66 West Street
Portland, Maine 04102
a cultural shift. Early sawmills, gristmills,
forges, and the like were modest in style and
stature; these stone-and-brick mills were
something new, something more important.
They sent a signal that industry deserved the
same respect as civic and ecclesiastical institutions. They said that, once and for all,
Americans would be independent of Europe,
and these temples of manufacturing reflected
that growing pride.
Ironically, the villages that grew up
around the mills, especially those in rural
locations, reflected a kind of manorial paternalism reminiscent of Europe Middle Ages.
They owed their existence to the factory and
the man who owned it — hardly a beacon of
At the same time, they were not the
“dark Satanic Mills” of poet William Blake’s
England. Aware of the stigma that manufacturing had developed for debasing the
working class, owners took care to make conditions appealing, especially as they sought to
attract the daughters of Puritan Yankee farmers, a large pool of labor that came cheaply
(for $2.50 a week, “factory girls” worked six
Waltham, Massachusetts, was the site of
the first major corporate mill operation, the
Boston Manufacturing Company, founded
by Francis Cabot Lowell and his associates.
Built in 1814 on the Charles River, it comprised two huge four-story brick buildings that
turned raw cotton into one finished product
— white sheets.
After Lowell’s death in 1817, his associates
named the new town they built on the banks
of the Merrimack River, near Chelmsford,
Massachusetts, after him. By 1833, Lowell
was home to 10 textile companies employing
6,000 workers. It became the model for cities
like Lawrence and Fall River, Massachusetts;
Willimantic and Hartford, Connecticut;
Manchester and Nashua, New Hampshire,
and Saco and Biddeford, Maine.
The big brick mill buildings of the mid-
1800s — four to six stories, usually with flat
roofs, long rows of windows, and an external
stair tower — were utilitarian boxes built with
one thing in mind: maximum production.
Since fire was an ever-present danger, the
interiors featured “slow-burning construction,”
with beefed-up beams and posts allowing for
wider spacing and less exposed wood; 4-inch-
thick wood floors also slowed the spread of fire.