History of Manufacturing in Putnam, Connecticut

The manufacture of cotton goods, the prime element in Putnam’s early growth and prosperity, is still its dominant interest, engrossing the largest amount of capital, giving employment to by far the largest number of residents. Rhodesville leads in this manufacture with its mammoth mills and myriad looms. As in former days Mr. Smith Wilkinson stood for the embodiment of manufacturing enterprise, so now one man stands at the head of three large establishments, overseeing the general interests of a business far beyond the highest ideal of previous generations. The Morse mill with its large addition, the fine Powhatan mill erected in 1872. the mills of the former Nightingale Company, including the old Rhodesville mill, are all under the management of the general agent and part proprietor, George M. Morse; G. C. Nightingale, treasurer. A capital of $600,000 is invested in these manufactories. More than nine hundred looms are run, and about eight hundred hands employed. The former Ballou mill passed into the hands of Mr. Edward Cutler, a much respected resident of Putnam, who carried on the establishment for a number of years. He was succeeded by an association of Providence gentlemen, known as the Putnam Manufacturing Company, which after various reverses, still retains the privilege. South of the Falls, on Meadow street, are the fine new buildings of the Monohansett Manufacturing Company for the manufacture of sheetings, established in 1872 -Estus Lamb and George W. Holt, of Providence, proprietors. About 175 hands are employed by this company-George W. Holt, president; A. F. Lamb, treasurer; George W. Holt, Jr.. resident agent.

The old Pomfret Factory Woolen Company, which under the management of Mr. M. Moriarty, had been doing a very successful business, was seriously crippled by the failure of a large wool house in New York and after a year’s struggle was forced to make an assignment. The present Putnam Woolen Company was organized in 1878; E. A. Wheelock, resident agent and treasurer. This company improves the privilege of the former woolen company in the manufacture of cassimere, employing nineteen sets of machinery and over three hundred hands.

With the influx of new blood and capital several new and promising industries have been established. In this aggressive age the supreme authority of King Cotton has been questioned. and wool, silk, iron, steel and even such down-trodden entities as shoes, assert their claim to equal sovereignty.

The manufacture of silk goods was introduced in Putnam by Messrs. G. A. Hammond and C. C. Knowlton, January 1st, 1875. Land and building on, the flat below the falls was procured from Mr. G. M. Morse, one of the contracting parties, and great pains taken with all the initiatory arrangements for this novel enterprise. About thirty girls were ready to begin work, attracted by the inherent fascination of silken fabrics for the feminine mind-with a sufficient number of experienced workmen to instruct and aid. With new machinery, skilled labor and unwearied pains the mill was successfully set in motion, and bales of silken filaments from Japan and China wrought into substantial sewing-silk and twist for American use. The process. though not difficult, required a nicety of touch and observation, and many applicants failed to meet these conditions, but in time all difficulties were overcome and many women and girls rejoiced in the establishment of this agreeable and remunerative industry. At the close of their first decade the Putnam Silk Mills report continued progress and prosperity. In 1885 the business had so outgrown accommodations that the old mill was rented and the works and machinery moved into a large three-story building in the same vicinity, furnishing ample room, abundant light and every convenience. About a hundred and twenty-five operatives, including ninety girls, are steadily employed. A visitor to the mills is struck by the order, neatness and apparent cheerfulness of its inmates. The process by which the slender spinnings of the silk worm are transformed into familiar silk and twist and heavy braid is a marvel of mechanical skill and ingenuity. The weekly product is sent immediately to market, through their own agent, no ” middle men ” being employed by this firm, and the experiment of silk manufacture in Putnam has proved a financial benefit to all concerned.

The shoemaker is not a modern invention. As far back as can be remembered every neighborhood had its local cobbler. Two or three such shoemakers and menders were known in the Quinebaug valley, their shops a famous rendezvous for boys and news mongers. The first to introduce anything like the modern sale shoe manufacture into Putnam was Reverend Sidney Deane, who had previously served with great acceptance in the Methodist ministry. A man of much versatility and abounding energy, he was especially adapted to the exigencies of the aspiring villages, and encouraged to engage in shoe manufacture in 185’2.’ An ardent champion of the new town interests, he was yet elected representative of Thompson in 1854, on the express understanding that the question of separation was not to be raised at the approaching session of legislature. But unsettled questions persist in asserting themselves on all occasions; ” manifest destiny ” hurried matters to a crisis, and Thompson’s elected representative carried all before him in a most eloquent appeal in behalf of the new town. The ” tide ” in Mr. Deane’s affairs that set in with his championship of the future Putnam, swept him on to a seat in congress and political life, leaving the shoe manufacture in the hands of one of his assistants, Mr. Charles M. Fisher. ” Fisher & Clarke” carried on the business for a year, then Fisher alone for a year. In 1856 Edward T. Whitmore associated with Mr. Fisher, under the firm name of ” Fisher & Whitmore,” their partnership continuing about eight years.

Great changes were continually made in this manufacture by the introduction of machinery and new modes of working, involving the necessity of larger accommodations and outlay. William G. Tourtellotte was associated for a time with Mr. Fisher, as C. M. Fisher & Co. Thomas P. Botham, Hiram H. Burnham and William D. Case were later partners, who represent the firm since the death of Mr. Fisher, September 30th, 1886. About 120,000 pairs of shoes are annually produced by this firm, employing from eighty to a hundred hands. Steam power is used as far as practicable.

Mr. Whitmore continued in the shoe business, having for a time W. H. Tourtellotte for a partner, and then, with Mr. W. S. Johnson, established the firm of ” Whitmore & Johnson,” making women’s, boy’s and misses’ boots and shoes. Losing their factory in one of Putnam’s destructive fires, they now occupy the ” old silk mill,” abandoned by the silk manufacturers for a larger building. Beside carrying on this extensive manufactory, Mr. Whitmore has operated in real estate, building a number of houses on Elm street. ,Mr. Artemas Corbin, who has been for many years connected with shoe manufacture in Putnam, and Mr. Prescott Bartlett, are engaged in the manufacture of slippers, employing each a considerable number of hands.

Carpenters and masons, workers in wood and stone, have found abundant employment in Putnam. The Truesdells, Whitfords, Chamberlains, Farrows, Waters, Herendien are among the many who have helped build up the town. John 0. Fox, so useful in many ways, opened a lumber yard about 1860. The Bundys have long served as house painters in Putnam, and adjoining towns have called out a corresponding advance in the whole line of house building and decoration. The old-time house carpenter, plodding interminably over a single dwelling, is superseded by great establishments, with gangs of jolly workmen, driving jauntily about and hastily throwing up Queen Anne and other fanciful structures. Much of the material used is prepared by machinery and steam. B. M. Kent established in 1575 a manufactory of window frames, sashes, doors, blinds, balusters and kindred articles. Much work has been accomplished by contractors Kelly and Wheaton, erecting many of the fine new buildings in Putnam, Pomfret and other towns. A large number of men are employed by them during the summer. Other work is done by John Adams, bricklayer and contractor, by H. F. Hopkins and others. A lumber yard is kept by Myron Kinney. Many workmen are employed in house painting and decoration by Mr. T. L. Bundy.

Putnam’s development in manufacturing enterprise has been much quickened by the formation of a Business Men’s Association. Keen-sighted men awoke to the conviction that the business of the town was not sufficiently diversified; was too much limited to the cotton factory interest. A meeting was called in March, 1884, in which some forty citizens participated. Mr. Manning served as chairman. Much spirit and unanimity were manifested. Appropriate remarks were made by different business men. The chairman stated that Putnam had grand water privileges and admirable railroad facilities; had started with sixteen hundred inhabitants, and therefore gained in thirty years about three hundred per cent. What she lacked was unity, perseverance and a doing away with so much selfishness. It was voted to form a society-Messrs. John A. Carpenter, T. P. Leonard, G. E. Shaw, L. H. Fuller, C. N. Allen, a committee to perfect a plan of organization and constitution. At the second meeting the proposed constitution was discussed. Judge Carpenter explained the object to be, ” To unite all the citizens under rules to work together for the good of the village, in whatever way their united voluntary efforts could be directed.” Some who favored the object could not exactly see how the association could contrive to carry it out, but the wise chairman gave his earnest approval and thought a great deal of good could be brought about, if the manner of doing could not be stated or defined. He was deeply concerned to get the entire people united together for mutual benefit, and to promote the prosperity of Putnam.

At the following meeting the constitution was adopted and a goodly number of signatures obtained. The society was to be called, The Putnam Business Men’s Association.” its object was “to advance the general business interests of the community, and promote a more intimate knowledge of all events affecting the public welfare, and as far as possible to use its influence to improve the material interests of the community.” April 4th, 1884, constitution and by-laws were formally adopted, and the following officers chosen: President, James W. Manning; vice-presidents, E. H. Bugbee, E. A. Wheelock, G. W. Holt, Jr., G. A. Hammond, W. H. Pearson, S. H. Seward, D. K. Olney; treasurer, J. A. Carpenter; secretary, W. W. Foster, M.D.; executive committee, L. H. Fuller, M. G. Leonard, G. E. Shaw, Ed= ward Mullan, C. N. Allen. May 15th 109 citizens of the town had enrolled themselves members, meetings were promptly held, and various needed improvements discussed. The work so well begun was carried forward with much spirit, and the good results predicted from this union of heads and hands abundantly realized. A fresh impulse has been given to business in various departments, several new industries have been established, and many new dwelling houses erected. The present number of -members is 100. President, G. A. Hammond; secretary, A. B. Williams; treasurer, J. A. Carpenter; executive committee, G. E. Shaw, L. H. Fuller, E. Mullan, F. W. Perry, W. H. Letters.

One of the most promising among Putnam’s later industries is the Foundry and Machine Corporation, incorporated April 1st, 1884; capital stock, $20,000. A machine shop and other needful buildings were at once erected and the first cast made August 27th. They make a specialty of the Plummer Steam Heater, for which they hold the patent, but also manufacture castings of varied descriptions. The Steam Heater is largely in demand, and the business of the company is well established upon a permanent basis. Some thirty or forty workmen find remunerative employment. Mr. Orrin Morse is president of the company. Mr. William R. Barber, secretary and treasurer, is -also the efficient managing agent. Henry G. Leonard, L. H. Fuller, Edward Mullan, J. C. Nichols and George E. Shaw complete the board of directors. This corporation was formed with the special object of adding to the substantial interests of the village, and gives promise of abundant success.

Putnam Cutlery Company was organized in 1886, with a capital stock of $5,000, for the manufacture of knives of every description excepting table and pocket cutlery. A patented support to the blade, owned by this company, is very valuable, making it impossible to break or pull the blade from the shank. The late John O. Fox was the first president; G. D. Bates, secretary and treasurer.

The Russell Force Pump Company was organized October 31st, 1887, and holds the patent right for supplying New England with this pump, which is manufactured for out-door use,, and can be used by power and hand without the use of wind mill. It is a double action pump, capable of pumping from 44 to 50 gallons per minute, made by the Foundry and Machine Corporation. The president of the company is G. D. Bates; secretary and treasurer, W.. R. Barber, who, with L. J. Russell, Charles N. Allen, E. Hersey and L. H. Fuller, form the board of directors.

The Putnam Gas Light Company was formed in 1878, and did much for the enlightenment of the village. Farther progress was made through the agency of the Putnam Electric Light Company, organized in 1886, when a hundred and fifty incandescent lamps and thirty-five arc lamps were introduced. Still greater benefits may be expected from the consolidation recently effected, by which “The Putnam Light and Power Company ” supersedes previous organizations. President, F. W. Perry; secretary, treasurer and superintendent, Allan W. Bowen; directors, A. Houghton, F. W. Perry, J. W. Manning, C. E. Searls, S. H. Seward, A. W. Bowen, G. A. Hammond.

The Putnam Steam Laundry, Miller & Shepard, proprietors, is a new and flourishing institution, especially welcome to housekeepers. Numberless carpets and curtains bear fresh testimony year by year to its cleansing efficacy, and the weekly washing day is made no longer a supreme necessity.

Concrete walks are made and repaired by Mr. Albert Arnold.

Carriages are also made and trimmed by S. P. Brown, John Gilbert, G. G. Smith and H. W. Howell.

A creamery is one of Putnam’s latest institutions. In May, 1888, the subject was first considered and a committee appointed to obtain subscriptions for the formation of a Dairy Company. June 21st, a company was organized, and C. D. Torrey, C. E. Mills, J. W. Trowbridge, L. H. Fuller, W. P. White, G. A. Hawkins, S. H. Seward chosen directors. Land was secured in Pleasant valley, south of the village, and a building put up sufficiently capacious to accommodate the milk from a thousand cows. In December it was voted to obtain a charter from the legislature, and the capital stock was increased to $5,000. C. D. Torrey was chosen president; W. P. White, secretary; L. H. Fuller, treasurer; board of directors retained in service. The summer of 1889 finds the creamery under full headway, receiving the milk of several hundred cows in Putnam, Killingly, Thompson and Pomfret, and turning out some two hundred pounds each, of butter and cheese, daily. An expert from New York state manages the milk, keeping everything in excellent order. . A ready market is found for all the products. It is hoped that pecuniary profit, as well as much saving of time and labor, will result from this associated enterprise.

One of the most important works accomplished in Putnam, since the formation of the Business Men’s Association, is the introduction of an abundant supply of water. Damage by fire and much household inconvenience had accrued from previous scarcity. Mr. George E. Shaw was the first to agitate the matter, laying before the association, in 1884. a resolution to investigate the feasibility of introducing water into Putnam village. Messrs. L. H. Fuller, G. E. Shaw, Moses G. Leonard, E. Mullan, C. N. Allen, J. W. Manning, C. M. Fisher, G. M. Hammond, J. H. Gardner, D. K. Olney and W. H. Pearson were appointed a committee for this purpose. Convinced of its practicality they petitioned the legislature for incorporation, and formed a joint stock company, with a capital stock of $100,000. Estimates of cost were obtained from different contractors, and Wheeler & Parks, of Boston, selected-they agreeing to furnish the Putnam fire district with sixty hydrants, at the cost of $1,800 annually. A supply of water was obtained from the outlet of Woodstock lake, about two miles distant, and brought into a receiving tower on Oak hill, and thence distributed throughout the village. A million gallons -daily could be used. The present officers of the Putnam Water Company are: L. H. Fuller, president; M. G. Leonard, vice president; George E. Shaw, secretary; Elbert Wheeler, treasurer. The work was completed January 21st, 1886. Though meeting with the combined opposition incident to all costly public enterprises at the outset, Putnam water works have proved a triumphant success, giving to residents an unfailing supply of their most vital daily necessity, and a sense of security from fire beyond all cost or estimate.

Trade in Putnam scarcely needed the stimulus of association. The Pomfret Factory and Rhodesville stores drew customers from all the surrounding country. The first Pomfret Factory depot dispensed flour and grain as well as tickets. Stores sprung up like mushrooms in the new Depot village, some to collapse after a brief existence, others to grow up into established institutions. The large establishment of Manning &. Leonard, with its ample stock of light and heavy articles, is the lineal offspring of a mercantile experiment begun more than forty years since by the senior proprietor. A store opened by another Pomfret aspirant, Nathan Williams, shared largely in popular favor. A directory published in 1861 gives the following list of stores: Dry goods, Cutler & Tucker, J. W. Manning, Richmond & Williams (Lewis), M. S. Morse & Co., J. S. Gay; druggists, D. B. Plimpton, Benjamin Segur; fish market, William Winslow; fruit and confectionery, John L. Flagg; furniture dealers, C. N. & S. P. Fenn; groceries, Henry Leech, Simeon Stone; flour and grain, Hobart Cutler, E. H. Davison & Co.; jewelers, J. B. Darling, D. .R. Stockwell; merchant tailor, H. N. Brown; ready-made clothing, W. M. Olney; meat market, Sanford H. Randall; saloon, Thomas Capwell; shoe store, F. A. Brewster; saddle and harness maker, C. F. Carpenter; tinware, Stephen Spalding; tailor, Henry Thurber; milliners, Mrs. John B. Clark, Mrs. R. Darling, Mrs. A. Dresser, Mrs. S. C. Sprague, Mrs: Mary Smith. This meagre list was soon extended. The long established watchmaker’s and jeweler’s shop of Mr. Edward Shaw was removed from Thompson to Putnam in 1863. The solitary tinware and hardware shop of Mr. Spalding, which had contrived to supply three or four towns with cooking stoves and baking utensils, was succeeded by the far more complete establishment of Mr. Thomas C. Bugbee. Three large establishments to-day, carried on by Chandler & Morse, Perry & Brown, and J. E. Taylor & Co., crowded with stoves, heaters, agricultural implements, and all manner of labor-saving devices, illustrate the marvelous progress made in mechanical art and in appliances for household comfort. A fourth store has been recently opened by S. A. Field. The little watchmaker’s shop of Mr, Edward Shaw has expanded into an emporium of useful, ornamental and aesthetic articles. The Wright Brothers from Waltham, Mass., in six years’ trading in the same line, have won success and honorable reputation. Jewelers’ wares are also sold by G. L. Geer, practical watchmaker and engraver, and in the well-filled store of E. E. Robbins. Druggists have made still greater advancement. Those who remember the little apothecary shops of former days view with amazement the varied assortment now displayed in the large and elegant stores of G. E. Dresser, Davenport & Burt, G. Farley and E. O. Hersey.

The dry goods stores show less numerical gain, but carry a greater amount of stock than formerly. The list comprises Manning & Leonard, J. E. Bailey, M. J. Bradley, Simeon Farley, Edward Mesner, Murray & Bugbee, A. B. Williams. Mesner carries on “The People’s Store,” opened in 1869, by J. H. Gardner, and enjoying a wide popularity. The well-known firm of Sharpe & Green is successfully represented by Mr. Williams. Murray & Bugbee have recently succeeded to the popular store opened by the O’Briens. Mr. Bailey was well known as leading salesman in 11 The People’s Store.” The number of grocers and provision dealers has very largely increased. Ten leading groceries figure in place of two, managed by C. M. Bradway, Alfred Coutois, Edward Fly, Guilbert & Moison, P. M. Leclair, W. H. Mansfield & Co., Edward Mullan, Morse Mills store, P. O’Leary and Smith Brothers. These enterprising merchants were mostly strangers, brought by the growing reputation of Putnam, and have identified themselves with the interests of the town.

A very flourishing trade in flour, feed and grain is carried on in the north part of the village, by Bosworth Brothers, who removed from Woodstock valley to Putnam, about 1870. They run a steam grist mill, supplying hosts of customers. Meat markets are conducted by Morse & Darling, Putnam Cash Market Co., Randall & Co., and A. C. Stetson, which feed the thousands of Putnam and also help sustain the needy towns adjacent. Refrigerator buildings for the reception of dressed beef from the West have been provided near the depot, under the charge of R. H. Bradley. Fish is furnished by H. T. Bugbee and other markets. A former unknown luxury is now abundantly supplied from the ample ice houses of H. T. Bugbee and E. E. Lincoln. Bread and other bakerage are prepared by Bakers Asselin, Labossiere and Lilly, and fruit of every variety is to be found in its season. In the ready-made clothing interest the letter C carries all before it. The Connecticut Clothing Company, Bates & Lindsey proprietors, has a large constituency, and makes proportionate sales. J. W. Church also makes a specialty of readymade clothing, and goods for men and boys. Manning & Leonard sell many goods in this line, also, and still a place is left for the tailor’s art, as plied by C. L. Gilpatric, J. O’Leary, Lea Milot and J. H. York. J. N. Douty for seventeen years has carried on a successful hat store. Mrs. M. E. Murfey still accommodates her many friends -with tasteful millinery. Mrs. Thompson and Buchanan, Miss M. E. Lowe, Madame Breault, Misses M. M. Brady and N. Egan find abundant patronage in this ever attractive art, while some half-dozen dressmakers fail to exceed demand for their useful service. Popular shoe stores are maintained by A. M. Parker and G. W. Ingalls. The latter succeeds Mr. T. P. Leonard, who removed from Woodstock with his brothers, M. G. and W. Leonard, and built the tasteful ” Leonard Row,” on Providence street. ” Shoes of swiftness ” and ” Seven-leagued boots ” might be included in the stock of Mr. Parker, judging from the facility with which he traverses the universe. The chief furniture dealer is now Mr. L. E. Smith. The Fenn Brothers were the first to engage in this business, removing to Putnam before the organization of the town, and were active in church and business affairs. Mr. C. N. Fenn has long served as undertaker, and also deals in pictures, artists’ materials and house-furnishing goods. The music store of W. H. Letters supplies other artistic needs. Such everyday essentials as coal and wood are to be found in the convenient coal yards of J. W. Cutler and F. J. Daniels.

Accommodations for stores and business have undergone various vicissitudes. Again and again fires have devastated the center of trade. The original brick block, with its historic Quinebaug Hall, built by early enterprise and sold to Mr. T. H. Bugbee, and the succeeding Bugbee Block, on the same site, were both destroyed. The stately Union Block, now occupying the site, was built by substantial capitalists in 1882-83. Hathaway’s, Chesebro’s and Wagner’s blocks bear the names of those who assisted in their construction. The first Congregational church edifice forms part of Manning’s store. Central Block, now owned by W. H. Pearson, was built by Chamberlain and S. P. Fenn. Mr. T. H. Bugbee built the hotel- that bears his name. The Chickening House was built by Edward Lyon; the Elm street House by John Ross. A spacious block, with room for holding courts, is now projected by Messrs. Houghton and Wagner. These gentlemen, with Messrs. Bugbee, Gardner, Miller, Pearson and Wheaton, are prominently connected with the building and land interests of Putnam, with which many others are also more or less associated. One of the older residents, 11r. Edgar H. Clark, civil engineer, has exceeded all others in connection with the surveying and laying out of the fast growing town.

The several hotels of Putnam enjoy abundant patronage. Under the efficient administration of the late D. K. Olney the Bugbee House achieved a high reputation, well maintained by the present genial proprietor. A number of boarding houses are well sustained. Payne’s dining room is also a well-established institution, while saloons rise and fall at the option of town voters.

For nearly twenty years after the tide of business had turned to the valley, money accommodations were still found on the hill-top, particularly at Thompson Bank. It was not till near the close of the war of the rebellion that the citizens of Putnam awoke to the conviction that the business interests of the town demanded local accommodation. The establishment of a national bank was accordingly discussed at the office of Hon. Gilbert W. Phillips, March 3d, 1864. Articles of association were adopted and stock subscribed amounting to $100,000. Application was then made to the United States Treasury Department, and the requirement of the law having been fulfilled, the ” First National Bank of Putnam” was opened for business March 23d, in Stockwell’s former jeweler’s shop. President, Edmond Wilkinson; cashier, Charles S. Billings; directors, Benjamin C. Harris, Sabin L. Sayles, Ezra Deane, Rufus S. Mathewson, George Paine, G. W. Phillips, Chandler A. Spalding, John A. Carpenter. The capital stock was soon increased by $50,000. A brick building was erected in 1866 and John A. Carpenter made cashier. 1-1r. Wilkinson was succeeded in the presidency by Hon. .G. W. Phillips in 1868, who held the position twenty years. James W. Manning was chosen as his successor. Judge Carpenter still serves as cashier. Mr. S. R. Spalding has held position in the bank for nearly twenty years. Messrs. Franklin Bailey and Seth P. Stoddard served faithfully as bookkeepers. The board of directors consists of J. H. Gardner. C. J. Alton, E. H. Bugbee, Rufus Pike, Lucius Fitts, with the president and, cashier.

Putnam Sayings Bank preceded the national bank in date of organization. A charter was granted May, 1862, to Edmond . Wilkinson, R. M. Bullock, John O. Fox, R. S. Mathewson, George A. Paine, Horace Seamans, Winthrop Green, Prescott May, William Field, James NV. Manning, Charles Bliven, Henry G. Taintor, Charles Osgood, Lorenzo Litchfield, Edgar H. Clark, and George Buck. July 19th the bank commenced business. Edmond Wilkinson served as president; G. W. Phillips, secretary and treasurer; trustees, Edmond Wilkinson, Richmond M. Bullock, John O. Fox, Rufus S. Mathewson, George A. Paine, Sabin Sayles, Jeremiah Olney, Joseph B. Latham, G. W. Phillips. The present officers are: President, J. H. Gardner; secretary and treasurer, Jerome Tourtellotte; trustees, J. H. Gardner, O. H. Perry, C. M. Fenner, Charles P. Grosvenor, Z. A. Ballard, John A. Carpenter, G. W. Holt, Jr., A. Houghton. Deposits reported October 1st, 1888, $1,132,530.72.

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

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