Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Irving Burg, Maynard Mill Manager 1953-1974

Eighth in a series of articles about the history of the mill and its past and current tenants.

The American Woolen Company had a last burst of busy-ness at the mill during the first years of the Korean War, but those contracts ended in late 1950, and that was the end of wool for Maynard. A group of local business people tried to arrange financing to buy the property in 1950, but that failed. Not until July 1953 did a group from Worcester calling itself Maynard Industries Incorporated (MII) close a deal.

What they bought was 1.2 million square feet of brick and wooden buildings, and more: the land included the mill pond, the Ben Smith Dam, Lake Boon and part of the Fort Meadow Reservoir. The purchase price of $200,000 equates to $1.9 million in today’s dollars. A few years later Lake Boon was relinquished to the Town of Stow in lieu of unpaid property taxes.

Irving Burg was hired to be the facilities manager six months after the purchase. His credentials were a bachelor’s and master’s degrees in education, a stint in the U.S. Army during World War II, and several years managing a textile plant. Which was exactly the business Maynard’s mill would never be in again. Burg thrived. His job was to keep the place running and rent out all the space. By April 1954 the mill was 50% rented, by November, 70%, and so on. Despite desperately necessary facility improvements, the operation was profitable by the third year and every year thereafter until Digital Equipment Corporation, a tenant starting in 1957, bought the entire complex (including pond, canal and dam) in July 1974. Burg’s history of the mill complex, written in 1982, mentions that in his 21 years as manager the mill had 82 companies as tenants.  

Aerial view of Maynard's mill, circa 1930s. In spring, but the pond is still
partially covered by ice. Note twin chimneys, one light in color. Also note
no parking lot on the left, next to Main Street, or on the right, by Bldg. No. 5. 
Berg’s recollections returned again and again to parking problems. One has to realize that during the decades as a woolen mill, employees walked to work. A circa 1930s aerial view shows no parking lots whatsoever. Dennison Manufacturing – in the gift wrap paper business – finally insisted on a dedicated lot, so fill was added next to Main Street, making space for 100 cars. Years later, more parking needed, so one of the two chimneys was demolished and the bricks added to the fill. This widened the parking lot that now hosts the Farmers’ Market. Digital, needing parking for Building No. 5, accomplished this by filling in more of the pond on the south side.

Speaking of Digital, only because of a timely bankruptcy of a small company named Maynard Mill Outlet did space open up when Ken Olsen and Harland Andersen came calling. After a few visits they committed to a three year lease for 8,680 square feet at $300/month. They and Ken’s brother, Stan – 100% of Digital’s employees – spent weekends painting the space themselves, then filled it with furniture bought from Gruber Brothers on credit. Digital’s early operations stayed close to the bone. Heating buildings on weekends cost extra. Raytheon shared one building with Digital. If Raytheon wanted heat, Digital got heat. Raytheon would call noon on Friday to specify which buildings it wanted heated. Ken Olsen would call at 1:00 to see if he was going to get his part of the building heated for free.

Similar view, one chimney, with parking lots. Courtesy Maynard
Historical Society. Click on photos to enlarge.
One more parking story. Into the 60s, space was so tight that people were allowed to park in the millyard, including on the railroad tracks. For the infrequent arrivals of a freight train on the spur that ran into the mill, all cars had to be moved. Burg had everyone’s phone number, and he and his secretary would hastily get on the phones. Whenever the call came, Ken Olsen would step out of his President’s office to move his car.
Burg retired in January 1989. His career, first at MMI, and then for Digital, spanned 35 years. Although at the time of his retirement he was working for Digital in Colorado, he was flown to Massachusetts for an exit interview with Ken Olsen. It’s a good guess that they reminisced about when back in 1957, Olsen had showed up to rent a smidgen of space in the mill. Burg passed away in October 2008. His collection of newspaper articles and his history of the in-between years (in the collection of the Maynard Historical Society) are essential to any understanding of the history of Maynard’s mill complex.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Powell Flutes a division of Buffet Crampon

Seventh in a multi-part series AT THE MILL.

An inverted triangle logo and "Powell Flutes" grace the end of the Mill & Main building No. 1, adjacent to the parking lot next to Main Street. The triangle displays the stylized letters V Q P for Verne Q. Powell, the founder of the company.

Powell was a jeweler/engraver living in Fort Scott, Kansas. He came from a musical family and played piccolo and flute (wooden) in the town band. During a visit to Chicago he heard a European flutist performing on a silver flute. He was so impressed with the quality of the sound that he decided to craft a silver flute. As the story goes, he melted silver coins, watch cases and teaspoons to create the first silver flute made in America, in 1910. The keys were inlaid with gold from gold coins. The instrument became known as "The Spoon Flute," and is still in the family's possession to this day.

Verne Q. Powell (date unknown)
The flute impressed William S. Haynes, one of several wind instrument makers based in Boston. Haynes hired Powell as foreman, where he worked for over ten years before setting out on his own, in 1927. Powell's shop was on Huntington Avenue, near the New England Conservatory of Music and Boston Symphony Hall. From the beginning Powell flutes and piccolos were renowned as top-quality professional instruments. Still, the business grew slowly. It took 25 years to reach flute #1,000. Powell sold the company to a group of employees in 1961. The company moved to Arlington in 1970, to Waltham in 1989, and then to Maynard in 1999.

Buffet Crampon, a France-based winds and brass instruments company with roots dating back to 1825, bought Powell Flutes in 2016. Starting with a long history in clarinets and saxophones, the company now presents ten brand names, with showrooms in major cities in eastern Asia, Europe and North America. Prior to this acquisition, Buffet Crampon had student-level flutes, but with the acquisition gained top level expertise and reputation.

Locally, the company employs about 50 people and is adding staff, as Powell Flutes will continue as the high quality flute manufacturing division of the parent company. Mark Spuria, General Manager at Verne Q. Powell Flutes, mentioned that “Powell employs many flutists and other musicians who perform with many local groups,” although he was not aware of anyone playing in the Maynard Band. The company is considering outreach to the schools.

Engraved gold flute. Photo courtesy of Powell Flutes. Click photos to enlarge.
The William S. Haynes Company from which Verne Q. Powell had left to start his own company still exists, now located in Acton. The Brannen brothers left Powell in 1977 to make flutes on their own, and are currently in Woburn. Lillian Burkart and Jim Phelan met while working at Powell, married, and later launched Burkart Flutes & Piccolos, currently in Shirley. David Williams was at Powell, put in a stint at Brannen Brothers, and in 1990 launched as Williams Flutes, in Arlington. Lev Levit followed the same Powell-to-Brannen path before starting Levit Flute Company in Natick. Kanichi Nagahara started in flutes in Japan, then put in a few years at two Boston area flute companies before starting Nagahara Flutes, now in Chelmsford. Eastern Massachusetts is definitely a nexus of flute manufacturing!

Flutes can be expensive. Student quality flutes are available for several hundred dollars, but professional level flutes are made of silver, gold or platinum, and can range from several thousand dollars to as much as $50,000 for 18K gold. The most ever paid for a flute was at a 1986 auction at Christie’s, New York, where spirited bidding between two parties took the price to $187,000. The losing bidder was a banker who supposedly wanted the flute for his 12-year old daughter. The flute, a 1939 creation in platinum and silver from Powell Flutes was on loan to the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art before it returned to Christie’s for auction again, in 2009. Anti-climactically, it was knocked down for only $37,500. The new owner was not mentioned by name, and it is unknown whether the flute has changed hands since. It is currently on loan to Brandon Patrick George, a well-known soloist and chamber music performer who also owns a custom-made, 14K rose gold, Powell flute.