Sterling Connecticut Manufacturing History

The uprising of the manufacturing interest gave Sterling a fresh impetus in growth and prosperity, Asa Ames, Isaac Pitman and Samuel Dorrance and Dixon Hall, of Sterling, in 1808, as the Sterling Manufacturing Company, buying land “at a ledge of rocks, called the ` Devil’s Den Chimney;’ thence west by and down a small brook to Moosup River.” The Sterling Manufactory was ready for work in 1809. Sterling’s manufacturing facilities were well improved during the early part of the present century. Its first factory, built by Dorrance, Hall and others, was destroyed by fire soon after its completion, but its site was soon occupied by a larger building under the more exclusive management of Samuel Ames of Providence, which was described in 1818 as ” one of the largest manufacturing establishments in the State, running sixteen hundred spindles.” The buildings for the accommodation of the workmen were built of stone, taken from the ledge of rocks included in the company’s purchase. This- Devil’s Den Chimney,” as it was previously called, possessed, according to Niles’ Gazetteer, “very singular and curious features,” viz:

It is situated within a ledge of rocks, and has a circular area of about 100 feet in diameter. The rock is cleft in two places, forming at each a chasm or fissure of about 50 feet deep, through one of which there runs a small stream of water; the other communicates with a room of about twelve feet square, at the interior part of which there is a fireplace and a chimney extending through the rock above, forming an aperture of about three feet square. In another part of the rock there is a natural staircase winding around it from the bottom to the top. In the cold season of the year a large mass of ice is formed in the room above described by the dashing of water through the chimney, which continues there through nearly the whole of the warm months, the sun being almost excluded from this subterraneous recess.”

The American Factory upon the Quanduck, and a small cotton factory upon the Moosup were also carried on. Three grain mills, one carding machine, one fulling mill and clothiery works, two tanneries, four mercantile stores and two taverns were reported in 1818.

For many years the cotton factories continued in operation, furnishing employment-to male and female operatives, and a ready market for farmers. The Sterling Company manifested much enterprise, and was one of the first in the country to whiten their cloth by the use of chlorine instead of sun bath. Mr. William Pike effected this invention, and also experimented in wood distillation, extracting for the use of the dyer the first pyroligneous acid made in the country. His success encouraged him to further enterprise. Brandy and gin distilleries had fallen into disrepute, but the transformation of wood into various chemical agencies met with nothing but favor. Three of these sap works ” were in time established-two in Sterling, one in Voluntown-requiring some five or six thousand cords of wood annually, and at least a score of men to prepare the wood and aid in the working. Pyroligneous and citric acids, sugar of lead, tincture of iron, naphtha and fine charcoal were among the products of distillation. Mr. Pike had his residence on Sterling hill, in one of the fine old Dorrance houses, and was much respected as one of the leading men of the town. He was the first to introduce one horse wagons into use, paying for them in cotton yarn. Charcoal making was carried on quite extensively in Sterling.

Jeremiah W. Boswell was born in Foster, R. I., and came to Sterling, Conn., in 1876. He learned the trade of stone cutter and commenced quarrying granite about one-fourth of a mile east of Sterling Dye Works in 1887. He employs about twenty five men. The stone is of superior quality for building purposes, and finds a ready market in Providence, Norwich and other places.

The village of Oneco, in the central part of the town, was founded by Henry Sabin, of Plainfield, who built a small cotton factory here about the year 1830. Successive owners gave it their names till it was finally re-christened by the Norwich proprietors, who now utilize its granite, working its fine quarries to good advantage. Indications of yet more valuable ore have been found in the vicinity. Among these are’ specimens of plumbago and dendrite, and such large and glittering quartz crystals, that their chief depository is known as “the Diamond Ledge.” The famous Devil’s Den Chimney ” was blown up to make way for the railroad when that was building.

About 1860 Smith & Williams commenced quarrying granite at what is now known as Garvey Brothers’ quarry. They were succeeded by A. & W. Sprague, and in 1884 by Garvey Brothers, of Providence, who employ at the quarry and in connection with it about 120 men. The granite quarried here is used for paving, building and monumental purposes in Providence, New York, Chicago and many other places, and is also sent to England. Their facilities for handling stone are not surpassed, a railroad running direct to the ledge. Mr. John Garvey, who, since the death of his brother Michael, in 1887, has been sole manager, came to this country in 1869 with about five dollars in his pocket. He learned the trade of stone cutter, became a contractor and builder, and, by his industry, has built up a large and increasing business.

Oscar F. Gibson, son of Allen Gibson, was born in Sterling in 1835. In 1886 he commenced quarrying granite about one mile west of Oneco village. He employs about 20 men. The stone are chiefly used for building, and find a ready market. Mr. Gibson represented Sterling in the legislature of 1880. He married Ellen, daughter of Arnold Dixon, and has two sons, Allen M. and Merrill A.

The cotton manufacturing interests of the town have declined. Factories burned down have not been replaced. Its natural resources now furnish its chief reliance. The “sap works” of Mr. James Pike continue to resolve the forests into their component elements, consuming annually some two or three thousand cords of hard wood, employing a number of workmen, and extracting and combining a variety of useful products. A specialty of this unique establishment is the dissolution of refuse tin and iron, battered tin pans, rusty stove pipes and the like, by which these heretofore indestructible nuisances are made subservient to the will and use of man. Stimulated by the enterprises, Oneco bids fair to become a place of business importance, has a new public hall and public-spirited residents.

A Grange of the Patrons of Husbandry was recently organized here by Mr. Bowen, the state lecturer of that order. It had thirty-six charter members. The location of the Grange is at the ” Line meeting house,” where it was organized, and only a part of its membership belong to this county. Its first officers were as follows: John E. Tanner, M.; E. Byron Gallup, 0.; A. A. Stanton, L.; G. A. Youngs, S.; Silas Barber, A. S.: Mrs. Nathaniel Gallup, L. A. S.; Reverend-John Elderkin, C.; Benjamin G. Stanton, secretary; J. Cyrus Tanner, treasurer; Miss Minnie Elderkin, P.; Addie E. Gallup, F.; Mrs. J. E. Fenner, C.; Ezra A. Gallup, G. K.

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

5 thoughts on “Sterling Connecticut Manufacturing History”

  1. Celinda A Corbeil

    Mt Grandfather was John Garvey who was married to Mary Jane Fox. They resided in Sterling, Ct. My Grandfather worked for the mill in Sterling. He died of sudden death at 53 years old while attending mass at St. Joseph’s Church in Sterling, CT. My Great Grandfather, John Garvey, and his brother, Michael, owned and operated the Garvey brother’s Quarry in Oneco, CT. They both came to New England around 1860. I do not have any pictures or information about my Grandfather or my Great Grandfather and Great Uncle. I went to Ireland in 2013 and 2014 and could not find any information about my family, where they lived and the name of the ship the brought them to New England or what port they came into. In Ireland, I visited 2 genealogy libraries-one being Cork, Ireland and found no information about my family. I would deeply appreciate any information, picture about my family or the name of the ship and port they arrived in, and the port that they left from in Ireland. Sincerely, Celinda Whitford Corbeil

    1. My Great Uncle Eli Gileau work there too and died of sudden death too.My great grandfather Pierre Gileau died in 1896 mill accident.
      My great grandfather Nathan Carr work at the Query in Oneco.

  2. potter’s mill is listed as the cotton mill on the quondock in current sterling history book-pamplets.
    which potter owned american manufacturing?

  3. I am looking for information about the old mill (American Factory?) on River Rd at about American School House Rd, the Potter property. thank you,

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