1692-1892; A Memorial Volume of the Bi-Centennial Celebration of
the Town of Windham, Connecticut, containing the historical addresses,
poems, and a description of events connected with the observance
of the two hundreth anniversary of the incorporation of the town,
as held in the year 1892." Published by the Committee, Hartford,
Windhams Second Century &SHY;
North & South Windham:
By the kindness of Mr. P.H. Woodward,
a native of Franklin, son of the late Ashbel Woodward, M.D. and who
is now secretary of the Hartford Board of Trade and an active member
of the Connecticut Historical Society, I am able to present the following
facts concerning the manufacturing settlements at North Windham and
South Windham. Much of the material, which was gleaned from original
sources by Mr. Woodward, is now for the first time published.
About the year 1810, the firm of Taintor,
Abbe & Badger (John Taintor, Charles Taintor, George Abbe and
Edmund Badger) built a paper mill at North Windham, then known as New
Previously, the water power at this place had been utilized only for
driving a saw mill. They made writing paper of three grades respectively,
No. 1, No. 2, and No. 3. The texture was firm and strong, but the finish
inferior. The Taintor Brothers and George Abbe were merchants of Windham
Center. To a large extent help was paid and stock purchased through
orders on neighboring traders, who in this way bartered for the products
of the mill, money playing a small part comparatively in effecting
After a few years of doubtful success the other partners prudently retired,
leaving Badger alone with nominal ownership. About the year 1825 he failed,
when the property practically reverted to the Taintors, by virtue of
claims upon it.
For a short period after the withdrawal of Badger, a new firm, Foster &
Post, ran the mill, but from lack of capital or encouragement, soon
abandoned the business.
Meanwhile, one Pickering, an Englishman, had shipped to this country
a Fourdrinier machine, the first imported in America. It was sent from
London by way of Germany on account of certain duty regulations. On the
passage hither the owner entrusted the care of the machine to two fellow
countrymen of his, coming himself by another vessel direct. On the voyage
a severe epidemic broke out, so prostrating both passengers and crew,
that the craft was with difficulty brought into port. Pickering attributed
the preservation of his life to the fidelity of his servant, John Carter,
an Irishman, one of the very few that escaped the disease.
He soon formed a partnership with Mr. Frost, a Boston bookseller, under
the name of Frost & Pickering. In seeking a location they finally
selected North Windham. The old mill had become dilapidated, but was
in the market at low figures, and this was probably the inducement
which determined their choice. The new firm took possession in 1827.
The structure was in a great measure rebuilt, under the supervision
of George Spafford of South Windham, an experienced mill wright.
Notwithstanding the superiority of the new machine, misfortunes continued
to pursue the enterprise. Pickering is represented as a dashing man,
more devoted to jolly companionship than to work. A similar disposition
prevailed among the employees. As a set they were intemperate and consequently
indifferent. The inevitable catastrophe in due time followed, bankruptcy
again stopping the wheels in 1829.
Grant & Daniels, Boston creditors of Frost & Pickering, then
operated the mill for about two years, but managed its affairs at arms length,
with unsatisfactory results.
In 1831 the property was sold to Justin Swift, Charles Taintor have foreclosed
the mortgage which he had held from the time when it passed into the
hands of Edmund Badger. Mr. Swift converted the concern into a cotton
mill, and supervised the business personally till 1860. At his advent
the train of disasters that had for twenty years involved successive
operators in trouble, happily came to an end. Applying to the work, industry,
capacity and integrity he succeeded in making money where others had
The mill was burned in 1837 and again in 1860, and in both instances
rebuilt. The second rebuilding was in 1862, and it was then leased
to Merrick Bros. For thread making. In 1872 it was bought by E.H. Hall & Son,
E.H Hall died in 1884, and the son, E.H. Hall, Jr., buying out the
heirs, has since continued the business under the old firm name. Forty
hands are now employed in the manufacture of cotton yarns, the finished
product amounting to 3000 pounds per week, making a yearly product
of about $40,000 value.
At the instance of Mr. Pickering, Mr. Stowell Lincoln who owned a fulling
mill at North Windham, began about the year 1827 to make the felts that
were required in operating the Fourdrinier. After the general introduction
of this machine he continued to make them for the trade till 1857, when
the appliances of the business were sold and transferred to South Windham.
The factor is now unused and going to decay.
South Windham has earned a notable
place in the history of manufactures. Its water power is derived
from a stream draining Pigeon Swamp, a watershed of perhaps
four square miles on the eastern borders of Lebanon. The fall is
quite remarkable, being over 150 feet from the upper reservoir now
in use, to the place where it empties into the Shetucket.
Aside from a sawmill higher up, the power was first used for driving
a fulling mill, located on the present site of the works of Smith,
Co. Cloth woven on hand looms was brought to this establishment not
only from the neighborhood, but from places twenty or thirty miles
distant, to be dressed, finished and dyed. During the last war with
Great Britain the army cloth turned out here won a high reputation
for the excellence of its indigo blue. From the hands of Joshua Smith
the mill passed into the ownership of Geo. Spafford, and was demolished
In the year 1800, Amos Denison Allen established the cabinet business
at the old homestead near South Windham, where he continued to carry
it on for about a third of a century. He was an excellent workman and
very thorough. The products of his shop were distributed extensively
through Eastern Connecticut and portions of Massachusetts. Many old fashioned
long clock cases were made here for the southern market. At different
periods from six to fourteen hands were employed.
Many pieces, embracing articles of rare and curious design, that have
been in constant use from half to three fourths of a century, are still
to be found in the neighborhood in excellent preservation. Chairs that
have descended in the course of two generations from the parlor to the
kitchen, as firm in every joint as when they left the maker, are still
triumphantly exhibited in proof of the superiority of the old regimen
in cabinet making to the new. Mr. Allen was born March 13, 1744 and died
August 19, 1855.
Mr. Joseph Pickering imported the first Fourdrinier ever
landed in the United States and located at North Windham in 1827. George
Spafford of South Windham, a skillful mill-wright, was employed to rebuild
the mill, which had fallen into decay, and to adapt it to the uses now
required. While thus engaged he became impressed with the merits of the Fourdrinier
and foresaw the revolution it was destined to accomplish. All paper
previously manufactured in the United States had either been made by
hand, or on the primitive cylinder machine, the product of which was
much inferior to the hand-made.
The theory of making paper into a continuous web was first wrought out
in 1779, by Louis Robert, a common workman of Ensonne, France. The Fourdinier
Brothers, (Henry and Lealy) wealthy booksellers of London, purchased
the patent right for Great Britain in 1804. They not only improved the
invention greatly, but also brought its utilities into general notice.
It has since borne their name, and notwithstanding the wonderful development
of mechanical ingenuity since their time, still remains the standard
machine for the manufacture of all the finer grades of paper. In its
modern completeness it is
justly regarded as one of the greatest achievements of human contrivance.
Although it soon became apparent that from extrinsic causes the enterprise
of Pickering was doomed to failure, Mr. Spafford, convinced that the
Fourdrinier was destined to supersede the clumsy devices then in use,
determined to begin the manufacture of them. Having at different places
been brought into relations with Mr. James Phelps, a mechanic of wide
experience in building paper mills, the two men formed a partnership
for the purpose.
On the 8th of January 1829, Charles Smith, son of Joshua, then a youth
of 21, went to Stafford (New Furnace) now Staffordville, to take charge
of the business. Having supervised the building operations at North Windham
he had become familiar with the mechanism of the Fourdrinier. Stafford
was selected because a foundry was already established there where the
castings could be made. The work was carried on in a loft, and ample
precautions taken to protect the secrets of the undertaking from the
knowledge of the public. Of course curiosity was rife and some laughable
explanations were given to place it on an innocent scent.
The first Fourdrinier made on this continent was duly completed and
sold to Amos H. Hubbard of Norwich, by whom it was put in operation
in May, 1829, at The Falls. A second quickly followed and
was purchased by Henry Hudson of East Hartford. Both yielded such excellent
results that the projectors were encouraged to make preparations for
the continuance of the business. Accordingly having removed their tools
and a third Fourdrinier from Stafford, they broke ground for a shop
on the site of the old fulling mill at South Windham, Nov. 30, 1829.The
building was ready for occupancy in February, 1830.
They were the pioneers not only in
building the Fourdriniers, but also in many other cardinal improvements.
In 1831 the first dryers produced in this country were made in this
shop. Hitherto each American paper mill was provided with an airy
loft wherein the fresh sheets ere suspended by hand till their moisture
evaporated. By means of the dryers the same result was accomplished
automatically, thus effecting a great saving both in space and labor.
Soon after Mr. George Spafford invented the cutter for dividing the
continuous web into sheets of uniform size, a contrivance hardly
inferior to the dryers in its economic bearings.
Phelps & Spafford built numerous paper mills for customers in different
states and supplied them with machinery. The country was then comparatively
poor, each Fourdrinier costly, and bad debt numerous. As the hard times
of 1837, so painfully noted in our annals for financial disasters, approached,
the strain upon the resources of the firm became too severe to be successfully
withstood. The partners sold their interest to Charles Smith and Harvey
Winchester, both brothers-in-law of George Spafford. In 1838 the new
organization was completed under the name of Smith, Winchester & Co.,
the name which it still bears, Mr. Smith taking the general management.
By the death of his father Mr. Smith was left an orphan at the age of
thirteen, when the duties cares and responsibilities of manhood at once
devolved upon him. Before attaining his majority he directed the operations
of large gangs of men, proving equal to every task as it came. United
rare executive ability to mechanical talent both natural and cultivated
of a high order, he stared the concern upon a career of prosperity which
it has since pursued undeviatingly through all the ups and downs of the
general business of the country. It has been a fundamental rule of the
establishment to knowingly permit none but first class work to leave
its doors, while the integrity of its dealings has won the confidence
of its patrons.
Since 1838 the works have been several times enlarged, and commodious
out buildings for storing lumber, patterns, etc., erected. Above the fulling
mill pond two large reservoirs have been built, the last 150
feet above the bed of the Shetucket and flowing over 35 acres, having
been begun in the autumn of 1877. Aside from supplies for the home
market, machinery has been made here on orders from Canada, Cuba, Mexico,
England and other foreign countries. At present the works have a capacity
for the employment of about one hundred hands. In the quality of its
productions the firm has always aimed at durability, strength and efficiency.
South Windham is also entitled to the credit of revolutionizing the
cutting of wood type and multiplying many fold the demand for these
useful articles by increased cheapness and excellence. Until Mr. Edwin
Allen entered the field, wood type had been cut exclusively by hand
and was so inferior in design and finish that even in the large sizes
metal was generally preferred. Edwin Allen, son of Amos D., was born
March 27, 1811. Having served an apprenticeship in his fathers shop where he introduced
several valuable inventions of his own, he moved to Norwich in 1835,
to assist an elder brother in cabinet-making. The following year the
factory was burned. While out of employment he strolled into the printing
office of the Norwich Courier, when he became suddenly
interested in a font of wood type. Having made numerous
inquiries in reference to their cost, utility, manufacture and other
cognate points, he left for home inspired with the belief that machinery
could be devised for making them. Although in delicate health he devoted
his entire energies to the evolution of the idea that had seized him.
The thought triumphed. In the short period of three days it had become
embodied in wood and iron, for in that brief interval a small machine
had been contrived which produced specimens far superior to any ever
exhibited before. He returned to South Windham to begin the cutting of
wood type for the general market.
In the spring of 1837 he visited New York City where he entered into
an arrangement with Mr. George F. Nesbitt who undertook to introduce
the article to the trade of the country. It was brought out as Nesbitts
wood type, and was thus known for years.
Mr. Allen was able not only to devise and make the machinery even to
the tempering of the steel cutting apparatus so that it would take the
most exquisite edge needful for the purpose, but also to draft the letters
of the whole alphabet to correspond with any specimen that might accompany
an order. Many of his designs won great admiration as specimens of art.
The first effect of the invention was to drive inferior products out
of the business, and to stimulate the rest to higher excellence. Prior
to 1837 a large proportion of wood type were cut on the side of the
grain for the reason that the blocks were more easily chiseled on the
side than on the end. Letters thus formed, however, left a poor, imperfect
impression in printing and deteriorated rapidly with use. The leading
firm then in the trade was Levingworth & Wells of New York city.
Their choicer grades, though cut on the end and recognized as the best
in the market, made but a poor exhibit beside the deep, sharp, smooth
and true lines of the machine made work. It was not long before the
competition of the old methods came to an end, leaving Mr. Allen in
undisputed possession of the field.
A second effect was the complete supersedure of large metal type, tons
of which were now melted down and cast into small type, since their new
rivals of wood were lighter, better, more durable, much less expensive,
and not liable to be injured or to cause injury when falling or when
It is a notable fact that the essential principle of the machine, born
in the brain of the inventor during those three days of intense thought,
though now in world-wide use, has never been altered or improved.
The one first constructed was run by foot. As the business increased
a shop was fitted up for Mr. Allen in an outbuilding of Smith, Winchester &
Co., power being conveyed across the highway by an underground shaft.
A steam mill was subsequently built at the old homestead, which in
1852 or 1853 was moved to the stream.
While at South Windham, Mr. Allen invented and manufactured in large
quantities the Educational Tables, which combining instruction
with amusement, once enjoyed wide popularity. In 1852 he sold his factory
and fixtures at South Windham to Mr. John G. Cooley, who after a year
or two transferred the business to New York city. Other inventions
of Mr. Allen have been numerous and some of them very valuable.
Giulford Smith (son of Charles and grandson of Joshua) purchased the
property in 1863 and still owns it. He made woolen felts till the
disproportionate rise of the raw material during the war gave foreign
a great advantage over home manufactures. He is now the active manager
of the works of Smith, Winchester & Co.
Several journey-man wood type cutters leased the premises in 1878,
and under the name of The American Wood Type Co. re-established
the business for which the mill was originally built. The quality of
their work is said to be unsurpassed either in this country or abroad.
About the year 1837 a grist mill was built at the lower end of the village
by Elisha Holmes. Since 1850, thousands of tons of gypsum, imported by
the ship load from Nova Scotia, having been ground here and distributed
over an extensive region to fertilize the soil.
In the year 1871 a brick mill driven by steam, was built near the depot
of the New London & Northern railway, by The Adams Nickel Plating
and Manufacturing Co, the president of the company being the
inventor of the process. After the expiration of the patent the property
was bought by a coal company and is now used for the manufacture of