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The Cotton Mills of Moodus

How Moodus Became the "Twine Capital of America"

By BRUCE R. SIEVERS

Printer-Friendly Version

The Triton at Johnsonville, which was destroyed by fire in 1924. That was the fate of many of the 12 cotton mills that once made Moodus a prosperous little Connecticut town.

There is a village in the town of East Haddam, Connecticut, called Moodus, where for a century and a half the people manufactured cotton twine. Only a few of the twelve cotton mills that were built along the banks of the narrow Moodus River during the first half of the last century remain. Nine are gone now, victims of fire and abandonment. Of the surviving three, two are owned by the Brownell Company, the sole remaining mill in town, and the third has been vacant for at least twenty years, its last inglorious use being as a chicken coop.

Newcomers to the village today would not realize the enormous changes which have reshaped the physical character and collective identity of Moodus during the last 50 years. The town does not look the same: the bells in the mill towers no longer summon their neighbors to work, the mill ponds no longer attract young swimmers or skaters, the bales of raw cotton no longer serve to connect New England millhands with the agricultural fields of the South or the great maritime fleets of Massachusetts or the Great Lakes. However, there are people still living in town who remember the mills, and who understand their significance to the history of Moodus.

The mills are not the only buildings absent from this village landscape, the very town itself was razed by the bulldozers of urban redevelopment during the late 1960's and early 1970's and a new "shoppping center" built a quarter mile up the street. Redevelopment only served, however, to destroy one of the last tangible links the townspeople had with their mill past, for in the process of destroying the stores the wrecker's ball also demolished a 120 year old mill built of solid granite, and several nineteenth century houses which had been the homes of Moodus mill owners. The natural course of the Moodus River, the motive force which powered the cotton mills, was altered so as to conform to new road patterns, and the old mill dams, built by hand of stone and timber, were carelessly broken by the machines of the construction company which then filled in the ponds with dirt.

The Moodus of the 1980's is a growing, changing community. New families are moving into the town. But to some it is a slow and sad transition as the sons and daughters and grandsons and granddaughters of the immigrants who came to work in the mills pass on, that community which knew the hustle and bustle of the Moodus mills is replaced by out-of-towners who have limited knowledge of the town's past and accept the town for the bedroom community it is today.

What follows is the story of the men and women of Moodus who built the mills, invented the machines, emigrated to America to work in the mills, and prospered together as they built a community upon the promise of this land.

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A Moodus Mill Tour

Red-Mill-Dam.jpg (39025 bytes)
Red Mill Dam
Water power for the mills.

Granite-mill.jpg (24804 bytes)
A Tour of the MIlls
Once 12 mills, now only one. 


Co-Fish
The fisherman's helper.

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Neptune Twine
1898 Check
Paying for power.


A Mill Sales Tool

The world's best twine.

 

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