Thursday Doors

My road trip last week to Lowell, Massachusetts, included the afternoon spent at the National Historical Park Lowell.

Photo credit: Lowell Historical Society and Wikipedia

In numerous towns across New England there are mill buildings. We have three here – Cocheco, Sawyer, and Washington. They have been Β updated and converted into beautiful lofts, offices, and a variety of businesses.

I saw numerous doors on that afternoon, but this green sliding door in the Wannalancit Mills caught my eye and made me smile. It’s like an old metal barn door. πŸ™‚

As part of the tour, we were able to see the machines in action. Before entering, we were given ear plugs, but the workers weren’t that lucky, and many suffered permanent hearing damage. The work rooms were kept warm and humid so the thread would not break, and with only a sampling of the machines running on one floor, the floors vibrated and the sound was very loud. When the mills were running there would have been three or four floors of machinery running at one time.

I have a fairly good-sized collection of thread spools and always thought they were used on sewing machines. I was amazed to see how they were actually used. I don’t need any more, but I had to buy two tiny ones, 3″ high, called Christmas tree spools.

After exploring the mill, we took a trolley ride to check out the canals and how the water entered the Wannalancit Mill resulting in electricity being created and passed through the pipe running along the ceiling to power the various machines.

Whether you are walking the cobble stone streets or riding in your car around Lowell, you will notice several clocks up high on towers, churches, or buildings. As workers became more savvy about their rights, they requested those clocks to tell when to start and stop work because they didn’t have watches and they didn’t trust the mill owner.

The story of the wealthy New Englanders building the mills, the young women coming in from the farms to work 14 hour days, the success of the mills, the Industrial Revolution, WWII, and the downfall, closure and moving of the work down south is a very important part of our American history.

Several of my family members worked in the mills of New Hampshire and New York. My grandfather built furniture, my aunt made shoes, and my mother, father, and uncle worked in factories that produced men and women’s clothing. I thought of all of them as we toured the mills.

If you are in the area, I’d highly recommend a tour because you will never look at a piece of fabric the same way again.

“Old places, like old people, cannot be relegated to the junk heap simply because of age. Most of them, places as well as people, still have a great deal to say and to contribute if only as a living witness to the past.”
Sara K. Cantor, Lowell Resident, 1966.

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Linked to Norm Frampton’s Thursday Doors, October 5, 2017.
I always suggest you visit Norm’s place, but today he has a special post of some amazing doors. Don’t miss them.

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About Judy @ NewEnglandGardenAndThread

Master Gardener who enjoys gardening, quilting, photography, and traveling.
This entry was posted in New England and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

42 Responses to Thursday Doors

  1. quilt32 says:

    I would love to get back to Massachusetts some day and I would definitely enjoy this tour.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Joyce says:

    My grandfather, a Lithuanian immigrant, worked in a furniture factory also, well before the time of unions. I didn’t know we could add the cheating of owners on the actual end of the work day to the list of other things, like unsafe conditions, child labor, and no overtime protection, that exploited the life of a worker.
    I love your little Christmas tree spools! Years ago, spools were popular as candle holders. I have a couple of them, but they’re not as cute as your new ones!
    Sliding door are genius! Imagine the size of the sweep that a “regular” door would require to create such a large opening!

    Liked by 1 person

    • You would love the history of this area. The young women came in from the farms because dad died, mom was sick, or their brother(s) wanted to go somewhere else. But, when the women stopped coming to work there, various immigrant communities filled in. These people worked long hard days in harsh conditions. I’ve been to the fabric store since then, and I sure have a new appreciation of how it is produced.

      Like

  3. Dan Antion says:

    OK, that does it. I have to return to Lowell. Thanks so much for sharing this, Judy. When I was working there, they were repairing the stone walls of the canal. I remember that they had to hire retired stonemasons to tell younger workers what to do, because the craft is long gone. I worked just down the street from the mill. My coworkers posed for a picture near the big waterwheel on the last day of the job. I had been moved to a new assignment by then.

    We have toured the thread mills in Willimantic, CT. The museum there has a tool chest of one of the millwrights on display. The mechanical ingenuity required to build and maintain these mills is fascinating.

    Liked by 1 person

    • The trolley tour took us to the Wannalancit Mill where we saw the green door and all the wheels and belts in the basement that moved the water along. You’d love it. The big wheel and its belt, moves two medium wheels and belts, that moved two small wheels and belts at the ceiling level that produced the electricity. We went to a cotton museum in SC that was interesting, but this was fascinating because of the human component and how the Industrial Revolution affected the number of jobs, and then how the influx of slaves in the south basically put an end to it. It is an up close and personal history lesson. I loved it, and I know you would too. πŸ™‚

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Fascinating history. It’s amazing to think how much life has changed in the last century.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. pastpeter says:

    Great story and illustrations! We easily forget the working life of our parents and grandparents – and how New England towns were eviscerated when mill work left.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You summed the tour up in two sentences. The history lesson is something I will never forget. I have always appreciated the beautiful mills in all the towns across New England and have thought it was wonderful that they were being used for apartments and businesses, but I love that this one is actually part of our National Park Services so it will be there for future generations. πŸ™‚

      Like

      • pastpeter says:

        I’m thrilled whenever I see a mill building rehabbed for 21st C use – e.g. Lowell, or along the river in Manchester. But there are still too many small towns with a crumbling hulk left – towns where most Main St storefronts are now empty too.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. Judy, I’d love to visit here sometime. You’re so right about the place in US history that these mills occupy. I’m happy to see that the mills have been put to good use in their new incarnation. Thanks for sharing these.

    janet

    Liked by 1 person

  7. joey says:

    Wow, that’s a neat one! I recall reading about how many textile mills we once had and how many are left. It’s staggering, really. Of course, not a great place to work, given the noise, dust, and clock situations, but it’s a shame all the same. Glad to see this place is at least available for viewing and learning.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. jesh stg says:

    Can see you liked this excursion! And I learned something here: the reason why they keep it in those places warm and humid!
    I do love that metal sliding door – a great answer to how to close off an arch way:)

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Interesting history. Although those women were probably grateful for their employment, what a horrible work environment they must have endured.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Great photos, Judy. Many of my ancestors worked in cotton mills in England, I would have hated it.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Norm 2.0 says:

    These mills played a very important part in the history of the northeast. A lot of the French family names you see in New England today came from their ancestors leaving farms in rural Quebec to go work in those mills.
    I can only imagine the tough work conditions, especially that constant noise 😦
    Great post Judy!

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Joanne Sisco says:

    I love that statement about being a living witness to the past. What a beautiful way to describe these old buildings.

    I worked for a manufacturing company and we had several huge printing presses, so I can imagine well how noisy it would have been in a plant producing fabric. I would think the process would be so interesting to watch. I would happily take a tour!!

    … and I’m a big fan of those rolling barn-style doors!

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Murphy's Law says:

    What a great post. Best history lesson ever! A lot of my husband’s family were from Woonsocket, RI and worked in the fabric mills until those mills relocated to South Carolina. It was devastating for the employees as well as the communities.

    Such a sad history of horrible working conditions, but happily these old mills have had a happy ending with the various renovations. My Great Aunt Emma would have loved this tour. Give her a needle and thread and a scrap of fabric and you wouldn’t believe what she would create.

    Thanks for sharing your great photos. And that’s one super door!

    Liked by 1 person

    • It was a great history lesson. I was listening to the challenging work conditions to then hear about how the Industrial Revolution caused many of them to lose their jobs which was a whole other problem. And, yes they shut them down and moved south where they were closer to the cotton and everyone prospered except the workers. I think I would have liked your Great Aunt Emma. πŸ™‚

      Like

  14. Eliza Waters says:

    That must have been fascinating to see. My great-grandparents came down from Canada to work in the mills. It was hard work, but it was steady and gave them a foothold here and a better life. We really do piggyback on the work of our ancestors for which I’m grateful.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. lulu says:

    This is a place I want to visit. As a weaver, I’m fascinated by anything having to do with textiles and their history. I’m also a sucker for doors.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. When we were moving, ultimately here, we found a wonderful house in Lowell.

    The bank would not finance it. Lowell is Massachusetts’ most unfortunate city with massive corruption and as a result, no money. I used to work nearby. I actually love the area, but it is so badly run down, banks are unwilling to finance projects there.

    I don’t know how they expect the area to recover if banks refuse to support them. Catch-22 in action.

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s certainly interesting, and it sounds like you should know since you live in MA. I don’t know anything about the town except what I saw walking around. I came away with the feeling that it is very similar to Portsmouth with all its shops and restaurants. I loved this historical tour and the quilt museum. πŸ™‚

      Like

  17. Oh my gosh that gave me goose pimples! My family came from working stock and pulled themselves out of poverty through the Military, so I get it.

    When my He-Man and I were dating he was working for a company whose Headquarters was and may still be in Lowell MA. He had to go there for a training class on a new product which kept from home and me for 6 weeks! He said it was boring and there was nothing to do there. He did say there were good restaurants, and bars he’d go to with work colleagues. He did go to Boston for a day to tour the sights, but he said he wouldn’t go back.

    I think he missed something, and perhaps we should go back together find what he missed!

    I don’t think I’ll look at fabric the same again. Being a wanna be seamstress I have an inkling of what it takes to make a textile. It’s NOT as easy as one thinks!

    Liked by 1 person

  18. germac4 says:

    Very interesting post, it must have been terrible working in those mills in the old days, and women in particular had dreadful lives. I’ll never take fabric for granted again! I liked the way the old buildings had been modernized…..we could do with some of that smart design in Canberra.

    Liked by 1 person

  19. Oddment says:

    I love those Christmas tree spools — of course you had to have them! I agree that old places have a lot to say. And unfortunately sometimes what they say is how there are always some of us who are considered expendable. I think many of us had ancestors who would understand. Your post is a thoughtful tribute to them.

    Liked by 1 person

  20. That green door has to be one of the most unusual in your collection! πŸ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

  21. KerryCan says:

    I need to visit Lowell. I didn’t get there soon enough to visit the American Textile History Museum before it closed but you remind me there are still reasons to visit, even if just to see that gorgeous door in person!

    Liked by 1 person

  22. Karen says:

    For all the years we lived in New Hampshire, I never went to the museum in Lowell and I wanted to. Thanks for sharing your day there.

    Liked by 2 people

  23. prior.. says:

    such a cool post – learned a bit and I bet those two little spools you bought will be fun to have – and whata cool thing to have a collection of…. πŸ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

  24. Years ago we visited the park in Lowell. It left me feeling a little sad. Those mills were not a pleasant place to work but they were a livelihood for so many people. I’m glad the park helps us to remember them.

    Liked by 1 person

  25. Laurie Graves says:

    That’s quite the story about the clocks. My family, on both sides, worked in the Mills. The story of New England.

    Liked by 1 person

  26. Tina Schell says:

    Have been to Lowell a thousand times but never visited. Adding it to my list! Loved the doors Judy

    Liked by 1 person

  27. Brenda says:

    I must put this museum on my list. I was disheartened when they closed the American Textile History Museum in Lowell, so it’s nice to know that this museum is part of the National Park Service and (these days who knows?) should be there for a long time. As you indicated, we take our inexpensive clothes for granted, little realizing what goes into making them. My little foray into backyard flax production was the eye opener for me, but–having grown up around New England mill towns all my life–I would love to see what actually went on inside. There is a good book by Jane Brox called, “Five Thousand Days Like This One,” which is a sort of memoir of her immigrant family’s history as farmers in the Lowell/Lawrence area. It has some interesting tidbits about working in the mills.

    Liked by 1 person

  28. dennyho says:

    Your quote says it all. Visiting these once ‘full of life and spirit’ places lends a sense of heritage and pride and makes me want to learn more. You obviously have a personal connection with those who came before you and worked in spaces like these. Nice post and doors!

    Liked by 1 person

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