S. F. Cushman & Sons Woolen Mill, Monson, Mass

The S. F. Cushman & Sons Woolen Mill on Cushman Street in Monson, probably around 1912. Image courtesy of the Monson Free Library.

The scene in 2018:

During the 19th and early 20th centuries, the town of Monson had a small but thriving woolen industry, with several factories that were located along the Chicopee Brook. The earliest of these was established around 1800 by Asa Gates, who constructed a mill here on this site. In 1816, this mill was acquired by the Monson Woolen Manufacturing Company, and this firm continued to produce textiles here throughout much of the 19th century. Throughout this time, there were several different buildings here. One was constructed around 1854, but it burned only a few years later, and it was subsequently replaced by another mill in 1858.

In 1877, the Monson Woolen Manufacturing Company was acquired by Solomon F. Cushman, who had been working for the firm since 1856, when he took a job as a bookkeeper after moving here from Monson, Maine. He renamed the company S. F. Cushman & Sons, and in 1883 he expanded it by purchasing another mill on Elm Street, which became known as the Branch Mill. In the meantime, the 1858 mill here on Cushman Street continued to be used to manufacture textiles until 1886, when it too burned. Both this building and its predecessor had been made of wood, but its replacement – shown here in these two photos – was built of brick. This four-story mill was completed later in 1886, and it featured an ornate exterior that was highlighted by a stair tower on the west side of the Cushman Street facade.

Solomon Cushman died in 1900, and his sons took over the business, although just a year later they sold the Branch Mill, which subsequently became the Somerset Woolen Mill. However, they continued to operate the Cushman Street mill for more than a decade, and the 1902 book Our County and Its People: A History of Hampden County provides the following description of this facility:

It contains 5 sets of modern machinery. The mill has made in years past broadcloth, satinets, cassimeres, and doeskins. At present the mill employs about 85 operatives (about evenly divided between men and women) with an annual pay roll of $40,000. The present manufactures are kersey and cloakings.

In 1912, the Cushman brothers sold the property to Heimann & Lichten, a hat manufacturing company whose previous factory, located on Main Street on the present-day site of the town hall, had burned earlier that year. The new owners converted the Cushman Street mill into a hat factory, and the building was evidently expanded around the same time, with the addition of five window bays on the right side. Although it features the same design as the original section of the building, it was constructed with lighter-colored bricks, as shown in these two photos. The first photo was probably taken shortly after this addition was completed, and it also shows the mill pond that was once located on the opposite side of Cushman Street.

Julius Heimann and Morris C. Lichten had been partners in the hat industry since 1884, and in 1890 they began manufacturing in Monson. Following the fire in their original building, they carried on operations here in this mill for several more years. However, both men died only a few months apart. In October 1918, Heimann was killed in a car accident after visiting Lichten in a New York City hospital. Lichten, who had been ill at the time, died the following January, leaving control of the firm to its vice president, Daniel E. Nolan. He would continue to run the company for another nine years, before it closed in 1927.

In 1934, A. D. Ellis Mills, Inc. purchased this property. A. D. Ellis was another major textile manufacturer in Monson, and at the time it operated two other factories, with one on Bliss Street and another on Main Street. This factory was used for storage, and it was owned by by A. D. Ellis until the company dissolved in 1962. The building subsequently changed ownership several more times over the next few years, and in 1966 it was purchased by M & M Chemical Sales Corporation, who occupied it for the next 20 years.

M & M Chemical went bankrupt in 1986, and this property was subsequently sold at auction. However, the building has been vacant ever since, and it has steadily deteriorated after more than 30 years of neglect. In 2010, one of the dormer windows collapsed, sending bricks and other debris onto the street below. This caused a temporary closure of Cushman Street, until the other dormer windows could be safely removed. Otherwise, though, the rest of the building is still standing, with few exterior changes from this angle since the first photo was taken. Today, it is Monson’s oldest surviving factory building, and it is one of the few existing remnants of the town’s industrial heritage.

North Main Street Cemetery, Monson, Mass

A view of the North Main Street Cemetery in Monson, probably around 1900-1920. Image courtesy of the Monson Free Library.

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The cemetery in 2015:

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The area of present-day Monson was first settled in the early 1700s, but at the time it was part of the town of Brimfield.  Among other things, this meant that residents of this area had to bury their dead in Brimfield’s town cemetery, over six miles away from the current center of Monson. The 1960 History of Monson book quotes a petition signed by some of the area’s residents, complaining of “the Badness and length of ye way,” and pointing out that a more convenient burial ground would be of no harm, “it being no matter to the body where it lies when Dead.”  Their request was granted, but in any case the point was soon moot when Monson separated from Brimfield in 1760.

The town’s first large cemetery was established here, just a few hundred yards north of the meeting house.  The first burial was in 1777, and it was used until 1850, at which point the much larger Hillside Cemetery up the road became the town’s primary public cemetery.  Around 250 people were buried here, mostly in the first few decades of the 19th century.  The oldest headstones are carved of red sandstone or slate, and have survived the past few centuries in excellent condition.  The more recent white marble stones, though, have not weathered as well, and many of the inscriptions are no longer legible.

There has not been a burial here since about 50 years before the first photo was taken, but the cemetery is still well-maintained by the town, and it looks essentially the same as it did a century ago; some of the headstones are even still leaning in the same direction today.

Hillside Cemetery Arch, Monson, Mass

The arch at the entrance to Hillside Cemetery, at the corner of Main and Mill Streets in Monson, probably taken around 1900-1920. Image courtesy of the Monson Free Library.

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The arch in 2015:

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The mid-1800s saw a major shift in the way cemeteries were designed.  Especially in larger cities, simple graveyards were replaced with elegant, landscaped cemeteries that felt more like a park than a place for burying the dead.  Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, just outside of Boston, helped to pioneer this idea in the 1830s, and soon major cities across the northeast were creating similar cemeteries.  Here in Monson, the town had its own scaled-down version of such cemeteries with Hillside Cemetery, which is seen in these two photos.  It is the final resting place for many of the town’s prominent citizens of the 19th century, many of whom had large family plots with ornate stones carved of Monson granite.

One of the defining features of Hillside Cemetery is this granite arch, which was built in 1897 with funds provided by Emma Field Page Norcross.  Although she lived in Germantown, Pennsylvania, she had the arch built in memory of her family members who are buried here, including prominent factory owner Cyrus W. Holmes.  Nearly 120 years later, the arch is still standing, and not much else has changed in this scene, aside from the increase in the number of headstones in the background.

Railroad Station, Monson, Mass

The railroad station on Washington Street in Monson, probably in the 1890s. Image courtesy of the Monson Free Library.

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The site of the station in 2015:

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Railroads first came to Monson in 1839, when the Western Railroad opened between Springfield and Worcester.  It cut across the extreme northwestern corner of the town, though, and the nearest station was in Palmer, about four miles from Monson’s town center.  It would be another 11 years before rail service came to the center of Monson, with the completion of the New London, Willimantic, and Palmer Railroad.  It was renamed the New London Northern Railroad in 1861, and was leased to the Central Vermont Railroad in 1871.  The frequent name changes actually help to date the first photo; one of the cars had the abbreviation “C.V.R.R.” on the back, which indicates it was probably taken before (or very soon after) the company was renamed the Central Vermont Railway in 1899.

Over time, the Central Vermont operated four stations in Monson, but the main station was here on Washington Street, just a little north of the town center.  A 1934 timetable shows two scheduled passenger trains in each direction that stopped here daily; the two northbound trains left at 8:14 in the morning and 4:36 in the afternoon, and the southbound trains at 10:00 in the morning and 6:10 in the evening.  From here, town residents could travel on the line north to the Canadian border in Vermont, or south to New London in Connecticut, where they could connect with trains to New York City and points south.  They could also travel six minutes north to Palmer and take a Boston & Albany train east to Boston or west to upstate New York and beyond.

Passenger rail travel entered a steady decline after World War II, though, and by the 1950s railroads such as the Central Vermont were eliminating passenger service to small towns like Monson. The station was demolished in 1960, and today the site is vacant, although the old granite foundations of the station are still there.  Passenger trains did briefly return to this line from 1989 to 1995, when Amtrak ran their Montrealer train through here, but it did not make any stops in Monson.  Since 1995, the old Central Vermont has been operated by the New England Central Railroad, which runs several freight trains per day through Monson.

Flynt Memorial Fountain, Monson, Mass

The fountain at the corner of Main and Fountain Streets in Monson, probably around 1900-1920. Image courtesy of the Monson Free Library.

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The fountain in 2015:

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As mentioned in previous posts, the town of Monson became a significant industrial center in the 1800s. Most of this involved manufacturing textile products or straw hats, but the Flynt family built a prosperous business out of quarrying granite.  The company was started around 1825 by Rufus Flynt, and after his death in 1836, his son William took over the company at the age of 18.  Incidentally, the Flynts also had a connection to another prominent family in town.  William’s middle name was Norcross, which was his mother Sarah’s maiden name.  She was the daughter of William Norcross and the sister of Joel Norcross, whose house on Main Street is still standing today.  Joel was the grandfather of Emily Dickinson, which means William was her second cousin, once removed.

William N. Flynt remained in control of the company for the next 39 years, during which time it became one of the area’s leading producers of granite.  Monson buildings such as the Memorial Town Hall, St. Patrick’s Church, the Universalist Church, and the library were built of Flynt granite, as was the Hampden County Courthouse in Springfield along with many other public buildings in the northeast.

Shortly after his retirement, Flynt donated this fountain to the town.  It is located directly across the street from his company store, and it reads “Presented to the town by W.N. Flynt. 1882. Pro bono publico.”  The Latin phrase translates as “for the public good,” and in its early years this fountain served the public good as a watering trough for horses.  Given the marked decline in horse traffic on the streets of Monson, though, it has since been used as a decorative planter.

Arthur D. Ellis House, Monson, Mass

The Arthur D. Ellis House on Green Street in Monson, probably around 1906-1920. Image courtesy of the Monson Free Library.

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The scene in 2015:

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The house in the first photo was the home of Arthur D. Ellis, a prominent factory owner in Monson.  Arthur’s father Dwight W. Ellis opened a textile mill on Bliss Street in 1871, and six years later Arthur became a partner in the company.  He took over ownership after his father’s death in 1899, and this house was probably built sometime after 1906, as Ellis had a house burn down that year. In 1908, Ellis built a second factory for the company, just down the hill and across Main Street from here, within sight of the house.

Arthur died in 1916, and the house remained in the Ellis family until it burned in the 1930s.  Following the fire, the present house was completed in 1939.  Although it is very different architecturally from the original house, there are some features left.  As seen in the second photo, the retaining wall and granite posts are still there, and just outside of the camera frame to the right is the original carriage house, which matches the architectural style of the old house.

The under the leadership of Arthur’s son Dwight, the company continued to be successful, supplying cloth to several different foreign royal families and producing the upholstery for the White House’s cars.  However, the company entered into decline in the 1950s, and in 1961 Dwight committed suicide.  A year later, the company went out of business.

The old wooden mill that the first Dwight Ellis built in 1871 remained vacant until it was demolished in 2000, and Arthur’s brick mill has gone through several ownership changes but is still standing on Main Street.  Arthur’s grandson, also named Dwight, sold the house in 1962 to E. Russell Sprague, who served as the president of Tambrands, Inc. from 1976 to 1981, and as the company’s chairman from 1981 to 1987.  Today, the house is operated as the Lord Manor bed & breakfast.