Early Manufacturing in Killingly, Connecticut

The manufacturing excitement raged with great violence in this town, its numerous rivers offering such convenient facilities that her own citizens were able to embark in such enterprises with less foreign aid than was requisite in other towns. ” Danielson’s Factory,” at the Quinebaug Falls, enjoyed a high place in popular favor, its twenty liberal handed stockholders, mostly town residents, prosecuting its various business affairs with much energy. William Reed served most efficiently for many years as its agent. Its well filled store was managed for many years by the Tiffany Brothers, from Rhode Island.

The ” Stone Chapel,” on the present site of the, Attawaugan, was built by Captain John and Ebenezer Kelly, for John Mason of Thompson, in 1810, but did not get into successful operation for some years, when John, James B. and Edward Mason, Jr., were incorporated as the ” Stone Chapel Manufacturing Company.” Messrs. John Mason and Harvey Blashfield had the oversight of this establishment. The tallow candles needed for its morning and evening service were dipped by Miss Harriet Kelly, in batches of forty dozen at a time.

The privilege on the Five Mile river, long occupied by Talbot’s grist mill, passed into the hands of the Killingly Manufacturing Company in 1814. Its constituent members were: Rufus Waterman, Thomas Thompson, John Andrews, of Providence; David Wilkinson, Henry Howe, of North Providence; Doctor Robert Grosvenor, Jedidiah Sabin, Elisha Howe, Benjamin Greene, of Killingly; Smith Wilkinson, Eleazer Sabin, of Pomfret. The Howes had charge of the business, and the factory soon built was called by their name.

The remarkable descent of the Whetstone brook furnished privileges quite out of proportion to its volume of water. The first Chestnut Hill Company to take advantage of this fall was constituted by Joseph Harris, Ebenezer Young, Calvin Leffingwell, -Asa Alexander, George Danielson and Lemuel Starkweather, whose wheels and spindles were soon competing with those of other manufacturers.

The greatest spirit and activity prevailed in these growing villages. Everybody was hard at work, building, digging, planting, carting, weaving, spinning, picking cotton, making harnesses, dipping candles, and attending the thousand wants of the hour. The intense mechanical activity of the time was manifested by a remarkable feminine achievement, the exercise of the inventive faculty hitherto dormant in the female mind. Mrs. Mary Kies of South Killingly, invented ” a new and useful improvement in weaving straw with silk or thread,” for which she obtained in May, 1809, the first patent issued to any woman in the United States, and she is also said to have been the first female applicant. Mrs. President Madison expressed her gratification by a complimentary note to Mrs. Kies. The fabrication of this graceful and ingenious complication was thus added to the other industries of Killingly.

Killingly’s excessive activity during the war of 1812 was followed by corresponding depression. Mills owned by men of moderate means were generally closed, and those still kept at work did so at pecuniary loss to the proprietors. Experiments in machinery and modes of working were meanwhile tested, power looms introduced, and many improvements effected. Companies were reorganized, new men and capital brought in, and when business revived, Killingly mills were soon under fresh headway. In 1819-the town had so far recovered from its losses as to report four factories in operation, all of which contained about five thousand spindles, and had been erected at an expense, including buildings and machinery, of nearly $300,000. At the Danielson Manufactory water looms had been introduced, and in general the business was carried on upon the most improved principles and very advantageously. Besides the cotton factories there were one woolen factory, one gin distillery, one paper hanging manufactory, four dye houses, three clothiers’ works, three carding machines, three tanneries, eight grain mills and eight sawmills. Experiments in straw weaving were brought to an untimely end by a sovereign decree from the supreme arbiter of fashion, and hopes of pecuniary profit proved as brittle as the straw with which Mrs. Kies had wrought out her ingenious invention. Her son, Daniel Kies, Esq., of Brooklyn, as well as friends at home, lost heavily by investing in a manufacture, which, by a sudden change of fashion, became utterly valueless.

Killingly is reported by Barber in 1836, ” the greatest cotton manufacturing town in the. State.” Its reputation and resources had been magnified by the building up of Williamsville on the Quinebaug, and Dayville on the Five Mile river. Dayville was commended ” for its neat appearance, and for a bridge composed of two finely constructed stone arches, each 27 feet broad and 12 high.” Captain John Day-sold two-thirds of this privilege to Prosper and William Alexander, and joined them in building and equipping a cotton factory in 1832. Caleb Williams of Providence, purchased the Quinebaug privilege, and erected a handsome stone building in 1827. Danielson’s mills had passed into the hands of the sons-of General Danielson, and began to be noted ” as a thriving village.” The temperance reform had swept away the distillery at Mason’s factory, and “Gin-town ” was transferred into Ruggles’ factory. The Killingly Company owning Howe’s factory was reorganized in 1828. Smaller factories on the Five Mile river were run by Ballou and Amsbury. The carding machine on the outlet of Alexander’s lake had been superseded by a woolen factory. Great activity prevailed in the east part of the town, where some half dozen mills were propelled by the lively little Whetstone, under the patronage of Ebenezer Young, Richard Bartlett, Prosper Leffingwell, Asa Alexander, John S. Harris, Thomas Pray and others. An aggregate of twenty-five thousand spindles was reported, with three woolen mills, one furnace and one axe factory. In 1840 Killingly boasted the largest population in Windham county, having gained upon Thompson, which stood at the head in 1830.

Among the early manufacturing interests of Killingly was that of Calvin Leffingwell, a native of Pomfret, who came to East Killingly in 1828, and in company with Jedidiah Leavens built a mill for the manufacture of cotton cloth, of twenty-four looms. This mill, after running many years and passing into other hands, was burned and not rebuilt. Mr. Leffingwell died at Danielsonville in 1872.

Source: History of Windham County, Connecticut, Bayles, Richard M.; New York: W.W. Preston, 1889

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