Berkshire Cotton Manufacturing Company, Adams, Mass

Workers outside of the Berkshire Cotton Manufacturing Company, facing east on Hoosac Street at the corner of Depot Street in Adams, in August 1911. Image taken by Lewis Wickes Hine, courtesy of the Library of Congress, National Child Labor Committee Collection.

The scene in 2020:

The first photo was taken in August 1911 by prominent photojournalist and social reformer Lewis Wickes Hine. In the early 20th century, Hine traveled across the country on behalf of the National Child Labor Committee, taking thousands of photos that documented and exposed child labor conditions in factories, mines, farms, and other workplaces. He made several trips to New England during this time, including a lengthy visit in the summer and fall of 1911, when he investigated the region’s prosperous textile industry. Among his stops was the town of Adams in the northwestern corner of the state, where the Berkshire Cotton Manufacturing Company had a large factory complex along the Hoosac River. This photo shows the view looking down Hoosac Street toward the river, with Mill No. 1 in the distance on the left and the corner of Mill No. 3 in the foreground on the right side.

The Berkshire Cotton Manufacturing Company was established in 1889 by the prominent Plunkett family. The family patriarch, William B. Plunkett, had owned several local cotton mills in the mid-19th century, and he also served for two years as the state’s lieutenant governor in 1854 and 1855. He died in 1884, and five years later two of his sons, William and Charles Plunkett, organized the Berkshire Cotton Manufacturing Company. They built a new mill, which became Mill No. 1 here on the left side of the scene. The building featured some 35,000 spindles and 700 looms, but the company quickly outgrew this facility. Just two years later, the company began construction of a second mill directly behind this one, which more than doubled the number of spindles and looms.

The second mill was completed in 1892, and it was dedicated in a ceremony that included a speech by William McKinley, who was then serving as governor of Ohio. McKinley was a close friend of the Plunkett family, who supported his platform of high tariffs to protect American manufacturers. He would later return to Adams several times as president, including in 1897, when he spent the night at William Plunkett’s house and then toured the factory buildings the next day. By this point, the facility had been further expanded with the completion of Mill No. 3, which was built in 1896 on the opposite side of Hoosac Street, as shown in the foreground of the first photo. The company would make one more major addition in 1899, with Mill No. 4, located beyond Mill No. 3 on the other side of the railroad tracks. President McKinley was again on hand for this project, and he laid the cornerstone of the building in June 1899.

McKinley was ultimately assassinated in 1901, but he was commemorated here in Adams with a large statue just around the corner from here, at the intersection of Maple and Park Streets. In the meantime, the Berkshire Cotton Manufacturing Company continued to prosper, thanks in large part to the protective tariffs that McKinley had championed as a congressman and as president. By the turn of the 20th century, the company employed over two thousand workers, representing about half of the town’s entire workforce. The October 1908 issue of the trade journal Textile American included an article about the company, which described the facility as “the largest plant manufacturing fine goods at this time.” These fine goods, according to the article, included “carded and combed cotton goods, comprising lawns, organdies, mulls, India linens, etc.”

The first photo was taken only a few years later, and it was one of at least 25 photographs that Hine took during his visit. Most feature interior scenes of the factory, showing teenagers working as spinners and spooler tenders, among other jobs. He identified the ages of most of these workers, who were typically between 14 and 16 years old. This particular photo was one of the few exterior views that he captured, showing a group of workers gathered around the entrance. He does not provide any ages, but most of the employees appear to be adults, with the exception of the child in the center of the scene. Regarding this child, Hine wrote in his caption:

While I was photographing these workers (Berkshire Mills) the watchman dragged out the smallest boy, saying, “Here, photograph ‘Peewee'” Location: Adams, Massachusetts.

“Peewee” appears in one of Hine’s other photos, were he is sitting on the curb outside one of the factory buildings. Neither caption identifies his name or age, which is somewhat unusual for Hine, who typically provided at least one of these pieces of information about his subjects. However, his appearance is characteristic of many of Hines’s subjects, particularly his small size and his lack of shoes. This is further emphasized here in this photo by contrasting the boy with the otherwise well-shod and relatively well-dressed adults who are gathered around him, laughing and smiling.

It is unlikely that any of the workers in the 1911 photo would have realized it, but by this point the textile industry in New England was nearing its peak, and within the next few decades it would face a steep decline. Much of this was brought on by competition from the southern states, in addition to overseas competition that McKinley and his tariffs had sought to stave off. Many textile companies closed in the 1920s, and those that survived were typically hit hard by the Great Depression of the 1930s.

Berkshire Cotton Manufacturing Company lasted longer than most here in New England, and in 1929 it merged with four other textile companies to form the Berkshire Fine Spinning Associates. In consolidating, the company hoped to be in a better position to compete with southern manufacturers, and over the next few decades it continued to acquire other mills. Most significantly, in 1955 it merged with Hathaway Manufacturing Company of New Bedford, forming Berkshire Hathaway Inc.

Despite these many mergers, though, the textile industry in New England was in an irreversible decline. Berkshire Hathaway produced textiles here in Adams for only a few more years, before ultimately closing these mills in 1958, leaving some 1,200 workers unemployed. The company closed many of its other facilities around this time, before ultimately being acquired by a young Warren Buffett in 1965. Under his ownership, the company steadily moved away from textile manufacturing and into the realm of insurance and finance, eventually becoming the modern-day holding company headquartered in Omaha, Nebraska.

In the meantime, the old Berkshire mills here in Adams were sold off to other owners. Mill No. 2 was demolished in the early 1960s to build a supermarket on the lot, and Mill No. 3 was demolished about a decade later. As shown in the present-day scene, the site of this mill is now a surface parking lot. However, Mill No. 1 is still standing today, partially hidden by trees on the left side, as is Mill No. 4, which stands further in the distance in the right-center of the photo. Mill No. 4 is currently vacant, but No. 1 was repurposed as an apartment building in 1987. Despite these many changes, the building’s exterior has remained well-preserved over the years, and in 1982 it was added to the National Register of Historic Places.

Barnard Mills, Fall River, Mass

The Barnard Mills from across the Quequechan River in Fall River, around 1910-1920. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The scene in 2020:

The city of Fall River owes both its name and its 19th century population boom to the Quequechan River, which flows westward through the center of the city and into Mount Hope Bay. Along the way, the river drops about 130 feet in elevation as it passes through the city, making it ideal as a source of water power. During the 19th century, this led to the establishment of many different textile mills along the river, to the point where the river’s capacity had essentially reached its limit by mid-century. However, by this point Fall River was well-established as an important textile center, and more mills continued to open here, many using coal as an energy source rather than water power.

Fall River’s largest textile boom came in the post-Civil War era, when over a dozen new companies opened in the city. Among these was the Barnard Manufacturing Company, which was incorporated in 1872. This was not a particularly auspicious time to start a large corporation, given the impending economic recession caused by the Panic of 1873, but it was during this time that the company built this mill complex on the north side of the Quequechan River, just west of Quarry Street. The main building, a large five-story mill with a tower on the side, was completed in 1875, and like many of the other Fall River mills, it was constructed of locally-quarried granite.

Upon completion, the Barnard Mills had 28,400 spindles, 768 looms, and it could produce around nine million yards of print cloth each year. The company was named for its president, Louis L. Barnard, who was also involved in the Sagamore Mills elsewhere in Fall River. The first treasurer of the Barnard Mills was Nathaniel B. Borden, who came from a prominent local family. His father, also named Nathaniel, had been a mayor and Congressman, and his uncle Simeon was a land surveyor known for his work on the early 1830s trigonometrical survey of Massachusetts. However, he does not appear to be closely related to the most famous Borden in Fall River, Lizzie Borden, who would have been a teenager when this mill opened.

The facility was subsequently expanded in 1896, with the construction of a two-story weave shed to the southeast of the original mill. This new building increased the capacity of the mill to 66,480 spindles and 4,769 looms, and by this point the company employed 500 people. The first photo was taken a couple decades later, showing the original 1875 building in the distant center, with the 1896 weave shed in front and to the right of it. In the foreground is the Quequechan River, and further downstream in the distance on the far left side are a few other textile mills. These buildings feature similar architecture to the Barnard Mills, and they are likewise built of local granite.

Fall River’s textile industry was still prospering when the first photo was taken, but it entered a steep decline in the 1920s. Many companies moved to the south during this decade, and the remaining ones were hurt by the Great Depression, which followed the 1929 stock market crash. The Barnard Mills ultimately survived longer than most, closing in 1939.

Today, Fall River is far removed from its heyday as a textile manufacturing center, but many of the historic mill buildings are still standing, and have been repurposed for other uses. Here at the Barnard Mills, the buildings have been converted into commercial and retail use. The complex is now known as the Tower Mill, and its tenants include a Planet Fitness gym, a building supply outlet, and a party dress shop, as shown by the large advertisements on the building. Aside from these signs, though, the buildings have retained much of their historic exterior appearance, and many of the other mills in the distance are also still standing. Perhaps the most significant change to this scene is the river itself, which is now a narrow stream that winds its way through the reeds in what had once been the millpond.

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.