Sunday, December 21, 2008

Neponset Woolen Mills

Neponset Woolen Mills

The new complex known as River Village on Walpole Street at Neponset is one of our towns newest architectural landmarks. The focus is an impressive tower and stone lobby that serves as a grand entrance. Few people may know that this is the site of an original tower that served to call the beginning and end of the day to thousands of industrial workers for over 150 years. This is also the site of many failed ventures and a handful of businesses that thrived on the western shore of the Neponset.

Long before condominiums were the rage, a small group of businessmen recognized the importance of the attraction of the Neponset River. In 1802 James Beaumont, Able Fisher, and Lemuel Bailey formed James Beaumont & Co. to spin cotton into candlewicks and fibers for cloth. By 1824 (before the Viaduct was built) another group of investors contracted for the water privileges  to the Neponset River from none other than Joseph Warren Revere. The men built a large stone factory along what is now known as Walpole Street and the name of the company became the Boston Manufacturing Company. The area quickly built up around the massive stone factory and included boarding houses, a school and even medical facilities. In three years the area prospered and great growth led to the construction of a dirt raod across the Fowl Meadows to support shipments to Boston. Unfortunately the business failed in 1827. 

Soon after the failure the Neponset Woolen Company set up shop under the directorship of Harrison Gray Otis the prominent Boston businessman, lawyer, and politician and arguably the most important member of the Federalist Party. This venture also failed and by 1837 the site was abandoned. Over the next 170 years many factories operated on this site including a bleachery, another cotton factory, wool and cotton for caskets, and a plastic and adhesives factory. 

In 2005 a local developer purchased the site and gained demolition approval from the Town's local Historical Commission. In homage to the thousands of men and women who worked on this site for over 200 years, the Commission asked the developer to salvage some of the stone and to build a replica of the tower. The original tower and bell was likely built during the 1800's and around the turn of the 20th Century it had been rebuilt. By 1930 the tower became unsafe and was removed. As we watch the economy, we watch to see if this will be a successful venture for the New River Village, LLC - and not a repeat of failed ventures.

The tower we pass today is a connection to our past through a new use for dozens of new families. Kudos to the Canton Historical Commission for suggesting the tower to Shesky Architects who have made this the centerpiece of this project.