The industries of Woodstock during its first half century were restricted to the inevitable farming, and such simple arts and trades as are needful to support existence. The first experiment in wider fields was an attempt to utilize the bog iron deposit in West parish. Benjamin Marcy and other residents established a furnace or forge and carried on the works some years previous to 1764, when Marcy sold his right to Hezekiah Smith. Smith and Asahel Marcy continued the business for a number of years, probably until the emigration of the former, and during the revolutionary period the furnace became extinct, but the ore for many years was carried to Stafford for smelting. The first Woodstock brickyard, saw and grist mills were carried on by Ebenezer Lyon, who owned much land in the vicinity of Black pond. A dam still standing at the outlet of the pond, was built by his slaves-the only existing specimen of Woodstock’s slave labor. Mr. Lyon was one of the first settlers of Woodstock, a man of wealth for that day and influence. Saw and grist mills were also early established in Woodstock Valley and at South Woodstock and Muddy Brook.
An unique industry was undertaken by Peregrine White, who purchased” a shop on the road from Nathaniel Child to Sturbridge ” (a little west of Muddy Brook village) “with all manner of tools and implements” for working on metals, in 1774. This early silversmith shop developed into an institution for the manufacture of tall clocks with full moons and elaborate appurtenances, highly esteemed and patronized for many years by all the surrounding country. Southward, at Quasset, were found the pottery works of Mr. Thomas Bugbee, established in 1793. The original clay deposit, so useful in constructing chimneys and mason work, was here worked up into all manner of jars, jugs, mugs, inkstands, milk pans and pudding pots. A foreign artisan was employed by the establishment to oversee the various processes of grinding, mixing, kneading and sizing. Each separate piece was fashioned into shape by hand and turning wheel. As many as six kiln-bakings were needed every summer, and some five thousand pieces turned out. This pottery ware was carried far and wide in Mr. Bugbee’s familiar pottery cart, and found a market in every household. At least two thousand milk pans were demanded every season. The bridal outfit of the day included a goodly collection of this fashionable Woodstock pottery ware.
The manufacture of potash was carried on by various parties, especially by Colonel Russel, of Muddy Brook, who had a large and complete establishment, comprising the newest outfit and processes. Coopering, tanning and shoemaking were among the indispensable industries of the town, giving employment to a number of willing workmen. The first fulling mill in West Woodstock was built by Deacon Henry Bowen in 1791, below Lyon’s slave dam, with the privilege of use of stream and setting up tenterbars for drying cloth. This mill was afterward moved downstream and sold to Daniel Mashcraft, who set up a carding machine and continued the business of carding and cloth fulling until woolen manufacturer came into vogue. This establishment had a high reputation, farmers’ wives from many miles distance bringing to it their wool and domestic cloth for carding and finishing. A carding machine was also set up at Black pond by ” Mason and Sumner ” in 1803. Grist and saw mills in this vicinity were carried on by Andrew Williams for a number of years. In 1820 James Arnold built and operated a fulling mill on Sawmill brook. A little later, Rhodes Arnold built a saw and shingle mill, and a cider-brandy distillery was also carried on by the brothers. The Hosmer grist mill in the southeast corner of the town was an established institution, dating back to the first settlement of the town.
The rage for cotton spinning reached Woodstock somewhat late for its own benefit. In 1814 Moses Arnold, purchaser of the old Chandler homestead at South Woodstock, united with William Bowen, Thomas Hubbard and Benjamin Duick, of Pomfret, as the “Arnold Manufacturing Company in Woodstock,” and as soon as possible put up a wooden building and engaged in cotton spinning. At nearly the same date, Jonathan and William May, John Paine and William Lyon, of Woodstock, with Walter and Royal Paine, of Providence, and Job Williams, of Pomfret, were incorporated as The Muddy Brook Cotton Manufacturing Company.” A factory building was erected a little north of the village, and works set in motion. Chester. Willard and Rensselaer Child, Amasa and Judah Lyon, were incorporated as 11 The Woodstock Manufacturing Company, for the purpose of manufacturing cloths and other fabrics of wool and cotton,” in 1815. A small building and other accommodations in the north of the town were soon provided by this company.
The great depression caused by the return of peace and influx of English goods seriously affected all these companies. The Arnold Company was reconstructed, passing mainly into the hands of the Arnolds. The factories of North Woodstock were reported in the Gazetteer of 1819 as “upon a large scale” and doing business extensively. The Woodstock Company now manufactured woolen goods exclusively. In addition to hard times, it suffered from the treachery of an English overseer, who cut the warp in the looms before absconding. This mischief was repaired by the skill and ingenuity of Charles Walker, a youth in their employ, who saved the company from ruin and laid the foundation for personal prosperity and usefulness. In addition to this factory, Judah Lyon carried on the blacksmith’s trade and the manufacture of the first patent iron ploughs, superseding the clumsy wooden implements then in use-an innovation which met at first the customary ridicule and opposition.
The Mashcraft establishment in West Woodstock passed into the hands of Joseph Hollinsworth, an Englishman, who manufactured woolen cloth for a number of years. The old Holmes privilege at South Woodstock was purchased about 1840 by Daniel Warner, who engaged in the manufacture of cotton batting. In a few years he built a brick . factory building for the manufacture of twine. Leonard Cocking established a woolen mill at Quasset, building a new stone mill in 1844, and utilizing the old Baptist meeting house for a second building. In 1842 Mr. John Lake set in motion ” the first, last and only tub and pail shop ” in this part of Connecticut. Six thousand tubs and pails were reported as the annual product, the tubs finding market in Boston, the pails in Norwich. In 1852 he purchased the old oil mill privilege ” of Mr. Rufus Mathewson and engaged successfully in the manufacture of window sash and blinds. The Hosmer mills passed into the hands of Captain Edward B. Harris about 1830. A new building was soon erected and devoted to the manufacture of cotton machinery, which was carried on quite extensively, supplying workmen and factories.
Enterprise was stimulated at the growing center, Village Corners, by the opening of the Central turnpike from Boston to Hartford, replacing the former route through Thompson. The manufacture of wagons and carriages by L. M. Deane & Co. was here initiated about 1835. The excellent character of the work soon won a wide popularity, and the business was carried on successfully for many years. With these many lines of business now carried forward, shoe making stood at the head. Peletiah and Zenas Wight, sons of a veteran tanner and currier in Woodstock Valley, succeeded to the business of their father and added to it as early as 1828 the manufacture of the first sale shoes in Connecticut. Men and women, boys and girls hastened to take advantage of the golden opportunity thus offered, and soon a large business was built up. Other manufacturers hastened to follow this example, and sale shoe-making became a leading business interest, especially notable for the vast number of hands that could be employed in it. In Woodstock and for miles surrounding nearly every dwelling house had a room fitted up or appended for a shoe-making shop. The Wights making a specialty of the shoe called stoggy, the name was applied to the valley, which was known many years by the nickname, Stoggy Hollow.” A. & O. Hiscox and L. & M. Hiscox engaged in the shoe business in this locality, employing about twenty hands each.
Shoe business was begun in West Woodstock village about 1833 by John P. Chamberlin and John O. Fox. In spite of frequent failures and disasters, it continued briskly tinder a Mechanics’ Association and various private shoe dealers, and greatly facilitated the building up and improvement of the village. Lyman Sessions was a prominent shoe manufacturer, engaged also in trade and various enterprises. Village Corners enjoyed an extensive boom in connection with the shoe business of Amasa Carpenter, who also kept the tavern, built new houses and engaged in trade. So extensively was shoe manufacturing pushed forward that in 1845, 5,651,580 pairs of shoes were accredited to Woodstock, and fifty bushels of shoe pegs. Employment was given to 4,918 males, 4,907 women and girls.
The tannery of Mr. Elias Mason, near Muddy Brook village, flourished greatly during this period, furnishing a large supply of leather to these various establishments. But this manufacturing activity was of comparatively short continuance. Flood, fire and financial panic were inimical to Woodstock enterprise. The first serious disaster occurred in 1834, when a new dam constructed at Muddy brook, by Colonel Jonathan May, was carried away by a freshet, involving in its loss the mill and blacksmith shop of Captain Judah Lyon, and much other property. The damage accruing was so heavy that the Muddy Brook Manufacturing Company never regained its footing. The-commercial collapse of 1837 brought down several prominent shoe operators: the failure and death of Mr. Elias Mason depressed business and carried distress and straightness to many households. Factories, north, south, east and west were destroyed by fire. Much loss and havoc were wrought by the heavy freshet, February 13th, 1866. The several privileges at South Woodstock had been bought up by Mr. Daniel Warner, who constructed a new reservoir and dam, intended to carry forward large manufacturing operations. Dam and factory were washed away, together with Lake’s sash and blind shop, a blacksmith’s shop and other buildings, part of Mr. S. M. Fenner’s store, and three bridges belonging to the town. Later factory buildings at Quasset and Woodstock Valley, and even the mills on the old Bartholomew site of 1686, were all consumed by fire.
To these casualties were added the inevitable changes resulting from the introduction of new methods of business and travel. Monster cotton and woolen factories crushed out the minor enterprises, and machine-made shoes greatly lessened the demand for those of hand labor. Manufactures and trade were alike drawn to the convenient. railroad center, and Woodstock’s shoe shops and factories were stranded by the law of progress. Shoe manufacturing, however, was carried on by T. P. Leonard & Co., in Woodstock valley, until about 1870.
Various business enterprises are still maintained in the southwest corner of the town. Grain and lumber business has been carried on by A. Hiscox and son for many years, on the site of the old Lyon grist mill. The Kenyon factory at Kenyonville has been remarkably successful, and still flourishes under the skillful management of W. S. Kenyon. The phosphate manufacturer of Sanford Bosworth gravitated to Putnam, but the mill is now occupied by James B. Tatem, for the manufacture of all kinds of wooden handles, from a small awl to’ a trip-hammer. About 50,000 feet of lumber are worked up every year, giving employment to six or eight men. The lumber interest in West Woodstock is of much importance. A large quantity of timber is annually sent to market. Water-mill saw mills are kept busily at work by J. B. Tatem & Son, A Hiscox & Son, E. C. Chamberlain, C. H. Stone and Luther Marcy, with steam to help out a short supply of water.
Carriage making is still carried on at North Woodstock village. Mr. Thomas Milligan occupies the former Deane manufactory site; Newton D. Skinner has accommodations in the vicinity. Colman continues the manufacture of twine on the site of Lake’s sash and blind factory, and a stockinet yarn factory is run at Quasset by Mr. Arthur Williams. Needful grist mills and sawmills are maintained in different parts of the town. Vicinity to thriving business centers has greatly diminished the local trade in the several villages, and in place of the numerous lively stores formerly demanded scarcely one in each manages to support existence.
The leading interest in the town is agricultural. Woodstock farms supported a large population long before the days of experimental manufacture. With the building up of Southbridge, Webster and Putnam, has come a ready market and greatly increased demand for the products of the farm. The improvement in farming utensils, the multiplication of agricultural newspapers, books, clubs and co-operative societies have farther stimulated interest and progress in all the arts of husbandry. Improved methods of farming have been adopted. new breeds of cattle introduced, and advance made in various directions. The fine cattle- raised on the ” Captain William Lyon farm ” by the late Mr. Benjamin Sumner, were celebrated throughout the agricultural fairs of New England. Woodstock farmers, viz., Amos Paine, James McClellan, and others, were prominent in the first agricultural societies of Windham county. Their exhibits were conspicuous in the successive annual fairs at Brooklyn. In 1861 it was deemed expedient to organize a distinct society in the north part of the county. Horace Sabin, Lucius Fitts, Winthrop O. Green, Edmond Wilkinson, James Allen, Gilbert W. Phillips, Rufus S. Mathewson, Ezra Deane, George Penniman, John F. Williams, Jonathan Skinner, Azel Sumner, Horace Gaylord, John H. Simmons, Thomas E. Graves, Jeremiah Olney, were accordingly incorporated as ” The Woodstock Agricultural Society “-authorized to hold property not exceeding $20,000 and dispose of it at pleasure. Ample and convenient grounds were secured at South Woodstock, the society holding its first fair on the Common and using the vestry of the Baptist church for a hall. The success of the first exhibition guaranteed the permanence of the society. Attendance and interest were all that could be desired, and the annual Woodstock fair was thenceforth classed among the established institutions of Windham county.
Year by year the interest has increased, extending to residents of other towns, and greatly stimulating agricultural development. The average attendance is rated at some six thousand, the exhibitions surpassing also the average of the ordinary county fair. The list of life members includes nearly five hundred names, embracing many of the most wide-awake men in the county. The office of president has been filled by Messrs. Ezra Child, Ezra Deane, Horace Sabin, Pomfret, John Giles, L. M. Deane, John O. Fox, O. H. Perry, G. A. Penniman, Oscar Tourtellotte, Thompson, C. H. May, T. W. Williams, Pomfret, S. O. Bowen, Eastford, G. A. Bowen, M. F. Towne, Thompson, F. W. Perry and A. M. Bancroft. The present officers are: President, Henry T. Child; vice-presidents, W. I. Bartholomew, Pomfret, G. T. Bixby, E. A. Wheelock, Putnam; recording secretary, L. J. Wells; corresponding secretary, H. W. Hibbard; treasurer. Amos M. Paine; auditors, T. W. Williams, S. H. Phillips, W. A. Weaver, Jr.; directors, S. O. Bowen, J. M. Morse, C. N. Chandler, R. E. Smith, Putnam, J. H. Larned, Pomfret, H. K. Safford, L. A. Catlin, L. H. Healey, F. Cutler, Putnam, G. A. Hawkins, Thompson; committee of arrangements-for hall, C. H. Child, G. C. Williams, W. H. Chandler, Mrs. E. W. Arnold; for rental of grounds, A. M. Paine, L. J. Wells; marshall, G. T. Bixby.
With growing prosperity accommodations have multiplied. A hall built on South Woodstock common by Mr. Daniel Warner in 1860 was occupied by the society till 1871, when a new building was erected on the “Fair Grounds” purchased from Mr. Thomas Warner. The judges’ stand and cattle sheds were added in a few years. In 1885 a large addition was made to the hall, with much increased accommodations. A bandstand, poultry house and grand stand have been since added, the latter seating about seven hundred people. A dining hall and kitchen under the grand stand, and a horse barn with stalls, are the latest improvements. The patrons of this institution take pride in its excellent management and the encouragement given to improvement in every branch of agriculture.
A very wide awake farmers’ club enjoyed profitable discussion for many years, but has given place to a very flourishing Grange,. organized in Woodstock, February 17th, 1886, with thirty-four members. George A. Bowen was elected master; H. W. Hibbard, lecturer; L. J. Wells, secretary. The progress of “Senexet Grange ” is apparently very satisfactory, though details are discreetly veiled from public view. Its master, Doctor G. A. Bowen, serves as lecturer for the State Grange, and is very prominently connected with the interests of the organization. Lewis J. Wells also serves as state secretary. A large number are connected with Senexet Grange, and its meetings are reported as exceptionally agreeable and profitable. One of Woodstock’s latest agricultural achievements is a creamery near the residence of H. T. Child. This is well patronized by dairy men and women, and promises to be a profitable and labor saving institution.
A theft-detecting society was one of Woodstock’s earliest cooperative experiments. Organized far back in 1793, in days of poverty and sore temptation, it doubtless served as a preventive to crime and petty pilfering. The officers of the society were president, vice-president, clerk, treasurer and six pursuers. These latter officials were furnished with means for providing themselves with good horses, with which they were expected to pursue thieves at a moment’s notice. Ordinary members were only required to pay their annual dues and help eat up the good dinner provided for the society. In 1824 the society was formally incorporated, and has since maintained serene existence, the chief incident of its career the annual dinner and speech making. Another ancient institution, the Putnam Masonic Lodge, second in Windham county, has been transplanted from Pomfret to Woodstock, finding accommodations in the new Agricultural Hall building. Embracing in its past membership many of the sterling men of the county, it still holds its own amid the multiplicity of modern organizations.
Source: History of Windham County, Connecticut, Bayles, Richard M.; New York: W.W. Preston, 1889