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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 ­ Willimantic Manufactures:

The second era of manufacturers in Willimantic began with the advent of the Willimantic Linen Company. It is a familiar story, oft recorded, and I need not dwell upon it. The company was organized in 1854, “to manufacture flax or cotton into yarn or cloth.” They occupied the old Jillson Mill (now the spool shop) the Jillsons having failed to establish their manufactures permanently, and the Linen Company first
manufactured fine and coarse towels or crash, also fish lines.
The Crimean war of 1853-6 deprived them of flax, and they were compelled to abandon the linen enterprise; but under the same name they
promptly turned their attention to spool cotton. Spool cotton was at that time all imported, and only black and white thread was wound on
spools, the colored varieties being sent over in skeins. The little penny skeins of colored thread will be recalled by many. The company
first made up a lot of colored threads wound on spools, of quality much inferior to the present make and even to the goods they imported, but
brightly glazed, and put them on the market. The bright colors and the novelty and pride of home manufacture caught the public eye, and gave
the new industry a good start. Inn 1857 the mill now known as No. 1 was built. Then came on the civil war. Dunham and Ives were shrewd enough to buy up large quantities of cotton before the rise, and they became very wealthy. The capital thus acquired was turned to good account in beginning the development of a great plant.
In 1864, they purchased the tract now covered by mill No. 2 and its adjuncts; and the “old stone school house,” the blacksmith shop, and the
grist mill of earliest Willimantic gave way to progress.
The whole section round about was revolutionized, the “New Village,” or large group of tasty tenement houses opposite the mills was built,
and a new era dawned for Willimantic.
The “new mill” was the wonder of modern Windham, marking the advent of our greatest industry, and the forerunner of growth to a large town. In 1876, the old Jillson and Capen Mill (now No. 3) was acquired by purchase, and filled up with new machinery. Feb. 28, 1880, the building of No. 4 mill was authorized by vote of the directors. The next day, March 1st, the workmen were cutting away trees an digging for the foundations. The pines then growing in the Florida forests were speedily selected for the lumber of the mill, and so rapidly was the great
structure pushed that on the first day of October following it began turning out products. This feat was characteristic of the company’s
enterprise. “The Oaks” settlement of cottage was built to accompany this mill.
The development of this company has materially affected the whole process of thread manufacture, by means of the improvements which its
enterprise stimulated. Two notable inventions, the winding and ticketing machines, which act with almost voluntary power, were generally adopted by other thread companies which paid royalties to the Willimantic company until other improvements were introduced.
The Willimantic Company claims to make the best thread in the world, has sustained the claim by winning the first medals at the Philadelphia and Atlanta Expositions, and looks confidently forward to beating the world again at Chicago in 1893. Latterly other branches of manufacture have been introduced by this company, notably the lisle thread industry, which has been quite a feature for six months past, but was a sort of temporary “fad,” and is now giving way to the manufacture of certain varieties of fancy yarns.
The employees now number about 2000, and the total yearly product is about fifteen millions of miles of threads and yarns.
Olds Windham has a tradition of the revolutionary war, telling how Hettie’s pet black cosset Dido was shorn of wool one morning, to make a
suit of linsey-woolsey for Hettie’s soldier brother, who was to leave next morning early to rejoin his company on the memorable march of the
winter of ‘77-’78, from Rhode Island to New Jersey; and that the next morning after the wool was shorn, the proud young patriot was wearing
his new suit, not 24 hours from Dido’s back, so deftly had the hands of Hettie and the willing neighbors wrought.
Modern Windham has a story to match it, true beyond question. At the Atlanta Exposition of 1880, at the instance of our Linen Company, cotton growing in the boll in the fields in the morning, was picked, ginned, carded, spun, woven and dyed, and by the close of the same day was sewed by Willimantic thread and lined with Cheney silk, into two dress suits which were worn by the governor of the state and by Edward Atkinson, the distinguished economist, at a public reception that evening. The enterprise shown and the fame won at Atlanta developed a large southern trade for the company, which it still enjoys.
Next in importance to its cotton thread industry stands the silk industry of Willimantic, now fast assuming rank with the foremost.
After Col. Elderkin’s death in old Windham, his silk industry passed into the hands of parties in Mansfield, the pioneer town of silk, and it
is a curious coincidence that the leading silk manufactory of later Mansfield should have drifted again to Windham, in the Willimantic
field. I refer to the O.S. Chaffee company, which was organized in Mansfield as early as 1838, became O.S. Chaffee & Son in 1867,
established itself in the old Paisley mill corner Church and Valley Streets in Willimantic in 1874, organized as the Natchaug Silk Company
Dec. 5, 1887, with $25,000 capital, increased to $200,000 Aug. 27th, 1888, and is now located in the handsome new building on North Street,
manufacturing braids, linings, dress silks, watch guards, eye glass cords and fish lines, which are sold all over the country; and employing
about 225 hands. Sewing silks are still made at the old mills in Mansfield, but the new plant at Willimantic has far outgrown the old.
The first silk industry to locate in Willimantic, however, was that of the Holland Manufacturing Company, which was started in 1866 by J.H. and G. Holland, brothers of Dr. J.G. Holland of literary fame. They built the two brick mills now on the opposite corners of Church and
Valley Streets. J.H. Holland built for his home the brick house on Maple Avenue now occupied by the Misses Brainard, and Goodrich Holland erected the residence at the corner of Church and Spring Streets now owned and occasionally occupied by his widow, Mrs. Jane Holland. J.H. Holland died in 1868, and Goodrich in 1870, and since that time the business has been conducted under the old firm name, with Samuel L. Burlingham a resident agent. The manufactures of these mills are machine twist, buttonhole twist and sewing silk. They employ 150 hands. Mr. Goodrich Holland was the inventor of the machine for stretching silk now in universal use among manufacturers of twist and sewings.
[Corrections and Additions in back of book state: William B. Swift, son of Grant Swift of Mansfield, started a little one-story silk mill on
the site of the present west mill of the Holland Co., and the Hollands bought him out. Albert Jacobs built the brick house occupied by J.H.
Holland, now by the Misses Brainard.]
The latest accession to the silk industries of Willimantic is Arthur G. Turner’s four story brick spinning mill on Bank street. This industry was started in 1886, and entered its present mill in 1889, and during the past year has paid out over $25,000 in wages to about 100 hands. The business is that of spinning silk yarns, which are shipped for use in the manufacture of all kinds of silk fabrics, for sewing machines and for fringes.
One of the largest and most important industries of Willimantic to-day, employing about sixty skilled mechanics, is the W.G. & A.R.
Morrison Machine Co., manufacturers of silk machinery. This company has grown out of a little machine shop started by Walter and Henry Morrison in 1875, and was organized as a joint stock company in 1882. They now occupy the wooden building at the corner of North and Valley streets, and the lower floor of the Natchaug silk mill. They manufacture machinery for making silk twist complete, from the stock as imported to the finished spool—also machinery for making organzine and tram, which constitute the warp and woof of silk dress goods; also machinery for putting the gloss on cotton thread and winding it on spools. The business is not covered by patents, but has only two or three
competitors in this country, as it calls for special machinery, which is all designed by Mr. W.G. Morrison. The sales for the past year exceeded $100,000 in value, and were shipped from Maine to California.
Among other industries of modern Willimantic, the old Windham Cotton Company is still doing business at the old stand, which it has occupied since 1823. The present product is both wide and narrow goods in cottons, and includes sateens, twills, sheetings and print cloths. The plant has been enlarged, and improved in many ways within the past few years the mills have been thoroughly renovated and repaired, and nearly all the machinery, including water wheels, engine and boilers, of new and modern type, so that hardly anything remains of the original mills, save the familiar walls and roof. About 300 hands are employed. A number of small, but important inventions, now in universal use, have been invented at this mill.
The Smithville Company has had a rather checkered existence. There have been long intervals of idleness there. At the present time a
Providence Company are employing about 300 hands there, making twills and print cloths, and turning out a yearly product of 3,000,000 yards.
These comprise the leading manufactures of the Willimantic of to-day, besides which there are planers’ and builders’ mills, blind factories,
several large lumber yards, and a host of business houses for all sorts of domestic supplies.
An Electric Light Company lights the streets and has applied for a street railway charter. A complete system of public water works,
established in 1885, has already become practically self-sustaining, and its power may some day be utilized for the generation of electricity for lights and motive power, including a street railway. Willimantic expects to become a city in December, 1893.

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