Editor's note: This article was contributed by Ron Klodenski, a volunteer researcher on the Amesbury Carriage Museum's industrial survey team. Its publication here is part of our ongoing effort to share insights about Amesbury history through our website and email newsletter.
Ron's reasons for volunteering: "Many years ago, working in the mill buildings of Lawrence as an engineering intern gave me an appreciation for our ancestors' technical ingenuity and sparked a life-long interest in industrial history. Working with a team of enthusiastic volunteers to explore the industrial heritage of Amesbury, with its technological and historical ties to larger mill cities in the region, is one of my most rewarding activities."
Amesbury Industrial Supply: A River Once Ran Through It
The next time you visit the has-everything Amesbury Industrial Supply hardware store on High St. in Amesbury, take a minute to imagine how this 1825 former woolen mill might have looked shortly after it was constructed and named Mill 2 by the Salisbury Manufacturing Company. As you stand at the present-day checkout counter, think about a branch of the Powow River flowing under your feet in the building’s basement.
Shortly before the mill was constructed, a river channel was hand-dug and blasted to divert water from the river to the mill’s lowest level. The rushing water was to turn two 24-foot water wheels and then exit through a second channel to re-enter the main river just behind today’s Craft Beer Cellar on Main Street. To date, volunteer researchers at the Amesbury Carriage Museum have not found anything describing the exact location of the Mill 2 inlet channel (upper millrace). The exit channel (tailrace), however, is clearly marked on 1918 and 1930 insurance maps.
Also in question is whether the 24-foot dimension of the water wheels described in the 1978 Report of the Amesbury Millyard Project refers to the width or to the diameter of the wheels. Whatever their configuration, these two huge water wheels were connected to an elaborate assembly of shafts, pulleys and belts that carried power from the wheels to the mill’s five floors, running machinery that turned raw wool or cotton into flannel fabric. According to an 1827 article in The Pittsfield Sun, this new factory increased the Salisbury Manufacturing Company’s annual output from 15,000 to 35,000 pieces of flannel.
Eventually the flannel-making operations in Mill 2 evolved through a series of acquisitions, and the last textile company to own the building – the Hamilton Manufacturing Company – operated until 1914. The building was then used by a succession of companies, including the well-known Bailey Company, for manufacturing automobile parts. In the 1980s, the Jardis family acquired the building, refurbished the space, and moved Amesbury Industrial Supply into the building.
Thanks in great part to the historical sensitivities of the owners, the exterior shape of Mill 2 has hardly changed since 1825. A cupola at the top of the stairway on the Powow River side (shown in the 1880 drawing) was removed and an elevator shaft has been added to the same side of the building.
And there’s one more important but mostly invisible change to this venerable old building. Mill 2 was once powered by water, an ancient renewable energy source. Today, solar panels recently installed on the roof provide electric power for the business, replacing an old renewable energy source with a more modern one.
But Powow River water flowing through a building wasn’t limited to Mill 2. Other mills, some still existing and some long-gone, also channeled river water through their lower levels for powering machinery or electric generators.