Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Irving Burg: Mill Manager 1953-74

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.

1 comment:

  1. I don't remember if it was Hurricane Carol in 1954 or Diane in 1955, but one of those hurricanes knocked the top off the yellow chimney in the Mill. That chimney was the newer of the two. Walnut Street was roped off for days and I can remember seeing bricks on the street.
    Whichever year that was, the hurricane passed right over Maynard, and I remember going outside to see the eye of the storm pass over our house on Thomas Street, before the storm started up again.