Henry Milne Fenner.

History of Fall River, Massachusetts online

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thorough practical knowledge of the business under Slater at
Pawtucket. A three-story mill, 60 by 40 feet, the lower story
of stone and the upper two of wood, and designed for 1500
spindles, was begun at once, on the Quequechan, the portion
of which below the Troy dam is often alluded to as the Fall
River, about where the mill now known as the Fall River
Manufactory stands. It was completed and began operations
in October, 1813, and was the first cotton spinning plant in the

Oliver Chace, the originator of the Troy, had been brought
up as a carpenter, but had acquired a practical knowledge
of cotton manufacturing from a small mill which he had for a
time owned and operated at Dighton. The Troy mill was
larger than the Fall River and was built of stone, 108 feet
long, 37 feet wide, four stories in height, with a low hip roof.
It was located near the site of the present Troy mill, and was
designed for 2,000 spindles. Both it and the Fall River were
operated by water power derived from the Quequechan river.

The Fall River Manufactory was the first to secure a
picking machine, which had just been introduced in this
country. The mills had been paying four cents a pound to
have the cotton picked by hand, and the machine saved three
quarters of the cost, though it was opposed by consumers,
who believed that it injured the staple.

The Fall River was also the first to introduce power
looms, in 1817. The first weavers were paid $2.50 a week,
but when they had become more experienced a change was
made to one cent a yard. Cloth was woven one yard wide,
and sold for 25 cents a yard. Power looms appear not to have
been installed in the Troy mill until 1820.

The two mills had been started before the close of the
war of 1812, when American markets were closed to English
manufacturers and the demand was brisk, but they had
scarcely begun operations when the war ended, again allow-


ing the entrance of British goods, and it was not until 1820
that the Troy paid its first dividend. Four years later it
declared a dividend payable in cloth on demand.

The original Troy mill was burned in 1821, but rebuilt in
1823. In 1843 a three story addition was made, which ten
years later was raised two stories and extended 80 feet on the
south. In 1860, the mill of 1823 was removed, and the part
known as the New Mill erected, five stories in height, extend-
ing to Bedford street.

The Fall River Manufactory's Nankeen Mill, and the
original structure, known as the "Yellow Mill," were torn
down in 1839 to make room for the "White Mill". The latter
was burned in 1868, and the present structure, since enlarged,
succeeded it.

The Union Cotton Factory was also started in 1813, with
50 shares, held by 31 stockholders, and began operations in a
wooden structure on the site of the Laurel Lake Mills, then a
part of Tiverton. This was burned in 1838.

The third large corporation to be formed was the Pocasset
Mfg. Co., organized in 1822, with $100,000 capital. It
acquired a considerable tract on both sides of the river, west
of Main street, including the water power, and in 1827, after
tearing down a grist mill which stood on the spot, erected on
the north side of the stream, near the street, the ' 'Bridge Mill, ' '
a three-story stone structure, 40 by 100, with a long ell over
the river. It installed 1,000 spindles, and manufactured the
first print cloths made in this city, вАФ seven-eighths of a yard
wide and 44 picks to the inch. It was burned, together with
the old fulling mill, which stood further south, in the fire of
1843, and the company soon after erected near the site, the
present Granite Block. A few years later it constructed a
part of its present mill, 219x75, and five stories in height, by
far the largest factory which had, up to this time been built
here, and notable for its width as well as its other proportions.
It began operations in 1847.

Early in its career the company had built a number of
small stone mills to rent. In one of these, known as the
Satinet Factory and built in 1825, was manufactured a woolen
cloth from which the mill took its name. In part of this same


building the Robeson Print Works was started. It was torn
down to make room for the present mill. The company also
built in 1826 the "New Pocasset, " which was leased for
cotton manufacturing.

One of these mills is still standing and operated as a part
of the Pocasset plant of to-day. This is a small mill on
Pocasset street, west of the main plant, built in 1827 and
known first as the Massasoit and later as the Watuppa. It
was leased in part to Brown & Ives of Providence for cotton
manufacturing, but they became dissatisfied and sold out to
Holder Borden, who opened the partitions and equipped the
whole mill with cotton machinery. He discarded the old
methods of distributing power by gearing, and was the first
to introduce belting. The mill was equipped with 9,000
spindles, and was considered a wonder for size.

The lease ran out about 1843, and the proprietors then
erected on Davol street, the Massasoit Steam mill, so desig-
nated because it was one of the first, if not the first here to
be operated by steam rather than water power. It was
burned in 1875, and the site is now occupied by the Massasoit
Mfg. Co. The 1827 mill, originally known as the Massasoit,
was for a time run by a corporation known as the Watuppa
Cotton Mill, and in time became a part of the Pocasset

Still another early mill was the Annawan, which stood on
Pocasset street where the Iron Works No. 7 now is, and was
torn down when that was erected in 1905. It was built in
1825, a large factory for its day, and continued in operation
until about 1890.

In addition to the mills named, there was also a plant for
the manufacture of cotton batting, owned by I. Bufiinton &
Son, and carried on first at Sucker Brook, and subsequently
on the site of the Fall River Bleachery on the same stream.
It was established in 1838.

At the time these early mills were built, work began at
5 a. m., or at daylight and continued until 8, when half an
hour was allowed for breakfast. Another half hour was
given at noon for dinner, and work then continued till 7:30 in
the evening.


The superintendent of a mill in 1830 received $2 a day, an
overseer $1.25 and the' majority of operatives from 83 cents
to one dollar a day.

The Pocasset mill of 1847 which, it will be remembered,
was of phenomenal size, for its day, was the result of the
conviction of its superintendent, that a large mill could be
operated more economically than the small ones then running,
and though there were those who predicted failure, the mill
justified his anticipations. This was also the first mill to be
erected in which details had been carefully worked out, before
beginning construction, as to the location of machinery,
shafting and belting, a plan which resulted in a great saving
over the old methods.

The Metacometimill, when built in 1846 by the Iron Works
Co. , was constructed from the plans of a model mill in Bolton,
England, and was the first to have iron posts and girders,
thereby preventing a settling of the mill, with consequent
friction and loss of power. The mill attracted great attention
from manufacturers in other parts of New England.

The American Linen Co. was formed in 1852 to make the
finer grade of linen fabrics, the first enterprise of the kind
in the country. Operatives and flax were imported from
Europe, and for a time there was an active demand for the
product. This fell off, however, in consequence of the
increasing use of cotton and woolen fabrics, and in 1858 the
linen machinery was removed and cotton manufacturing


In addition to the many plants engaged in the manufacture
of cotton cloth, the larger industries of Fall River include two
print works, a bleachery, mills for the making of cotton yarn
and sewing thread, extensive hat factories, a piano factory,
machine shops, foundries and mills for the utilization of cotton
waste and the making of absorbent and jewelers' cotton.
There are also three large breweries, now under one manage-


Probably the best known of these plants is the American
Print Works, which was established by Holder Borden and
others in 1834, and began operations in January, 1835, with a
capacity of 2,000 pieces a week. The plant was gradually
enlarged, and in 1854 had increased its capacity to 9,000 pieces.
Large buildings of stone were erected in 1867 to replace
the original buildings of wood but burned late in that year.
They were at once rebuilt, but the uninsured loss had been
so large that in 1879, suspension became necessary. In
1880 a new corporation was formed known as the American
Printing Co., with a capital of $300,000, since increased to
$750,000. The plant has been steadily increased until it is now
the largest in the United States and operates 30 printing
machines, with a weekly capacity of 100,000 pieces, which are
sold all over the world. The corporation owns all the stock of
the Fall River Iron Works Co. , which in the last 20 years has
erected six large mills and remodelled one other and now
operates 488,000 spindles and employs 5,000 hands. M. C. D.
Borden of New York, a native of this city, controls the

Another print works is that of the Algonquin Printing
Company, incorporated in 1891. This has grown from a plant
having a weekly capacity of 3,600 pieces to 40,000, and now
operates 12 machines and employs some 350 hands.

Earlier print works, no longer in operation, included
Robeson's, known as the Fall River, and the Globe Print
Works, later known as the Bay State. Robeson's print works,
the first in this city, had been started on the stream, west of
the Pocasset Mfg. Co., by Andrew Robeson of New Bedford,
in 1826. The work was for a time done by hand by the block
process, which, indeed, continued to be used till 1841, but in
1827 what was probably the first printing machine in the
United States was set up and was operated successfully for
many years. The depression of 1848 forced a suspension and
reorganization and about 1860 cotton machinery was intro-
duced. The plant was run as the Quequechan mill until the
early 80's.

Mr. Robeson bought and printed the first print cloths
made in Fall River. He departed from the custom of "store


pay," by which employees were paid in goods from a store
owned by the factory, then in use here, in common with other
manufacturing communities, and gave cash, thus allowing his
employees to buy wherever they pleased. The change was so
satisfactory that company stores soon disappeared. Another
act for which he is remembered, is the furnishing a school
room and teacher for his juvenile employees, to whom he
allowed one third of each day for study.

The Globe Print Works were at Globe Village, on the stream
flowing from Cook Pond into the bay. They were the succes-
sors of Col. Durfee's pioneer mill, which had been purchased
in 1829 by Potter and Chatburn and converted into a print
works, beginning operations in 1830. The plant was enlarged
and run by various persons and was known for a time as the
Tiverton and afterward as the Bay State Print Works, About
1858 it was purchased by the American and run by this cor-
poration till it was burned in 1867.

The Fall River Bleachery, which has a capacity of 50 tons
daily, was organized in 1872 on the site of the mill of I.
Buffinton & Son, and began operations the following year.
The No. 2 works were built in 1888, and additional buildings
have been erected in recent years.

The two large yarn manufacturing plants, which have
a combined spindleage of 131,000, are now a part of the New
England Cotton Yarn Co. and under lease to the Union Mills,
but were formerly the Globe Yarn Mills and the Sanford
Spinning Co. The Globe Yarn, started in 1881, and repeatedly
enlarged, produces weekly 140,000 pounds of yarn and thread,
and employs 750 hands, while the Sanford Spinning, started
in 1891, to make colored and fancy yarns, produces 120,000
pounds a week and employs 550 hands.

The Kerr Thread Mill was built in 1888, for the manu-
facture of fine cotton yarns and sewing thread. It became a
part of the American Thread Co. in 1898. A new mill was
erected in 1907, and the plant now has 105,000 spindles,
employing 1100 hands.

The Massasoit Mfg. Co. and the Estes Mills are engaged
in the handling of waste. The product of the Massasoit, in
addition to various grades of cotton waste, includes mops,


yarns, wicks, and spun and bleached cotton, while the Estes
Mills produce sash cord, yarns, mops, twines, warps, clothes
lines, wicking, absorbent and jeweler's cotton as well as waste
of a variety of grades. The Massasoit has a large foreign
trade, and additional plants in Connecticut and the South.

The plant of Kilburn, Lincoln & Company is among the
large makers of looms for cotton and silk weaving and of
power transmission machinery in the United States and makes
about 5,000 looms annually, giving employment to about 300
hands. It is the outgrowth of the union in 1847 under the
name of E. C. Kilburn & Co. of the loom-making and shafting
business which had been established previous to 1840 by
Jonathan Thayer Lincoln and that started in 1844 by John
Kilburn. In 1856 this became Kilburn, Lincoln & Son and in
1867 took its present name and a large machine shop and an
iron foundry were erected the same year, and other additions
have followed.

A large iron business was formerly carried on here by the
Fall River Iron Works Company, which at one time, about
1876, gave employment to 600 men. It was started in 1821
by Bradford Durfee and Richard Borden for the manufacture
of iron work for shipbuilding and later made hoop iron for the
New Bedford oil trade and still later, nails. It was immensely
successful for many years, and was the principal originator
of the Annawan and Metacomet Mills, the gas works, the
steamboat line to Providence and the railroad to South Brain-
tree. From an original investment of $18,000 its stockholders
received between 1850 and 1880 $3,073,000, besides stock in the
Troy Cotton & Woolen Manufactory, the Fall River Manufac-
tory, the American Print Works and the Bay State Steamboat
Company, later the Fall River Line. In 1880 the property
was divided and the stockholders given shares in new cor-
porations known as the Metacomet Mills, the Fall River
Machine Company, the Fall River Gas Works Company and
the Fall River & Providence Steamboat Company. The
manufacture of iron was discontinued soon after in conse-
quence of the competition of plants nearer the mines.
Shortly after 1896 the stock was acquired by M. C. D. Borden,
who retaining the old charter, which was of value, tore down


the buildings and began the erection of cotton mills to supply
cloth for the American Printing Company of which he was
also the owner.

The extensive powers given by the charter of the Fall
River Iron Works Company, if more than accidental, indicated
a long view into the future. Though organized primarily to
carry on the iron business, the company from time to time
launched into many and varied lines as its growth demanded
or as opportunity made desirable. When, for example, the
iron business was removed from its original location near the
outlet of the Quequechan, to that adjoining High Hill, in order
to utilize the former site the company built the Metacomet
Mill for the manufacture of cotton cloth. It had already
found that Providence was a good market for the product of
its iron mills, and had accordingly purchased a site and erected
a substantial wharf there, near which it also constructed a
brick ofRce building and storehouse, which was maintained
until the closing of the works.

As from time to time increased facilities were needed, the
company provided them for its own use, but always looking
forward to the time when others would avail themselves of
the opportunities offered. Under this policy it built gas
works, and a cooper shop for the making of nail kegs, as well
as carpenter, blacksmith and machine shops, the last occupy-
ing the building vacated by the Fall River Railroad on its
consolidation with the Old Colony Railroad. When it needed
additional machinery for the nail factory, it built it here. It
also added a boiler shop, and wharves, one of which became
known as "Derrick Wharf," because of the large derrick
erected there for the handling of boilers and other machinery
for steamboats. The desire to obtain a location where larger
vessels could dock at any stage of the tide was one of the
prime factors in bringing about the removal of the works to
their new location.

All work was done by employees of the company. In
wharf building no divers were to be had, and the method
employed was that of "poling", that is, the location of the
stone was determined by feeling under the water in the mud
with a long wooden pole for which an iron rod was later


substituted. In this way many of the present walls were

After the company opened an agency in Providence,
means of transportation became necessary, and the estab-
lishment of the Fall River & Providence Steamboat line
naturally followed.

The Fall River & Providence Steamboat Company was
noted for its regularity and punctuality. When the sailing
time arrived, the boat sailed, leaving for the next trip such
passengers and freight as were not on board. In order to
fill promptly the orders of the Providence agency, the steamers
sailed every day, except Sunday, though in severe winter
weather it sometimes made necessary the employment of a
large number of men with saws and other tools to cut a way
through the ice from the wharf. Occasionally in mid-winter
it was necessary to cut a channel in this way as far as Mount
Hope and sometimes even to Bristol Ferry.

The steamer King Philip was built as an ice-breaker,
and met her designer's expectations. In meeting ice, her
bow rose and slid along the top till the boat's weight caused
it to break. She was also the first steamboat in American
waters to carry a steam whistle.

The company, which also owned wharf property and
buildings at Bristol and Bristol Ferry, found it necessary to
dredge its docks from time to time, and accordingly built a
dredger of its own, the power for which was furnished by six
horses driven around a circle in the hold.

As the iron works grew and castings became necessary,
a large foundry was built on the north side of Mill street, a
short distance east of Pond street.

The company deemed it unwise to undertake coal mining,
but several of its owners purchased a large tract at Frostburg,
Md., and mined coal which was sold in the open market as
well as to the Iron Works Co. This venture, like the others,
was very profitable.

The same owners, with others, also built vessels to bring
coal, iron, iron ore, etc., to the works and to carry away the
finished product. These had a carrying capacity of from about
100 to 450 tons, and among them were the sloops Ann B.


Holmes and Isaac H. Borden and the schooners Sea Bird,
Minerva, Richard Borden, Ellen Barnes, Jane F. Durfee,
Iram Smith, Enoch Pratt, Daniel Brown, Sallie Smith, Orion,
Saphronia, Anna M. Edwards, Ney, Martha Wrightington,
Thomas Borden, Matthew C. Durfee, Carleton Jayne and

A marine railway was early a part of the company's
plant. This was originally near the present wharf station,
but was later removed to a point on the shore where the
company's cotton mills now stand. The railway's buildings
were leased to various persons, who maintained shipyards till
about the time of the sale of the property to M. C. D. Borden.
The last vessels were built here in the early 70s and were the
schooners D. M. Anthony and Carrie S. Hart and the barken-
tine David A. Brayton, all of about 800 tons capacity.

Feeling that the Fall River Line was not making fair
freight rates to New York, local parties in 1866 purchased
from the government the steamer United States and estab-
lished an independent freight line. Subsequently, the Alba-
tross was bought from the same source, and the line was
continued for some years, but was finally taken over by the
older company.

The first freighter used in these waters is supposed to
have been the sloop Irene and Betsey, owned by Richard and
Jefferson Borden, which was probably the forerunner of the
Fall River & Providence Steamboat Company.

The latter company, as it was the first to install a steam
whistle on its steamers, was also the first to equip a vessel
with a calliope. The Canonicus carried such an instrument,
but it was soon found that its music, while pleasing at a
distance, was not satisfying to those on board and it was
removed. There was also difficulty in obtaining sufficient
steam for both the engines and the calliope.

Among the earlier excursion steamers in the harbor were
the Jennie Lind, the Teaser, the Young American and Water
Lily which were run between Taunton and points along the
bay. The Teaser was a "stern-wheeler", or "wheelbarrow",
having a paddle wheel at the stern, extending the entire
width of the boat. This type was then common and is still


seen on southern inland waters where only light draught
vessels can be used.

The beginning of what afterward became the Dyer
Transportation Company was in the square-ended scow
schooner Nimrod, used by Capt. Henry Dyer, who, tiring of
his occupation as a tailor, turned master mariner. The
scarcity of wharves did not inconvenience him, for he ran his
schooner on the shore when the tide was full, so that she
could be loaded or discharged at low tide from wagons that
had driven alongside. When the tide was high again, sail
was made, and the craft departed for the next port. She
was run to Newport, Providence, Taunton, and, at times, to
New Bedford. She was followed by the Dart, built in 1837,
which was supplanted by the Caroline, built here in 1858, and
later by the steamer William Marvel, which connected at
Providence with steamship lines for Philadelphia, Norfolk
and Baltimore.

The large hat-making business of James Marshall & Bros.,
employing 1500 hands, has grown from a small hat concern
moved here from Bridgeport, Conn., about 1887, until now it
makes 7,200 dozen derby hats a day, as well as soft hats and
hats for women and children, and has lately established a
department for the making of straw hats. The New England
Fur Cutting Company was organized in 1893 for cutting hat-
ters' fur and skins for fur garments, and the making of fur
caps, muffs, etc. In a single year this plant now uses more
than 9,000,000 rabbit skins in producing fur not only for the
hat factory but also for other manufacturers throughout the

The Cote Piano Mfg. Co., which began business on
Pocasset street some years ago, and subsequently moved to
Alden street, has become one of the largest factories of its
kind in the United States. It makes every part of the piano
and employs 375 hands. Last year it manufactured 7,000

The making of braids, loop banding, lacings, etc., has
also become a considerable industry in recent years, and
several plants are devoted to the production of goods known
under the general name of narrow fabrics, to which have


been added in some cases, cotton rope and clothes lines. The
most recent is the Standard Fabric Co. , which has a capital
of $150,000, and is now erecting a mill in the eastern section.

A large machine shop was formerly operated on Pond
street by a firm that in the latter part of its history was known
as Marvel & Davol. It made machinery for cotton manufac-
turing, specializing on mules, and in 1870 employed 250 men.
It was established in 1821, in a building of the Pocasset Mfg.
Co., as Harris, Hawes & Co. and afterward became 0. S.
Hawes & Co. and still later, in 1841, Hawes, Marvel & Davol.
The name was changed to Marvel & Davol in 1857, and the
shops subsequently purchased and operated by the Fall River
Machine Co. until after 1900.

During the height of the whaling from this port, between
1840 and 1850, an oil refinery was carried on in a stone build-
ing still standing on Pardee & Young's Wharf, then known as
the "Oil Companies Wharf."

The manufacture of oil cloth was another early industry.
There were at one time three plants engaged in this business,
one on the shore, south of the American Linen Co., one on
Bedford street and one at Bowenville.

The city has large quarries of excellent granite, from

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Online LibraryHenry Milne FennerHistory of Fall River, Massachusetts → online text (page 6 of 10)