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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

Wages and the Cost of Living

Usually newly arrived immigrants, Irish or Polish, would find employment at the mill where their relatives or friends worked. They probably lived in the tenement associated with that mill. Practically all the mills had tenements, multi-family dwellings, which were rented for one to three dollars a month to mill operatives. Some have been destroyed, but a fair number still remain as private, two-family homes.

Most employees only lived in the tenements until they had saved enough money to buy their own house and property. To the wage earner of today it seems incredible that the mill workers of a century ago could save enough money to buy a house. But, despite low wages, rent and consumer goods were cheap and there weren't the expensive distractions and necessities which absorb so much of the present-day workers' salaries.

The Connecticut Valley Advertiser, a weekly newspaper published in Moodus from 1861 until 1929, printed the following advertisements for three local stores which gives the reader an idea of the cost of living in Moodus during "the good old days."

In the April 5, 1873 edition, the New York Cash Store, located opposite the office of the Advertiser, announced a "Great Clearing Out Sale." The following items could be bought: "Costa Rica coffee for 12 cents per lb., soda crackers 7 cents per lb, 28 bars of Crusader soap for $1.00, Reliance clothes wringer for $5.50, kerosene oil 130 test for 25 cents per gal., overcoats $3 and upwards, business coats $2 and upwards."

Samuel Cook of Goodspeed's Landing in East Haddam advertised furniture for sale in his store on May 6, 1882: "parlor suites $50.00, solid black walnut chamber suites for $45, solid black walnut bedsteads $6, good set of cane chairs $6, curled hair mattress, 40 lbs. $10, good spring beds $2.50."

Also in W.R. Goodspeed's Store on January 17, 1885, one could purchase, "Pillsbury Flour $62 per bbl., 15 lbs. granulated sugar $1. Best P.R. Molasses 55 cents per gal., woolen bed blankets $1.75-$3.00 per pair." Coal was advertised for sale at $4.70 per ton to Wilkesbarre nut to $5.90 per ton for Lehigh stove.

In 1911 a Polish family, where the husband and wife each earned less than 10 cents per hour, had been able to save enough money to purchase a good size house in the village for $1,900.

All the mills ran six days a week (Monday through Saturday) 10 hours a day. 13 A study of the Time and Pay-Roll book for Brownell's Lower Mill from January 1899-December 1906 reveals the following information. The foreman of the mill, Frank Boardman, earned $1.50 per day from January 1899 until March 1906 when he received a raise of 25 cents per day. Like every other worker he did not get paid for sick leave, and never took a vacation.

The Lower Mill averaged about twenty operatives during this eight-year period. There was quite a heavy turnover at this mill which may or may not have been representative of all the mills. Of the 21 operatives on the payroll in January, 1899, only four had continued to be employed by December, 1906. The vast majority are Polish. A random listing of surnames includes Wolak, Golec, Tylec, Masek, Kuzval, Tarbor, Biyo, Miesak, Dykus, Rycek" The only two Irish names are Jim Shea and Charles Killian.

Sometimes, when new operatives were hired, the clerk who kept the books did not know their names and would identify them by some physical characteristic or as the relative of someone familiar. Two operatives who were hired together were listed in the book as "Tall New Poland Girl" and "Short New Poland Girl." Another was simply "George's brother." Keeping track of who's who in such a nebulous manner could tend to result in designations such as "New Poland Girl's cousin," or "New Small Poland Girl's sister."

The wages in 1899 were six cents per hour for unskilled and eight, nine, and 10 cents per hour for more experienced workers. In December, 1906, the wage scale ranged from seven cents for unskilled to 11 cents per hour for skilled workers. Money owed to the company would be noted in the payroll book and deducted from one's earnings.

The following deductions were made from George Welshack's pay in October, 1903: Rent $1.50, milk $1.50, cash $3.00, order at Spencer's store $15.00. Total is $21.00 which, when subtracted from his gross pay of $24.50, left a net pay of $3.50 for 24 and one-half days (or 245 hours) work. The Connecticut Valley Advertiser reported in a special supplement on Moodus in 1900 that yearly cumulative wages (52 weeks) for the 12 mills were $86,400 at a rate of $7,200 a month.

Although the mills rarely shut down for a holiday, they were subject to the vagaries of climate, especially droughts, which would dry up the river, and the constant need to repair broken machinery. For instance, a notation in the payroll book on November 20, 1899, reads, "All mills stopped for water." On November 28th everyone went back to work.

According to the book, "Started most all mills today and some upstream yesterday, some water in reservoir." However, only six days later the reservoir ran dry; "Water all gone-all mills stopped again (no rain yet)." This particular layoff lasted two weeks until December 19th when "All mills started up to­day."

Prolonged droughts cost everyone money. On September 14, 1900, "All mills stopped for water today" and did not operate again until October 29th. However, they were forced to shut down"... for water again" on November 3rd, and "did not run or work much" until November 26th when "Big rain, but reservoir not raised yet." The mills closed for eighteen days in 1901 when the main water wheel shaft broke. It broke again in July, 1902, and took twenty-eight days to repair. Most operatives only worked six days in September, 1901, because the mill had to shut down in order to build a new bulkhead. From March 4th until April 19th, 1904, the mill was out for repairs on the millpond dam.

As previously mentioned, the Catholic church in town was Irish, and one can understand how the Polish must have longed to hear a sermon delivered in their native tongue. Once a year, to satisfy this need, a Polish priest would ride to Moodus to hear confessions and minister to the spiritual needs of the Polish congregation. This event was noted in Brownell's Time and Pay-Roll book as "Poland priest-here in A.M. Run only some twisters in A.M." Most, if not all, of the Polish operatives would not report to work while the priest was in town. Mr. Brownell, as well as the other mill owners, all pious church-going men themselves, granted the workers this freedom to attend to matters spiritual. Of course, the time off was docked from their pay.

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A Moodus Mill Tour

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Red Mill Dam
Water power for the mills.

Granite-mill.jpg (24804 bytes)
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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SimonPure Productions
P.O. Box 459, Moodus, CT 06469    E-mail us    860.873.3328
Last modified: September 03, 2012