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
Windhams Second Century &SHY;
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
structure pushed that on the first day of October following it began
turning out products. This feat was characteristic of the companys
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
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
pet black cosset Dido was shorn of wool one morning, to make a
suit of linsey-woolsey for Hetties soldier brother, who was to
leave next morning early to rejoin his company on the memorable march
winter of 77-78, from Rhode Island to New Jersey; and that
the next morning after the wool was shorn, the proud young patriot
his new suit, not 24 hours from Didos 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. Elderkins 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. Turners 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 spoolalso 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
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
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
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.