Robertson Paper Company, Bellows Falls, Vermont

The Robertson Paper Company on Island Street in Bellows Falls, around 1910-1920. Image courtesy of the Rockingham Free Public Library.

The scene in 2018:

During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the village of Bellows Falls was a thriving papermaking center, thanks to its position at a 52-foot drop in the Connecticut River. In 1802, a canal opened here, bypassing the falls and allowing riverboats to travel further upstream. Over time, this river traffic waned, but by mid-century the canal had been repurposed as a power canal, and a number of paper mills were built here.

Much of the industrial development was located on “the island,” a roughly 35-acre piece of land located between the river and the canal. This particular factory was built in 1891 for C. W. Osgood & Son, which produced papermaking machinery. The main floor of the building housed the machine shop, while the lower level, shown here in the foreground of this scene, was the company offices. The company went through several name changes, and over the next decade it was variously known as Osgood & Barker Machine Company and Bellows Falls Machine Company.

Then, in 1902, the owners of the Robertson Paper Company purchased the Bellows Falls Machine Company, and within a few years they had converted this building into a waxed paper factory. During the early 20th century, Robertson was one of the country’s leading producers of waxed paper, and this facility was steadily expanded with the construction of new buildings. By 1920, around the time that the first photo was taken, the factory included new buildings for shipping, storage, and the production of paper boxes, in addition to the original building here in this scene, which made the waxed paper.

The Robertson Paper Company remained in business here for many years, outlasting most of the other industries in Bellows Falls and becoming one of Vermont’s oldest paper manufacturers. However, the company ultimately closed in 1987, after more than 80 years here at this site. The factory buildings were added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1990, and from 1992 to 2014 a portion of the property was used by another paper company.

The condition of the buildings steadily deteriorated over the years, though, with little maintenance or improvements. The town of Rockingham acquired the property in 2014, and by this point the buildings had missing bricks, lost mortar, rotting timbers, water damage, and deteriorating and collapsing roofs, along with other structural problems. The complex was still standing when the second photo was taken during the summer of 2018, but the buildings were ultimately demolished in the spring of 2019. The site is currently vacant, but it is slated for a redevelopment project involving a new commercial and industrial building here.

Springfield Armory Main Arsenal, Springfield, Mass

The Main Arsenal at the Springfield Armory, seen from Armory Square around 1892. Image from Picturesque Hampden (1892).

The building in 2018:

The origins of the Springfield Armory date back to 1777, when the Continental Congress established an arsenal here on a bluff overlooking the downtown area of Springfield, on the north side of State Street. The location was ideal, as it was at the crossroads of major trade routes, and it was also upstream of the last rapids on the Connecticut River, which protected Springfield from the threat of British naval attack. General Henry Knox, who had passed through Springfield a year earlier to bring captured cannon to Boston, was a strong advocate of this site, describing it as “perhaps one of the most proper Spots in America on every Account.”

During the American Revolution, the arsenal consisted of a small group of buildings, none of which are still standing, and the facility’s primary purpose was to store and repair weapons, and produce cartridges. After the war, it continued to be used as storage for muskets and powder, and in 1787 it was the scene of the last major battle of Shays’ Rebellion. The rebels had attempted to seize the munitions here, but they were ultimately defeated by a state militia force that assembled to protect the arsenal. However, the event had a significant impact on American history. Occurring only months before the Constitutional Convention, it helped to demonstrate the weaknesses of the Articles of Confederation and the need for a new, stronger national government.

In 1794, Congress authorized two federal armories for the production of small arms, with one in Harpers Ferry, Virginia and the other here in Springfield. This site here on State Street would continue to be the primary facility, but the armory also included several shops along the Mill River, located about a mile south of here. Much of the manufacturing was done at these shops, where the river could be harnessed as a source of power. However, other work was done here on State Street, and this location is also where raw materials and finished firearms were stored.

The armory steadily grew during the first half of the 19th century, but the most significant changes came in the 1840s, when superintendent Major James Ripley oversaw a major expansion of the facility. The most notable of these additions was a new main arsenal, which is shown here in these two photos. It was completed in 1850 on the west side of Armory Square, and it could store 300,000 muskets on its three floors. The most notable feature on the exterior of the building is the tower here on the eastern side, which rises 89 feet above the ground level. Because of its location on higher ground above downtown Springfield, the tower has long been a distinctive part of the skyline, and it has become a symbol of Springfield itself, appearing at the top of the city seal since 1852.

In retrospect, Major Ripley’s improvements here at the armory came just in time. By 1850, it was producing over 20,000 guns per year, but this would dramatically increase in 1861, with the onset of the Civil War. That same year, the Harper’s Ferry armory was destroyed, leaving Springfield as the only remaining federal armory. To supply the needs of the Union army, the workforce here increased from 200 to over 2,600, and in 1864 the armory produced over 276,000 rifles. The total output here at the armory during the war was over 800,000 guns, which was more than it had made in the previous 66 years combined.

No Civil War battles occurred anywhere near Springfield, but the armory did survive one threat in 1864, when two would-be saboteurs planted a bomb here in the main arsenal, in the tower near the clock. Despite the fact that the country was in the midst of war, the armory was evidently still open to the public, and two strangers persuaded a reluctant arsenal keeper to bring them up to the top of the tower, supposedly to see the view. Later that night, a watchman found a suspicious bundle near the clock, which had apparently been left by the two men. A subsequent inspection revealed that it had a fuse and was filled with powder, although it probably would not have done much damage to the building even if it had detonated.

The first photo was taken less than 30 years later, in the early 1890s. The armory was still a vital part of the country’s small arms production, and it would remain in use for much of the 20th century. During this time, the facility also played an important role in developing new firearms, including the M1903 and the M1 Garand. The latter was designed by—and named for—John Garand, a Springfield resident who worked here at the armory as a civilian employee. It became the standard-issue Army rifle throughout World War II, and about 3.5 million were produced here in Springfield during the war.

After the war, the armory was used primarily for research and development, with most of the production being outsourced to private contractors. The M14 rifle was designed here during this period, as were other weapons such as machine guns and grenade launchers. However, the facility was ultimately closed in 1968, resulting in a loss of nearly 2,500 jobs.

Following the closure, much of the property was turned over to the state of Massachusetts, becoming the campus of Springfield Technical Community College. The college constructed some new buildings here, and converted the old armory buildings into classrooms and offices. However, the federal government retained control of the western part of the armory, including the main arsenal and the commandant’s house, which stands in the distance beyond the trees on the right side of the scene. Both buildings are now preserved as part of the Springfield Armory National Historic Site, which is run by the National Park Service. As shown in the present-day scene, the arsenal’s exterior appearance has hardly changed since the 19th century, and the first floor of the building is now a museum, housing an extensive collection of firearms and machinery.

Smith Carriage Company, Springfield, Mass

The building at 14-38 Park Street in Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

The building in 2018:

The Smith Carriage Company dated back to 1827, when David Smith established a carriage shop here on Park Street. This became a family business, with his son William joining in 1856 and eventually purchasing it from his father in 1873. None of the early buildings are still standing, but today the factory complex consists of three buildings from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The oldest of these, a three-story brick building that stands just to the west of this one, was constructed around 1890. The other two, which are substantially larger, stand on opposite sides of Park Street. The one at 11-31 Park Street was built in 1916, and this one here at 14-38 Park Street in 1924.

The company was still known as the Smith Carriage Company when these two buildings were added, but by this point the name was vestigial. Carriagemaking had all but disappeared with the advent of automobiles in the early 20th century, but the company adapted and began focusing on manufacturing auto bodies. Smith Carriage was part of a prosperous automobile industry here in Springfield during this period, which also included the Knox Automobile Company and a Rolls-Royce factory.

As the first photo shows, during the late 1930s the ground floor of this building housed Hedges-Sattler, a car dealership that sold DeSoto and Plymouth cars. Smith Carriage was still located here at the time, but by the early 1940s it had shifted its focus from auto body production to repair. In 1942, the company sold its body-making machinery, and around the same time the first floor was converted into offices, after Hedges-Sattler relocated to a new site on Columbus Avenue. An advertisement in the city directory, published several years later, described the company’s work here as “automobile body repairing painting upholstering and glass – fleet work our specialty – custom built seat covers.” However, this change evidently did not help the company, because it was out of business by the end of the 1940s.

Today, some 80 years after the first photo was taken, the company’s three former buildings on Park Street are still standing, and they now form the Smith Carriage Company District on the National Register of Historic Places. The oldest of these, at 12 Park Street, is now a health clinic, and the 1916 building on the other side of Park Street was converted into 32 apartments in the early 1980s. However, the building in these two photos has been vacant for many years, and it sustained some damage in the 2011 tornado that passed through the South End. More recently, this property has become the site of a proposed hotel, given its proximity to the new MGM casino. Demolition work began a few years ago, with the removal of the windows and the razing of the two-story section in the foreground. However, the rest of the building is still standing as of early 2020, and the future of the property seems unclear at this point.

Broadway School, Chicopee, Mass

The school at the corner of Broadway and Walnut Street in Chicopee, around 1892. Image from Picturesque Hampden (1892).

The scene in 2018:

This school was completed in 1876, in the factory village of Chicopee Falls. At the time, Chicopee was developing into an important manufacturing center, and many of the students at this school would have been the children of French Canadian immigrants who worked in the nearby factories. The school itself was located just up the hill from the river, on the southern edge of the village. At the time, the surrounding land was still sparsely developed, but this soon changed as Chicopee continued to grow. By 1882, the land just to the north of the school had become the home of the Overman Wheel Company, whose bicycle factory is visible on the right side of the photo.

The Overman Wheel Company was perhaps most significant for being the first American manufacturer of safety bicycles. Unlike the older penny-farthing bicycles, safety bicycles had identically-sized wheels, much like modern bicycles. They were, comparatively speaking, safer than the older bicycles, which required riders to sit much higher and further forward. Along with this innovation, Overman also produced bicycles with interchangeable parts, pneumatic tires, and all-steel parts. These features gave Overman bicycles a higher price tag than most of their competitors, but they enjoyed widespread popularity, and at its peak this factory was producing some 80,000 bicycles per year.

All of this was good news for the owners and employees at Overman, but it made things more difficult for the teachers and students next door at the school. The constant noise from the bicycle factory proved to be a serious distraction here in the school, and the Chicopee School Committee closed the school in 1893, only about a year after the first photo was taken. The building was subsequently purchased by Overman and converted into a factory, and the teachers and students moved into the newly-completed Alvord School, located just a little further south of here on Broadway.

Overman continued to produce bicycles here until 1900, when the company went out of business amid increased competition and decreased prices for bicycles. The former school became a chocolate factory, and later the home of the Page Paper Box Company, while the rest of the Overman plant was sold to J. Stevens Arms & Tool Co. This company was a leading producer of sporting firearms, and in 1920 it was acquired by Savage Arms, although Stevens continued to manufacture guns here as a subsidiary.

The factory was finally demolished in 1960, after Savage Arms moved production to Westfield, Massachusetts, and the old school may have been demolished around the same time. The site of the factory and school, along with several other adjacent blocks here in Chicopee Falls, were subsequently redeveloped as part of an urban renewal project. It is now an affordable housing complex, and it is named MacArthur Terrace after Chicopee Falls native Arthur MacArthur, a prominent Army general who was also the father of Douglas MacArthur.

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.

Perry Mill, Newport, Rhode Island (2)

The Perry Mill, looking north along Thames Street from the corner of Fair Street in Newport, around 1902. Image courtesy of the Providence Public Library.

The scene in 2017:

As discussed in the previous post, the Perry Mill was built in 1835, on Thames Street in the southern part of downtown Newport. It was originally a textile mill, and was one of several such mills built during this period, in an effort to revive the city’s struggling economy. Newport’s shipping business had fallen on hard times since the American Revolution, and the Perry Mill was an attempt to compete with New England’s rapidly-growing industrial cities. However, Newport’s location on an island in the middle of Narragansett Bay proved a barrier to railroad transportation, and its fledgling manufacturing base never achieved the prominence of nearby mainland cities such as Providence and Fall River.

Despite this, Newport’s economy did ultimately recover, largely through becoming a Gilded Age summer resort community. By the time the first photo was taken at the turn of the 20th century, some of the wealthiest families in the country had summer homes here in Newport, although most of these were to the south of the downtown area. This section of Thames Street remained decidedly working-class, as shown by the businesses here, which included a coal dealer on the left, a flour and grain dealer on the ground floor of the Perry Mill, and a grocer in the building just beyond the mill.

Today, much of this scene has changed, particularly the buildings just beyond the Perry Mill, which were demolished in the mid-20th century to build America’s Cup Avenue. The mill building itself also underwent some changes, with the removal of the gabled roof and fourth floor. For many years, the property was owned by General Electric, but it was subsequently converted into retail use, and the upper part of the building was reconstructed. The brick section on the left side is also a 20th century addition, but otherwise the only noticeable sign of change is the slightly different shade of stone between the three lower floors and the fourth floor.