Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Woolen Mill: Booms and Busts

Factory towns go through boom and bust cycles. Maynard was no exception. The woolen mill operations that dominated the town for over 100 years began in 1846 under Amory Maynard and William Knight, in a single wooden building, 100x50 feet, producing wool yarn and carpet in 1847, incorporated as “Assabet Manufacturing Co.” in 1849. The simple [read: oft-repeated] story is that the mill failed in 1857, a consequence of the Panic of 1857, restarted in 1862. The truth appears more complex. Shortly after incorporation, Knight sold his mill and water rights interests to Maynard, the majority of the sale price of $50,000 as a mortgage. Knight – who had never relocated from Framingham to Assabet Village, and later in life resided at Beacon Hill, Boston – continued to own significant other land and buildings. Mill operations did stop in 1857, but Amory retained full ownership.   

Lorenzo Maynard was different
in appearance from his father and
brother, in that he was bald. He
had five children, but no living
In 1861 the mill failed. The judge of the probate court directed the assignees to sell Mr. Maynard's mill estate, in conjunction with William H. Knight the mortgagee. On October 14, the property was sold to George H. Preston for $71,000. The deed was signed October 26, 1861. T. Quincy Browne, one of the assignees of the Maynard estate, purchased on November 30, 1861, Mr. Knight's other land, buildings, etc., in Stow, Sudbury and Marlboro for $75,000.

On September 10, 1862, the Assabet Manufacturing Co was re-incorporated with a capital of $200,000 for the purpose of manufacturing cotton, wool, flax and silk in the towns of Stow and Sudbury. The officers of the corporation were Thomas A. Goddard, President, T. Quincy Browne, Treasurer, and Amory Maynard, Agent. September 30, 1862, T. Quincy Browne sold the property he purchased from William H. Knight to the Assabet Manufacturing Co. for $100,000 (a 33% profit). The net effect here was that William Knight was completely bought out and the business reincorporated a year later with Amory Maynard as a minority owner. The manufacture of French flannels and dress goods was substituted for carpets. Amory owned 20% of the shares. “Agent” was akin to what we now think of as Chief Operating Officer. Lorenzo Maynard, Amory’s son, was second in command as Superintendent. Separate from the mill, Amory owned extensive property in Assabet Village. A&L Maynard (a company named after Amory and Lorenzo) was created as a land-holding and construction company, building commercial buildings, boarding houses and homes.

Aerial view drawing dated 1922. The three largest buildings
were added by the American Woolen Company. Click on
images to enlarge. Courtesy of Maynard Historical Society.
The impetus for starting up again in 1862 was in part to meet Union Army demands for blankets and other woolen goods [some histories say cloth for uniforms] for the Civil War. The first brick building was erected about 1862. This was a structure 170x50 feet, six stories high, constructed over the original wooden building so that manufacturing continued uninterrupted. In 1866 a building 124x70 feet, four stories high, was erected, and in 1868 another 157x50 feet, four stories high.

In 1898 the mill complex, still operating under the name Assabet Manufacturing Company, Amory’s son Lorenza as Agent, failed again. Not entirely Lorenzo’s fault. In 1894 the federal government has ended protective tariffs on wool cloth entering the country as part of the Wilson-Gorman Tariff Act. Dozens of U.S. wool mills went under. The Dingley Act of 1897 restored the protective tariff – too late for Maynard.  In 1899 the American Woolen Company, a huge multi-state operation, bought the mill on the cheap. Over time AWC added the three large buildings facing the mill pond. The last required the pond be drained from 1916-18.

The partially drained mill pond in winter, with people walking on the ice. The
steeple of St. Bridget's Catholic Church is to the far right. Left side shows a
flume (large pipe) that brought water to the mill for wool processing. The
supporting trestle was left in place when the pond was refilled. 
Throughout the first half of the twentieth century, labor unrest periodically closed the mill for short periods of time. In 1903 it was for a raise from $10.44 per week ($5/hour in 2020 inflation-adjusted dollars). In 1914, workers went on strike for a shortening of the 54-hour work week.

The Great Depression put everyone on short work weeks, then closed the mill entirely in 1931. Production slowly recovered during the latter half of the 1930s, then for World War II was operating around-the-clock, seven days a week, on military contracts for blankets and cloth for winter coats. After the war it limped on until 1950. The American Woolen Company did have government supply contracts for the Korean War, but it assigned those to other factories. After the final closing of the woolen mill, Maynard was quiet to the point that kids could play hopscotch on Main Street.

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