New series takes a closer look at local mills
By Melanie Savage - Staff Writer
Windham - posted Mon., Feb. 25, 2013
Folks arriving at the Windham Textile and History Museum the afternoon of Feb. 23 were handed a passport book with “Mill of the Month: Passport to History” printed on the front. Inside were 11 pages with 11 photos depicting the 11 different destinations for the series. Museum educator Bev York stamped the first page of the book and handed it to an early arrival. “You’ll get a stamp for each mill in the series,” said York.
On Feb. 23, an introduction to the series was provided. “From here on out it will be mostly walking tours,” said York. Providing the introduction was David Haines, Ph.D., a retired Eastern Connecticut State University professor who has spent years traveling the world to study mills and their history. His publications include: “Mill Place Names,” “More Mill Place Names,” “Mills, Meal and Miscellany,” and “Mills: Myths and the Mysterious.” Haines is also the president of SPOOM - The Society for the Preservation of Old Mills, a non-profit, national organization chartered in 1972.
York opened the program with a story regarding American Thread. “One day some people came in and they said they were from Disney,” she said. The movie folks wanted a mill for “A Civil Action,” a John Travolta film involving families seeking justice after the deaths of their children, thought to be connected to toxic chemicals from a leather production company. But the Windham mills were too picturesque. “They were just too perfect,” said York. So York referred the Hollywood folks to Haines, who helped them to locate a suitable site. The production crew left a $50 tip in the museum tip jar. “We’ve never had a $50 tip in the jar,” said York, eliciting a laugh from the crowd.
Haines grew up around mills and mill towns, but said that isn’t what sparked his passion. Teaching at Eastern for 23 years, Haines had the opportunity to travel to England on a study grant in connection with the Industrial Revolution. En route to the airport for the return trip home, Haines came across a sign. “‘Award-winning corn mill’ is what it said,” said Haines. “It was the most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen.” The 1740 grist mill, nestled within a small English township, got the researcher hooked. “That is how I got started with all sorts of other mills,” he said. Since then, said Haines, he has traveled to more than 600 mills or mill sites within 38 American states and numerous other countries.
“Bread was the reason that mills were invented,” said Haines, holding up three slices of flat bread. “Without this, we would not have that over there,” he added, with a gesture to the granite American Thread Company buildings across the street. Factories are nothing more than old grist mills expanded, said Haines.
Haines went over some of the history behind mills, which arose as a response to a need for automated grain processing. At one point in history, mills anchored the economies of communities all over the United States, he said, lending themselves to more street and town names than presidents and trees. “It’s the biggest machine that we’ve ever had,” said Haines.
The Windham Textile and History Museum’s Mill of the Month series will take place the fourth Saturday of every month, either at 10 a.m. or 4 p.m. Most will be walking tours, beginning with a tour of Windham’s silk mills on March 23, at 10 a.m. A new exhibit documenting the Latino influence on the development of Windham will open in March, with a grand opening celebration scheduled for April. For more information, visit www.millmuseum.org. For more information regarding SPOOM, visit www.SPOOM.org.