There are three major mill buildings in the Somersville section of Somers, Connecticut. The Picking House at 49 Maple St. The Somerville Manufacturing Company, across the street from the waterfall, and the much smaller workshop/warehouse behind Somersville Manufacturing Company. That smaller building is the building in which I had my cabinet shop in the mid-80s.
Last week, when I brought you the doors from 49 Maple Street, I was very careful not to include any photos of the other side of the street. That’s where today’s sad story is told.
Somersville Manufacturing was established in 1879 by Rockwell Keeney. The company grew quickly to be a major manufacturer of wool and woolen products. Army blankets by the thousands rolled out of the mill during the World Wars and, at the opposite extreme, high-end women’s fashions were produced during the mill’s 90-year span. After the mill closed in 1969, the property changed hands and cycled through periods marked by the optimism of eager developers and the despair of financial and environmental setbacks.
The long term plan(s) for the complex was for it to be converted into retail and housing. Straddling Scantic River in Somers, with views looking out over the mill pond, waterfall and the meandering river, the complex could have been a wonderful addition to a quaint little Connecticut community known for horse farms and New England charm.
When I opened my cabinet shop in 1985, the Maple Street level of the main building was occupied by another woodworking shop. The shop made waterbeds, which were sold in an attached retail store. I remember the manager of that shop coming over to welcome me to the neighborhood. He even offered access to their much large capacity machines, if the need ever arose.
The waterbed factory wasn’t going to be in the complex very long. The then new owners were trying to obtain financing for a full retail / residential conversion. My landlord assured me that his building was not part of the plan. That building sits adjacent to the lower level businesses, including State Line Lift, a fork-lift sales and repair outfit run by two comical characters whose periodic company I very much enjoyed. Rent in the large mill complex was far less than what I was paying, but the future was uncertain at best.
The financing plan ultimately fell through, when the EPA ruled that the lower levels could not be converted to residential use, because they were in a flood plain. In addition, the challenges of a true mixed-use space were daunting, as described in this article in the Ellington Patch which was written by a descendent of the original owner. In case you’re wondering about the today’s title, let’s borrow the opening paragraph from the Patch:
“With one simple event, over 130 years of modern industrial development and 43 years of struggle to repurpose the complex came to an end. The mill’s demise not only was a crippling blow to Somersville, but also showcased Connecticut’s reluctance to utilize its growing list of abandoned historic structures and their inherit sustainable properties.”
In 2012, a group of twenty-year-olds broke into the abandoned mill, for a late night tour. A carelessly discarded cigarette set the complex on fire. Oil soaked floors fed the flames for hours. Units from local and several surrounding fire departments battled the blaze for hours, to no avail. The heat from the flames caused the structural steel to melt under the weight of the brick walls.
Very little remains of a once proud textile mill and a once promising suburban project. The area might still be attractive. The holding pond, waterfall and natural drop of the Scantic River still can support a small hydro-power project. Portions of the historic building remain and the area along the river is attractive for recreation. The Town of Somers has recently received a $1.8 million Brownfield grant to clean up the property. First, they have to acquire it from the owners, which is likely to happen through a tax sale. Once the Town owns the property, they can start thinking about its future.
Since, once again, there are a lot of photos, I’ve grouped them into sets (before the fire, after the fire, photos from others). Thanks for visiting.
The pictures in the first gallery are from various points in time, but none date back to 1985. Some are from a tour when my English friend, David Pennington visited prior to our attending an event in New York City. Others are from when our daughter Faith was on an Art School photo shoot.The building was in bad shape, but it still had potential.
The photos showing the fire damage are from our recent visit.
I’ve taken the unusual step of including a few photos from other sources. I’ve given credit, when available.
This post is part of Norm Frampton’s amazing weekly series – Thursday Doors. Pop on over to Norm’s place, check out his doors, then click the blue button to see all the other doors. You can add a door, too!