Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Warren's Mills

On the Nemasket River immediately downstream from the Murdock Street Bridge is an historic site about which very little is generally known and even less has been written. This is Warren’s Mills, site of a 19th-century dam, grist mill, saw mill, shingle mill and forge.

Sometime during the first years of the 19th century, between 1802 and 1812, a dam was erected across the Nemasket River near what would become Murdock Street by Beza Tucker of Boston and Daniel Warren of Middleborough. Today, the location of this dam, historically known as Warren’s Dam, is still visible during times of low water, marked by a band of weed clumps stretching across the river on the downstream side of the present bridge.

A grist mill was soon afterwards erected on the right bank of the river sometime about 1811-12 as a deed bearing the date of September 1, 1812, describes it as “lately built”. A saw mill powered by the impounded water of the river also stood nearby and was likely contemporary with the grist mill.

Sometime after the construction of the two mills but before 1822, a forge was established at the dam. This was located on the left bank of the river and included a “stove and shed”. The forge appears to have been a short-lived venture, having disappeared before 1855.

In the 1830s, the mill complex was acquired by John Warren and John Milton Warren who added a shingle mill on the river’s left bank sometime prior to 1855. In 1858, a new shingle machine was installed in the mill, the first of its kind, with the log being placed in an upright position for sawing. At the time, Warren’s Mills was producing 300,000 shingles and 150,000 boxboards annually, the boxboards being contracted for E. & G. Belcher of Randolph.

Later, Nathaniel Warren owned the complex in conjunction with John Milton Warren and it appears to have been devoted exclusively to milling lumber. The two sold the entire property in 1866 to James Gano Cushman. Cushman owned a large farm on the west bank of the river between Murdock and Plymouth Streets (now the site of River's Edge Estates) and he undoubtedly used the cartpath which traversed his farm, roughly running parallel with the river, to access his mills. Cushman, however, did not own the mills long. Less than a year after purchasing them, he sold the mills to Zebedee Leonard.

Leonard continued to operate the sawmill which appears on the 1879 map of Middleborough under his name. However, less than a year later, after having “been put in complete order for the season’s work,” the mill fell victim to an incendiary fire in the autumn of 1880, and was totally destroyed. The loss was $3,000. The mill was only partially insured and was not rebuilt.

Nemasket River at Murdock Street, Middleborough, MA, photograph, c. 1900
The view looks upstream along the Nemasket River just below the Murdock Street bridge. The remains of Warren's Mills can be seen in the foreground as the stone walls in the river. In the distance, houses along Plymouth Street are visible.

Middleboro Gazette
, December 11, 1858, page 2.
Old Colony Memorial, "County and Elsewhere", October 28, 1880, page 4.
Plymouth Deeds 127:181, 129:250, 149:16, 340:82, 345:77.


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