In the early 1980s, before various highways had been completed / expanded, the fastest way for me to get to the MASS Pike (I-90) heading east toward Boston, was to cut diagonally across some Connecticut farmland and through the town of Stafford Springs. When I opened my cabinet shop in 1985, I worked out of an old mill building along that route. Actually, the building my shop was in had been the mechanical and woodworking shop for a large textile mill on the same property.
Connecticut and western Massachusetts use to be home to America’s textile industry. The Connecticut River and its many tributaries, often aided by man-made canals, powered an industry that thrived in the Connecticut River valley. Gradually, the high cost of operations in New England drove these businesses out, first to southern states and then overseas in search of lower costs. One by one, the mills closed, until only one remained, Warren Mills in Stafford Springs. In 2013, that mill was also set to close.
When I ran into highway construction on I-84 in May, I took my old shortcut home. I hoped to snag a few photos of the old mill buildings and their doors as I drove through Stafford Springs. To my surprise, those doors were open!
Warren Mills is now part of American Woolen Company, which once operated almost 60 textile mills in New England, employing over 40,000 people. The current owners of American Woolen Mills wanted to reestablish operations in America in 2013. At that time, they found only two operating woolen mills in America, one in North Carolina, and Warren Mills in Connecticut. American Woolen purchased the Warren Mills complex and begun producing luxury fabrics. As of an October 2014, according to an article in Connecticut Magazine, they were operating 40 looms, on a single shift during the week. There is space for 80 looms and potential for longer hours of operation.
You know me, I love history and I would love to share the entire story of this growing New England success story. However, I can’t tell the story as well as the owners can. If you are interested, I urge you to visit their website and watch a 2-3-minute video that tells this story very well. You can also read more and see the fabric they produce. I want to leave you with two things before we get to the photos. First, when American Woolen says that their fabric is American made, they mean it. The yarns used in production are spun from fleece from Texas, Wyoming and Colorado. Second, I want to share the opening paragraph from the company’s website:
“American Woolen is dedicated to re-introducing the craft of fine worsted and woolen fabric manufacturing. This craft is practiced by every one of our employees at every stage of the production process. It does not only refer to our technical mastery of the production process, but our ability to refine and elevate our craft to an art form.”
For my readers from other countries, I hope you don’t take offense at what might seem like a prideful post. Textile production was once a defining industry in New England. We were sad to see it disappear. While it will never again dot the landscape along the river, it certainly is satisfying to see it continue to be part of our present and for it to be poised to be part of our future.
This post is part of Norm Frampton’s engaging and fun Thursday Doors series. If you want to know more about the series, see more doors, or participate with photos, drawing or descriptions of your favorite doors, head on over to Norm’s page. Once there, check out Norm’s doors and then look for the blue Linky thing. That’s your ticket to more doors. This just in: Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge (CFFC)this week is also doors. Norm suggested playing along with both, so here’s a link to even more doors!