Ames Manufacturing Company, Chicopee, Mass

The Ames Manufacturing Company on Springfield Street in Chicopee, around 1892. Image from Picturesque Hampden (1892).

The scene in 2017:

The origins of the Ames Manufacturing Company date back to 1822, when industrialist Edmund Dwight purchased property along the Chicopee River at Skenungonuck Falls, at the present-day village of Chicopee Falls. At the time, Chicopee was the sparsely-settled northern half of Springfield, but the Industrial Revolution helped to transform it into a major manufacturing center, thanks to the many waterfalls here on the Chicopee River. In 1823, Dwight incorporated the Boston and Springfield Manufacturing Company, and within a few years he had built a dam, a canal, and a mill at Chicopee Falls, marking the beginning of large-scale industry here in Chicopee.

In 1829, Dwight persuaded brothers Nathan P. and James T. Ames to relocate their cutlery business from Chelmsford to Chicopee Falls. He provided them with a blacksmith shop at his mill complex, rent-free for four years, and the brothers began operations here with a workforce of nine. The business rapidly expanded, though, and by 1833 they had 25 to 30 employees and were producing a wide variety of cutlery and tools, as well as swords for the Army and Navy.

The company was incorporated as the Ames Manufacturing Company in 1834, and the following year moved to this site further down the river. Known at the time as Cabotville, this village would later become the center of Chicopee when it was incorporated as a separate town in 1848. Here, the Chicopee River drops 50 feet in elevation, and both a dam and a canal were constructed in the early 1830s. At this new site, the company continued to grow and diversify, and by the end of the 1830s the Ames brothers were also producing cannons, cannonballs, bells, and a variety of other metal objects.

The first photo, taken in the early 1890s, shows the canal in the center and the Ames complex on the left. These buildings were constructed starting in 1847, with the oldest section visible just to the right of the tower. The facility was steadily expanded in the following decades, and was largely in its present form by the end of the Civil War. This era marked the heyday of Ames Manufacturing, which produced munitions during both the Mexican War and the Civil War. The Civil War in particular brought prosperity, and this facility became one of the war’s leading producers of swords, light artillery, and heavy ordnance.

During this period, the company also began casting bronze statues, beginning in 1853. Under the direction of foundry superintendent Silas Mosman, Jr., the company produced many important statues, including the Benjamin Franklin statue at Boston’s Old City Hall, the equestrian statues of George Washington at the Boston Public Garden and New York’s Union Square, the Minuteman statue at Concord, and the statues at Abraham Lincoln’s tomb in Springfield, Illinois. However, perhaps Mosman’s most significant accomplishment was casting the bronze doors for the east wing of the U.S. Capitol, which were installed in 1867. In his later years, Silas Mosman was assisted in his work by his son, Melzar, who went on to have an accomplished career both designing and casting statues. He remained here at Ames until 1884, but subsequently left the firm and established his own foundry here in Chicopee.

Of the two Ames brothers, only James lived to see the company’s prosperity in the mid-19th century. Nathan died in 1847, at the age of 43, but James remained with the company until his retirement in 1872, a year before his death. However, by this point Ames Manufacturing was entering a decline. The Civil War had been a boon for business, but after the war the company struggled to adapt to peacetime demands. The factory produced a wide variety of metal products, from mailboxes to ice skates, and as late as the 1870s the company had major foreign contracts for bayonets, scabbards, and sabers. Starting in the early 1880s, Ames also produced bicycles for the Overman Wheel Company. This contract proved lucrative, as demand for bicycles skyrocketed during this period, but this high demand ultimately ended up hurting Ames when, in 1887, Overman opened its own bicycle factory in Chicopee Falls.

The first photo was taken several years later, by which point the company was in serious decline. Ames remained here for about 15 more years, but in 1908 the factory complex was sold to A. G. Spalding and Brothers. This sporting goods company had been established in Chicago in 1876 by baseball player Albert G. Spalding, and in 1893 the company began manufacturing its products in Chicopee Falls. After purchasing the Ames facility in 1908, Spalding set about expanding it, adding several new buildings, and for the next 40 years the factory produced a wide range of Spalding sporting goods. Among other things, Spalding supplied the baseballs for Major League Baseball for most of the 20th century, and these balls were produced here in Chicopee. Spalding was also an early leader in golf equipment, and at one point had an entire building dedicated to producing golf balls.

Spalding relocated to a new facility in Chicopee in 1948, but the old buildings continued to be used by a variety of industries until the 1980s, when the buildings were converted into a 138-unit apartment complex known as Ames Privilege. Despite the many changes in ownership and use, though, the former Ames facility has survived with few major changes over the years. It is hard to tell in the second photo, but the same buildings from the first photo still line the canal, and the only significant change is a fourth floor, which was added to the buildings sometime after the first photo was taken. Because of its level of preservation and its historical significance, the property was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1983.

Windsor Grist & Saw Mill, Windsor, Connecticut

The old mill at the corner of Poquonock Avenue and East Street in Windsor, around 1935-1942. Image courtesy of the Connecticut State Library.

The building in 2017:

According to some historical records, this mill building dates back to 1640, when it was established as perhaps the first grist mill in Connecticut. In reality, the present building was built several centuries later, although this site along the Mill Brook was indeed the location of an early grist mill. It was owned by the town’s first minister, John Warham, and was evidently a sort of employment benefit for him. Like most grist mills of the era, farmers did not directly pay the miller for his services; instead, he was entitled to keep a portion of all the flour that was ground at the mill. Here, Reverend Warham, as the mill owner, was also compensated, receiving one-sixteenth of the ground flour.

The original mill building stood for well over 200 years, and was still used as a grist mill until 1862, when the property was purchased by Earl Simons. He demolished the old building and constructed the current mill, with some accounts suggesting that he may have incorporated some of the old mill’s frame into the new one. Like the old one, it was used as a grist mill, and was powered by a water wheel on the Mill Brook. The subsequent owner, Charles F. Lewis, made some changes after purchasing the property in 1878, rebuilding the mill dam and adding a sawmill to the building. Then, in 1916, his son, Charles T. Lewis, brought 20th century technology to the mill, replacing the old water wheel with a modern electric motor.

The mill remained in the Lewis family for nearly 50 years, until it was finally sold in 1924. Under the new owners, Farmers Grain & Supply Company, the mill became a hardware store in addition to its grain business, and the company still owned the property when the first photo was taken around the late 1930s. The building remained in use as a hardware store through several more ownership changes, and the exterior was significantly modified in the mid-20th century. Shortly after the first photo was taken, the building was expanded with a two-story brick addition on the right side, and by the early 1950s the cupola had been removed and plate glass windows were added to the left side of the first floor.

The hardware store remained in business until very recently, although it had closed by the time the first photo was taken in the spring of 2017. However, the building itself is still standing, and although it is not nearly as old as the nearby historical marker claims, it has become historic in its own right as a surviving example of a mid-19th century grist mill. And, perhaps, some of the timbers from the 1640 mill are still buried within the walls of the building, as relics from the first years of Connecticut’s existence.

For more information on this mill, along with additional photographs, see this article on the Windsor Historical Society website.

Bemis & Call Tool Factory, Springfield, Mass

The factory of Bemis & Call Hardware and Tool Company at 125 Main Street in Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

The scene in 2017:

The origins of the Bemis & Call Hardware and Tool Company started in the 1830s, when merchant Stephen C. Bemis began manufacturing hardware here in Springfield. One of his early business moves was to purchase Solyman Merrick’s patent of the monkey wrench, which would become one of the company’s leading products. He subsequently formed a partnership with Amos Call, and in the 1840s Bemis & Call began manufacturing tools and hardware in a factory here on this site along the Mill River. The company initially rented space in a factory building that they shared with several other tenants, but later in the 19th century they would purchase the entire site.

Stephen C. Bemis retired from the company in 1855,   and went on to have a career in politics. He served as a city alderman from 1856 to 1858, as mayor in 1861 and 1862, and in between he was the Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor in 1859, although he lost the general election to fellow Springfield politician Eliphalet Trask. In the meantime, his son, William C. Bemis, became treasurer when Stephen retired, and remained with the company for the next half century.

William became president in 1897, and that same year the company built a large addition to the original factory. This three-story brick building, seen in the center of both photos, was joined four years later by the more ornate two-story section on the right, which was used as the conpany’s offices. The original wooden building stood on the left side until around 1920, when it was demolished and replaced with the current four-story brick building. During this time, Bemis & Call continued to specialize in wrenches, but also produced punches, pliers, calipers, and eventually combination locks.

Bemis & Call finally sold their wrench line in 1939, around the same time that the first photo was taken. However, unlike so many other Springfield-based companies, they survived the Great Depression and remained in business until finally closing in 1988. The factory buildings themselves are still standing, though, with hardly any exterior changes since the first photo was taken nearly 80 years ago, and they serve as a reminder of Springfield’s legacy as an important industrial city in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

Van Sickler’s Mill, Pittsfield, Mass

Looking upstream on the east branch of the Housatonic River, from the Dawes Street bridge, around 1906. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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The scene in 2016:

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Pittsfield is located at the confluence of the east and west branches of the Housatonic River, and for several centuries these two waterways have helped develop industries in the city. The first mill dam in Pittsfield was built on the east branch, a little further upstream of here near the present Elm Street bridge. It was in existence by 1778, when Ebenezer White leased it and used it to operate a sawmill. With the coming of the Industrial Revolution, though, riverfront property would be in high demand for large-scale industrial uses.

In 1832, a group of businessmen, including Samuel McKay and Curtis Fenn, purchased the dam and the property downstream of it. That same year, the building in the first photo was completed, and was used as a cotton mill. It went through several ownership changes over the years, starting in 1839, when it was purchased by Thomas F. Plunkett. He removed the old dam and built one closer to the factory, as seen in the first photo. Along with this, he expanded the building and increased the workforce to 100 employees, enabling the mill to produce around 1.5 million yards each year.

A year later, in 1840, Martin Van Sickler became an overseer in the mill, and steadily worked his way into ownership. He purchased a quarter interest in the company in 1849, and after several ownership changes his percent of the company increased until 1867, when he became the sole owner. However, by the late 1800s Pittsfield’s textile industry was already in decline. The cotton mill closed in 1883, and Van Sickler found himself $70,000 in debt. He sold the building, which was subsequently used for other industrial purposes, and Van Sickler died eight years later, penniless and homeless.

Although no longer a cotton mill, the old building was still in use when the first photo was taken. In 1930, while being used by Dale Brothers Laundry, it was gutted by a fire, nearly a century after it first opened. Today, a corrugated sheet metal building stands on the site. The old 1845 dam is also gone. It was removed in 1966 to improve drainage and to avoid sludge buildup, and the Housatonic River now flows freely through this scene, with hardly a trace remaining of the mill that once stood here.

Willys-Overland Block, Springfield, Mass

The Willys-Overland Block at the corner of Chestnut and Winter Streets in Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

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The building in 2016:

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As mentioned in the previous post, Chestnut Street was once home to some of Springfield’s wealthiest residents. However, by the early 1900s the city’s commercial center was growing east from Main Street, and this area around the corners of Chestnut, Bridge, and Pearl Streets became the center of the city’s automotive business. Springfield played a pioneering role in early automobile manufacturing, starting with Charles and Frank Duryea. In the 1890s, they developed the country’s first gasoline-powered car here in Springfield, just a few blocks away on Taylor Street. In the years that followed, other automobile companies came to the city, drawn by its manufacturing tradition and large pool of skilled workers.

In the first few decades of the 20th century, Springfield was home to many car manufacturers. The Knox Automobile Company was headquartered in the city, and other companies had branches, including Rolls-Royce and Willys-Overland. Unlike Rolls-Royce, the Toledo-based Willys-Overland no longer exists, but its legacy in Springfield lives on in this building, which they built in 1916. The first floor housed their showroom, and the rest of the building had a service station along with a thousand-car garage.

The company remained here for just five years, but the building continued to be used for automotive-related purposes. In the first photo, the upper floors were the Kimball Garage, serving the Hotel Kimball, which is located diagonally across Chestnut Street from here. However, it has since been neglected for many years. It was damaged in a November 2012 natural gas explosion that leveled an adjacent building and shattered most of the windows in the Willys-Overland Block. Although listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the building’s future is uncertain, and in 2015 the City Council established it as a one-building historic district, in an effort to protect it from possible demolition.

130 Union Street, Springfield, Mass

The building at 130 Union Street, just east of Main Street in Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

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The building in 2015:

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This two-story brick building was built around 1906-1910, on the site of the Swedish Evangelical Lutheran Bethesda Church, which had been built here in 1897. Although the church building was short-lived, I suspect that part of the church walls may have been incorporated into this building, because part of the first floor walls are made of stone, the same material as the church. This is also consistent with the church’s footprint as it appeared in the 1899 city atlas, although I do not have any photos of the church to confirm my theory.

In any case, when the first photo was taken the building had a sign that read “Bay State Mattress Company,” which may have occupied the upper floor, because the ground floor appears to have been used as a repair garage. There is a car visible inside the building, with signs on the exterior for “Brake Service & Greasing” and for Exide batteries. Later on, this building was home to Radding Signs, as the vertical neon sign on the left still indicates. Most recently, the building was owned by the Anti-Displacement Project, but it was damaged in the 2011 tornado and now appears to be vacant.