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Windham County Connecticut
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"Windham’s Bi-Centennial 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, CT, 1893

Windham’s Second Century ­ 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.

North Windham.

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 Boston.” 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 the exchanges.
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 failed.
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.

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, Winchester & 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 1829.
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 father’s 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 “Nesbitt’s 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 pied.
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 buffing wheels.

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