At the first annual meeting of the Poconnuck Historical
Society, held on the first Tuesday in January, 1912, the
question of how best to increase the membership of the Society
came up, and after some discussion it was decided that one
way, and possibly the best way, would be to have papers
written upon different subjects of historical interest,
which might be read at future meetings of the society, to
which the public should be invited.
Subjects were chosen, and it fell to the writer of this
paper to write upon the subject of Manufacturing in Sharon.
As there is no manufacturing done in Sharon at the present
time, this seemed an easy matter to perform, but a little
investigation showed that once upon a time Sharon abounded
in factories of more or less importance, and if only a little
could be told about each one of these, the sum total would
make quite an interesting paper.
I began by writing letters to people, who, by a life-long
residence in the town, should know more about what had been
done in it than I, a comparatively new comer. I explained
the situation, and asked them to help me. The following
persons very courteously responded. Giles Skiff, of Ellsworth,
John Knibloe, of Amenia Union, John Cottrell, of Bridgeport,
Chauncey Rowley, of Northampton, Mass., Samuel Roberts,
of Dobbs Ferry, N.Y. and Abel R. Woodward of Winsted, Conn.
These not only wrote as much as they could from their own
personal knowledge, but they wrote of many things that had
been told them by people who were old, when the writers
themselves were young. From these letters, together with
what I could gather from such books as were at my command,
I have constructed the following pages, binding together
in my own way the fragments so obtained, and claiming nothing
as my own, "but the string that binds them". The knowledge
I have gained, and the pleasure it has given me to piece
together these fragments of fact and tradition, has richly
repaid me for the time and trouble it has taken; and if
my paper shall please those who listen to it, I shall ever
be a debtor to those who suggested my writing it.
There is no manufacturing done in Sharon today;
though within the memory of people yet living, there were
several factories of considerable importance in the town.
A generation earlier there were many others,
but events which could not be controlled, have wiped them
out so completely, that only history and tradition remain
to tell us they ever existed.
In the earlier days, everything necessary for
the wants of the people was made in the town. Little manufacturing
plants were scattered over the hills and in the valleys in
nearly every part of the township. None of them were very
large, and many of them were very small, but they supplied
the wants of the people more completely, perhaps, than do
the luxuries and conveniences that are now brought us from
the outside, and which we have come to look upon as necessities.
If anything is made in the town today, it is only the putting
together of so many ready made parts, not one of which was
made in Sharon. If, perchance, an article of genuine Sharon
manufacture is found, it is immediately pounced upon by the
Poconnuck Historical Society, and placed upon exhibition as
The first manufacturing done in Sharon, so far
as I have been able to learn, was the making of wrought iron,
at the place we best know as Benedict's Mill, at the outlet
of Mudge Pond, then called Skinner Pond. Here, one Joseph
Skinner, established himself about the time the settlement
of the town began. In 1743, he sold his Forge, tools and stock
of iron ore, to Jonathan and Samuel Dunham, of Sharon, Thomas
North, of Wethersfield and Jonathan Fairbanks, of Middleton.
It is supposed they continued the business, perhaps on a larger
scale, but little mention is made of it in the history of
The iron was made direct from the ore, there
being no pig iron made in the town, if indeed any was made
in the state at that time. This method of making iron is of
very ancient origin, being traced back to the time of Tubal
Cain, in the seventh generation from Adam. Improved appliances
for producing the same result have been added from time to
time, but the process is substantially the same as when Tubal
Cain dug a hole in the ground, filled it with alternate layers
of charcoal and iron ore, and roasted them together until
the particles of ore adhered to each other and became a bloom.
"Blume", as the Germans have it, the metallic product being
thus designated as the flower of the ore. Hence the name,
"Bloomaries", as these furnaces are generally called. Later
improvements have greatly increased the quantity of iron produced
in a given time, and for a given cost, but the quality of
iron made by this primitive method, has never been improved
Steel is made in much the same way, the main
difference being that a portion of the carbon, present in
all raw iron, is left, instead of being burned out as in the
making of wrought iron. It also requires more hammering to
give it the proper density, than iron does. I find no mention
of steel making in Sharon, though doubtless enough was made
for the needs of the community. The refuse products of the
Joseph Skinner Forge are frequently found in digging about
the mill which stands upon, or very near the site the forge
Another forge was on a stream running out from
a pond on the farm now occupied by George Hamlin. I have not
been able to find out who owned or operated it, but several
old residents agree in saying there was a forge there.
Another was on the stream running through "Hutchinson's
Hollow", and not far from the residence of Watson Hall. Sedgwick's
history of Sharon says Nathan Beard carried it on for many
years. Hiram Weed, Capt. Weed as we best knew him, is said
to have been the last one to make iron there. So far as I
can learn these were the only places where wrought iron was
made in the town of Sharon.
The Blast Furnace in Sharon Valley, is supposed
to have been the first of the kind in Sharon. Samuel Roberts,
now of Dobbs Ferry, N.Y., says his grandfather, Lyman Bradley,
owned and ran it in 1825, and he thinks he was the builder
of it. It has had several owners since, the last being "The
Sharon Valley Iron Company". Its ruins are still standing
to remind us of the time when Sharon Valley was the most industrious
portion of the town. It was a "Cold Blast Furnace", the Hot
Blast being comparatively a recent invention, of which I may
speak a little later. Iron making has always interested me,
and I may be excused if I venture to tell what observation
and reading has taught me about it.
Sharon Valley Limekiln
The Stack, a huge body of stone work, bound
together in the strongest manner, with iron bolts and bars,
reached from the lowest foundation to the level of the "Top
House" floor. Inside of this was a large egg shaped cavity,
the upper end being about three feet across. Like an egg,
its walls expanded until at a point about two thirds the way
down they were again contracted, until the top of the hearth
was reached. The whole was carefully lined with fire brick.
The slant or slope coming down to and connecting with the
hearth was called the 'Bosh', and the slant of the bosh had
much to do with the working of the furnace, some kinds of
ore melting easier and faster than others, and consequently
requiring a different slant of bosh to make them feed down
properly. As many kinds of ore were used, the skill of the
founder was taxed to keep the furnace working satisfactorily.
The mysteries that attend the manufacture of pig iron have
never all been explained, but many of them have been traced
to the improper slope of the bosh, for the kind of ore then
If a certain grade of iron was ordered, the
founder regulated his charges of ore, charcoal and lime stone,
accordingly, but he was never sure the grade he was striving
to make would appear when the casting was made.
The Hearth, the place where the melted iron
collected at the bottom of all; started from a fire stone
foundation of a foot or more in thickness, large enough to
receive the entire body of the hearth and to project some
distance in front of it. The hearth was circular in shape
and perhaps a yard in diameter. An opening was left in front
which was finally bridged over by a large stone which the
furnacemen called the Tymp. In front of the tymp, and at a
short distance from it another stone was placed, its top about
even with the bottom of the tymp stone. This was the dam stone,
so called because it held back the molten metal and the slag,
or cinder which floated on it, until the hearth was full,
when the latter ran over the top and out upon the casting
house floor. This was an indication that casting time was
near at hand.
Before casting, the pig bed must be made up.
This was done by laying upon the casting room floor, patterns
representing the sow and pigs. The sow pattern was laid straight
out from the dam stone, with the pig patterns lying endwise
against its side. Around these patterns, sand was closely
packed, and struck off even with their tops. Against the side
of several of the pig patterns were laid blocks of iron called
chills. Then the patterns were removed leaving their exact
imprint in the sand in which they had been imbedded. A hole
in the bottom of the dam stone, which had been stopped with
clay, was now opened, and the iron flowed out filling the
channels; and the casting was over.
Sharon Valley Limekiln Interior
As soon as the iron had cooled enough to keep
its shape, the sow was broken into pieces convenient for handling,
and the pigs were broken loose from the sow. When cool enough
to remove, the iron was taken out, and the chilled pigs broken
through. It was then, and not before, that the grade of iron
just made was known. If the chilled pig was white, the iron
was marked number six. If white, with mottles of gray showing
in it, it was marked number five. If gray, but with white
mottles, it was marked number four and a half. If entirely
gray, but with a very fine close grain, it was number four.
The lower numbers were judged by the fineness
or coarseness of the grain, number one being the coarsest
and softest iron made. Number six iron was not a profitable
grade to make, and it was often taken to the top house and
thrown in the furnace to be remelted, when it was changed
into any grade the furnace was at that time making. The working
of the furnace had all to do with the character of the iron
made, as all the different grades known to the trade are made
from the same kinds of ore.
Blast furnaces are usually built upon the slope
of a hill, so teams bringing in the stock can be driven directly
on the top house floor, unloading the ore from the different
mines into separate piles to be mixed according to the founder's
directions. The founder, had the direction and control of
everything about the furnace. He was on duty at all times,
and slept within easy call. His directions were final, and
must be obeyed. Any one in his employ who disobeyed or disregarded
his orders, did not as a rule stay long. The ore was carefully
weighed, so much of this kind and so much of that. The charcoal,
which was kept under sheds at a convenient distance, was measured
into carts holding about thirty bushels each, each cartload
constituting one charge. When one charge had settled far enough
to receive another it was put in, and so the work went on,
night and day, week days and Sundays, for perhaps a year or
more, or until some part of the works burned out or gave out
and made a stop unavoidable. The Blast, which is forced into
the hearth, came from the power house where powerful air pumps
forced it into the wind chest, from which it was carried in
pipes direct into the furnace. The wind chest, was a large
upright cylinder, with a piston working up and down in it
according to the pressure from the pumps, the pressure of
the wind going into the furnace being regulated by weighting
down the head of the piston in the wind chest.
So far this description refers to making cold
blast iron, and the only difference between that and the hot
blast method that I am able to state, is, that in the hot
blast method the blast is heated before passing into the furnace.
This is done by forcing the flaming gases through an oven
before passing up and out of the chimney top. Through this
oven the air pipes were led, and the air in them heated to
such a degree that it was almost at the melting point of iron
when it entered the hearth. Very little cold blast iron is
made now, on account of the greater expense, though for some
purposes it is much more desirable. Except for the expense
of building the hot blast oven, and the high grade iron pipes
which are needed to carry the air through it, I know of no
difference in the cost of making iron by the two methods named.
But the hot blast doubles the output and possibly trebles
it, and consequently very little cold blast iron is now made.
The only other blast furnace in town, was the
Capt. Weed furnace at Calkinstown. I think it was only operated
for a short time. It was of the cold blast kind and stood
about where Mr. Tiedeman's stable now stands. It used the
water from Beardsley Pond, and from the little stream crossing
the road near Henry Smith's Blacksmith's shop. Beardsley Pond
was made double its present capacity by a dam at its outlet,
the remains of which still show. Mr. Weed collected the water
in a pond on the east side of the road leading north from
the Sharon Hospital, and passed it under a bridge across the
road onto a wheel on the opposite side. As the supply was
not very abundant it was made to pass over another wheel farther
down the stream, thus making it do double duty, blowing from
each way into a wind chest at the furnace, and from it, into
Mr. Weed did not believe it right to make iron,
or to do any other work on Sunday, so he banked his fires
late on Saturday night and started them up as soon as Monday
appeared. In the mean time the furnace became chilled, the
stock hung up, and it was often the middle of the week before
he could get going again. I do not know whether he gave up
the making of iron rather than break the Sabbath in doing
it, but he did not continue long in the business. The old
furnace was standing fifty years ago, but it was dismantled
some time before that.
Cupola furnaces, or Gray Iron Foundries seem
to come next in order. These did not manufacture iron, but
they melted it and made it over into various useful and ornamental
articles. There is a certainty of results in the manufacturing
of the many things made of iron, quite different from the
uncertainty that attends the making of pig iron. The iron
melted in a cupola is certain to be a grade higher every time
it is melted. By the proper admixture of lower grade iron,
the grade being sought for is easily maintained.
One of these foundries was a little above Capt.
Weed's blast furnace and close to the road running north from
the Sharon Hospital. As far back as I have been able to trace
it, it was run by Capt. Weed and his brother-in-law, Henry
M. Gillette. Their main out-put was stoves, though they may
have, and probably did make anything in their line that was
called for. A cook-stove, called the "Burnham stove," was
made by them, and fifty years ago there were many of them
in use in Sharon. The first cook-stove the writer ever owned
was a Burnham, and a very good stove it was. It did not have
as many nickel disfigurements as the stoves of now-a-days
but it worked just as well.
The next to operate this foundry was Mr. James
J. Doyle, from New Jersey. He made plow castings, cultivator
teeth, sleigh shoes and a great variety of other things as
called for, as well as filling orders from his former customers
in New Jersey. Mr. Doyle continued there until the Malleable
Iron works in the Valley burned, when he purchased the ruins
of that concern and removed to Sharon Valley. He rebuilt,
and was almost ready to start business there, when he was
stricken with an illness from which he never recovered.
The shop at Calkinstown was torn down and little
if anything remains to tell of the former activity of that
place. The bottom of the pond is now a meadow, and the site
of the foundry a garden spot.
Another foundry on that same stream, stood on
the site now occupied by Mrs. Doty's barn. It was run by a
man named Allen, and made the usual variety of small castings
called for. One authority says he made clock weights, and
another that he made what used to be called chairs; the irons
used to connect the ends of railroad rails, and to keep them
in line, before the Fish Plate came into use. The building
was standing less than fifty years ago.
Another Foundry was near "upper" Benedict's
Mill. The mill is in Salisbury, but as the dot on the map
indicating where the foundry stood is on the Sharon side of
the line, I claim it as a Sharon Manufactory. This foundry
was equipped for heavier work than the common run of foundries
made, but what it was or for whom it was made, I have not
found out. In common with every gray iron foundry in this
section, it was at the time the war broke out, busy making
shot and shell for the Hotchkiss people. Another Foundry was
at Amenia Union, where the Cigar Factory of John Barnum used
to stand, and I think gave way to that industry. Another foundry
was on the same stream, but farther down, and is still standing.
It was owned and operated by Mr. Buckley, who made the "Buckley
Plow," and the buckets that are found in most every dairyman's
cow stable today. I think Mr. Buckley was the inventor of
The Jewett Manufacturing Company, in Sharon
Valley, at the breaking out of the war put in a gray iron
cupola and made shot and shell for the Hotchkiss Company.
Before this and until the destruction of the whole plant by
fire, they made Malleable Iron; their output being mostly,
if not entirely used by the Hotchkiss Company. For this a
high grade of iron was used. The work before annealing was
as white as number six iron, and as brittle as glass. Being
of all sorts of intricate patterns it had to be handled with
the greatest care to prevent its breaking. After an acid bath,
to remove the scale, it was taken to the Annealing Shop and
packed in iron pots. In order to insure its keeping its shape
while in the annealing oven, the spaces around each separate
piece were filled with fine iron scale which, by repeated
jarring as the pots were being filled held each piece as firmly
as if in a vise. When the pots were filled they were rolled
into an oven, and the door was sealed with clay, so no air
from the outside could enter. The first were started and urged
on as fast as possible night and day until the whole inside
of the oven was at a white heat. A peep hole in the door could
be opened, and by this means the conditions inside were carefully
watched. When the annealer considered the heat about right,
it was kept there for four or five days, after which the fires
were allowed to go out and the oven to gradually cool.
When the pots began to resume their natural
color, the door was opened and the cooling off was encouraged
as much as possible. Then the pots were hauled out and the
contents dumped on the floor, when it was found that the iron
was no longer brittle, but had become like the softest of
wrought iron. The work was Garden Rakes, Currycomb backs,
Ox Shoes, Ox Bow Pins, Shaft Coupling, Buckles and such other
malleable iron work as was called for by their customers.
This I think completes the history of iron manufacturing in
the town of Sharon, though it is possible there were others
of which I have not been told. For an inland town, far away
from large cities or other markets, with only small streams
of water to furnish power, I think it is quite a respectable
showing, and one that will compare favorably with any other
like situated town in the state. Following the manufacturing
of iron, and iron implements I suppose Blacksmithing would
come next, and of these establishments there were many in
Blacksmithing and Wagon Making are so closely
associated that both may be mentioned in one connection. I
am not sure how many there were of either in the town, but
can say there were three in Sharon Valley, two in Sharon Street,
one in Calkinstown, one near the Levi Whitford place, one
or more at Amenia Union and one or two in Ellsworth. They
all did general jobbing. Blacksmiths then made their own horse
shoes, as well as the nails to fasten them on with. They also
shod oxen, for oxen did the greater part of farm work, as
well as some of the road work in the early days. They also
made nails of all kinds for use in building, and some of them
did nothing but make nails. One of the nail-making shops was
in the Stoney Brook region, in Ellsworth. Mr. Israel Camp,
who built and owned the house where Mrs. Whitney now lives,
told me he made the nails used in its construction, but whether
on the premises or not I do not now remember. Now and then
in tearing down old buildings some of these hand made nails
are found and are looked upon as curiosities. They were wedge
shaped, and for safety in using them, holes were bored in
the wood with a gimlet before driving home the nails. Care
and experience were both necessary, because if the holes were
bored too deep the nail would not hold well, and if not deep
enough, a split in the wood was apt to be the result. Sharon
was full of craftsmen of all trades in the olden times, and
long before I ever saw the place I knew of it from the building
done by its mechanics in places far away from it. It could
be said then with more truth than now, that this or that was
made in Sharon. A wagon maker would select with the greatest
care, a white-oak, or a hickory tree, and after carefully
falling it so as to prevent its splintering, would saw the
log into spoke length pieces. These he would set on end, mark
them off, and with an instrument made for that purpose, split
them into the proper size for spokes, for the wagon he was
intending to build. When these were well seasoned, which might
take a year or more, he would by hewing, and shaving, and
rasping, convert them into wagon spokes that would stand the
wear and tear of a generation of use. The hubs he would turn
in a lathe of his own manufacture, and then mortise them by
hand. The rims, or felloes he would saw with a whipsaw, sometimes
run by water power, but oftener by hand.
When the wagon maker's work was done, it was
turned over to the blacksmith for ironing, and when this was
done it was taken to the paint shop for a final finish. All
this was done in Sharon, and when the completed wagon or carriage
was taken out, it could of a truth be called a product of
Sharon Manufacture. Not so now. The parts are all made in
factories outside of Sharon, and by machines that know no
difference between straight or cross-grained timber, or whether
the wood passing through them is fit or unfit for the purpose
it is intended for.
Under the head of Iron Manufacturing I suppose
I should include The Hotchkiss Company, for although their
output was partly of wood, yet it was largely of iron and
steel. Their main factory was in the rear of the Hotchkiss
house, in a stone building which I think is still standing.
Andrew, a crippled son of Mr. Hotchkiss was the inventive
genius of the family, and it is said the success of the firm,
"Hotchkiss & Sons" was mainly due to the manufacture and sale
of articles invented by him. As he could not walk, he went
to and from the shop in a hand-car of his own construction
and for which he furnished the motive power. He also had a
large dog which he had broken to drive, and with which he
used to travel about. Mr. St. John told me of going to Amenia
to a circus, with Andrew Hotchkiss and Aaron R. Smith. They
each had a large dog they had broken to harness, and in their
dog carts they went to the circus, as well as on other expeditions.
They would unharness the dogs, throw the harness in the carts,
tell the dogs to take care of them, being sure nothing would
disturb their rigs while they were away. Before the war the
Hotchkiss Co., employed from fifty to one hundred hands, about
half of which were women and girls. Before they moved to Bridgeport
this number was greatly increased. They made curry-combs of
tin, brass and iron. They also made Ox bow pins, harness buckles
and snaps, mowing machine fingers, monkey wrenches, wagon
shaft couplings, garden rakes and other things too numerous
to mention. The invention of the Hotchkiss Shell, coming as
it did just in time for the Civil War, was the cause of their
removal to Bridgeport, where they could keep the supply nearer
up to the demand. Every gray iron foundry for miles around
made shells for them, and Smith's Machine shop, which was
a part of the Jewett Manufacturing Company's plant was kept
busy doing the turning and finishing.
The Hotchkiss Shell, though of different sizes,
were all of one shape and appearance; oblong, with one conical
end, the other being shouldered so as to receive a loose fitting
cap of the same diameter as the shell. This cap was set so
as to allow of some longitudinal motion, and fastened with
a band of lead which held the two parts firmly in position.
When the shell was fired from the gun, the sudden explosion
of the charge forced the cap forward, expanding the leaden
band so it filled the grooves in the cannon, and gave to the
shell the whirling motion of a rifle ball. The conical part
of the shell was hollow, and held the powder charge that was
expected to burst the shell and send the fragments flying.
The pointed end was bored through into the powder chamber
and in the hole so bored was an iron tube arranged to slide
freely in it. This tube was filled with fulminating powder,
and provided at its forward end with a percussion cap. A plug
was screwed in to keep the tube in place, and the shell was
ready for loading. When the gun was fired the shell passed
on until it met with something to check its flight, when the
tube slid forward against the screw, exploding the cap and
likewise the powder, and the shattered shell went flying about
in search of victims. If however the shell did not strike
head on, it was not apt to explode, as the tube in that case
would not slide forward with force enough to explode the cap.
In order to test the shells and to correct any errors in their
manufacture, guns of different caliber were procured and tests
were made by firing across the valley, sometimes from the
hill where Dr. Kerley's house stands, into the side of Ray
Mountain beyond the Valley. Mr. C.M. Rowley writes of an attempt
that was made to make cannon at the blast furnace, direct
from the ore. The molds were set on end and the iron dipped
from the hearth with hand ladles and poured into them. The
attempt however did not prove successful and was given up.
The Hotchkiss shells went as far south as Port
Hudson, La., and I well remember looking at the markings on
the boxes, "A.A. Hotchkiss and Sons, Sharon Valley, Conn.",
and wondering if any of those identical shells I had helped
to make, while working in the Long Pond Foundry before I enlisted.
Another important industry in Sharon Valley
was the Mouse-Trap Shop at the "Jewett Manufacturing Company's"
plant. Bass-Wood lumber in car-load lots was bought and stacked
in the yard for seasoning. The traps were of six sizes, and
were called one, two, three, four, five and six hole traps.
The one hole traps were triangular in shape. The two and three
hole were oblong, the four hole was a perfect square, and
the five and six hole were round. They were cut and stained,
after which the holes were bored. Augurs and bits of different
sizes were belted together so that the pulling of a single
lever completed the boring of many holes at the same time.
The wires were bent into the many shapes required, by machines
that were almost human in their operation. I have been told
these were the invention of Judson Bostwick, father of our
neighbor, A.J. Bostwick. The shaping of the traps from the
rough lumber gave employment to many hands, many of them boys
and some of them girls, for the work required nimble fingers
rather than bodily strength. It also made quantities of chips
which were carted away to be used for bedding for horses and
cattle. It was a common sight to see people carrying away
great sacks full of traps and wires to be put together at
their homes during the long winter evenings. It was a source
of income to many that was greatly missed after the burning
of the mouse trap shop.
Sawmills were plentiful all over the town of
Sharon. In the early days little if any lumber was brought
in from the outside, there being an abundant supply for the
town's requirements growing within its limits. This the sawmills
cut into various shapes and sizes needed by the inhabitants.
If a new building was to be erected, a list of boards and
small timbers was given the sawyer and the logs from which
to make them were unloaded at his place of business. The larger
timbers were hewed from the logs, either at a place convenient
to the site, or, as was often the case, in the woods where
the trees grew. Half inch boards were used for lath, the boards
first being checked with an axe and by driving wedges in the
splits so made, as the board was being nailed in place, a
very good substitute for laths was made, though the plasterers
of today find it difficult to make mortar stick to them. Nearly
every grist mill had a sawmill in connection with it, and
there were many others.
In fact in every place where water could be
used for power there was a sawmill. It is said there were
five sawmills on the stream called Guinea Brook, in Ellsworth.
At the present time there are certainly four, and perhaps
more doing business in the town. There were mills of other
kinds in Sharon. A Fulling Mill stood on the opposite side
of the road from Benedict's mill. The water wheel and some
of the timbers were there fifty years ago, but they have since
been removed, and there is no sign of their ever having been
there. At Fulling Mills, the greasy matter was removed from
woolen goods, and a more compact texture given them by causing
the fibers to entangle themselves more closely together. Fuller's
earth, a sort of clay, was used, the cloth being pounded in
a trough with water running through it. The clay absorbed
the oil and both were washed out by the water.
Quite a variety of manufacturing was done in
the southwestern part of the town, "Hitchcock's Corner" as
it was then; "Amenia Union" as it is now. One after another
they have passed away, and only tradition is left to tell
us about them. The one that outlived all the others was a
Satinet factory which at the time of the Civil War was used
by an army contractor for making socks for the soldiers. Soon
after the war it was destroyed by fire and has never been
rebuilt. One was a Carding mill, where wool was made into
rolls ready for spinning into yarn. One was a Cooper shop,
where barrels were made or repaired for use, far away or near.
Among others was a Broom factory, a Hat shop where one could
leave the measure of his head and have a hat made to fit it.
A Tailor shop, a Tannery, two Shoe shops, a Wagonmaker's shop,
one or more Blacksmith shops, two Foundries, a Gristmill,
a Sawmill, a Shingle mill, a Cider mill, a Tobacco and Cigar
factory and three stores all doing a thriving business for
cash or barter, as the case might be. Then just over the line
on the York state side was James Ryan's Cabinet Maker's shop,
where furniture of any kind or quality was made to order,
as well as coffins of any wood desired, and of the most elaborate
workmanship. The place was practically independent of the
outside world. Anything in the line of victuals or drink,
or clothes to wear, could be made to order or bought at stores
right at home.
There was a Satinet mill on the Beebe Brook,
the stream that runs north from the West Woods and connects
with the Amenia Union stream on the farm of the late George
Woodward. The building was moved, and is now a barn on that
place, standing opposite the Deming Mill. Possibly there were
others, but if so I have not been able to locate them. Mr.
Giles Skiff says cloth was made at some place in Ellsworth,
but cannot recall that he ever knew just where. There were
Flax mills in Sharon, but I have only located three of them.
One was the Toll gate house, between Sharon and Ellsworth,
another near where Don Pedro Griswold now lives, and the other
opposite the water trough on the Cornwall Bridge Road, below
There were also Tanneries, or vats where leather
was tanned. One was at Amenia Union. Dea. Charles Sears had
one below the Sharon Inn, opposite Nathan Pitcher's home,
and another was near where the road to Lime Rock turns off
from the West Cornwall road. The last one gave the name, "Tan
Vat," to the hill commonly called Tan Fat hill. Deacon Sears
dressed the leather from his own vats, and possibly from the
others, in the building now the home of L. Van Alstyne. On
the map of Sharon, this house is shown and labeled, "C. Sears,
Harness & Trunk Manufactory." In the north end of the building
a firm, Winchester & Beeman, made trunks, and in the south
end King & Beard made Saddles and Harness. The Basement was
used for dressing the leather, and some of the implements
used in doing it are still in evidence.
Sedgwick says Francis Griswold, an early settler,
was a tanner and currier by trade. His tannery was near his
house, which stood on the corner a little north of Solomon
Bierce's where the cider mill stood.
"Sedgwick" further says that William Avery was
"a hatter by trade and lived in Ellsworth on the Perkins Place."
I suppose he followed his trade of hat-making while living
in Ellsworth, but I find no other record of it.
Hats were made in the house now owned and occupied
by Miss Ruth Prindle, and also in a shop near Charles B. Everett's.
It is said the shop is now a part of Mr. Everett's house.
Mr. G.L. Smith says that clocks were also made
in the Prindle house by a Mr. Burnham, Abner, he thinks. These
clocks had a reputation as time keepers that long outlived
their manufacture, and he remembers hearing it said, that
if the name, "Abner Burnham," was found in a clock, it added
to its selling value at once.
Bricks were made in several places in Sharon.
One of these was in the field across the road from the Dwight
St. John house, now Mr. Kelchner's. Apollos Smith built the
house from bricks made in that yard. Of him, Sedgwick says
he was a nephew of Dr. Smith, with whom he resided, and by
whom he was assisted in establishing an extensive pottery
before the Revolutionary War, which proved a profitable business.
Another brick-yard was in Sharon Valley, where Timothy Fallon
lives. It was owned and conducted by a Mr. Van Dusen.
Another was in Ellsworth, a little north of
the school house in the lower district. Still another, and
the latest of all was the one near Mitcheltown, owned and
operated by A.C. Woodward and Charles Handlin in partnership.
After a few years Mr. Woodward bought out his partner and
continued the business alone. A better opportunity offering,
he removed to East Canaan where he continued in the same line
of business until his death. Doubtless the brick buildings
in and about the village were made from bricks made at these
The "Old Brick Factory," now owned by A.J. Bostwick
was built about the time of the war of 1812. It was used for
weaving ducking for ship sails. When the war ended, the demand
fell off and the business was given up. The building has ever
since been known as the old brick factory, and has been put
to many different uses.
Cider mills were plentiful in all parts of the
town where apples grew. The primitive cider mill was a large
wheel which was made to revolve in a circular shaped trough
by horse power. The apples were thrown in the trough and crushed
by the wheel as it went round and round. The pumice was laid
up in a cheese held together by straw, and the cider squeezed
out in much the same way as it is done in these days. Has
any one ever forgotten the delights of sucking cider through
All our old houses are of Sharon manufacture.
The wood used in their construction grew in Sharon and the
nails that hold them together were hammered out in Sharon
perhaps from iron made in Sharon. The completed house was
the work of Sharon mechanics, even to the porches and mantels
and door and window frames, that are so much admired, and
are sometimes copied.
On the Cornwall Bridge road, where William Connor
lives, one Milo Skiff did a thriving business making shingles.
He was musically inclined, and made violins, dulcimers and
organs, and perhaps other musical instruments.
I don't know as flour and feed mills can properly
be called manufacturing establishments, but I will venture
to tell about them for they were as necessary as any of the
others. There are several feed mills in the town, but I know
of only one flour mill, the one owned by Mrs. Deming. That
one was built for a bolt shop by Samuel Deming, but he dying
soon after, it was converted into a mill for custom grinding.
They did not grind for money, as is the custom now, but took
toll, a tenth part of every grist that came. There were many
mills once busy in the town, that are gone and have left no
sign of their ever having existed. But there were two at least
that merit some mention. One was the mill built by Joel Harvey,
and which probably stood where the Sharon Valley Blast Furnace
was afterwards built. Under date of April 24, 1800, the Rev.
Cotton Mather Smith made reply to some questions by Rev. Dr.
Trumbull, the historian of Connecticut, and among other things
he mentioned the Joel Harvey mill. Of this he said, "About
thirty years past, there was a water mill erected by Mr. Joel
Harvey for thrashing and cleaning wheat. One man could thrash
and clean about forty bushels a day. This mill and the barn
adjoining, were consumed by fire, and never as yet repaired;
but the proprietor has of late determined to rebuild them."
In the general history of Connecticut, by the
Rev. Samuel Peters, LL.D., printed in London in 1781; in the
author's only mention of Sharon, he speaks of this mill as
follows. "Sharon forms three parishes, one of which is Episcopal.
It is much noted on account of a famous mill invented and
built by a Mr. Joel Harvey upon his own estate; for which
he received a compliment of twenty pounds from the Society
of Arts in London. The water, by turning one wheel, sets the
whole in motion. In two apartments wheat is ground; in two
others, bolted; in another, threshed; in the sixth, winnowed;
in the seventh, hemp and flax are beaten; in the eighth, dressed.
Either branch is discontinued at pleasure, without, impeding
the rest." Sedgwick's history of Sharon says "Joel Harvey
came from New Milford in 1742, and settled in the Valley.
He built a grist mill, which stood more than sixty years.
He also built the stone house in the Valley, in 1747." This
house is well remembered by many, and was torn down some forty
Another grist mill that has left its mark on
the pages of history, is the one that stood beside the Cornwall
Bridge road, near where Ellsworth "East Street" joins it.
A little way below the junction of these two roads, on the
right hand side, as one goes to Cornwall Bridge, may be seen
the foundation stones of this historic mill. It is not known
when it was built, or by whom. Theophilus Smith, and Mica(h)
Mudge, are both mentioned as part owners of it. Later it became
a part of the estate of Obadiah Bierce, grandfather of Mrs.
Ryan, our Librarian. In a little book entitled "Mandy's Quilting
Party", under the heading, "Going to Mill in 1777", is a chapter
so full of interest concerning this mill, that I quote it
"Going to Mill in 1777"
A century ago, a half dozen such large flour
mills as are now found in Rochester or many other cities,
could have ground wheat enough to have furnished flour for
the existing population of the thirteen states. Then, the
mills were small structures whose simple machinery was moved
by the waters of a mountain stream, or, in dry regions by
the wind. Each farmer raised in his own fields enough of each
sort of grain to supply his own wants, and some too for market
and for the use of the Continental Army.
Of course, it is the aim of all nations at war
with each other to cripple the resources of their enemies
as much as possible; and in no way can this be more effectually
done than by capturing or destroying the provisions, without
which the armies must starve.
It is not considered honorable to burn or carry
off the crops and stores of the peaceful farmers, or of any
not actually in arms, except in case of "strong military necessity".
Probably the British officers, during the Revolutionary war,
thought this necessity constantly existed; for it was far
too often their custom to send out small parties to destroy
the country mills, or burn whatever stores of grain or flour
they could not carry off for their own use.
Dutchess County, New York, which was then one
of the largest wheat growing regions in the country, was mostly
within the patriot lines, yet greatly exposed to the ravages
of the "Cow Boys". These were a sort of organized banditti,
who, under pretense of loyalty to the crown, robbed as many
as they could, and even murdered those who resisted.
The patriots of Westchester and Putnam Counties
(the latter was then a part of Dutchess) were the greatest
sufferers from these villains; but they also made frequent
excursions through the central and upper parts of Dutchess
County, too often pillaged by the many Tories who infested
the River Counties, as those bordering on the Hudson were
These marauding bands, far more merciless than
the regular troops commanded by responsible officers, had,
in 1777, succeeded in destroying nearly every gristmill within
forty miles of the Hudson. Even those persons who had been
so fortunate as to harvest their grain early and hide it from
the robber's eye, were often in distress for want of means
to convert their wheat and other grains into flour or meal.
One small mill in the town of Sharon, Connecticut,
about thirty five miles east from Poughkeepsie, was so securely
hidden away among the rocks and trees, that it ground merrily
away during the whole war.
To reach this little mill was neither an easy,
nor, during the war, at all times a safe thing to attempt.
It was the custom for several of the Dutchess County farmers
who could trust each other to agree upon a place for meeting,
and an hour for starting on their long journey to the mill.
The place chosen was some obscure nook a little distance back
from the river. The date was the earliest possible for farmers
(who had then no threshing machines) to get their grain threshed.
The hour was toward midnight of some dark, but not stormy
night, 'for rain would injure the wheat. Sometimes two or
three farmers would club together to fill one wagon or sleigh,
taking turns in furnishing horses or oxen to draw it, or a
man to drive it. At the hour agreed upon the heavily laden
teams started on their way as silently as possible, and drove
on as fast as the weight of the loads, or the condition of
the roads would permit. For the first few miles they kept
as closely together as practicable, ready to support each
other in case of attack; for each driver had with him a loaded
musket for mutual defense. After reaching a distance of twenty
miles from the river, the vigilance was relaxed, and each
driver made the best pace he could towards the mill, where
the rule of "first come, first served," was rigidly kept.
The roads were not then as well made as now,
and it was rarely before late on the next afternoon, that
the foremost of the heavily laden wagons creaked their way
through the broad old street of Sharon village, on their way
to the mill still five miles to the eastward; the last three
miles being over a winding road with many long and steep ascents,
and a few short, sharp descents, trying to both the wearied
men and worn out teams.
It was, and is, a beautiful woodland path.
The heavy growths of pine, hemlocks and oaks, which have escaped
the autumn fires of the Indians, and the later axe of the
settler, yet stood in all their beauty, while the noisy stream
leaped in the depths of the ravine which skirted one side
of the road as joyfully as if conscious of the good work it
had done. It seems even yet to be conscious of this; for though
the old forest has long been gone, and the new one is too
young to remember about it, the stream seems to keep forever
"I saved them from starving. I did it! I did
it! All the good people who came to me from so many miles
away. I ground it! I ground it! All the wheat, all the rye,
and the buckwheat, and the Indian corn. No one else could,
so I did it. I! I!"
I don't know that the teamsters then paid such
attention to the chatter of the stream, or, when resting their
teams on the top of Ellsworth hill, down the side of which
the mill brook dashes on its way to the Housatonic river,
cared to look off over the fair valleys of western Connecticut,
or eastern New York to the soft blue peaks of the far away
Catskills, or to look before them down the steep, tree-covered
hillside to the slender gap in the thick growth of trees,
which was then the only indication that there flowed the swift
Probably our teamsters thought more of finding
the mill in good working order, and not too many customers
there ahead of them. It was customary for those who lived
within eight or ten miles of the mill to give precedence to
the "River men", in consideration of the long way they had
to come and go. But besides the men from "Poughkeepsie way",
these sometimes met here long lines of wagons or sleighs from
Fishkill, or from Red Hook, or from even higher up the Hudson.
So it might be days, and even weeks before the busy little
mill, grinding as fast as it could, was able to start our
Poughkeepsie men on their homeward way.
On the return trip there was no necessity for
the silent midnight gathering; for the mill was too far away
from hostilities to render such precautions necessary. The
time of departure was usually at day-break, that the time
of their arrival at their homes might be in the stillness
and darkness of the next night.
During the war, this mill was two or three times
sought for by parties of armed Tories from the River Counties;
but so wild was the way to it, so hidden the mill among the
rocks and trees, and so faithful those who could have betrayed
it, that it was not discovered, though a band of its enemies
once passed within a half mile of it, and might, perhaps,
have heard its clattering machinery, but for the rushing of
the wind through the pine trees and the dashing of the brook
in the ravine through which it flowed."
At the time the above was written, it was not
known where this old mill stood. An inquiry went out asking
for information of its site, and was answered by Mr. Giles
Skiff, in an article he wrote for the Connecticut Western
some years ago. I quote from it the following.
Much has been said and written about the old
mill, but just where it was, is not as well known. It is the
purpose of this brief sketch to point out the spot on which
it stood. About two miles from Cornwall Bridge, on the main
road, in the ravine where the brook is still hurrying along
its noisy way, there are to be seen the foundation stones
of some building, and of a race dam, and this without doubt
is the very place where the grinding was done during the trying
times of the Revolution.
The Old Mill, which did such good service then,
is now a thing of the past. The heavy growth of pine and hemlock
and oak which helped to conceal it have long since been cut
away, but a younger growth has done much to preserve the charm
of this beautiful woodland road. Should the traveler passing
over this route, pause to ask "what mean these stones," he
might easily imagine the stream, as if conscious of the good
work it had done making answer. It was here I saved them from
starving - I did it, I did it. All the good people who came
to me from so many miles away - I ground it, all the wheat
and the rye, the buckwheat and the Indian corn. No one else
could, so I did it, I did it."
A suggestion for the Poconnuck Historical Society.
It is said that one of the mill-stones used in this historic
mill is still there, probably lying where it fell when the
mill tumbled down. That silent witness should be made to tell
of the good work it did, by being placed beside the road,
with a suitably inscribed tablet upon its face.
Sharon Historical Society, 18 Main Street,
860-364-5688 | email@example.com
Museum Hours: Wednesday & Saturday from 10AM - 2PM
Thursday & Friday from 10AM - 4PM