In the northwest corner of the town, on the Natchaug river and the New York and New England railroad, lies the post village of North Windham. It is situated on a comparatively level step on the northwest border of the hilly section of the town, and about four miles north of Willimantic. The village contains some four hundred inhabitants, and its principal institution is a manufactory of thread. This locality was formerly called New Boston, and about the year 1810 Edmond Badger and others built a mill here and began the manufacture of writing paper. This enterprise gave some impetus to the growth of the village for awhile, but it was abandoned by Badger in 1825, and after further failures to make it a success, it fell into the hands of an Englishman named Joseph Pickering, who with great labor and difficulty had succeeded in bringing to America the first imported Fourdrinier machine for the manufacture of paper. He was joined by J. A. H. Frost, of Boston, and they bought the dilapidated paper mill at a low price, and here set up the machine which was to effect a revolution in paper making. This firm soon became bankrupt, and their Boston creditors attempted to carry on the business, but they were equally unsuccessful. The Fourdrinier machine was moved to Andover, Conn., and finally to York, Pa.
In 1831 the mill property above spoken of came into the hands of Mr. Justin Swift, who transformed it into a cotton factory. Under his management a successful manufacturing establishment was maintained. The mill employed about forty hands and was a benefit to the neighborhood. On the 16th of July, 1860, the mill took fire and was destroyed. It was rebuilt and Mr. Swift, in the fall of 1862, leased it to the Merrick Brothers, who converted it into a mill for the manufacture of thread in the skein. They retained occupancy of the premises till 1572, when the property was bought by E. H. Hall & Son, the father having been superintendent of the mill for Merrick Brothers, and the son having been connected with the same firm in their works at Holyoke, Mass. Since that time the capacity of the mill has been increased about one-half, and thirty-six feet have been added to the original length of the building. The mill is run wholly by water, and forty hands are employed, the manufactured product amounting to about three thousand pounds a week.
Edwin H. Hall; the senior member of this firm, was the second youngest son of a family of thirteen children of Nathan and Philomella Hall, and he was born in Mansfield, Conn., May 26th, 1821. He married Sophia, daughter of Major Henry Prentice, and had five children, viz.: Luthera, wife of Charles S. Lyman, overseer of Merrick Thread Company, of Holyoke, Mass.; Ella M., Edwin H., Alice A., wife of P. A. Foland, agent at Boston for the Merrick Thread “Company; and Francois P., who died in childhood. Edwin H. was born in Willimantic, December 29th, 1847. He married Maria Ayers, a native of South Coventry, Conn., and they had one child, Francois L., also an adopted daughter, Nettie M. Edwin H. died December 12th, 1884.
The settlement of North Windham had, in the first half of the century, a fulling and carding mill, owned by the Lincolns. This they afterward transformed into a manufactory of felting used in working the Fourdrinier machine, they having acquired the art by picking to pieces and reconstructing the English specimens first imported. The village had attained sufficient importance to be favored with a post office in 1838, and Mr. Ralph Lincoln was appointed postmaster, which office he retained for many years.
The North Windham Cemetery is a tract of land about one acre in extent, located near the center of the village. Jonah Lincoln probably donated ground for it. The society took charge of it for awhile, but later the town has taken charge of it and enlarged it. It is well filled with graves and is neatly kept. It lies on the east side of the Windham road, and on either side of it are the institutions of the place, the church and the school house. These buildings are white and of similar model, and not greatly different in size. The meeting house, which stands north of the cemetery, is a little larger in size. Each is surmounted by a belfry. The church, cemetery and school house are about one-fourth of a mile west of the railroad station.
The Christian Society which occupies and owns the meeting house referred to is an undenominational society composed simply of those who contribute to. its financial support. The object is to maintain a Christian ministry or preaching of the Gospel regardless of denominational creeds. The preamble and resolutions agreeing to certain broad and liberal conditions bears date March 15th, 1830. Meetings were first held in a school house. At the organization, Jonah Lincoln acted as moderator, and the name then adopted was the “New Boston Christian Society,” after the –name which was held by the locality at that time. January 7th, 1857, the name was changed by vote of the society to North Windham Christian Society.” The meeting house was built in 1844. The first members of the society, that is, those who joined it previous to 1840, were Jonah Lincoln, Elias Sharp, Levi Johnson, Daniel Lincoln, Jacob Flint, Ralph Lincoln, Samuel Flint, James Lincoln, Warren Clark, Charles W. Warren, Lester Lincoln, Benjamin Perry, Warner Lincoln, Nathaniel Lincoln, John Flint, Robert W. Robinson, Burr Lincoln, Asa Bates, Henry Lincoln, David Lincoln, Samuel A. Lincoln, Stowel Lincoln, Darias Spafford, Shubael Cross. George Backus, Erastus Martin, Thomas Robinson; Rufus Burnham, Nathan Gallup, Moses Coffin, William M. Johnson, Horace Flint, Sherman Simons, Thomas Baldwin, Schuyler Chamberlin, Samuel Flint 2d, Moses C. Abbe, Marvin Lincoln, Nelson Simms, James L. Brown, Philip R. Capen, Luther Burnham, William L. Dexter, John J. Burnham, Levi Allen, Mason Lincoln, Frank M. Lincoln and Allen Lincoln. From 1840 up to later dates, as given in the list following, other subscribers joined the society as follows: Charles Card, Hezekiah P. Brown, N. F. Ackley, Reuben Peck, Porter B. Peck, Charles Collar, Pearl L. Peck, Albert Lincoln, 1847; George Lincoln, Oren F. Lincoln, Freeman D. Spencer, Dwight F. Lincoln, 1849; Lorin Lincoln, Jared W. Lincoln, Sumner Lincoln, Thomas T. Upton, Lucius Ingraham, Lucius Flint, Henry E. Gurley, 1853; Lucius H. Cross, Martin Flint, 1858; Edward L. Burnham, Charles Johnson, Seymour Davenport, Joel W. Webb, 1859; Pardon Parker, Charles Squires, Stowel Burnham, Chester Welden, 1871; Albert Hartson, Edwin H. Hall, 1873; Charles E. Peck, Henry A. Jones, George E. Bennett, 1880; David Nichols, Abner P. Smith, Robert Harley, C. F. Spencer, M. A. Bates, William Sibley.
The society for many years employed regular ministers, who resided here and performed pastoral functions. Among the early ministers were Roger Bingham, of Windham, Harry Greenslit, of Scotland (both of whom also preached here before the society was formally organized), Alfred Burnham, Savage White, of Canterbury; Isaac H. Coe, Waldo Barrows, James Burlingame, a young man by the name of Wright for a year or two, and Sylvester Barrows for a year or two. Since about 1878 no resident pastor has been supported, but preaching has been maintained more or less by the employment of ministers associated with churches in the neighboring villages as circumstances indicated, the funds of the society being placed in the hands of a committee with discretionary power.
The mill of which previous mention has been made as having been once owned and operated by the Lincolns in the manufacture of felting for the Fourdrinier paper machines, stood about fifty rods below the cotton mill of E. H. Hall & Son. The manufacture of felting belts was carried on by Stowel Lincoln previous to the late war. These belts were endless and seamless,. -and made to run over rollers to take up moisture from paper pulp. Few manufactories of the kind existed in this country, and this gave a considerable prosperity to the village. It gave employment to about thirty hands in its prosperous days. This business, however, faded out, and when the war introduced the ” days of shoddy ” the mill was changed to a factory for making woolen cloth. This business was introduced by Stowel Lincoln, and later the mill has passed into the hands of William Sibley. It is only in operation now a part of the time.
Source: History of Windham County, Connecticut, Bayles, Richard M.; New York: W.W. Preston, 1889