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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

****Labor Relations

Labor relations were positive between owners and operatives in Moodus. This was partially a result of the small size of the mills, the large number of mills congregated in a relatively small area (twelve mills along a three mile stretch of river), and the rural, small town quality of life in Moodus. Everyone knew everybody else, many were, in fact, related to someone else, and most everyone who worked in a mill lived in that neighborhood. Usually, the mill owner lived only a few houses away from the mill, and his next door neighbors were also his employees. Most everyone seemed to pull together in a collective effort to achieve industrial success and financial prosperity. Because Moodus was so small, this sense of community that developed was greater than any one of the mills. "Do what was best for the common good of manufacturing in Moodus" could have been the philosophy of the mill owners, and they all worked together to help each other achieve success.

The twelve mills were not in competition with each other. Each had cultivated their own customers and did not try to interfere with another's market. This characteristic of Moodus manufacturing is consistent with the findings of Anthony F.C. Wallace who describes manufacturing in Rockdale, Pennsylvania during the early 1800's. "In this early phase of industrial capitalism, the manufacturers did not view themselves so much as com­petitors as colleagues, all engaged in the same profession, all matching wits against the impersonal market, with success ultimately possible for all who worked hard and made wise choices. "2' In a very real sense, industrial capitalism in Moodus never outgrew this early stage of development de­scribed by Wallace. The mills did not get any larger, two of the mills did not combine operations in an attempt to force the others out of business; no one, in fact, ever made a lot of money manufacturing twine in Moodus. The opera­tions remained small but profitable, the mill owners co-operated in seeking solutions to common problems, the immigrants worked hard in the mills, saved their money, and assimilated.

However, workers in Moodus were aware of events in the "outside world." In general, the 1870's through the 1890's was a period of intense con­flict between workers and owners. Faced with long hours of work, low wages, and unsafe, unhealthy working and living conditions, many workers began to organize in an attempt to force owners to bring about needed im­provements. The economic depression of the mid-1870's, touched off by the Panic of 1873, initiated a wave of wage cuts and escalating unemployment. When all twelve hundred workers at the Taftville (CT) cotton mill went on strike in April, 1875, their jobs were taken over by strikebreakers and the strikers were evicted from company houses. They joined a swelling sea of jobless workers who were affected by the depression. The railroad workers struck in 1877 after the industry had announced an across-the-board ten­percent wage cut. During that hot summer freight traffic into many of the in­dustrial centers of the northeast was stopped by the strike. Violence erupted. A new sense of solidarity among skilled and unskilled was developed out of these confrontations, a spirit of unity whose purpose was to win for workers a more respected position in the American economy. This sense and spirit became manifest in the Knights of Labor, the first successful national labor union.

The goal of the Knights was to pursue peaceful negotiations as a means of avoiding strikes. They were in favor of equal pay for equal work by women, and anti-child labor laws. They embraced the entire labor movement, enrolling skilled and unskilled, men, women, blacks, and immigrants. All were welcome except "bankers, stockbrokers, professional gamblers, lawyers, and those who in any way derive their living from the manufacture or sale of intoxicating liquors. "2' Thousands joined the order.

The basic unit of the Knights of Labor was the Local Assembly_ Each assembly was given a number. These numbers were assigned sequentially from Local Assembly #1 (1869) until Local Assembly #11,000 (1887). After #11,000, new Local Assemblies were assigned numbers of previous locals which had withdrawn from the union. In July, 1886, at the height of its power, there were reported one hundred eighteen Local Assemblies in good standing in sixty-two towns in Connecticut, with an approximate membership of twelve thousand. The locals belonged to District Assemblies organized on a geographical basis. District Assembly 95 in Hartford covered most of Connecticut. The Knights of Labor achieved its greatest success and increases in membership from 1882-1886. In 1885, alone, national member­ship jumped from one hundred thousand to seven hundred thousand. It was during this heyday of union organizing that workers in Moodus joined the Knights of Labor.

The Moodus local, formed in 1885, was assigned designation #4507. At the time of its inception, L.A. 4507 was only the second local in Middlesex County. Local Assemblies were designated as either craft unions or mixed unions. Moodus' Local Assembly was designated occupationally as a mixed assembly. "The Order differentiated between trade and mixed assemblies solely on the basis of membership composition and what might be termed `the rule of ten.' A trade L. A. had to include at least 10 members of a given oc­cupation and no more than nine members of any one calling. Conversely, a mixed L. A. either lacked 10 members in any one occupation or else included more than 10 members in each of at least two trades." 26 Most of the Connec­ticut locals were mixed. The following chart lists the Local Assemblies in Middlesex County. The dates are their years of existence, and are inclusive.

1981 Middletown 1882-89 Mixed
4507 Moodus 1885-87 Mixed*
*cotton mill / factory operatives / workers
4810 Middletown 1885 Upholsterers
4776 Portland 1885-86 Mixed
5022 Middletown 1886 Mixed
5282 Cromwell 1886-88 Mixed
9874 East Hampton 1887-88  

Interestingly enough, the Knights of Labor broke down the composition of L. A. 4507 by occupation, differentiating between cotton mill workers, factory workers, and workers in general. Since no other information on the Moodus local has been discovered by this researcher, one may only speculate as to the reasons for these distinctions. In addition to the twelve cotton mills on the Moodus River, other principal industries in town were the East Had­dam Duck Company in the Leesville section of Moodus, National Net and Twine Company in East Haddam, Boardman Britannia Factories (silver plating) and Ray Coffin Trimmings Company (coffins) in East Haddam. Presumably, workers from either one or both of these latter companies joined the Order along with workers from the cotton mills. The third designation -workers-might include such skilled craftsmen as machinists, blacksmiths, cigarmakers (Fredrick B. Clark & Co., located in the old Music Hall Building in Moodus Center), and shoemakers.

The Knights of Labor do not seem to have made any impact on labor rela­tions that existed prior to the local's formation. No evidence could be found of changes in wages, hours, or working conditions initiated by the Knights. Only a few references to the Order were found in the Local Record column of the Connecticut Valley, Advertiser, and they all referred to social events being sponsored by the union. For instance, the following item ran in the January 15, 1887, edition: "Fun in the Future-The Knights of Labor will give a grand ball at Music Hall on Thursday evening of next week, January 20th. A pleasant time is promised for all who attend." And in the following week's paper: "A large number were in attendance at the ball given by the Knights of Labor, Thursday evening." From these two news items it appears that the union was not only accepted by the townspeople but was downright popular. It is possible that the local tended to function more as a social organization than as a collective bargaining agency, considering the good relations which seemed to have existed between labor and management. In fact, the owners' attitude toward their employees might best be described as beneficent pater­nalism. Townspeople who had begun to work in the mills during the early 1920's, and whose relatives had preceded them in the mills, could not recall having heard any stories of abusive treatment by owners or supervisors, and did not experience such treatment themselves. There was no child labor below the age of fourteen. At fourteen children had the choice of continuing their education or obtaining working papers and entering the mills. Had the local decided to follow the lead of the national and become more politically radical, it is safe to assume that they would have been met by stern opposi­tion. Moodus was a conservative, Republican town of about three thousand people during the mid-1880's.29 The owners of the mills and factories were the "pillars of the community" whose business enterprises sustained the town's economy and defined its identity. The owners, supervisors, and workers were all local residents who seem to have been well aware that co-operation was more advantageous than strife.

Nationally, the Knights of Labor began a precipitous decline in popu­larity after 1886. In March of that year they unwisely attempted to lead the largest western railroad strike in history and were seriously defeated. Then, two months later, the union had been badly hurt again at a rally they had sponsored in Haymarket Square in Chicago which turned into a bloodbath when a bomb exploded killing several policemen. The police, in retaliation, opened fire on the crowd. As a backlash to the Haymarket Square Riot, "....a violent anti-labor hysteria swept the country." In Connecticut the Knights of Labor were defeated in strikes at the Derby Silver Company, Southington Cutlery Company, and at the P.F. Corbin Works in New Britain." By 1887 Connecticut membership had fallen to five thousand, six hundred twenty-two and continued to decline. Nationwide membership had dropped from a high of seven hundred thousand to two hundred fifty thousand in 1888. In Moodus, the official notice of the death of Local Assembly 4507 appeared as a one sentence news item in the March 12, 1887, issue of the Connecticut Valley Advertiser. "The Knights of Labor organization in this village is a thing of the past, the members of the order having surrendered their charter to District Assembly 95."

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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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Last modified: September 03, 2012