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Legacy of Progress
Gone Sour

How a Renewal Project Destroyed Moodus Center

Part 1: The Grand Plan

Part 2: Renewal Flops

Part 3: Might Have Beens

Resorts of Moodus

When Moodus Was Connecticut's Playground

Resort List & Pictures

A Day at Banner Lodge

Old Ads & Flyers

1950's Banner Brochure

1950's Hilton's Brochure

Orchard Mansion Lessons

Mills Along the River

How Moodus Became the "Twine Capital of America"

A Maritime Success

Ed Stolarz Made the Best Nets in East Haddam

Burning the Coops

The Simon Farm Disappears

Memories of Meat

Coming of Age at Bury's

The Last Whaler

E. Haddam's Captain Comer

Old Chimney Stacks

The First Families in Town 

East Haddam History

As Told in 1913

Early Views of Town

How It Looked Back Then

Ode to East Haddam

"It's just the place to live""

Chapter 2

Working in the Mills Was a Way of Life
For Newly Settled European Workers
The Mills Provided Work for Irish and Polish Immigrants

The European immigration began in the 1820's coinciding, not incidentally with the beginning of the Industrial Revolution in America. The port of entry for most immigrants was at Castle Garden in New York City.'

From 1820 until 1890 the Irish, German, and those from the United Kingdom were the three leading nationalities to emigrate to America. Those immigrants who arrived in America during the 1840's and 1850's usually did not have any per­sonal or institutional ties to this country. To facilitate the disbursement of immigrant labor to American manufacturers, the Castle Garden Labor Bureau was established during the 1850's. Immigrants recorded their names, nationalities, and occupational skills in a register.

Employers or their agents would recruit immigrant laborers at Castle Garden, trying to match a skilled laborer with the appropriate job opening. Employers from New York and New Jersey received the most immigrant laborers, with Connecticut third and Pennsylvania fourth.

Possibly in this manner the Irish found their way up the Connecticut River Valley to employment in Middletown, and from there to the more rural village of Moodus. Irish immigrants constituted a large share of the mill work force in Moodus from the 1840's until the 1890's. The Polish began to replace the Irish as the main immigrant group during the 1890's and continued to be the dominant group until the 1920's.

In the census of 1850, forty-nine residents of East Haddam stated that they had been born in Ireland. In 1860 there were one hundred forty-three Irish-born residents. The total dropped to one hundred twenty in the 1870 census, and then down to seventy-six in 1880.

Because of the town's rural character and the fact that the mills were smaller than in the cities, Moodus was more attractive to both the Irish and Polish. In many respects Moodus might not have been too unlike their own villages back in Ireland or Poland. Here one could have a garden and tend some backyard livestock, walk down tree-shaded lanes, build rock walls, and fish in the river.

Even during the height of the industrial revolution in town, Moodus remained a small, quiet, close-knit village in the countryside. Since the Irish had begun to arrive in America as early as the 1820's, some had found their way into Moodus at the very beginning of the mill age, and had played a significant role in helping to build the cotton industry here. The Irish were the laborers who had dug and hauled, cut and hammered until the land was cleared, the waterwheel in place, and the mill constructed. Edward Brownell hired Irish immigrants at 50 cents per day to dig the ditch for the headrace, and even then they had to supply their own wheelbarrows and shovels.'

The Irish had left Ireland for a number of reasons. First, Ireland was overpopulated. The primitive, pre-industrial economy did not offer any hope of employment for the young. Second, the British landowning class had mismanaged their land and depressed an already poor agricultural economy. Third, there was no industry developing in Ireland. Immigration to America offered escape from these depressing, debilitating economic conditions. Dur­ing the 1840's the Great Famine became the greatest natural disaster in Irish history. Hundreds of thousands of Irish died, one million fled, most to America. Between 1850 and 1860, nine hundred thousand Irish emigrated to America.

Why did they settle in Connecticut'? First, Connecticut is close to New York City and most Irish were without money upon arrival. Also, Con­necticut was in the midst of its industrial revolution and offered plenty of entry-level jobs. Those who had family or friends already established in Moodus were encouraged to settle there and find steady employment in the mills.

The Irish were welcomed in Moodus. There are no stories of violence and few prejudices against the newly arrived immigrants. The mills needed laborers, and the Irish who arrived were, for the most part, young, strong, and willing to work for the wages being offered. The average age of the Irish­born man in the combined censuses of 1850, 1860, and 1870 is 29; that of the Irish-born woman is 27.

The Irish who settled in Moodus were Catholics, not Presbyterians, and a Catholic parish was established in 1850. Ten years later the parish joined with St. Andrew's Church of Colchester, and a priest from that town would travel to Moodus to conduct services in the homes of the parishioners. As the Catholic population increased, the idea of constructing a chapel in Moodus gained popular support, and in 1868 it became a reality. The Chapel was built on North Moodus Road just a short way from the village center. It was enlarged in 1883 as the Irish population continued to grow. In 1914 the parish separated from St. Andrew's Church and became St. Bridget of Kildare Roman Catholic Church with the Rev. Thomas H. Tiernan as the first pastor.'

Curiously, however, the Irish population began to decline as the century progressed and eventually gave way to Polish immigrants. Apparently, the second generation Irish in Moodus had decided to seek a life more prosperous than that being offered by the mills and left the village. The family names of Cashman, Shea, and Maus are a few of the original Irish remaining and prospering in town.

The Polish began to arrive in Moodus in large numbers during the 1890's and 1900's. Poland was not an independent nation during this period. There were Poles living in Austria-Hungary, Germany, and Russia. The Polish were peasants who eked out a hardscrabble existence with no chance for im­provement. Many were sent away from their villages to work and board with rich families for a period of time. The Polish possibly arrived in Moodus following the same route as the Irish. They arrived in New York City without any money, found their way to nearby Connecticut, probably heading to the cities (Meriden, New Britain, Middletown), and then finding entry-level employment in the mills of rural Moodus.

The Polish immigrants did not encounter hostile, prejudicial attitudes in Moodus, either from the native Yankees or the more established Irish. The Polish were needed in the mills because Moodus was actually people-poor. In 1910 there were 610 fewer residents than there had been in 1880. In fact, the population steadily decreased from 1880 until 1940, with an average loss of 18.3 persons per year.'

Many of the Polish immigrants were illiterate upon their arrival in Moodus, public education in the old country not being the same as in America. Those who were illiterate would have friends who were literate write letters to relatives in Poland telling them about the good life in Moodus. They would save their wages and send money to relatives and friends in Poland so that they could emigrate. When new immigrants arrived in Moodus they would board with family or friends until they could get a job and save for their own place. Three of the oldest Polish families in town are Spiwak, Skinner, and Consic."

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A Moodus Mill Tour

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Red Mill Dam
Water power for the mills.

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A Tour of the MIlls
Once 12 mills, now only one. 

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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P.O. Box 459, Moodus, CT 06469    E-mail us    860.873.3328
Last modified: September 03, 2012