Thursday Doors – Dexter

Dexter

This is part of the original mill complex.

Last week, I featured a collection of decaying properties. Today I’m featuring doors and photos of a historic building in my town that barely escaped being torn down. The building survived, along with the legacy of one of the founding families in Connecticut, but a once proud company was dismantled by something far more destructive than fungus and termites. Dexter Corporation succumbed to greed.

Dexter, in one form or another has been a fixture in Windsor Locks, CT since the 1820s. Seth Dexter operated a sawmill and a grist mill in the area of Windsor known as Pine Meadows. The mill passed onto Seth Dexter II and then onto Charles H. Dexter. In 1835, Charles Dexter began making paper from manila rope, working out of the basement of the grist mill. In 1840, Charles built a paper mill on the east side of the Windsor Locks Canal (on the island between the canal and the river). The historic portion of the complex shown at the right was built in 1876 after the original paper mill was destroyed by fire.

The company changed hands, within the Dexter and related Coffin families. Until 1991, a descendent of the Dexter family served as CEO of what was then, the oldest company listed on the New York Stock Exchange. By that time, Dexter, which had been the first company in the world to produce tissue and toilet paper, had become a world recognized producer of specialty paper products including teabag paper and surgical gowns. In the late-90s, Dexter Corporation survived a hostile takeover attempt by breaking itself into three units and selling each to similarly aligned international companies. In 2000, Dexter Corporation ceased to exist. The facilities in Windsor Locks were taken over by Ahlstrom and incorporated into their “non-wovens” division.

Ahlstrom agreed to the demands to retain the historic portions of the mill complex as they constructed a more modern building on the industrial island. The result is an inelegant melding of the 1800s and late 20th century industrial styles which appears to have been built with emphasis on economy over aesthetics. The historic portions of the plant are bracketed by the new mill and a natural gas co-generation plant near the southern end of the island.

The Town of Windsor Locks, itself incorporated in 1854, took its name from the canal that was dug in the 1820s primarily as a means of servicing the transportation demands of the Dexter operation. In the 1990s, Dexter entered into an agreement with the State of Connecticut to maintain the historic canal, in exchange for the right to use and control the water for cooling purposes at the co-generation plant, then under construction. Dexter also entered an agreement with the Town to provide power from the co-gen plant for emergency purposes to Town offices.

These last acts of corporate stewardship were in keeping with a long and wonderful history of supporting the Town of Windsor Locks and the State of CT. The Dexter Corporation and members of the Dexter family combined to donate time, money and land, including the land where the Windsor Locks Town Hall and original high school (now a middle school) are located as well as the land for the Windsor Locks Congregational Church. In the 1940s, Dexter D. Coffin leased over 250 acres of former tobacco fields in order to build what would become Bradley International Airport. In addition, many Dexter employees serve as volunteer firemen and donate time to charities throughout Windsor Locks and neighboring towns.

The Dexter Ahlstrom Non-Wovens complex isn’t the prettiest sight on the CT River, but its historic importance can hardly be exaggerated. If there is any doubt that the State recognizes the importance of this family, one only need look to the south to see the 8-lane Dexter-Coffin Bridge that carries Interstate 91 over the Connecticut River. The State of Connecticut and the Town of Windsor Locks owe much to Seth Dexter and his descendants.

This post is part of the fun and inspiring series supported by Norm Frampton called Thursday Doors. If you like doors, consider joining Norm and his friends on a weekly basis (actually any time before noon on Saturday) with a picture and/or a story of a door.

About Dan Antion

Husband, father, woodworker, cyclist, photographer, geek - oh wait, I’m writing this like I only have 140 characters. I am all those things, and more, and all of these passions present me with opportunities to observe, and think about things that I can’t write about in other places. I have started this blog to catch the stuff that falls out, overflows and just plain doesn’t fit the other containers in my life.
This entry was posted in Connecticut, History, Thursday Doors and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

80 Responses to Thursday Doors – Dexter

  1. GP Cox says:

    It’s always great to see history being saved instead of erased!! Do you have any idea who had the brilliant idea to break to company up into 3 pieces?
    The post is a great piece of work, Dan!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Dan Antion says:

      I am glad they saved this building and the almost 600 jobs it provides. One of the major investors thought the company would be worth more money if they just sold it. The company fought, but he promised a hostile takeover. He wasn’t happy with the Board’s plan to sell the divisions. He thought the price(s) were too low. But, selling for a fair price, to companies that wanted to keep the various facilities operating seemed like a better way to go for the Board. The investor fought them. They won, but they also lost.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Great piece, Dan! I have developed an interest in the old mills since I started doing my “project” so thank you for such wonderful pics and history on the Dexter mill. On the one hand it’s sad that it no longer bears the Dexter name (officially) and that the addition leaves something to be desired, but on the other hand it’s nice to see an old mill building actually still in use and for manufacturing, no less! So many of these old mills are sad shells of their former life or have been re-purposed for office space, restaurants etc. (also OK in my book – much prefer them to be re-purposed than risk demolition!)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Dan Antion says:

      Thanks Deb. The sad state of the Montgomery building is testament to what happens when things can’t be fixed. They are trying to repurpose that building as retail and housing, but it’s a tough nut to crack. I’ll be sharing some photos from there when the Canal Path reopens. Keeping them standing is important. I don’t care how they do it, but it is good to see this facility still in use. Ironically, one of the reasons might be because it’s almost impossible to get permission to build a paper mill in this country today due tho the environmental impact.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. P.S. I’m going to keep this post in mind the next time I write a mill piece – I’ll link up to it! I have some pics from the Rockville mills that I need to write about :-)

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Mills really were the backbone of New England. This is a wonderful post reminding us of the history associated with these large complexes. At one time, my grandfather worked in a furniture mill and my aunt in a shoe mill. I am happy to say our local mills have been revitalized and house residences, restaurants, studios and offices. :-)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Dan Antion says:

      Thanks Judy. We have a mill complex just north of Dexter that we are trying to save by converting it to retail and housing. It’s a hard row to hoe, and I think we’re on the second or third owner who says he can make it happen.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. joannesisco says:

    I was really afraid this was going to be another story about local industry dying after a long and successful life. I’m glad to hear otherwise and that the new owners have been trying to maintain the legacy of the Dexter family.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Great post….great shots and a great look into history!! Thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Norm 2.0 says:

    A lot of research went into this one Dan, thanks for sharing a fascinating bit of local history :-)

    Liked by 1 person

  8. marianallen says:

    Oh, that beautiful red door with the lamps on either side! What IS it with me and red doors? Must be because I was raised Lutheran.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. joey says:

    I really like the way important names live on in a city. You can’t live here without knowing the names Forrest and Howe, as per my doors post today, so the way you tied that into the Dexter-Coffin bridge lets me know it’s the same for this family. Their names will live on.
    I love the brick. I’m sure it has a name, or a label, but I always think of it as petite red brick. It frequently gets reused on facings here.
    And those lights on either side of the door, oh I love those.
    Great doors post! :)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Dan Antion says:

      Thanks. I think the best part is that employees have been walking through those doors for over 200 years. The old brickwork is fascinating to me. They put effort into making these buildings attractive as well as functional. Thanks for looking.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Geert Smits says:

    Nice series! I love doors with history :)

    Liked by 1 person

  11. dvaal says:

    I loved this post -as I am a huge fan of old buildings. I never like to see them fall into a crumpled state, because they carry our past inside their walls. An old building, like this one, was turned into apartments in a neighboring town. To see it restored in such a fashion, means the building can live on. If only the walls could talk about the people that once walked through its doors. The love affairs, the fights, the worries, the tears, the laughter. People I will never know, but they were once here. One day, I will be just a memory to some, forgotten by many, and most will never know who I am -but these walls around me -I like to think that as long as they stand, my spirit will remain a memory.
    http://www.fiddledeedeebooks.wordpress.com

    Liked by 1 person

    • Dan Antion says:

      You’re so right about the lasting impact these building carry. They are trying to repurpose a neighboring building to this complex, but it’s hard work and they aren’t making much progress. Thanks for visiting and taking the time to comment.

      Liked by 1 person

  12. Almost Iowa says:

    It is both sad and heart warming to hear how these venerable old companies weather the storms of modern times.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. dimlamp says:

    Sad story of greed. I like the red-on-red brick and door.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Love the history that you shared, Dan, as well as the photos. I love it when old buildings can be re-used. Such a shame when they’re just leveled and some new monstrosity built in their place. Of course, just because they’re old doesn’t make them nice or worth saving, but many are.

    janet

    Liked by 1 person

    • Dan Antion says:

      Thanks Janet. There is a fine line, particularly when the new owner wants to continue commercial operations. Still, preserving the original building is very important to CT’s history. I hope they continue to maintain it.

      Like

  15. Paul says:

    Good pics and history, Dan. The one with an Amtrak train going by tells me that I’ve probably looked right at this facility a number of times before on my business trips to and from NYC. I’ll have to keep an eye out for it next time!

    Like

    • Dan Antion says:

      Thanks Paul. This one is much farther north. You’re unlikely to pass it unless you have business in Vermont. One of AMTRAK’s northeast runs begins in Springfield, MA each day. It’s the train I take when heading to Washington, DC because I don’t have to change trains at all. I can get comfy and go to work.

      Like

  16. Great Historical post and images Dan! I like the door with the portico, and lamps on either side.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Dan Antion says:

      Thanks. Judging from the comments, I should have gone with that as the featured image. My problem is that I wrote the post before taking the pictures (because of rain). There are three doors (one on each floor) that I wanted to feature but when I returned to get the pictures, that trailer was parked at the loading dock blocking the view of two of them. Sometimes, having a plan isn’t enough.

      Liked by 1 person

  17. jan says:

    Love that industrial bug zapper! And I bet the workers really appreciated it – being so close to the river.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Dan Antion says:

      Thanks Jan. One of these days, I’m going to get a time-lapse photo of those guys in action. It’s like a light show at night. They are alongside the canal, which isn’t often moving and the mosquitoes are thick.

      Like

  18. reocochran says:

    Gorgeous brick work, nice details around the classic door makes this a special door. The story was heartbreaking, though. I hate when companies are creative and inventive, making paper for tea bags and surgical gowns or masks besides every day toilet paper, for example . . . Sad when they then “fall prey” to economic distress and after years under a family name get taken by a hostile take-over, Dan! Boo! :(

    Liked by 1 person

    • Dan Antion says:

      Sorry Robin. I had to tell this story so I can more easily talk about some of the other buildings in my town. I didn’t realize how important this family is/was until I started doing the research.

      Liked by 1 person

      • reocochran says:

        I also read the post more carefully, so I realize that it got reorganized into three companies and the amount of employees still is substantial, Dan. so that was good news. The first time I was at work, while on break, so was not keeping the story straight. Thanks for letting me be only partially right on my comment. You are a nice friend.

        Like

  19. Well, something doesn’t have to be beautiful to be interesting historically. I guess it’s the main door(?) I’m looking at, but viewed alone that one is very nice. I like the light fixtures too. Even the reflections in the various windowpanes are intriguing. Have a thriving Thursday, Dan. Hugs!

    Liked by 1 person

  20. I liked this post since I worked for a number of years in Elkhart Indiana which was home to Miles Laboratories. Elkhart was a town of 40,000 and Miles the chief employer. The plant looked very much like Dexter and was taken over by Bayer AG. Bayer finally closed it and the building demolishedso at least the new owners are continuing the business.

    Liked by 1 person

  21. bikerchick57 says:

    Nice, Dan. Thanks for the Windsor Locks and Dexter Corporation history lesson. My area is well-known for its paper mills, past and present, so I could appreciate your story.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Dan Antion says:

      Thanks Mary. Growing up in Pittsburgh, I saw my share of mill closings, but here in New England they date back as much as another 50-100 years. It’s sad to see them close and be torn down and it pretty cool when they remain open or are repurposed.

      Like

  22. AmyRose🌹 says:

    Dan, oh my gosh, you put in so much work on this post!!! Your research alone must have taken you hours and hours! Incredible history lesson I just learned. It is glorious news to me when I hear that history is being preserved instead of torn down. LOVE the red brick and all the pictures of the old mill. We have some really old bridges here that come Spring I just might get out there to photograph. Thank you for sharing such a wonderful piece of history with us!! <3

    Liked by 1 person

    • Dan Antion says:

      Thanks Amy. You do know that I LOVE bridges, don’t you. I’m already looking forward to those posts. Of course I also like snow, winter rivers, sunrises, sunsets, reflections, icicles, cranes, old buildings…well, you get the picture.

      Liked by 1 person

      • AmyRose🌹 says:

        LOL carefully through a honey mask on face. Tee hee …. Yes I get the picture, pretty much like me. As for my face, I got wind burned 2 days ago walking so now I must figure out one, what to wear on my face when it is windy (I have some face masks that are either scary looking or uncomfortable) and two, what to put on my face to heal the burning. For now I have raw honey on my face with me licking ….. OH it is so good. Tee hee …. I’m thinking a scarf perhaps tied at the back covering my lower face and nose, but, what about my sensitive eyes? If I wear goggles they will fog up due to scarf! Grrrrrr …… JUST to bring to Petals winter photography ….. I must be NUTS!!!!!!! LOL

        Liked by 1 person

        • Dan Antion says:

          Maybe, just maybe, you could stay inside on really cold windy days. Just a thought :) I love looking at your photos but I don’t want to see you in pain.

          Liked by 1 person

          • AmyRose🌹 says:

            Good idea, Dan. The honey seemed to work. Nothing like youth …. sigh … Yep, need to care for this skin of mine. I just LOVE to walk so much … Perhaps just around here with a scarf on my face and not way up in the hills …. Just a thought …. :)

            Liked by 1 person

  23. That is definitely an industrial sized bug zapper!

    Liked by 1 person

  24. I am making it my mission to sketch/watercolor some of the old buildings nobody wants… really enjoying it. will share soon! Train traks are good spots to look!

    Liked by 1 person

  25. Glynis Jolly says:

    I’m all for preserving buildings that have historical value, but I don’t think all are unique enough to qualify, and where those buildings are can determine the necessity of keeping them. However, in many cases where demolishing the building is elected, I do wish a shiny new building wasn’t taking its place, and instead, have something of true cultural value applied to the space.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Dan Antion says:

      The building to the north of this complex is a good example of that issue Glynis. It’s not particularly attractive, and it’s going to present a lot of problems when they try to repurpose it. Still, there are historic elements and,if done properly, it might be a nice reuse of an interesting, albeit boring structure. The new addition to the paper mill isn’t particularly attractive, but it’s functional. I’m glad they kept the historic section of the building. On the other hand, they tore down a “modern” building that was located a block away, and I don’t think anyone misses that building. Thanks for the comment, these are not always easy issues.

      Like

  26. Thanks for such an interesting historical post, Dan. It’s amazing what a difference a family with good intentions can make to a town.

    Liked by 1 person

  27. As a native from the old world, I love it when states, cities and towns keep these buildings, which have history etched in their bricks and steel part. Over the last years I’ve had the pleasure to eat in such paper mills transformed into restaurants, cafes, artist studios and even appartments. The architecture is the same but some modern comfort has been added. I find it really good when both are combined. Great photos as always, Dan.

    Liked by 1 person

  28. Great post. There’s a rich history of mills here in Bombay (now Mumbai), because the city actually became a mega-city because of those mills and the trade that followed. However, greed has finally taken over and now all those mills are in pathetically bad shape, unused for decades, just lying around and transforming into hub for druggies and rapists because no one wanders around. Some of the mills have been converted into supermarkets and malls and offices, while some still stand tall as a symbol of power and trade that made this city what it is today, but now forgotten and abandoned.

    Like

    • Dan Antion says:

      I hope more of those mills can be converted to other use and preserved as part of your rich history. It’s sad to lose that.

      Like

      • I would love to cover such old mills on my blog, but its a bit risk venturing out there. A year ago a female correspondent was covering those mills for her article in the newspaper, but sadly she got raped and beaten badly. The people of Mumbai were furious about it and the police managed to nab the culprits and sentenced them. Luckily, that female is alive and still working in the same newspaper firm. I believe compared to Delhi, Mumbai people are more helpful and we come out in full strength to support any cause.

        Liked by 1 person

  29. Pingback: Thursday Doors – Windsor Locks Congregational Church | No Facilities

  30. Pingback: Thursday Doors – The Montgomery Building | No Facilities

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