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.

Melvin Memorial, Concord, Mass (2)

The Melvin Memorial at Sleepy Hollow Cemetery in Concord, around 1910-1920. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The scene in 2020:

As explained in the previous post, the Melvin Memorial was created in honor of Concord natives Asa, John, and Samuel Melvin. These three brothers all died during the Civil War, and in 1897 their only surviving brother, James C. Melvin, commissioned prominent sculptor Daniel Chester French to design a memorial for them. It was dedicated here in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery in 1909, and it features a relief sculpture titled Mourning Victory. The sculpture shows Victory draped in a flag and carrying a laurel sprig to symbolize the Union victory in the war, but it also shows Victory with downcast eyes, representing the loss of life that was required in order to win the war.

In more than a century since the first photo was taken, remarkably little has changed here in this scene. Sleepy Hollow Cemetery was designed as a natural, park-like cemetery that could be used by both the living and the dead, and it has retained that same appearance over the years. Even the tree in the center of the first photo appears to be the same one that is still standing here in the 2020 photo. As for the memorial itself, it underwent a major restoration from 2018 to 2019, including cleaning, repointing, and repairing the marble, along with replacing the tablets beneath the sculpture of Victory. As a result, the memorial now looks essentially the same as it did the first photo, and it stands as a significant work by one of the nation’s leading sculptors of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Melvin Memorial, Concord, Mass

The Melvin Memorial at Sleepy Hollow Cemetery in Concord, around 1909-1912. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The scene in 2020:

This monument in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery was dedicated in 1909 in honor of Asa, John, and Samuel Melvin, three brothers who died during the Civil War. All three were Concord natives, and they served in Company K of the First Massachusetts Heavy Artillery. Their deaths represented three of the leading causes of death in the war: disease, combat, and poor conditions prisoner of war camps. John died of dysentery in 1863, Asa was killed in battle during the siege of Petersburg in 1864, and Samuel died of disease and malnutrition in 1864 at the Andersonville prison in Georgia, following his capture after the Battle of Spotsylvania.

A fourth brother, James C. Melvin, was too young to join older siblings at the start of the war, but he enlisted later in the war once he was old enough. He was the only one to survive the war, and he went on to become a businessman in Boston, where he was involved in a cold storage company. One of his goals was to create a memorial in honor of his three older brothers, so in 1897 he commissioned prominent sculptor Daniel Chester French to design one.

Although a native of New Hampshire, French was no stranger to Concord. One of his first major works was The Minute Man, a bronze statue dedicated in 1875 at Old North Bridge, at the site of the Battle of Concord. That iconic symbol of the American Revolution has remained one of his most famous works, perhaps eclipsed only by one of his last works, the 30-foot marble statue of Abraham Lincoln inside the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.

For the Melvin Memorial, French drew little inspiration from existing Civil War monuments, which typically featured some variation of a uniformed soldier holding a rifle. Instead, he took inspiration from classical art, creating a relief sculpture that he titled Mourning Victory. The design features a seven-foot-tall figure of Victory emerging from the marble, draped in an American flag and carrying a laurel sprig. These symbols express patriotism and the triumphant victory of the Union during the war, but French also portrayed Victory with downcast eyes, mourning the human cost of that victory. Directly beneath the sculpture are tablets for each of the three brothers, with inscriptions identifying them and the circumstances of their deaths. The other inscription on the memorial, located below Victory, reads:

In memory of three brothers born in Concord who as private soldiers gave their lives in the war to save the country this memorial is placed here by their surviving brother, himself a private soldier in the same war.

“I with uncovered head
Salute the sacred dead
Who went and who return not”

The memorial was dedicated on June 16, 1909, in a ceremony that was well attended by surviving members of the First Massachusetts Heavy Artillery. The first photo was taken shortly after the dedication, and it shows the monument in its location in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery. However, while it is in a cemetery, none of the brothers are actually buried here beneath the memorial. Only John’s body was returned home during the war, and he is buried elsewhere in the cemetery in the family plot, alongside his brother James, who died in 1915. As for the other two brothers, Samuel is buried in the Andersonville National Cemetery, while Asa lies in a mass grave in Petersburg.

Today, more than a century after the dedication of the Melvin Memorial, it still looks essentially the same as it did in the first photo, thanks to a restoration project that was completed in 2019. It is regarded as one of Daniel Chester French’s finest works, and a replica of it—which was also commissioned by James Melvin—is housed in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Overall, perhaps the only thing that has changed here in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery since the first photo was taken is the number of gravestones, which has obviously increased over the years. Appropriately enough, one of these stones is for Daniel Chester French himself, who died in 1931 and is buried up on the ridge behind the memorial.

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.

North Main Street, Fall River, Mass

Looking north on North Main Street from the corner of Bank Street in Fall River, around 1914-1920. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The scene in 2020:

Throughout the 19th century, Fall River was a prosperous textile manufacturing center. The city saw dramatic population growth during this time, particularly in the post-Civil War period. Between 1860 and 1900, the city grew nearly eightfold, from 14,000 to nearly 105,000, and by the turn of the century it was the third-largest city in Massachusetts, behind only Boston and Worcester.

However, the same textile industry that had brought such prosperity also led to the city’s decline, as mills closed and businesses relocated to the south starting in the 1920s. This, combined with a catastrophic fire that destroyed much of the downtown area in 1928, both hurt the local economy, and these problems were only exacerbated by the stock market crash at the end of the decade.

The first photo was taken in the final years of the textile industry’s heyday in Fall River, probably sometime between 1914 and 1920. The earliest possible date is 1914, when the Fall River Five Cents Savings Bank building was built on the far right side of the scene, at the corner of North Main and Bank Streets. The neighboring building to the left of it was also built in 1914, and in the first photo it was occupied by the Fall River Electric Light Company.

Just beyond the electric company building is the Mount Hope Block, which was perhaps the oldest building in the first photo. It was built in 1845, in the aftermath of a large fire two years earlier, and it was originally known as the Mount Hope House. At the time, it was one of two hotels in Fall River, and in 1847 a state gazetteer declared that “in the erection and furnishing no pains have been spared to make it a desirable place for any one disposed to spend a few days.” Later in the 19th century it was known as the Narragansett Hotel, and by the early 20th century it was the Evans House. The building initially occupied the entire length of the block between Bank and Franklin Streets, but the southern portion was demolished to build the bank and the electric company buildings, leaving only the northern half as shown in the first photo.

Beyond the Mount Hope Block, on the other side of Franklin Street, the largest building in the first photo is the Hotel Mellen. It opened in 1888, and was the city’s finest hotel throughout the first half of the 20th century. The building survived the 1928 fire, but it was subsequently gutted by a fire in 1943, leaving only the brick walls still standing. The hotel was rebuilt inside the brick shell of the old building, although the new one was six stories in height, rather than five.

Today, more than a century after the first photo was taken, there is very little that survives from the first photo, especially in the foreground. The bank is still standing at the corner, but the former electric company building and the Mount Hope Block are both gone. Both of these buildings were here when the Downtown Fall River Historic District was created in 1983, but they were demolished at some point after that, and the site is now occupied by a large wing of the bank building. This facility still serves as the main offices of the Fall River Five Cents Savings Bank, which is now branded as BankFive.

Further in the distance, the reconstructed Hotel Mellen is also gone. The hotel closed around the early 1960s, and the building was converted into a temporary city hall after the old city hall building was demolished to build Interstate 195. The current Brutalist-style city hall was completed in 1976, and the old hotel was then demolished soon after. Beyond the Hotel Mellen, there are several surviving buildings from the first photo, but for the most part this side of North Main Street has undergone signficiant changes, unlike the right-hand side of the street, which has been better-preserved over the years.

First Congregational Church, Fall River, Mass

The First Congregational Church, seen looking up Cherry Street from the corner of June Street, around 1913-1920. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The church in 2020:

The First Congregational Church of Fall River was established in 1816, and throughout most of the 19th century the church worshipped in a building at the northwest corner of North Main and Elm Streets. However, in 1913 the church moved into this new building, which was donated by one of its parishioners, Sarah S. Brayton. The building was designed by the prominent Boston architectural firm of Shepley, Rutan & Coolidge, and it features a granite, Gothic Revival exterior. It was formally dedicated on January 9, 1913, on the 97th anniversary of the church’s founding. Among those in attendance was Sarah Brayton, who was 78 years old at the time, and the dedication sermon was delivered by the Rev. Nehemiah Boynton of the Clinton Avenue Congregational Church in Brooklyn.

The first photo was taken within a few years after the building was completed. It is a rather strange angle, because it shows the rear and side of the church, with the parish house in the foreground on the left. Further up in the distance, on the other side of Rock Street, is the B.M.C. Durfee High School, which was built in 1886. The three girls on the sidewalk are likely students at the school, and are apparently walking home at the end of the school day. During the early 20th century, the Durfee High School ended at 1:25 p.m., and the photo was taken ten minutes later at 1:35, according to the school’s clock tower.

Today, more than a century after the first photo was taken, almost nothing has changed in this scene except for the trees, which now partially hide the buildings. The church is still an active congregation, and the exterior of the building has remained well-preserved. Further up the hill, the old high school building was converted into a family and probate courthouse in the 1990s, but it has retained its historic exterior appearance. The high school building was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1981, and two years later both it and the church were designated as contributing properties in the Highlands Historic District.