By Mrs. William K. Pike, Committee of Historical Research

Killingly’s Connecticut Tercentenary Committee

From Windham County Transcript, May 30, 1935


Article IX

Industries of Killingly

The first industry of Killingly was of necessity subduing the soil and agriculture. Three hundred years ago the Indians were here and when they were being driven out of New England, James Danielson, one of these Indian fighters, discovered that the Quinebaug Valley and surrounding country was a favorable region for settlement. Most of the earliest settlers were from Massachusetts while others came from Canterbury and Plainfield, and these also were originally from Massachusetts and other settlements. Major James Fitch of the Norwich settlement was born in 1648 in Saybrook. He secured title to a large tract of land north of Norwich to Woodstock (New Roxbury), then the Massachusetts line. Every settler produced for his every need, food and clothing, carrying his surplus to market to the larger settlements of Norwich, Worcester, Boston and Providence. We of today can hardly imagine the home of that period, when the fear of God and the Indians were in every heart, the living room, where many industries were in miniature, and life so dear to all.

Sawmills and gristmills were built on the several streams while spinning and weaving was done in the home. At first the wool was carded by hand. Later mills were built and the wool made into fleecy rolls making spinning easier for the women. Flax also was raised and made into cloth by these earlier settlers. After a time another industry came to the fore. Cotton was freed from its seeds by machinery, drawn into threads by the arts of Gin and Jennie and then woven into cloth which was more suitable for domestic use than rough tow cloth and heavy woolens. Rhode Island established mills along her streams for spinning by water power. Killingly too soon followed in manufacturing.

The river question in earlier days so perplexing was settled. Those turbulent streams which caused so much expense and contention were made to run mills instead of running off with the bridges. Strange as it may seem, the larger the stream the fewer the mills. Only two mills were on the Quinebaug river, a grist mill at the junction of the Five Mile River and another at what is now Goodyear [Rogers]. About 1826, William and Asa Alexander and others built a mill. The village was called Williamsville after one of the owners. Cotton was manufactured here for many years. Later this mill and village were sold to the Goodyear Company where tire fabric was manufactured.

Perhaps the earliest mill built in Killingly was at Daniel’s Factory [Ballouville]. The first record relates that Benjamin Joy sold a gristmill to Jared Talbut in 1761. At the same time Jeremiah Spaulding had a fulling mill and tenter bars there. This was known as Talbut’s mills until 1837, then as Howe’s mill and last as Daniel’s Factory. The dam is still standing holding back water for the mills below at Pineville, Ballouville and Attawaugan. These last three mills were owned by the Attawaugan Company where cotton was manufactured. All these mills are now owned by Powdrell & Alexander Company, Inc., manufacturers of curtain material.

Many mills were built on the Whitstone [Whetstone] Brook stream where already stood gristmills and sawmills. The first record of the Elmville woolen mill on this stream was 1789 when Joseph Dexter sold to Philip Dexter and mentions a sawmill located there. A cotton mill was erected at Killingly Center in 1824 and another mill was built there later. These mills were known as Warren’s Mills. The earliest record of a mill for the manufacturing of cotton cloth at East Killingly was in 1813 when the Chestnut Hill Manufacturing Company bought a gristmill of John Bowen. The deed states in connection with the gristmill there was a carding mill. The first record of any dam at East Killingly was 1794 when Andrew Brown sold a gristmill and sawmill to Richard Bartlett.

Ebenezer Young owned two mills near this dam. The upper one was known as the Ross Mill. The lower one was burned and the part standing is called Babel’s tower because of its small foundation and unusual height and is a silent reminder of a prosperous industry on this stream. Next below are the remains of a large mill called the Whitstone Mill, and near by are abandoned stone tenement houses. The Acme Products Company now own all this property and have a mill at the upper end where medicated cotton materials are made. Thomas and Eleazer Bateman, early settlers at East Killingly, had a sawmill on the Whitstone Brook. When the dam was built at East Killingly this stream lost its course in the reservoirs and the mill site was flooded out. In 1836 Killingly had so forged ahead in cotton manufacture as to possess more mills than any other town in the state. In that year the town contained fourteen cotton mills, three woolen mills, one foundry and one ax factory. A furnace was situated on Fall Brook in South Killingly. It was established in the early ‘30’s by Brainard Brothers who hauled their supplies from Providence. Here finished castings were made.

Soon after 1800, John Day started a mill at Dayville. Later, and for a great many years, it was owned and operated by Sabin L. Sayles Company. Now it is owned by the Assawaga Woolen Company.

In 1809 General Danielson and other persons of means built a small cotton mill on the Five Mile River near the Quinebaug River. In 1817 a second mill was built in connection with the first. These mills were replaced by a brick mill in 1868 and known as the Sherman Mill. This mill had two stationary engines which were used in connection with the water power. A tower on the mill with a bell was used as a fire signal. This same mill is now owned by Powdrell & Alexander Company. A steam whistle replaced the factory bell and is connected with the fire alarm system of Danielson.

The Norwich and Worcester Railroad was opened to travel and business early in 1839 and changed to a certain extent methods of travel and transportation, especially that north and south. The first steam engines on this railroad used wood for fuel. This was hauled to the station where it was sawed the required length by power (treadmill) and stored in a nearby shed for use by the several trains.

Just north of the railroad station two shops were located; Noah Shumway’s shoe shop and Sanford’s marble works. The making of shoes by hand was a thriving business here in the early ‘50’s where there were half a dozen such establishments. Machine made shoes drove the small shops from existence.

Soon after the Civil War Henry Lathrop had a reed shop near where the foot bridge now is. This was removed to Franklin Street. Daniel Larkin owned it the last of his life. This business still continues making reeds used for weaving all sorts of fabrics. The Jacobs Manufacturing Company established a business of producing mill supplies. This industry has increased and continued for at least sixty-five years. The Connecticut Mills Village was developed since 1900. The first mill was built by the Industrial Manufacturing Company. This property was next owned by the Connecticut Mills Company where tire fabric was made. They enlarged the mill and built a model mill village with every modern equipment. Later this business was removed to the South where the company was near the cotton fields. The houses were sold to individuals and the mill became the property of Powdrell and Alexander Company manufacturers of curtain materials.

Other mills not mentioned in this paper have been valuable assets to the town. As one reviews the mill business in Killingly it seems to prove that necessity paved the way for the many industries.

From

The Scrapbook of Mrs. Fred (Nina) Wood