J.R. Montgomery Company Buildings, Windor Locks, Connecticut

The J.R. Montgomery Company, along the canal in Windsor Locks in October 1939. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, FSA-OWI Collection.

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The factory in 2015:

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The town of Windsor Locks gets its name from the canal locks that were located here, which allowed boats to bypass the Enfield Falls just to the north.  More of a series of rapids than a true waterfall, the Enfield Falls are the natural head of navigation on the Connecticut River, and were a significant obstacle to river trade with Springfield and other cities to the north.  This problem was resolved in 1829, with the opening of a 5.25 mile long canal that ran parallel to the river.  However, it never became a major transportation route, because like many other early 19th century canals it was soon superseded by railroads.  However, at least one notable visitor did pass through here on the canal; author Charles Dickens traveled along the river on a steamboat in 1842, just two years before the construction of the Hartford and Springfield Railroad, which can be seen next to the canal in the foreground of both photos.

Although the heyday of transportation canals was short-lived, the Enfield Falls Canal was soon put to a different use.  Here in Windsor Locks, at the southern end of the canal, the 30-foot drop from the canal to the river made it an ideal location for factories.  Industrialist J.R. Montgomery established a thread and yarn factory here in 1871, eventually producing a variety of, as the sign atop the building reads, “Novelty Yarns” and “Tinsel Products.”

The brick building in the distance was built in 1891 and expanded to the north (further from the camera) in 1904. The white concrete section was added in 1920, so the entire structure combines 30 years of factory architecture styles into one building.  However, the Montgomery Company closed in 1989, and the building has stood vacant ever since.  It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, but three fires and over 25 years of neglect have certainly taken their toll, so at this point the future of the historic property is certainly in question.

Agawam Woolen Mill, Agawam, Mass

Looking west on Elm Street, with the Agawam Woolen Mill to the right, around 1895-1896. Image courtesy of the Agawam Historical Association.

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Elm Street in 2015:

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The former Agawam Woolen Mill building still stands on Elm Street, although it is mostly hidden behind the trees from this angle. Agawam was never a major industrial center, but this site along the Three Mile Brook had been used by mills since the early 1800s.  In 1857, the Agawam Company, later renamed the Agawam Woolen Company, established its first factory here, which was rebuilt in 1875 and destroyed in a fire in 1889.  The present-day factory was built around 1890, and was subsequently expanded several times after the first photo was taken.  However, by the mid 1900s, New England’s once thriving textile industry began to struggle amid increased competition, and like many others the Agawam Woolen Company closed in the 1950s.  The building still stands today, not all that different from the 1890s photo except for the early 1900s additions.  It is a contributing property, and the only industrial building, in the Agawam Center Historic District on the National Register of Historic Places.

Columbia Straw Works, Monson Mass

The Columbia Straw Works factory on Main Street in South Monson, around 1892. Image from Picturesque Hampden (1892).

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Main Street in 2015:

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In the second half of the 19th century, Monson developed into a significant industrial town, with the Chicopee Brook and its tributaries providing power to a number of different factories, including this facility on the left, which was built in the early 1880s by Alvin A. Gage and Rice Munn Reynolds to manufacture straw hats, which were sold at their store on Broadway in New York City.  Reynolds was the son of Monson industrialist Joseph L. Reynolds, and he had previously represented Monson in the Massachusetts House of Representatives in 1876 and 1877.  He also served as a town selectman and was one of the founders and trustees of Monson Savings Bank, which still exists today.  However, he committed suicide under rather mysterious circumstances in 1898, and his share of the business went to his brother Theodore, whose untimely death came less than two years later at the age of 57, following what the Boston Post described as “a supposedly slight illness.”  Theodore owned three mills in Monson, including this one, and was also the third largest stockholder in the Boston & Albany Railroad.  At his death, according to the Boston Post, he was worth close to $10 million, which would be around $280 million in 2015 dollars.

Following the death of Theodore Reynolds, the property was acquired by F.W.A. Langewald, who operated it as the Crescent Worsted Mill.  However, it burned within a few years.  The 1912 Hampden County atlas shows a couple small buildings on the site, but it appears that the fire marked the end of this location as a major industrial site.  Today, the only remnants of the factory itself are the stone foundations in the woods beyond the house on the right.  The small stream that once powered the factory still passes through the site, and across the street in the distance is the tenement house where many of the workers once lived.  It is the only recognizable building from both photos, and today it is an apartment building.

American Whip Company, Westfield Mass

The American Whip Company building and the old Westfield Library building on Main Street, probably in the early 1890s. Image courtesy of the Westfield Athenaeum.

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The location in 2015:

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The American Whip Company was one of many whip manufacturers located in the “Whip City” of Westfield, Massachusetts. The building in the distance of the first photo was built around 1884, and less than a decade later the company merged with 13 other Westfield companies to form the United States Whip Company.  The added on to the facility with the “U” shaped building seen in this post; it is still on the site today, although it has been extensively modified.

The original 1884 building is still there, although it’s not visible from this angle; it is immediately behind, and slightly to the left of Subway and Domino’s today.  The old library building, however, is long gone – it was presumably demolished around 1892 when the United States Whip Company building was constructed on its spot.  Today, the Westfield Athenaeum is located on the other side of the Green, next to Court Street.

United States Whip Company, Westfield Mass

The United States Whip Company building on Main Street in Westfield, around 1920. Image courtesy of the Westfield Athenaeum.

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The site in 2015:

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The United States Whip Company was established in 1892 with the merger of 14 whip companies, and they built this building on Main Street in Westfield as their headquarters.  It was part of a large complex that took up much of the block between Main Street and Thomas Street, and some of the buildings were originally used by the American Whip Company, one of the companies later involved in the 1892 merger.

Westfield gained the nickname of the Whip City because of its many whip manufacturing companies, but by the turn of the 20th century essentially all of these were owned by United States Whip Company.  By the end of World War I, around 99% of the worldwide whip production was from Westfield, and the United States Whip Company accounted for about 85% of the market.  They were by far the world’s leading whip producer, but they were the leader in a rapidly shrinking industry.  Automobiles were making horse-drawn carriages obsolete, which meant a limited demand for Westfield’s primary manufactured goods.  In 1895, the city had 37 different whip companies; by 1926, not long after the first photo was taken, there were only 37 people working in the whip industry.

Today, the building on Main Street is still there, although it has been significantly altered over the years.  The brick exterior has since been covered in stucco, and the building that was once the world’s leading producer of whips is now home to Subway, Domino’s, and other businesses.  Along with the storefronts on the first floor of the original building, the space in between the “U” has been filled in with a one-story commercial block.

Indian Motocycle Factory, Springfield Mass

The factory on Wilbraham Road in Springfield, which would later house the Indian Motocycle Manufacturing Company.  Seen here around 1892 and published in Picturesque Hampden (1892).

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The building in 2015:

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This building is best known as having been part of the Indian Motocycle Company factory, but it has had a variety of uses over the years.  The original section of the building, as seen in the 1892 photo, was built in 1883 for the Bullard Repeating Arms Company, a rifle company that was not as successful as another firearms company founded in Springfield during the 19th century.  Bullard didn’t last too long, and the building was then used by the Springfield Industrial Institute, a private trade school.  In 1895, the school moved to the building across the courtyard, and the Elektron Company occupied this building.  It was at this point that the wing was built to the east, beyond the tower.

Early in the 20th century, George Hendee moved his motorcycle company to this site, which was originally named Hendee Manufacturing Company, but was later renamed Indian Motocycle Manufacturing Company (the “r” was intentionally omitted from “motorcycle” for trademark purposes, although Hendee was from the Boston area, so perhaps he had no use for r’s in his speech anyway).  The two story addition was put on the building in 1911, which by then had nearly quadrupled in size from the 1892 photo.  This triangle between State Street and Wilbraham Road was the home of the company until they closed in 1953, at which point the buildings were used for various other businesses.  Since then, several of the buildings have been demolished, although the original 1883 Bullard building survives, and it has been renovated and turned into apartments.