Middlefield CT: The Industrial Revolution

Powder Mill:

In 1793, the same time Samuel Slater was starting his cotton-spinning mill in Rhode Island, a powder mill was built on a privilege purchased from Jeremiah Wadsworth. The mill, started by Vine Starr and Jehoshaphat Starr Jr., had a wooden dam to control water flow. Jehosphaphat married David Rand's daughter and in 1814 the company became the D.C. Rand Powder Company. They made powder, placed in loose bags, for use in the brownstone quarries in Portland and Cromwell. The Rand Company also tried unsuccessfully to make gunpowder. The advent of dynamite put the company out of business. There were two explosions at the mill. The building was destroyed in March of 1825 in an explosion, which killed the foreman, Hezekiah Clark.

In 1793 one of the first paper mills in the state was set up just below the powder mill. The land and privilege were purchased from Jeremiah Wadsworth. The business flourished and for a while Rockfall was known as the Paper Mill Quarter. The mill used an overshot wheel for power as it mixed rags and chemicals in large vats and then finished the job of making the paper by hand. The business was run by Jehosphapat Starr Jr. and Nehemiah Hubbard Jr. William Coles, foreman for 26 years, purchased the business with Horace Wright in 1817. In 1824 Wright purchased the business. It continued making paper for a short period of time but was forced out of business when machinery began making paper. The mill passed through many hands with a number of produces such as coarse wrapping paper and pasteboard being made there. In 1850 Robert F. Brower made light wrapping paper. It was taken over by J. W. Tidgewell Bros. in 1853 and used to make small tools: squares and bevels.

Like Baileyville the majority of development during the Industrial Revolution was along the river, however, Rockfall also had a few non-river manufacturers in the Jackson Hill area. Near Han's Brook on the east side near the old cemetery was a sorghum (molasses) plant. On the west side of the brook was a tannery.

As Middlefield changed it maintained its agriculture base. This was due to the many different types of industries that developed along the rivers and to a group of entrepreneurs who lived among their workers and continued to be farmers. They didn't always work their farms, but they were very involved in the running of them. This mixture of owner and worker interaction helped Middlefield maintain its agricultural heritage while developing a manufacturing legacy.