Thursday Doors – American Woolen Company

Warren Mills
Warren Mills

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.

My Shortcut

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.”

SignTo me, this is every bit as exciting as any of the stories of people who are trying to revive manufacturing in America.

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!

47 thoughts on “Thursday Doors – American Woolen Company

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  1. I love a story of re-birth. It’s wonderful to see an American manufacturer that uses products from within the U.S. to make its own. A woolen mill in the northern hemisphere is so appropriate, don’t you think? Thanks for another history lesson, Dan, and for some very fine photos.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I love manufacturing – I REALLY love American manufacturing stories. Have built a successful company and career in the document management and information management industries that was highly focused on manufacturing and engineering companies here in New England.

    I sold microfilm products to Warren Mills over forty years ago. The manufacturing plants in New England were incredible, whether it was the fabric industry, aircraft manufacturing, electrical components, guns and the birth of the computer industry with Digital Equipment Corporation, Prime Computer, Data General and so many more.

    These mills housed some of the most amazing manufacturing processes and people in the country – hell, in the world! The highlight of my sales calls wouldn’t be winning the customer’s confidence and getting the order, it would be the tour of the manufacturing floor, meeting the craftsmen and craftswomen that were pumped with pride and dedication to making the best product they could for their customers.

    I have a consulting client in Lowell, MA that mirrors the vision and goals of Warren Mills. The company is Bradford Industries, also a fabric company making quality products for the automotive and RV industries. They were just sold to Wembly Enterprises, an investment company located in NJ that specializes in speciality plastic, chemical that is focused on keeping high quality manufacturing jobs right here in America.

    It is exciting to see this kind of activity today. I’d like to see our educators focus on field trips to manufacturing companies instead of the local amusement park or zoo. We need to start teaching trades again, respecting and promoting our vocational high schools and developing an early love for designing, making and promoting American-made products!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you so much for this comment Bob. I would love to tour this plant. When I was a consultant, I did some systems work for American Thread and for several of the then still operating brass mills in CT. Just like you, the opportunity to tour the plant was always the highlight of the engagement. I made sure to ask, even if the tour wouldn’t benefit my work. I just loved seeing how these places worked.

      The most amazing thing to me was the degree to which these men and women designed and built the machinery and how long that machinery stayed in service. This plant is operating with modern machines, but they seem to retain the original spirit of New England manufacturing that gave this country its foothold in the world economy.

      I agree about teaching trades and hands-on skills and inspiring our children to make things. I am encouraged that my daughter enjoyed (actually prefers) making things and she has several friends who also share that interest. I hope it catches on.

      I think it’s pretty cool that you worked with Warren Mills, though it doesn’t surprise me :)

      Liked by 1 person

  3. What a great story to go along with your photos, Dan! I’m always looking for things Made in America and they can be so difficult to find. I understand that some types of jobs will never come back, but it’s exciting to read about this revival.


    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Janet. I was really happy to discover that this mill is still /back in operation. I hope these guys can find a way to keep this successful. It was really neat to see that everything is sourced from the states.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. The photos are great, Dan. Such a lovely building. The success of the company will depend on how productive and efficient the process. China is a big force in the low cost producer arena. Let’s hope American Wollen can compete. Thanks for this.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Val. It was so good to see this in an area not that far from where I live. It was sad to see the textile industry withering for years in New England. It will never be the same, but this is a great start.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. What caught my attention this week, Dan, wasn’t the doors, but the remnants of the water power station. I like moving water — seems like a good place to take your laptop and work on a post.

    And please, take all the pride you want in our textile past. It really is a shame that it’s become a thing of yesteryear. Outsourcing may be more efficient, but it’s just not the same as knowing your products were made right here, often by a neighbor. Sad that we’ve lost this in our modern world.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. If there had been a bench close by that waterfall, Paul, I might have sat and wrote this on the spot. I love waterfalls. There is another one a couple miles down the road that will appear in a different Stafford Springs doors post. I know the subject is doors, but I’m not hiding a waterfall.

      The mills in New England really were such an important part of our past. Textile, guns, brass and eventually machine tools. Almost all gone now, but such a significant part of out history.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Good post Dan. The New England textile industry had a major impact here as well. A lot of the french family names you see in the northeastern U.S. today are descendants of Quebecers who were drawn to New England because of the abundance of work available at the time.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. That is so great that they are trying to rebuild the craft here in the USA and using an old building. That is a win win! I hope they are successful. We have some old building being re-purposed/used in our manufacturing area downtown. It is great to see them come alive again.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Wonderful post, Dan. We’re trying to do the same in Ireland, preserve the skills and industries that have been passed down through the generations. It’s lovely to read about the history of a company that has so much passion about its home grown/manufactured products. Thanks for sharing their video, too, very enlightening.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Jean. I’m glad you liked this post and I’m glad you watched the video. I think you can see the passion they have. I really hope they can make this work. Good luck to the people on your side of the Atlantic too.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. How wonderful that they are open and doing business here in the states. I love wool and wear wool socks pretty much all year round, and wool, and cashmere skirts, and sweaters, and t’s in the fall and winter months, and even during our cooler summer evening months!

    What is that little green portico sheltering next to the open door? I thought is odd that the builder would shelter something next to the door, but not the door itself. :)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I love wool socks too, and I preferred wool suits back when we wore suits to work. I don’t know for sure, but I’m guessing the little desk like thing is for filling out some kind of paperwork. It is weird that they wouldn’t protect the whole entrance.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Thank you for this post, because I had read some time ago that the US no longer produces fabric? Like, I swear I’d read that there were absolutely 0 textile mills in the US. I was all aghast!
    I’m off to watch the video. :)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m glad you enjoyed this, Joey. I think we came very close to zero – this mill was about to close, which would have left one woolen mill in the country. I don’t know if the mill in N Carolina is still in operation. I feel like these guys really need to survive. You might enjoy looking at the “Collection” page on their website. It shows the fabric that they make. It looks pretty nice.


  11. I think it’s great that more and more countries discover they can produce things themselves and revive old trades and crafts. It’s more sustainable this way. Even though I have to admit I feel a bit odd about that made in Germany, made in UK, made in US thing. But you can’t have everything I suspect :-).

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The “Made in USA” is often misued or finds its way into a political debate, but the fact that they might be able to revive this particular industry in New England is very satisfying. I’m wishing them luck – thanks!

      Liked by 1 person

  12. Dan, a very interesting post full of rich CT textile information and incredible photos! Old buildings hold a lot of history. Made me wonder about the Hatter Industry in Danbury, CT. I’ll need to look that up! 💛 Elizabeth

    Liked by 1 person

  13. I once upon a time, posted about threads made in America. I didn’t take or understand how to put photographs on my blog then. I am so happy you gave us information and wonderful detaiils about the American Woolen Company! This was one of my favorite or at least in my top ten of your Doors posts! Thanks for all of this, I may have to take notes from this and store in my wooden spools of thread box!! :) Hope you have a fantastic weekend, Dan!

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Excellent post. I loved the history and I love the textile industry. Not because you have written about it, but because Parsis are into textiles. Gujarat, the state on the west coast of India was and is dominated by Gujaratis who are experts at it. When we Parsis landed in India, we blended so well, we took up textiles. But we had something that Gujarati textile experts lacked. That’s English language. With the help of English, Parsis together with Gujaratis took the textile industry globally to the British and elsewhere. Parsis later moved south to Bombay (Mumbai) as it has a natural harbor and it became the trade center for the country as you know it today, the financial powerhouse of India. And all this started with textiles. If you rewind and exclude the textile industry, Mumbai would have been today seven islands floating close to each other.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. It certainly seems like it. I believe manufacturing sector is very critical for employment and national growth and progress. I understand many Americans hate losing their jobs to countries like India and China, but these companies usually are very business oriented. It’s not like that they take away dollars from American pockets and give it to Indians and Chinese. Developing countries like India do not really care about employee benefits, health, compensation or any other aspect. Employers know this and therefore they invest here to hire cheap labor who can 60-70 hours per week to earn USD 30-35.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. I understand the economics and the desire of American companies to continually cut costs. On the other hand, I believe that we should not be totally dependent on other countries to make everything we use. I don’t have a solution, but I do think it’s a problem.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. True, but Indians are tempted by the American lifestyle. Look at how many Indians are settled in the States. Look at how we are embracing possibly every American brand. I wanna wear Nike, I wanna eat at McDonald’s, Dunkin Donuts and KFC. I wanna ride Harley Davidson bikes. Basically, I want to do everything that an American does. This is the mentality here and to be honest I will include myself in this list as well. The grass is greener on the other side issue persist.

            Liked by 1 person

  15. Wonderful photos and post Dan. I love old factories. There used to be textile factory in the little town near where we soent all our Summer vacations in Arkansas, near Gasville. I always flet lonesome when we passed it and tried to imagine who worked there.
    I may join the Thursday Doors challenge this week, if I remember to do it. I find myself with a free Thursday and some doors with a bit of interesting history. Stay tuned! Have a terrific week.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Cheryl. The best thing about Thursday Doors is that you can post them until noon Saturday. Norm is pretty forgiving with the whole ‘Thursday’ thing. I look forward to your joining us.

      Liked by 1 person

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