Driven to decay
When the industrial revolution came to New England it came in the form of mills. Water-powered turbines sprang up on every river big enough to drive one and even on what now appear to be placid little brooks. I’ve always loved the architecture of large mill buildings. Having basically grown up in New England’s largest mill town of Manchester, NH (at one time it was the largest textile mill complex in the world) I’ve seen many of them turned into offices, apartments and other businesses. The massive beams, the unidentifiable hardware up the walls and on the ceilings, the wide floor boards, the brick, the towers; it’s all really beautiful. The nearby railway line always adds to the romance of these places even when they no longer have much to do with the commerce done these days.
This is an apartment building originally constructed for the mill workers. I love they way they look.
The mighty Merrimack that drove it all –
Some, however, have not been taken up and re-purposed. I recently drove through Fitchburg, Massachusetts and took photographs of some abandoned mill structures. A few look to have recently gone into disuse, some have obviously been idle for decades. It makes me sad that we’ve lost basically all our manufacturing and all this infrastructure just molders away. Sometimes it’s just because there’s nothing else to be done with the buildings, sometimes it’s because industrial clean up is too expensive. The buildings fascinate me anyway –
There are miles of these old factories along the Nashua river in Fitchburg. Here’s one that was originally a furniture factory, but now lies empty.
These old buildings are easy to imagine in operation, but the ones in the woods are a bit harder. Recently I visited the once flourishing Springdale Woolen Mill site in Holden, MA. When the Wachusett reservoir was created, dozens of mills were bought and dismantled to preserve the quality of the drinking water. This one operated from 1864 to 1905 and it’s a shame the buildings have been razed; only part of the dam and the flume are recognizable. The flume is a channel that forces water from the mill pond (created by the dam) directly to the turbine house. I knew when I saw it that I’d have to find a way down in. It was crumbly, steep and slidey, but I like the perspective –
Upriver from the Springdale site is another ruined mill. I couldn’t find a name for this one, but the dam is still pretty impressive even if it no longer functions.
Not all mills are quite so massive. I’ve come across them in the woods from time to time and always wonder who built them and why.
Big or small, mills were important to New England’s prosperity and I’ll always photograph them when the opportunity presents itself. More mill images can be found here if you want to see them – tag = mill.