Ipswich Mills and Factories

From a paper by the Ipswich Historical Society

At the very beginning of the settlement of our Town, a grist mill was an imperative necessity, and at the first Town meeting of which definite record remains in 1634, “It is concluded and consented unto that Mr. John Spencer and Mr. Nicholas Easton shall have liberty to build a Mill and a Ware upon the Town River, about the falles of it upon this condition, that they shall part with an equal share of their Fish to all the inhabitants of this Town if they be demanded at five shill a thousand more or less according to the common price of the Country.”

The “Falls” alluded to, were probably only rapids, but various allusions to removing rocks about the dam indicate that in its natural state, our River ran rapidly in a rocky bed, where the large dam stands, and lower down, in the rocky gulch by the saw mill. This was the natural location for a dam, and the fish ” ware” was established for the taking of the shad and alewives which ascended the stream in great numbers. The original grantees left the Town, perhaps before the dam and grist mill were built, and Mr. Richard Saltonstall, son of Sir Richard, and one of the most important citizens of our Town succeeded to the grant. The dam was constructed at about the place where the new dam stands, we may suppose, and the grist mill was probably near the spot now occupied by the old stone mill. For many years, Mr. Saltonstall enjoyed a monopoly of the business. Corn was brought to mill from the whole great township to be ground into Indian meal, the great food staple of the time.

At length complaints were made about the miller, that he was unskillful, and disobliging, and a communication from the “Worshipful Richard Saltonstall Esq.” then in England was received and entered on the Town Record in 1671, promising that a skillful and acceptable miller, should be sent. But there were many apparently, who were not so easily satisfied, and the Town declared that the number of inhabitants was too great for one Indian corn mill.

In reference to this demand, Mr. Saltonstall asked and received liberty in April 1682, to build another grist mill, near Sergeant Clark’s. Thos. Clark owned and occupied the northeast corner of Summer and Water Sts. by the river side, and the scheme of a mill contemplated a dam across the river at this point, and the utilizing of the tides. The privilege was granted “provided he have gates eighteen or twenty feet wide, to let up canoes or boats loaded into the cove and to let out boats and canoes when the tide serves.”

Jonathan Wade and others opposed this, and the reason may have been that he had received in 1673, ” that little island of rock’s at the falls, in exchange for so much to enlarge the highway by the windmill1 provided he hinder no man from taking away loose rocks, nor hinder fish ways, nor making of a bridge, nor prejudice the mills,” and in 1649, he had received permission to set up a saw mill, which may have been built at this point.

Cornet Whipple had also received permission in 1673 to build a fulling mill, “at the smaller falls, by Ezekiel Woodward’s house,” provided Mr. Saltonstall’s grist mill at the upper falls and another fulling mill already begun, at the upper fall probably, were not “prejudiced.” A dam lower down the river naturally threatened the privileges of the mills on the island. Nothing resulted from this scheme of a tide mill, and in 1686, as the need of another mill was increasingly pressing, the selectmen granted liberty to anyone to build a grist mill at the falls, “by or near Goodman Rust,” “provided they damnify not the upper grist mills.”

In March 1686/7, “Sar. Nicholas Wallis “received permission” to improve the water by damming in the river against his own land, not exceeding three foot for the building a fulling mill or mills, provided he do it within a year and a half.” He lived near the present Norwood mills. In 1667, for, the convenience of this neighborhood,” John Addams, Nath. Addams, Samuel Addams, Joseph Safford, Nicholas Wallis and Thomas Stace, upon consideration of there building a bridge over the river at there own expense,” were “freed from working in the common highway for 7 years to come.”

A corn mill was erected as well, perhaps by John Adams, as John Adams, Sen., conveyed his property to John, Jun., including ” half the land the corn mill stands ” in April, 1698. The deed mentions “the little dam.” The grist mill and a saw mill, known as “Adams’s Mills,” were sold by the widow to Paul Dodge in 1750.

His son Barnabas succeeded him, and David, son of Barnabas, sold to .Ammi Smith in 1827, and the Smith heirs to Caleb and Jerome Norwood in 1868. The sawing of fine veneers was carried on with success. The fulling mill was operated by the Warners, and William Warner added a carding machine prior to 1794. This property was conveyed by the Warner heirs to Ammi Smith, in 1858. The water power once utilized for the fulling and scouring mill, and the carding of wool, is now used by the isinglass factory. A saw mill also is still in use.

In the year 1687, Nehemiah Jewet was granted leave to dam the Egypt River and build a grist mill, and in 1691, Thomas Boreman received permission to set a grist mill on Labour-in-vain Creek, provided he built within two years. The mill on Egypt river was built, near the residence of Mr. John Tenney, and some faint remains are still visible. There is no evidence of which I am aware, that Mr. Boreman ever built.

The presumption is rather against this, as Col. Saltonstall, son of Richard, received permission anew in June, 1695, to utilize the location by Sergeant Clark’s. Renewed opposition was made to this project in a written document signed by many, who protested that this grant should not be voted.

“1. Because it stops a navigable river.

“2. Because it will damnifie Col. Saltonstall’s grant. (i. e. the upper mill privilege, I presume).

” 3. Because severall other places which will answer ye Town’s ends are proposed, which will do less damage to proprietors.”

Apparently no further steps were taken by Col. Saltonstall, as permission was granted March 24, 1696, to Edmund Potter and others to set up a dam and grist mill on Mile Brook, “not to damnify Col. Appleton’s saw-mill.” The grist mill was located on the spot where the old mill still stands on the Oliver Smith farm. Col. Appleton’s saw mill was a little to the eastward of the bridge over Mile River.

Still there was a cry for a mill by Sergeant Clark’s, and again, on Nov. 4, 1696, it was voted, ” Two or three persons that are so minded shall have liberty to erect a mill and raise a dam across ye River by or near ye house where John Clark, Carpenter, formerly lived.” But no mill was built, and eventually the privilege at the Lower Falls was improved by Robert Calef who received permission in March 1714/15.

William Dodge purchased the mill and privilege at the Lower Falls, but he was not content and in 1730, he repeated the old plea for a location “at the end of Green Lane,” “near Sergeant Clark’s formerly so called.” He proposed to build a dam with gates 20 feet wide to permit boats to pass, and then “throw up his works at the Falls and remove the grist mill he had lately built there down to the place petitioned for.” This was negatived and no further attempt was made to place a mill at this spot.

The Saltonstall heirs continued to hold an interest in the upper Mills until 1729. In that year they sold to John Waite and Samuel Dutch, their interest in two grist mills and a fulling mill, dye-house, house for the miller etc. , and a saw mill which had been built on the east side of the river, near the residence of Mr. Clark Abell. Dutch sold his interest in the grist mills and fulling mill, to Waite. In 1746, Benj. Dutch bought of Philemon Dean a half interest in the mill property. The mills had been operated for many years by Michael Farley and his sons, and they acquired ownership. He had come from England in 1675, as a skilled miller, to take charge, and his immediate descendants were concerned in the mills for more than a hundred and fifty years.

Grist mills and saw mills had now been erected to meet the needs of the people, but before the century ended a new enterprise of a different character engaged the attention of our town’s folk. Cloth of every kind was still woven on handlooms. Not a few men were weavers by trade”and they produced the necessary woolen and linen fabrics, for such as could not weave for themselves, and their work was probably upon the finer quality of broad-cloths and other fine fabrics for the expensive garments of the gentry. But the great bulk of woolen and cotton or linen stuffs, homespun cloths, flannels, quilts, blankets, towelling, and table linen, and plain cotton for family wear, were made by the busy housewives on the family loom.

In 1785, Edmund Cartwright, an Oxford graduate and a minister of the Established Church, exhibited in England a power-loom, which he had invented. It was a rude machine, but it embodied an idea of the profoundest significance. It established the fact that the slow and laborious hand labor at the loom, was destined to give place to the more rapid and economical work of machines. His invention met the fate of all great and revolutionary discoveries. The introduction of it was vehemently opposed as disastrous to the handicraft of multitudes, and a mill which had been erected and fitted up with 500 of his looms was maliciously burned down.

There was living in Ipswich at that time a man of remarkably progressive mind, Dr. John Manning. He had introduced inoculation as a preventive of small pox some years before, on his return from England, and had faced a storm of calumny and reproach for his determined conduct in inoculating some members of his own family. He was quick to see the great value of Cartwright’s invention, and in 1792, only seven years after the invention was exhibited, he had received a grant of a piece of land, where Caldwell’s Block stands today, that he might erect a building for a woolen manufactory. Mrs. Elizabeth Brown’s house was sacrificed, but the public was greatly benefited.

The mill was erected, and the manufacture of coarse cloths and blankets was begun in 1794. The business proved unprofitable and was given up in 1800, but this modest venture is a towering landmark in the industrial history of our town and of the Commonwealth. Dr. Manning’s woolen factory must have been one of the earliest of tex tile manufactories on this side the Atlantic. The building was subsequently purchased by Mr. Stephen Coburn and was destroyed by fire.

The decade 1820 to 1830 was a period of extraordinary interest in industrial affairs. For many years the making of pillow lace had engaged the leisure of girls and women. It was a local industry, as it would seem, and its origin is unknown. Referring to Ipswich in 1692, a writer says, “Silk and thread lace of an elegant and lasting texture are manufactured in large quantities by women and children and sold for use and exportation.”2 The industry had attained such large proportions in 1790 that more than 40,000 yards of lace were produced each year, according to Mr. Felt, the annalist of our Town.

In 1824, the Boston and Ipswich Lace Co. was incorporated with a capital of $150,000. The house near the Foot Bridge, still known as the old Lace Factory, was bought and the manufacture of machine lace was begun. The New England Lace Co., with a capital of $50,000, was established in 1827, on High St., in the building now included in the Joseph Ross homestead. Mr. Fewkes has told the story of the inception of these industries and their untimely ruin, in lucid fashion. The Boston and Ipswich Co. closed its affairs in 1827, and the New England in 1833. But the ancient industry of pillow lace manufacture had been completely supplanted, and never attained its former volume.

The influx of skilled English artisans that has been of the greatest industrial value to our Town began probably about the year 1822, when Benjamin Fewkes and George Warner came with their “frame” for the machine knitting of hosiery. Mr. Fewkes’ confident assertion that stockings were knit in old Ipswich in 1822, suggests that Ipswich men were in the vangaurd of this great industry, as Dr. Manning had been with his power looms in the woolen manufacture.

But the lace-making and stocking-knitting were to be supplemented by another fruitful industry. Joseph Farley, the last in the line of millers, was not content with the ancestral business of grinding corn. He conceived the scheme of utilizing the water power, hitherto used for the grist mills and fulling mill and the saw mill, for a cotton mill. A company was organized and work was begun on an extensive scale.

A new dam was built in 1827, an ancient ford way across the river near the old Lace Factory was closed by permission of the Town, and the stone mill was erected at large expense. The machinery was started in 1830. In 1832 it had 3000 spindles and 260 looms. It spun Nos. 30 and 32 yarn, used 80,000 lbs. of cotton, made 450,000 yards of cloth annually, worth from 9 1/2 to 10 cents. It employed on an average 18 males and 63 females.

The Ipswich Manufacturing Company, with Joseph Farley as its President, operated bold]y. The lower grist mills, and other buildings on the Island were secured. Land on Elm St. was bought, and permission of the owners of the estate now owned by Mr. Clark Abell was secured, preliminary to building a canal from the River above the upper dam, across the Heard estate to the river. The Asa Andrews estate and the old Lace Factory were purchased and other lands, including the saw mill.4 But financial difficulties arose, and in 1836 Mr. Farley conveyed his interests to the Company. In 1846, a new Company, known as the Dane Manufacturing Co., purchased the mills and other properties from the Ipswich Manufacturing Co. The manufacture of drilling was continued.

Meanwhile the hosiery manufacture and kindred industries were coming into greater prominence. The four small manufactories, mentioned by Mr. Fewkes, in which stockings were knit on hand frames, were supplemented by a larger industry, as early as 1834. In a building, erected by the Heards at the Lower Mills, James Peatfield and his brother Sanford, were engaged in knitting shirts and drawers upon a warp frame, invented by James, at least as early as that year.

Encouraged by their success, the Peatfield brothers bought the land in 1840, and proceeded to build the brick factory, now known as ” Hayes Tavern.” It was equipped with machinery invented by James, and began at once a prosperous business in the production of underwear. Mr. Geo. W. Heard was the warm friend of the enterprise and advanced money for the new manufactory. But the business had been established only a few years, when Mr. Heard was obliged to go into bankruptcy and the Peatfields were hopelessly involved. Mr. Heard began the knitting business in the building at the Lower Mills about 1845, with Mr. Jabez Mann as Superintendent. He secured the help of Mr. James Glover, who came from England with a long warp machine. Mr. John Birch and other skilled workmen were engaged as well.

The Peatfield brothers lost their building and business for a time, but recovered in a few years. Sanford Peatfield sold his share of building and land, but James Peatfield began the manufacture of the nets then in vogue for women’s wear, and continued it profitably for years. In a building in the rear of the brick one, which was removed from the County House land, a new corporation, known as the Lincoln Manufacturing Co., carried on a business first of weaving flannel, and later of hosiery making.

At Willowdale, within the bounds of Hamilton, Dr. Thomas Manning had built a dam in 1829 and a wooden saw mill. The mill was soon burned and another was erected, which was used in part for the sawing of veneers and for turning. The more permanent stone buildings, the factory and the boardinghouse on the hill slope, were in process of erection, and about the year 1834, the looms were installed and the weaving of woolen goods began. The factory was owned by Dr. Manning and it was called “Manning’s Mills.” During the War of the Rebellion hosiery machinery was in operation and in 1864, there were manufactured 55,000 pairs of army socks and woolen goods to the value of $135,000.

The hosiery making gave way to the manufacture of blankets, by the Willowdale Manufacturing Co., and many houses had been erected for the operatives. The Mill was destroyed by fire, January 12, 1884, and was not rebuilt. The stone house has been taken down and except a temporary use of a wooden building built on the ruins of the old mill, no use has since been made of the water power at this spot.

The decade 1860 to 1870 was the period of another great advance in the textile industry of the Town. In 1863, Henry L. Ordway and Sylvanus F. Canney bought a piece of land on County St., intending to establish a saw mill. It was proposed that a yarn mill should be erected instead. A capital stock of $40,000 was secured, about half in our Town, and the Company was organized with N. W. Pierce and George G. Colman of Boston, Joseph Ross, Capt. Thomas Dodge and Henry L. Ordway of Ipswich as Directors, and the firm of Pierce, Hardy & Co., as selling agents.

After about five years, the Corporation decided to use its yarn. The capital was increased to $50,000, knitting machinery was introduced and the manufacture of hosiery was begun. A few years of great prosperity followed. The capital was increased to $75,000, and the building was enlarged and equipped with the most improved machines. The work produced was of the finest quality, and the most skilful operatives earned ten and twelve dollars a week. Employment was also furnished to three shops, where skilled English hosiery makers worked on hand frames. Burrows & Hunt, Chas. Bamford & Son, employing eight men, and John Birch, with twelve men in his employ, were constantly engaged on work for this Mill.

The stockholders rejoiced in ten per cent. dividends, and ninety per cent of the original investment had been paid to investors, when sudden calamity befell this prosperous and promising business. The great fire in Boston in the fall of 1873 consumed a large amount of finished goods. The insurance companies were bankrupt and only 38 cents on a dollar were realized by the Company. From this time the business was conducted in the face of great difficulties, but with less and less success, until the doors were closed in January, 1885.

The manufacture of cotton cloth was continued in the Stone Mill until 1868 or thereabout. In that year, Mr. Amos A. Lawrence of Boston having purchased for $70,000 the mills and other property owned by that corporation, transferred the property to the Ipswich Mills Co. The cotton looms were removed and hosiery machinery was introduced. For a time, business was conducted at a loss. The Company was unfortunate in its superintendents, and the secret of profitable manufacture was not attained.

The loss was so great, that Mr. Lawrence was on the verge of abandoning the enterprise, when a young Nottingham manufacturer, Mr. Everard H. Martin, was chosen superintendent. With his coming, an era of prosperity dawned, and for many years, this Corporation has been the chief industrial enterprise of the town. When reverse overtook the Woolen Mills, that property was purchased and has since been operated by the Ipswich Mills. The plant has been enlarged from time to time, and all branches of the business, even to the making of the paper boxes, and the wooden shipping cases, are now carried on, and a branch Mill is operated in South Boston. At present, the superintendent is Mr. Harry B. Brown. About 800 operatives are employed. The annual product is estimated at a million dollars, and the pay roll is from eight to ten thousand dollars a week.

The hand frame business prospered for many years. James Glover manufactured nets, the Hallams produced fine knit goods, and single frames were operated here and there by a few expert workmen. But this line of manufacture has become unprofitable, and at the present time it is said that the hand frame weaving which began with the operation of the English loom, in 1822, has ceased and the whole textile production of the Town is the output of the Ipswich Mills.

The saw mills, once numerous, have suffered similar decline. The Island, granted to Jonathan Wade, became a busy centre of industry. A fulling mill, two saw mills and a grist mill flourished in the 18th century. A manufactory of knit goods was added in the 19th century. This building was used as a saw mill by the Damon heirs and was burned some years ago. A single building, used for a grist mill, originally, now stands unused. One small saw mill and one grist mill, are the only representatives today of these ancient and important industries.

  • The windmill was built undoubtedly on “Windmill Hill.” The date of its erection is not known.
  • Mr. M. V. B. Perley In his History of Ipswich, In History of Essex County Mass., Boston, 1878.
  • Felt: Hist. of Ipswich, p. 101.
  • This old saw mill fell into ruin, but a new building for veener sawing was built by Mr. Benjamin C. Hoyt, about 1843. This was removed by Mr. James M. Wellington about the year 1859, to its present location on County Street.

A presentation to the Ipswich Historical Society, 1903.

Ipswich Hosiery

Further reading:

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