Middlefield CT: The Industrial Revolution

Cotton Factory:

Cotton Factory picture

In 1847 the cotton mill was built and run by the Falls Manufacturing Company. It was a five story high building on the south bank of the river. The Cotton mill was much more important to Middlefield after the Civil War and is today part of Wadsworth State Park.

At the Falls on land leased from William Miller a snuff mill was built in 1779 or 1780 by Nathantial Shaler of Middletown. Northwest of the sawmill it used an overshot waterwheel with a trough to deliver water. It was nonprofitable and ceased running a year or two after the Revolutionary War. Idle for many years, it was equipped to make buttons in 1790 by Nathatial Shaler. It ran for two years before being destroyed by fire

On the west side of the river north of the Falls on land rented from William Miller a small powder mill/iron works was run by James Curtis of Durham. Water was carried to the mill through a trough to a ditch that ran a small breast waterwheel. Curtis would let the mill run over night and was apt to be late to work in the morning. One Sunday morning two boys, Horace Miller and Benjamin Birdsey, noticed a fire while swimming. The gudgeon (bearing), shaft of the water wheel, lacked lubrication and became so hot it caught the wood cradle of the wheel on fire. The boys were able to put the fire out by carrying water in their hats. The mill made blasting powder for the brownstone quarries in Portland. On February 18, 1806 the mill exploded. Mr. Curtis was blown across the river. He was found, still alive, lying in the snow. He died shortly thereafter.

First Machine Made Cut Nails:

In 1798 below the Falls Jehosphaphat Stow and James Casey built a nail factory or slitting mill. Stow received the privilege in 1795 from William Miller. Nails were stamped out (slit) from sheets of iron and headed by hand. About 50 nails a day could be stamped. Stow is credited with combining both operations and producing nails made completely by machine. The machinery could make 500 nails a day. The nail-cutting machine was invented by Daniel French of Berlin, CT. The first cut nails made by machine in the United States and perhaps in the world where made in Middlefield. In the same building the first machinery was developed by Mr. French to make oakum. It was made from old rope (hemp) and mixed with pitch. Oakum was used to seal cracks between the wooden planks in ships. Mr. French moved to Cincinnati, Ohio where he invented the apparatus for propelling steamboats. The first steamboat, which sailed on the Ohio River, was his invention.