IntroductionThe following is an excerpt from the writings of Lawrence Van Alstyne, who between 1890 and 1910 wrote a series of histories about Sharon and it’s people.
At the first annual meeting of the Poconnuck Historical Society, held on the first Tuesday in January, 1912, the question of how best to increase the membership of the Society came up, and after some discussion it was decided that one way, and possibly the best way, would be to have papers written upon different subjects of historical interest, which might be read at future meetings of the society, to which the public should be invited.
Subjects were chosen, and it fell to the writer of this paper to write upon the subject of Manufacturing in Sharon. As there is no manufacturing done in Sharon at the present time, this seemed an easy matter to perform, but a little investigation showed that once upon a time Sharon abounded in factories of more or less importance, and if only a little could be told about each one of these, the sum total would make quite an interesting paper.
I began by writing letters to people, who, by a life-long residence in the town, should know more about what had been done in it than I, a comparatively new comer. I explained the situation, and asked them to help me. The following persons very courteously responded. Giles Skiff, of Ellsworth, John Knibloe, of Amenia Union, John Cottrell, of Bridgeport, Chauncey Rowley, of Northampton, Mass., Samuel Roberts, of Dobbs Ferry, N.Y. and Abel R. Woodward of Winsted, Conn. These not only wrote as much as they could from their own personal knowledge, but they wrote of many things that had been told them by people who were old, when the writers themselves were young. From these letters, together with what I could gather from such books as were at my command, I have constructed the following pages, binding together in my own way the fragments so obtained, and claiming nothing as my own, “but the string that binds them”. The knowledge I have gained, and the pleasure it has given me to piece together these fragments of fact and tradition, has richly repaid me for the time and trouble it has taken; and if my paper shall please those who listen to it, I shall ever be a debtor to those who suggested my writing it.
Respectfully, Lawrence Van Alstyne
Manufacturing In SharonThere is no manufacturing done in Sharon today; though within the memory of people yet living, there were several factories of considerable importance in the town.
A generation earlier there were many others, but events which could not be controlled, have wiped them out so completely, that only history and tradition remain to tell us they ever existed.
In the earlier days, everything necessary for the wants of the people was made in the town. Little manufacturing plants were scattered over the hills and in the valleys in nearly every part of the township. None of them were very large, and many of them were very small, but they supplied the wants of the people more completely, perhaps, than do the luxuries and conveniences that are now brought us from the outside, and which we have come to look upon as necessities. If anything is made in the town today, it is only the putting together of so many ready made parts, not one of which was made in Sharon. If, perchance, an article of genuine Sharon manufacture is found, it is immediately pounced upon by the Poconnuck Historical Society, and placed upon exhibition as a curiosity.
The first manufacturing done in Sharon, so far as I have been able to learn, was the making of wrought iron, at the place we best know as Benedict’s Mill, at the outlet of Mudge Pond, then called Skinner Pond. Here, one Joseph Skinner, established himself about the time the settlement of the town began. In 1743, he sold his Forge, tools and stock of iron ore, to Jonathan and Samuel Dunham, of Sharon, Thomas North, of Wethersfield and Jonathan Fairbanks, of Middleton. It is supposed they continued the business, perhaps on a larger scale, but little mention is made of it in the history of the town.
The iron was made direct from the ore, there being no pig iron made in the town, if indeed any was made in the state at that time. This method of making iron is of very ancient origin, being traced back to the time of Tubal Cain, in the seventh generation from Adam. Improved appliances for producing the same result have been added from time to time, but the process is substantially the same as when Tubal Cain dug a hole in the ground, filled it with alternate layers of charcoal and iron ore, and roasted them together until the particles of ore adhered to each other and became a bloom. “Blume”, as the Germans have it, the metallic product being thus designated as the flower of the ore. Hence the name, “Bloomaries”, as these furnaces are generally called. Later improvements have greatly increased the quantity of iron produced in a given time, and for a given cost, but the quality of iron made by this primitive method, has never been improved upon.
Steel is made in much the same way, the main difference being that a portion of the carbon, present in all raw iron, is left, instead of being burned out as in the making of wrought iron. It also requires more hammering to give it the proper density, than iron does. I find no mention of steel making in Sharon, though doubtless enough was made for the needs of the community. The refuse products of the Joseph Skinner Forge are frequently found in digging about the mill which stands upon, or very near the site the forge occupied.
Another forge was on a stream running out from a pond on the farm now occupied by George Hamlin. I have not been able to find out who owned or operated it, but several old residents agree in saying there was a forge there.
Another was on the stream running through “Hutchinson’s Hollow”, and not far from the residence of Watson Hall. Sedgwick’s history of Sharon says Nathan Beard carried it on for many years. Hiram Weed, Capt. Weed as we best knew him, is said to have been the last one to make iron there. So far as I can learn these were the only places where wrought iron was made in the town of Sharon.
The Blast Furnace in Sharon Valley, is supposed to have been the first of the kind in Sharon. Samuel Roberts, now of Dobbs Ferry, N.Y., says his grandfather, Lyman Bradley, owned and ran it in 1825, and he thinks he was the builder of it. It has had several owners since, the last being “The Sharon Valley Iron Company”. Its ruins are still standing to remind us of the time when Sharon Valley was the most industrious portion of the town. It was a “Cold Blast Furnace”, the Hot Blast being comparatively a recent invention, of which I may speak a little later. Iron making has always interested me, and I may be excused if I venture to tell what observation and reading has taught me about it.
The Stack, a huge body of stone work, bound together in the strongest manner, with iron bolts and bars, reached from the lowest foundation to the level of the “Top House” floor. Inside of this was a large egg shaped cavity, the upper end being about three feet across. Like an egg, its walls expanded until at a point about two thirds the way down they were again contracted, until the top of the hearth was reached. The whole was carefully lined with fire brick. The slant or slope coming down to and connecting with the hearth was called the ‘Bosh’, and the slant of the bosh had much to do with the working of the furnace, some kinds of ore melting easier and faster than others, and consequently requiring a different slant of bosh to make them feed down properly. As many kinds of ore were used, the skill of the founder was taxed to keep the furnace working satisfactorily. The mysteries that attend the manufacture of pig iron have never all been explained, but many of them have been traced to the improper slope of the bosh, for the kind of ore then being used.
If a certain grade of iron was ordered, the founder regulated his charges of ore, charcoal and lime stone, accordingly, but he was never sure the grade he was striving to make would appear when the casting was made.
The Hearth, the place where the melted iron collected at the bottom of all; started from a fire stone foundation of a foot or more in thickness, large enough to receive the entire body of the hearth and to project some distance in front of it. The hearth was circular in shape and perhaps a yard in diameter. An opening was left in front which was finally bridged over by a large stone which the furnacemen called the Tymp. In front of the tymp, and at a short distance from it another stone was placed, its top about even with the bottom of the tymp stone. This was the dam stone, so called because it held back the molten metal and the slag, or cinder which floated on it, until the hearth was full, when the latter ran over the top and out upon the casting house floor. This was an indication that casting time was near at hand.
Before casting, the pig bed must be made up. This was done by laying upon the casting room floor, patterns representing the sow and pigs. The sow pattern was laid straight out from the dam stone, with the pig patterns lying endwise against its side. Around these patterns, sand was closely packed, and struck off even with their tops. Against the side of several of the pig patterns were laid blocks of iron called chills. Then the patterns were removed leaving their exact imprint in the sand in which they had been imbedded. A hole in the bottom of the dam stone, which had been stopped with clay, was now opened, and the iron flowed out filling the channels; and the casting was over.
FoundriesCupola furnaces, or Gray Iron Foundries seem to come next in order. These did not manufacture iron, but they melted it and made it over into various useful and ornamental articles. There is a certainty of results in the manufacturing of the many things made of iron, quite different from the uncertainty that attends the making of pig iron. The iron melted in a cupola is certain to be a grade higher every time it is melted. By the proper admixture of lower grade iron, the grade being sought for is easily maintained.
One of these foundries was a little above Capt. Weed’s blast furnace and close to the road running north from the Sharon Hospital. As far back as I have been able to trace it, it was run by Capt. Weed and his brother-in-law, Henry M. Gillette. Their main out-put was stoves, though they may have, and probably did make anything in their line that was called for. A cook-stove, called the “Burnham stove,” was made by them, and fifty years ago there were many of them in use in Sharon. The first cook-stove the writer ever owned was a Burnham, and a very good stove it was. It did not have as many nickel disfigurements as the stoves of now-a-days but it worked just as well.
The next to operate this foundry was Mr. James J. Doyle, from New Jersey. He made plow castings, cultivator teeth, sleigh shoes and a great variety of other things as called for, as well as filling orders from his former customers in New Jersey. Mr. Doyle continued there until the Malleable Iron works in the Valley burned, when he purchased the ruins of that concern and removed to Sharon Valley. He rebuilt, and was almost ready to start business there, when he was stricken with an illness from which he never recovered.
The shop at Calkinstown was torn down and little if anything remains to tell of the former activity of that place. The bottom of the pond is now a meadow, and the site of the foundry a garden spot.
Another foundry on that same stream, stood on the site now occupied by Mrs. Doty’s barn. It was run by a man named Allen, and made the usual variety of small castings called for. One authority says he made clock weights, and another that he made what used to be called chairs; the irons used to connect the ends of railroad rails, and to keep them in line, before the Fish Plate came into use. The building was standing less than fifty years ago.
Another Foundry was near “upper” Benedict’s Mill. The mill is in Salisbury, but as the dot on the map indicating where the foundry stood is on the Sharon side of the line, I claim it as a Sharon Manufactory. This foundry was equipped for heavier work than the common run of foundries made, but what it was or for whom it was made, I have not found out. In common with every gray iron foundry in this section, it was at the time the war broke out, busy making shot and shell for the Hotchkiss people. Another Foundry was at Amenia Union, where the Cigar Factory of John Barnum used to stand, and I think gave way to that industry. Another foundry was on the same stream, but farther down, and is still standing. It was owned and operated by Mr. Buckley, who made the “Buckley Plow,” and the buckets that are found in most every dairyman’s cow stable today. I think Mr. Buckley was the inventor of both.
The Jewett Manufacturing Company, in Sharon Valley, at the breaking out of the war put in a gray iron cupola and made shot and shell for the Hotchkiss Company. Before this and until the destruction of the whole plant by fire, they made Malleable Iron; their output being mostly, if not entirely used by the Hotchkiss Company. For this a high grade of iron was used. The work before annealing was as white as number six iron, and as brittle as glass. Being of all sorts of intricate patterns it had to be handled with the greatest care to prevent its breaking. After an acid bath, to remove the scale, it was taken to the Annealing Shop and packed in iron pots. In order to insure its keeping its shape while in the annealing oven, the spaces around each separate piece were filled with fine iron scale which, by repeated jarring as the pots were being filled held each piece as firmly as if in a vise. When the pots were filled they were rolled into an oven, and the door was sealed with clay, so no air from the outside could enter. The first were started and urged on as fast as possible night and day until the whole inside of the oven was at a white heat. A peep hole in the door could be opened, and by this means the conditions inside were carefully watched. When the annealer considered the heat about right, it was kept there for four or five days, after which the fires were allowed to go out and the oven to gradually cool.
When the pots began to resume their natural color, the door was opened and the cooling off was encouraged as much as possible. Then the pots were hauled out and the contents dumped on the floor, when it was found that the iron was no longer brittle, but had become like the softest of wrought iron. The work was Garden Rakes, Currycomb backs, Ox Shoes, Ox Bow Pins, Shaft Coupling, Buckles and such other malleable iron work as was called for by their customers. This I think completes the history of iron manufacturing in the town of Sharon, though it is possible there were others of which I have not been told. For an inland town, far away from large cities or other markets, with only small streams of water to furnish power, I think it is quite a respectable showing, and one that will compare favorably with any other like situated town in the state. Following the manufacturing of iron, and iron implements I suppose Blacksmithing would come next, and of these establishments there were many in the town.
Blacksmithing and Wagon Making are so closely associated that both may be mentioned in one connection. I am not sure how many there were of either in the town, but can say there were three in Sharon Valley, two in Sharon Street, one in Calkinstown, one near the Levi Whitford place, one or more at Amenia Union and one or two in Ellsworth. They all did general jobbing. Blacksmiths then made their own horse shoes, as well as the nails to fasten them on with. They also shod oxen, for oxen did the greater part of farm work, as well as some of the road work in the early days. They also made nails of all kinds for use in building, and some of them did nothing but make nails. One of the nail-making shops was in the Stoney Brook region, in Ellsworth. Mr. Israel Camp, who built and owned the house where Mrs. Whitney now lives, told me he made the nails used in its construction, but whether on the premises or not I do not now remember. Now and then in tearing down old buildings some of these hand made nails are found and are looked upon as curiosities. They were wedge shaped, and for safety in using them, holes were bored in the wood with a gimlet before driving home the nails. Care and experience were both necessary, because if the holes were bored too deep the nail would not hold well, and if not deep enough, a split in the wood was apt to be the result. Sharon was full of craftsmen of all trades in the olden times, and long before I ever saw the place I knew of it from the building done by its mechanics in places far away from it. It could be said then with more truth than now, that this or that was made in Sharon. A wagon maker would select with the greatest care, a white-oak, or a hickory tree, and after carefully falling it so as to prevent its splintering, would saw the log into spoke length pieces. These he would set on end, mark them off, and with an instrument made for that purpose, split them into the proper size for spokes, for the wagon he was intending to build. When these were well seasoned, which might take a year or more, he would by hewing, and shaving, and rasping, convert them into wagon spokes that would stand the wear and tear of a generation of use. The hubs he would turn in a lathe of his own manufacture, and then mortise them by hand. The rims, or felloes he would saw with a whipsaw, sometimes run by water power, but oftener by hand.
When the wagon maker’s work was done, it was turned over to the blacksmith for ironing, and when this was done it was taken to the paint shop for a final finish. All this was done in Sharon, and when the completed wagon or carriage was taken out, it could of a truth be called a product of Sharon Manufacture. Not so now. The parts are all made in factories outside of Sharon, and by machines that know no difference between straight or cross-grained timber, or whether the wood passing through them is fit or unfit for the purpose it is intended for.
Under the head of Iron Manufacturing I suppose I should include The Hotchkiss Company, for although their output was partly of wood, yet it was largely of iron and steel. Their main factory was in the rear of the Hotchkiss house, in a stone building which I think is still standing. Andrew, a crippled son of Mr. Hotchkiss was the inventive genius of the family, and it is said the success of the firm, “Hotchkiss & Sons” was mainly due to the manufacture and sale of articles invented by him. As he could not walk, he went to and from the shop in a hand-car of his own construction and for which he furnished the motive power. He also had a large dog which he had broken to drive, and with which he used to travel about. Mr. St. John told me of going to Amenia to a circus, with Andrew Hotchkiss and Aaron R. Smith. They each had a large dog they had broken to harness, and in their dog carts they went to the circus, as well as on other expeditions. They would unharness the dogs, throw the harness in the carts, tell the dogs to take care of them, being sure nothing would disturb their rigs while they were away. Before the war the Hotchkiss Co., employed from fifty to one hundred hands, about half of which were women and girls. Before they moved to Bridgeport this number was greatly increased. They made curry-combs of tin, brass and iron. They also made Ox bow pins, harness buckles and snaps, mowing machine fingers, monkey wrenches, wagon shaft couplings, garden rakes and other things too numerous to mention. The invention of the Hotchkiss Shell, coming as it did just in time for the Civil War, was the cause of their removal to Bridgeport, where they could keep the supply nearer up to the demand. Every gray iron foundry for miles around made shells for them, and Smith’s Machine shop, which was a part of the Jewett Manufacturing Company’s plant was kept busy doing the turning and finishing.
The Hotchkiss Shell, though of different sizes, were all of one shape and appearance; oblong, with one conical end, the other being shouldered so as to receive a loose fitting cap of the same diameter as the shell. This cap was set so as to allow of some longitudinal motion, and fastened with a band of lead which held the two parts firmly in position. When the shell was fired from the gun, the sudden explosion of the charge forced the cap forward, expanding the leaden band so it filled the grooves in the cannon, and gave to the shell the whirling motion of a rifle ball. The conical part of the shell was hollow, and held the powder charge that was expected to burst the shell and send the fragments flying. The pointed end was bored through into the powder chamber and in the hole so bored was an iron tube arranged to slide freely in it. This tube was filled with fulminating powder, and provided at its forward end with a percussion cap. A plug was screwed in to keep the tube in place, and the shell was ready for loading. When the gun was fired the shell passed on until it met with something to check its flight, when the tube slid forward against the screw, exploding the cap and likewise the powder, and the shattered shell went flying about in search of victims. If however the shell did not strike head on, it was not apt to explode, as the tube in that case would not slide forward with force enough to explode the cap. In order to test the shells and to correct any errors in their manufacture, guns of different caliber were procured and tests were made by firing across the valley, sometimes from the hill where Dr. Kerley’s house stands, into the side of Ray Mountain beyond the Valley. Mr. C.M. Rowley writes of an attempt that was made to make cannon at the blast furnace, direct from the ore. The molds were set on end and the iron dipped from the hearth with hand ladles and poured into them. The attempt however did not prove successful and was given up.
The Hotchkiss shells went as far south as Port Hudson, La., and I well remember looking at the markings on the boxes, “A.A. Hotchkiss and Sons, Sharon Valley, Conn.”, and wondering if any of those identical shells I had helped to make, while working in the Long Pond Foundry before I enlisted.
Another important industry in Sharon Valley was the Mouse-Trap Shop at the “Jewett Manufacturing Company’s” plant. Bass-Wood lumber in car-load lots was bought and stacked in the yard for seasoning. The traps were of six sizes, and were called one, two, three, four, five and six hole traps. The one hole traps were triangular in shape. The two and three hole were oblong, the four hole was a perfect square, and the five and six hole were round. They were cut and stained, after which the holes were bored. Augurs and bits of different sizes were belted together so that the pulling of a single lever completed the boring of many holes at the same time. The wires were bent into the many shapes required, by machines that were almost human in their operation. I have been told these were the invention of Judson Bostwick, father of our neighbor, A.J. Bostwick. The shaping of the traps from the rough lumber gave employment to many hands, many of them boys and some of them girls, for the work required nimble fingers rather than bodily strength. It also made quantities of chips which were carted away to be used for bedding for horses and cattle. It was a common sight to see people carrying away great sacks full of traps and wires to be put together at their homes during the long winter evenings. It was a source of income to many that was greatly missed after the burning of the mouse trap shop.
Sawmills were plentiful all over the town of Sharon. In the early days little if any lumber was brought in from the outside, there being an abundant supply for the town’s requirements growing within its limits. This the sawmills cut into various shapes and sizes needed by the inhabitants. If a new building was to be erected, a list of boards and small timbers was given the sawyer and the logs from which to make them were unloaded at his place of business. The larger timbers were hewed from the logs, either at a place convenient to the site, or, as was often the case, in the woods where the trees grew. Half inch boards were used for lath, the boards first being checked with an axe and by driving wedges in the splits so made, as the board was being nailed in place, a very good substitute for laths was made, though the plasterers of today find it difficult to make mortar stick to them. Nearly every grist mill had a sawmill in connection with it, and there were many others.
In fact in every place where water could be used for power there was a sawmill. It is said there were five sawmills on the stream called Guinea Brook, in Ellsworth. At the present time there are certainly four, and perhaps more doing business in the town. There were mills of other kinds in Sharon. A Fulling Mill stood on the opposite side of the road from Benedict’s mill. The water wheel and some of the timbers were there fifty years ago, but they have since been removed, and there is no sign of their ever having been there. At Fulling Mills, the greasy matter was removed from woolen goods, and a more compact texture given them by causing the fibers to entangle themselves more closely together. Fuller’s earth, a sort of clay, was used, the cloth being pounded in a trough with water running through it. The clay absorbed the oil and both were washed out by the water.
Quite a variety of manufacturing was done in the southwestern part of the town, “Hitchcock’s Corner” as it was then; “Amenia Union” as it is now. One after another they have passed away, and only tradition is left to tell us about them. The one that outlived all the others was a Satinet factory which at the time of the Civil War was used by an army contractor for making socks for the soldiers. Soon after the war it was destroyed by fire and has never been rebuilt. One was a Carding mill, where wool was made into rolls ready for spinning into yarn. One was a Cooper shop, where barrels were made or repaired for use, far away or near. Among others was a Broom factory, a Hat shop where one could leave the measure of his head and have a hat made to fit it. A Tailor shop, a Tannery, two Shoe shops, a Wagonmaker’s shop, one or more Blacksmith shops, two Foundries, a Gristmill, a Sawmill, a Shingle mill, a Cider mill, a Tobacco and Cigar factory and three stores all doing a thriving business for cash or barter, as the case might be. Then just over the line on the York state side was James Ryan’s Cabinet Maker’s shop, where furniture of any kind or quality was made to order, as well as coffins of any wood desired, and of the most elaborate workmanship. The place was practically independent of the outside world. Anything in the line of victuals or drink, or clothes to wear, could be made to order or bought at stores right at home.
There was a Satinet mill on the Beebe Brook, the stream that runs north from the West Woods and connects with the Amenia Union stream on the farm of the late George Woodward. The building was moved, and is now a barn on that place, standing opposite the Deming Mill. Possibly there were others, but if so I have not been able to locate them. Mr. Giles Skiff says cloth was made at some place in Ellsworth, but cannot recall that he ever knew just where. There were Flax mills in Sharon, but I have only located three of them. One was the Toll gate house, between Sharon and Ellsworth, another near where Don Pedro Griswold now lives, and the other opposite the water trough on the Cornwall Bridge Road, below Ellsworth.
There were also Tanneries, or vats where leather was tanned. One was at Amenia Union. Dea. Charles Sears had one below the Sharon Inn, opposite Nathan Pitcher’s home, and another was near where the road to Lime Rock turns off from the West Cornwall road. The last one gave the name, “Tan Vat,” to the hill commonly called Tan Fat hill. Deacon Sears dressed the leather from his own vats, and possibly from the others, in the building now the home of L. Van Alstyne. On the map of Sharon, this house is shown and labeled, “C. Sears, Harness & Trunk Manufactory.” In the north end of the building a firm, Winchester & Beeman, made trunks, and in the south end King & Beard made Saddles and Harness. The Basement was used for dressing the leather, and some of the implements used in doing it are still in evidence.
Sedgwick says Francis Griswold, an early settler, was a tanner and currier by trade. His tannery was near his house, which stood on the corner a little north of Solomon Bierce’s where the cider mill stood.
“Sedgwick” further says that William Avery was “a hatter by trade and lived in Ellsworth on the Perkins Place.” I suppose he followed his trade of hat-making while living in Ellsworth, but I find no other record of it.
Hats were made in the house now owned and occupied by Miss Ruth Prindle, and also in a shop near Charles B. Everett’s. It is said the shop is now a part of Mr. Everett’s house.
Mr. G.L. Smith says that clocks were also made in the Prindle house by a Mr. Burnham, Abner, he thinks. These clocks had a reputation as time keepers that long outlived their manufacture, and he remembers hearing it said, that if the name, “Abner Burnham,” was found in a clock, it added to its selling value at once.
Bricks were made in several places in Sharon. One of these was in the field across the road from the Dwight St. John house, now Mr. Kelchner’s. Apollos Smith built the house from bricks made in that yard. Of him, Sedgwick says he was a nephew of Dr. Smith, with whom he resided, and by whom he was assisted in establishing an extensive pottery before the Revolutionary War, which proved a profitable business. Another brick-yard was in Sharon Valley, where Timothy Fallon lives. It was owned and conducted by a Mr. Van Dusen.
Another was in Ellsworth, a little north of the school house in the lower district. Still another, and the latest of all was the one near Mitcheltown, owned and operated by A.C. Woodward and Charles Handlin in partnership. After a few years Mr. Woodward bought out his partner and continued the business alone. A better opportunity offering, he removed to East Canaan where he continued in the same line of business until his death. Doubtless the brick buildings in and about the village were made from bricks made at these brick-yards.
The “Old Brick Factory,” now owned by A.J. Bostwick was built about the time of the war of 1812. It was used for weaving ducking for ship sails. When the war ended, the demand fell off and the business was given up. The building has ever since been known as the old brick factory, and has been put to many different uses.
Cider mills were plentiful in all parts of the town where apples grew. The primitive cider mill was a large wheel which was made to revolve in a circular shaped trough by horse power. The apples were thrown in the trough and crushed by the wheel as it went round and round. The pumice was laid up in a cheese held together by straw, and the cider squeezed out in much the same way as it is done in these days. Has any one ever forgotten the delights of sucking cider through a straw?
All our old houses are of Sharon manufacture. The wood used in their construction grew in Sharon and the nails that hold them together were hammered out in Sharon perhaps from iron made in Sharon. The completed house was the work of Sharon mechanics, even to the porches and mantels and door and window frames, that are so much admired, and are sometimes copied.
On the Cornwall Bridge road, where William Connor lives, one Milo Skiff did a thriving business making shingles. He was musically inclined, and made violins, dulcimers and organs, and perhaps other musical instruments.
I don’t know as flour and feed mills can properly be called manufacturing establishments, but I will venture to tell about them for they were as necessary as any of the others. There are several feed mills in the town, but I know of only one flour mill, the one owned by Mrs. Deming. That one was built for a bolt shop by Samuel Deming, but he dying soon after, it was converted into a mill for custom grinding. They did not grind for money, as is the custom now, but took toll, a tenth part of every grist that came. There were many mills once busy in the town, that are gone and have left no sign of their ever having existed. But there were two at least that merit some mention. One was the mill built by Joel Harvey, and which probably stood where the Sharon Valley Blast Furnace was afterwards built. Under date of April 24, 1800, the Rev. Cotton Mather Smith made reply to some questions by Rev. Dr. Trumbull, the historian of Connecticut, and among other things he mentioned the Joel Harvey mill. Of this he said, “About thirty years past, there was a water mill erected by Mr. Joel Harvey for thrashing and cleaning wheat. One man could thrash and clean about forty bushels a day. This mill and the barn adjoining, were consumed by fire, and never as yet repaired; but the proprietor has of late determined to rebuild them.”
In the general history of Connecticut, by the Rev. Samuel Peters, LL.D., printed in London in 1781; in the author’s only mention of Sharon, he speaks of this mill as follows. “Sharon forms three parishes, one of which is Episcopal. It is much noted on account of a famous mill invented and built by a Mr. Joel Harvey upon his own estate; for which he received a compliment of twenty pounds from the Society of Arts in London. The water, by turning one wheel, sets the whole in motion. In two apartments wheat is ground; in two others, bolted; in another, threshed; in the sixth, winnowed; in the seventh, hemp and flax are beaten; in the eighth, dressed. Either branch is discontinued at pleasure, without, impeding the rest.” Sedgwick’s history of Sharon says “Joel Harvey came from New Milford in 1742, and settled in the Valley. He built a grist mill, which stood more than sixty years. He also built the stone house in the Valley, in 1747.” This house is well remembered by many, and was torn down some forty years ago.
Another grist mill that has left its mark on the pages of history, is the one that stood beside the Cornwall Bridge road, near where Ellsworth “East Street” joins it. A little way below the junction of these two roads, on the right hand side, as one goes to Cornwall Bridge, may be seen the foundation stones of this historic mill. It is not known when it was built, or by whom. Theophilus Smith, and Mica(h) Mudge, are both mentioned as part owners of it. Later it became a part of the estate of Obadiah Bierce, grandfather of Mrs. Ryan, our Librarian. In a little book entitled “Mandy’s Quilting Party”, under the heading, “Going to Mill in 1777”, is a chapter so full of interest concerning this mill, that I quote it in entire.
“Going to Mill in 1777”A century ago, a half dozen such large flour mills as are now found in Rochester or many other cities, could have ground wheat enough to have furnished flour for the existing population of the thirteen states. Then, the mills were small structures whose simple machinery was moved by the waters of a mountain stream, or, in dry regions by the wind. Each farmer raised in his own fields enough of each sort of grain to supply his own wants, and some too for market and for the use of the Continental Army.
Of course, it is the aim of all nations at war with each other to cripple the resources of their enemies as much as possible; and in no way can this be more effectually done than by capturing or destroying the provisions, without which the armies must starve.
It is not considered honorable to burn or carry off the crops and stores of the peaceful farmers, or of any not actually in arms, except in case of “strong military necessity”. Probably the British officers, during the Revolutionary war, thought this necessity constantly existed; for it was far too often their custom to send out small parties to destroy the country mills, or burn whatever stores of grain or flour they could not carry off for their own use.
Dutchess County, New York, which was then one of the largest wheat growing regions in the country, was mostly within the patriot lines, yet greatly exposed to the ravages of the “Cow Boys”. These were a sort of organized banditti, who, under pretense of loyalty to the crown, robbed as many as they could, and even murdered those who resisted.
The patriots of Westchester and Putnam Counties (the latter was then a part of Dutchess) were the greatest sufferers from these villains; but they also made frequent excursions through the central and upper parts of Dutchess County, too often pillaged by the many Tories who infested the River Counties, as those bordering on the Hudson were called.
These marauding bands, far more merciless than the regular troops commanded by responsible officers, had, in 1777, succeeded in destroying nearly every gristmill within forty miles of the Hudson. Even those persons who had been so fortunate as to harvest their grain early and hide it from the robber’s eye, were often in distress for want of means to convert their wheat and other grains into flour or meal.
One small mill in the town of Sharon, Connecticut, about thirty five miles east from Poughkeepsie, was so securely hidden away among the rocks and trees, that it ground merrily away during the whole war.
To reach this little mill was neither an easy, nor, during the war, at all times a safe thing to attempt. It was the custom for several of the Dutchess County farmers who could trust each other to agree upon a place for meeting, and an hour for starting on their long journey to the mill. The place chosen was some obscure nook a little distance back from the river. The date was the earliest possible for farmers (who had then no threshing machines) to get their grain threshed. The hour was toward midnight of some dark, but not stormy night, ‘for rain would injure the wheat. Sometimes two or three farmers would club together to fill one wagon or sleigh, taking turns in furnishing horses or oxen to draw it, or a man to drive it. At the hour agreed upon the heavily laden teams started on their way as silently as possible, and drove on as fast as the weight of the loads, or the condition of the roads would permit. For the first few miles they kept as closely together as practicable, ready to support each other in case of attack; for each driver had with him a loaded musket for mutual defense. After reaching a distance of twenty miles from the river, the vigilance was relaxed, and each driver made the best pace he could towards the mill, where the rule of “first come, first served,” was rigidly kept.
The roads were not then as well made as now, and it was rarely before late on the next afternoon, that the foremost of the heavily laden wagons creaked their way through the broad old street of Sharon village, on their way to the mill still five miles to the eastward; the last three miles being over a winding road with many long and steep ascents, and a few short, sharp descents, trying to both the wearied men and worn out teams.
It was, and is, a beautiful woodland path. The heavy growths of pine, hemlocks and oaks, which have escaped the autumn fires of the Indians, and the later axe of the settler, yet stood in all their beauty, while the noisy stream leaped in the depths of the ravine which skirted one side of the road as joyfully as if conscious of the good work it had done. It seems even yet to be conscious of this; for though the old forest has long been gone, and the new one is too young to remember about it, the stream seems to keep forever singing;
“I saved them from starving. I did it! I did it! All the good people who came to me from so many miles away. I ground it! I ground it! All the wheat, all the rye, and the buckwheat, and the Indian corn. No one else could, so I did it. I! I!”
I don’t know that the teamsters then paid such attention to the chatter of the stream, or, when resting their teams on the top of Ellsworth hill, down the side of which the mill brook dashes on its way to the Housatonic river, cared to look off over the fair valleys of western Connecticut, or eastern New York to the soft blue peaks of the far away Catskills, or to look before them down the steep, tree-covered hillside to the slender gap in the thick growth of trees, which was then the only indication that there flowed the swift Housatonic.
Probably our teamsters thought more of finding the mill in good working order, and not too many customers there ahead of them. It was customary for those who lived within eight or ten miles of the mill to give precedence to the “River men”, in consideration of the long way they had to come and go. But besides the men from “Poughkeepsie way”, these sometimes met here long lines of wagons or sleighs from Fishkill, or from Red Hook, or from even higher up the Hudson. So it might be days, and even weeks before the busy little mill, grinding as fast as it could, was able to start our Poughkeepsie men on their homeward way.
On the return trip there was no necessity for the silent midnight gathering; for the mill was too far away from hostilities to render such precautions necessary. The time of departure was usually at day-break, that the time of their arrival at their homes might be in the stillness and darkness of the next night.
During the war, this mill was two or three times sought for by parties of armed Tories from the River Counties; but so wild was the way to it, so hidden the mill among the rocks and trees, and so faithful those who could have betrayed it, that it was not discovered, though a band of its enemies once passed within a half mile of it, and might, perhaps, have heard its clattering machinery, but for the rushing of the wind through the pine trees and the dashing of the brook in the ravine through which it flowed.”
At the time the above was written, it was not known where this old mill stood. An inquiry went out asking for information of its site, and was answered by Mr. Giles Skiff, in an article he wrote for the Connecticut Western some years ago. I quote from it the following.
Much has been said and written about the old mill, but just where it was, is not as well known. It is the purpose of this brief sketch to point out the spot on which it stood. About two miles from Cornwall Bridge, on the main road, in the ravine where the brook is still hurrying along its noisy way, there are to be seen the foundation stones of some building, and of a race dam, and this without doubt is the very place where the grinding was done during the trying times of the Revolution.
The Old Mill, which did such good service then, is now a thing of the past. The heavy growth of pine and hemlock and oak which helped to conceal it have long since been cut away, but a younger growth has done much to preserve the charm of this beautiful woodland road. Should the traveler passing over this route, pause to ask “what mean these stones,” he might easily imagine the stream, as if conscious of the good work it had done making answer. It was here I saved them from starving – I did it, I did it. All the good people who came to me from so many miles away – I ground it, all the wheat and the rye, the buckwheat and the Indian corn. No one else could, so I did it, I did it.”
A suggestion for the Poconnuck Historical Society. It is said that one of the mill-stones used in this historic mill is still there, probably lying where it fell when the mill tumbled down. That silent witness should be made to tell of the good work it did, by being placed beside the road, with a suitably inscribed tablet upon its face.