet 15.
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Maddigan, Michael J. Recollecting Nemasket, Middleboro Gazette, August 11, 2005
--------------------. "Thomas Pratt's 'Start-up Technology' of 1803", Recollecting Nemasket, Middleboro Gazette, February 21, 2008
--------------------. "Solomon K. Eaton and the Star Mill", Recollecting Nemasket, Middleboro Gazette, January 10, 2008
--------------------. "Cotton Manufacturing at the Lower Factory", Recollecting Nemasket, Middleboro Gazette
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“Middleboro, Mass.” New York: Sanborn Map & Publishing Co. Limited, August, 1885. Sheet 2.
“Middleboro Plymouth Co., Mass.” New York: Sanborn-Perris Map Co., Limited, May, 1891. Sheet 2.
“Middleboro Plymouth Co., Mass.” New York: Sanborn-Perris Map Co., Limited, June, 1896. Sheet 9.
“Middleboro Plymouth Co., Mass.” New York: Sanborn-Perris Map Co., Limited, April, 1901. Sheet 9.
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On the Record. Winthrop-Atkins Company, Inc. newsletter. 2:3-4. March-April, 1966.
Plymouth County Registry of Deeds
Pratt, Rose and Ernest S., "The Old Star Mill as I Remember It", Middleborough Antiquarian, 5:1. January, 1963, pp. 6, 7.
Romaine, Mertie. History of the Town of Middleboro, Massachusetts. Volume II. Middleborough: Town of Middleborough, 1969.
Weston Thomas. History of the Town of Middleboro, Massachusetts. Boston: Houghton, Mifflin and Company, 1906.
Updated July 8, 2009, at 11:21 PM


R said...

Thanks for the great info about my ancestors, George and Priscilla Brayton!

The photo of Priscilla is from 1860, after her return from Hawaii.

The family genealogy is at

Robert Morss

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