Life in a 19th Century Mill Town

Before the first woolen & cotton mills came into being in the very late 1780's and early 1800's, the town was primarily an agricultural one divided into 4 societies, South Parish, North Parish, East Parish and West Parish. There were grist mills, saw mills, fulling mills, tan yards, a distillery and a few general stores to supply the needs in each parish. Also furniture makers, shoemakers, and taverns, etc., but all small businesses and usually in their homes. The mills came along because we had great potential with water power: the Quinebaug river, the Five Mile river and the Whetstone brook which supported many mills because of the tremendous fall in elevation even though it was just a small brook. The mill owners built houses for their workers and a company store. Many of the mills had a farm and also had fields where the workers could have their own gardens. The company store had a grocery department and the mill company furnished the goods and various store keepers, who succeeded one another there, sold the goods on a small commission on profits. All of these storekeepers employed a clerk who took orders around among the factory tenements and ran the delivery wagon.

This was the birthplace of Charles Tiffany who later was co-founder of Tiffany & Co. in New York, jewelers. His father was Comfort Tiffany who built a mill on the west side of the Quinebaug river about 1820. Charles worked in the company store of his father when he was young.

Mill work was long hours (69 hour work week in 1850) for little pay. The wages of the cotton industry in 1831 were:

$5.22 per week for males

$2.20 per week for females

1.50 per week for children under ten years old which comprised the greater portion of employees.

Employees were released on Sat. at 3:30 during the summer so they could go home and work in the garden plots which had been assigned by the mill.

Of course, children did not go to school if they worked in the mills. But this was corrected when School laws were passed, providing for the education of children engaged in industry. Textile industries employed more females and children than the other manufacturing establishments, the work being clean and light.

Early on all the mill workers were local people. Weaving was done by the women in their homes, for the mills, boys & girls worked in the mills spinning and carding.

The period dating from the erection of the first cotton mill here In 1809/10 to about the year 1840 was characterized by moderate sized wooden built mills, squatty tenement houses, and somewhat rude mill machinery, partially constructed of wood. Transportation was by horses and oxen and travel was chiefly by stage coach. Stage coaches ran between Hartford & Providence and Norwich and Worcester.

With the coming of the railroad in 1840 villages grew up around the depots in Danielsonville and Dayville. Where the mills were built villages grew also. Hotels were built, stores, blacksmiths, foundries, shoe shops, a bakery, meat business, axe factory and whetstone manufacture all began in town. Carpenters and builders were much needed, dentists, lawyers, tailors, seamstresses and doctors arrived. Not all the immigrants were mill workers. Some of them opened businesses of their own, and many other businesses hired French speaking clerks to help people. French speaking doctors arrived in town. Dr. Archambeau, Dr. Laurent Giguere and many more. In 1848 the first issue of the Windham County Telegraph was published.

There were many Millinery stores and Valeria Goyette who came from Canada, opened her own millinery business in 1886 in Danielson. She married Joseph Cyr and carried on her business as Madame Cyr, and became so successful that she was able to erect her own building, the Cyr block, in 1893, which still stands in Danielson today.

Extensive brick works were carried on in Dayville by the Alexander family and the Quinebaug brickyard in E. Brooklyn. These bricks were used to build many, many buildings, not only here, but in other places. May 1871 —The brickyard of Mr. Luther Alexander, turns out 60,000 bricks per day in his manufactory, and is hardly able to supply the demand at this rate.

Quarries were in operation in the 1820's but the only way to get their product to market was by wagon pulled by oxen or horses. Once the railroad came thru it was much easier to transport goods. As a result of the mill growth and the railroad, the four parishes (or villages) in Killingly became 7 villages and then small sections within the villages, had their own identity.

In about 1845 a telegraph line was put up along the west side of the railroad track. The invention was then recent and excited curiosity, since at this date things new and seemingly wonderful had not followed one another in such rapid succession as to dull the perception of curiosity, ever present and often strong with that generation. The single line sufficed until the time of the Civil War and then an office was opened in 1860.

The Gold Rush - In 1849 we had a group of men from our area and a few from New London county who formed the Quinebaug Gold Company and they bought a sloop, the Alfred, out of New London and sailed round the horn to California. All the letters are printed in our paper and I copied them all out and put them in a book. George W. Spaulding, who was a member of the group, held speaking engagements when he returned home, and those letters are also in our paper; he also told of the men who died.

In the early 1850's the flow of gold from California to the East made times more than usually prosperous.

Then in Sept. 1860 there is this in the paper: The nuisance of the gold dollars, which everybody in the night, or when they have been imbibing, pass off for half-dimes, is about to be abated by an order from the Secretary of the Treasury. Three million of them are now being melted up and re-coined into double eagles, which will, however, be doubly inconvenient, from the difficulty of obtaining them, and from their weight and clumsiness when got.

In May 1894 I find this - A Danielsonville gold mine was discovered Saturday on the West Side, in the cellar of a residence by a child who was playing there and found a large quantity of gold coins buried in the dirt. The coins bore dates previous to the rebellion, when factory help were paid in gold. It was probably hidden for safe keeping. (I had no idea they were paid in gold!)

The mill workers lived in the tenements and boarding houses provided by the mills. Almost all their needs were met by the Company Store and church. Yet, there was so much social activity outside of those little villages that they must have joined in some of them.

In 1849 the first Windham County Agricultural fair was held in Brooklyn which drew a large crowd and continues today.

And the numerous lakes and ponds, even the oxbow along the Quinebaug were a favorite for picnics. As well as different groves around the town: Madden's Grove in Dayville, Hubbard's Grove in Danielson and others.

Church groups and other organizations held social activities. People went to listen to interesting speakers, street musicians were welcomed as well as the hand-organ welcoming spring. And they enjoyed ice-skating and sleighing in the winter.

Independence day in Killingly in 1850 was celebrated in Dayville, with a picnic on the west side of Alexander’s Pond, while in Danielsonville, at the North end of Quinebaug Pond, there was a grand Quahaug roast and Chowder.

1851 – the Bloomer Costume has been adopted by one or two ladies in this town, a Camilla having appeared in North Killingly last week.

The Civil War period was one of heartache and loss - Most of the activities and socials revolved around the war: raising money and making items for the soldiers.


At the first call for help from the ladies of this village to prepare uniforms for the Union guards, of Windham County, they promptly responded, and hundreds of fair hands and nimble fingers have been engaged in furnishing the comfortable and handsome outfit for that company. The energy and activity of the ladies during the past week, will be appreciated, when we state that they have made 350 shirts, 80 pairs of pants and 80 coats in less than six days!

As early as June 1861 The small mills belonging to the Danielsonville Company, and the one belonging to Mr. Whitmore, had ceased operations. The other mills were running short time to work up the cotton on hand, when, with all other cotton mills at the North, they will cease operation entirely, unless our present difficulties are sooner adjusted. Many of the operatives have homes to return to, and on account of our position as a farming as well as a manufacturing county, there will be less suffering than in many other localities in New England, though there will probably be cases of want even here requiring the attention of the humane.

We have to remember that in those days there was no unemployment compensation for those out of work and they had to move on to other places in order to support themselves and their families.

Early in 1862 the recruitment and departure of the men who were part of the 18th Regiment, Conn. Vols. commenced and most of them were from the shops and the mills in Killingly & Brooklyn.

Even during war time people found new entertainments. Sulky Racing — In Aug. 1861 - The citizens of Dayville have prepared a new trotting course within a half mile of their village, and amateur trotting attracts numbers almost daily to the ground. Another ½ mile track was built in Apr. 1870 by Leander Sayles.

In 1862 the silver change that had been in circulation disappeared from public view. People said the banks had got it. They held it so tight that it was not seen again for fourteen years.

After the close of the Civil War there was some further material progress, more mill building, replacing the old wooden built mills with brick & stone mills. The working classes began filling their houses with furniture, pictures and musical instruments and in some instances possessing a horse and carriage.

Education: One room school houses were in each district around the town, and when the early mills came in, the town built the Factory district school house near the mill village. These were run by the town. As things progressed there were Select schools (private schools) started by individuals who charged for attending them. And there were quite a variety of them held in different places. West Killingly Institute was started in 1837 by Stowell Weld. West Killingly Academy was built in 1847. In 1867 Danielsonville High School was opened in the old National Bank building, E. R. Brown, principal, and tuition was $4.00 for Common English; $5.00 for Higher English and $1.00 for languages. Jan. 1868 – another evening school, for the benefit of children in Danielsonville who do not attend day school, has been opened in the band room by some of our thoughtful christian citizens. Sixty or seventy children, mostly foreigners, are present each session, and a large proportion appear to appreciate the benefit of education. In 1872 - Mr. Tetreault, an educated gentleman, will open an evening school in the Hall over Johnson's meat market next week. In Mar. 1883 the evening schools which have been held during the fall and winter will close this week. A goodly number have availed themselves of this opportunity so generously offered them by the Quinebaug and Danielsonville Mfg. Companies. Mary Dexter was the one who conceived and was instrumental in inaugurating these schools. The new school house, called the Graded School because it had individual classrooms, was built in 1871 on School st., Danielsonville. A private Kindergarten school was begun in 1890. Oct. 1890 Willis Shippee, Jr. is holding a writing school.

St. James school was built and opened in 1889 and will accommodate about 350 pupils. English will be the prominent language in the school. Protestant children will be admitted free to the common branches as well as Catholic children, and to the higher branches and the languages by the payment of necessary fees.

Religion - The primary churches before 1840 were the Congregational and the early Baptist church in E. Killingly. As emigrants arrived to work in the mills, different religious denominations took their place in the town. First there were the Irish who came during the famine in Ireland and later the French Canadians, Polish, Italians, & others. The Westfield Congregational Church was erected in Westfield about 1799 and once the railroad came through and the village grew up around the depot, they erected a new one in 1855 at the corner of Main and Academy streets in Danielsonville. The Methodist church constructed a building in 1842, and improved it in 1867 so that the old one completely disappeared with all the improvements, the Adventists arrived in the later 1850's, and the Catholic people heard Mass conducted by Rev. Michael McCabe, a Franciscan friar from Ireland, and the first service was held in a private home. They met in different halls until 1864 when Rev. James Quinn purchased the old Second Advent Chapel on Winter street and it became the first St. James Church. The paper says: In 1867 the Catholics of Danielsonville have removed their chapel, on Winter street, to the rear some sixty feet, and are to add a new front, in order to accommodate their large congregation. In Nov. 1867 the Catholics of Danielsonville will celebrate Thanksgiving Day, by the laying of the cornerstone of their new church. Admission free, but as is customary on such occasions, each person will be expected to make a voluntary offering. The Bishop will administer the Sacrament of Confirmation and consecrate the Catholic Burying Ground on the same day. The thanks of Pastor and congregation are tendered to Messrs. Sayles and others of Dayville, who have sent in a very liberal contribution. In Mar. 1868 – The New Catholic church in Danielsonville is built in the form of a cross. It is 90 by 34, not including the wings. The outside is nearly completed. The building is a neat structure, but we wish our Catholic friends had felt able to have added some more trimmings to have made it more attractive. In October of 1869: The Catholics of Danielsonville are already taking measures toward the erection of a magnificent church here, one that will surpass all others in Eastern Conn., the present edifice, although just completed, not being satisfactory to many Catholics here. Some of our Protestant citizens, who wish to see these improvements progress, are subscribing toward erecting the Priest's house, and will give more liberally for the new church when a decision is fully reached to go on with the enterprise. In 1889, according to Bayles, there were 1,300 French Canadians and 500 Irish in the parish of St. James Church. There are connected with the church several societies. A St. John Baptist Society numbers about 100; a society of the Knights of Columbus has 53 members; The Children of Scapular Society numbers 60; The society of the Children of Mary has about 70 young ladies; a St. Ann's Society has 51 members; a St. Aloysious Society contains a membership of 40; and an Infant Jesus Society contains about 150 children.

A mission church at Chestnut hill (E. Killingly), where there were 150 French and a few Irish was supplied by priests from St. James and was held in a hall there.

In the Brooklyn & Hampton missions there are about 250 Irish.

People of the Episcopal faith, came along in the 1860's taking over the West Killingly Academy building which had been closed.

In Apr. 1868 - the Congregational society of Dayville are enlarging their church.

Before the erection of St. Joseph's church in Dayville in 1889, the catholic people from Dayville & Elmville were conveyed by Kennedy's large moving wagon to St. James Church in Danielsonville.

In looking at the census in Killingly over the years I find that the population increased by small amounts until 1830 when it increased by 454 persons from 1820; and in 1850 it increased by 850 persons. After the Civil War things started to boom again and in 1870 the census increased by 786 people. 1880 saw a huge increase of 1,209 people and in 1900 the largest for the century of 1,808 people. Mills and businesses were booming.

About 1889 there were 1,866 Americans in the Borough of Danielson and 1,346 French Canadians.

9 Mar. 1865 - MADAME M. PARKER – THE NARAGANSET INDIAN DOCTRESS of Providence, R.I., has opened an Office at her residence on Christian Hill, Danielsonville, where she can be consulted upon all diseases that afflicts the human family.

July 1870 In the summer it was not only HOT but the dust was almost unbearable. Some people wanted to know why our main thoroughfare cannot be wet down twice a week?

In the 4 Aug. 1870 paper - Watering the streets.--A paper has been circulated among our merchants for signatures to a subscription fund of $.50 a week to be expended upon the necessary apparatus for watering the main thoroughfare of our village during the "dusty term."

In June 1871 - The new water cart is of domestic manufacture, but seems to be doing its work very well. Mr. Wm. Gleason, who has charge, is faithful in his labors to keep the dust under subjection, and has so far succeeded.

Back in these years the people themselves, not the town government, gave money for improvements. Watering the streets was done by private donation; if a person wanted a side-walk in front of their business or house they paid for it to be done. Trees along the streets were planted by private parties also. Davis Park was accomplished all through private donations. Lamps were put up by individuals.

1 Aug. 1872 The Active Base Ball Club was organized in town.

5 Oct. 1881 About a dozen of the French young men of the West side have hired the room in Music hall block, formerly the armory of Co. H, for a gymnasium.

Gypsies passed through the town at different times over the years from 1879 thru 1891 that I have found in the paper. In the 12 Aug. 1885 paper: &nbsplGypsies were in town last week. See that your doors are locked.

Nov. 1881 the first telephone was installed in Killingly.

Feb. 1884 The village barber attempted a few days since to “shampoo” a young lady’s head upon which was a luxuriant growth of hair, of which she has reason to be proud. The tonsorial artist seems to have become bewildered in working over those fine locks and he mixed up the hair so that it could not be straightened out by a day’s hard labor. Several ladies spent almost another day in the same line of work with indifferent success, and to say that the young lady who owns those massive locks is mad, is putting it mild. As the hair is 4 ½ feet in length the poor barber thinks he ought to be pitied rather than blamed.

27 Aug. 1884 Puize & Allard, proprietors of the first-class tonsorial rooms opposite the Attawaugan hotel, have recently placed in their shop an apparatus by which customers can enjoy the luxury of a cold or hot bath, for 25 cents. This is the only public bath in the village, and we hope the enterprising proprietors will receive the patronage they deserve.

Mar. 1886 The Crystal Water Company was ready to bring an abundant supply of water into Danielsonville.

19 May 1886 The steamer “River Queen” arrived at Alexander’s Lake, Friday. It is 50 feet long, 14 wide, and draws 14 feet of water. It was five days coming from Boston to Killingly, being drawn by eight horses, it being too large for transportation by rail—and attracted much attention in the villages and towns along the route. All can now enjoy a fine sail near home without fear of sea sickness. The steamer will be launched at the grand opening of Wildwood Park (Alexander's Lake).

4 Aug. 1886 The Elegant New Steam Yacht “Ethel” at Alexander’s Lake! This steamer is now running under the experienced engineer Capt. C. F. Cobb. It has a government steel boiler, and is 42 feet 6 inches long, 10 feet wide. It is one of the largest and staunchest boats on fresh water in CT, and can be chartered by picnic, church or private parties. Fare to Wildwood Park 10c; A 5 mile trip around the lake 20c; Children under 12 half fare.

22 June 1887 Traveling musicians—a harpist and violinist—discoursed music on the streets Friday evening.

1890 electricity was coming in, but only in Danielsonville to start.

WCT 25 Mar. 1896 - Charles Burton, who worked in the machine shop of the Quinebaug Mill, lost his life when he tried to save a drowning boy, Frank Barbeau, 12 years old, in the Quinebaug river. At his funeral in the Baptist church in Danielson, there was a large delegation of French people and the father of the Barbeau boy and several of his brothers.

There is a monument in the Old Westfield Cemetery in Danielson erected in 1928 by the Quinebaug Co. "to the memory of their employees who have died, whose names are unknown."

Killingly had a few firsts: In 1809 Mary (Dixon) Kies of South Killingly was the first woman to receive a patent for weaving silk with straw for making bonnets.

The first woman dentist, Dr. Emmeline (Roberts) Jones in 1864. Her husband Daniel Jones was a dentist and he taught his wife. After he died she carried on.

William Torrey Harris – U. S. Commissioner of Education

And Marietta Kies b. 1853, a philosopher & educator.