This Place in History: Winooski Mills

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At ‘This Place in History’, we’re in Winooski with Executive Director of the Vermont Historical Society Steve Perkins.

“We are going to go inside the Champlain Mill and check out the Mill Museum to learn all about the industrial past of Winooski. Miriam Block, the Executive Director, has joined us to tell us all about what we see here,” began Perkins.

“A mill is a place where things are manufactured and this was a textile mill. Textile is just another word for fabric. The Winooski River is right outside and there’s a drop in the water here. This area is a great area for water power as a resource,” explained Block.

“This is a power loom. It weaves fabric. The power loom was invented in England. They had a patent on it. Francis Cabot Lowell, in the early 1800s, went over to England and there was a little espionage where he memorized the plans and brought that back to America to rebuild the loom, so that there could be manufacturers in New England.”

“It’s my understanding that looms, if you do it by hand, you have to run a shuttle through these strings. But, a power loom is using the water power to fire that shuttle back and forth?” asked Perkins.

“Yes, that’s exactly what happens. In the photograph behind you, you can really imagine that in a mill building like this there would have been many looms running. It would have been incredibly noisy and not very comfortable to work there,” said Block.

“Initially, young Yankee girls were brought from their farms. It was an opportunity to make some extra cash. Like in Lowell, Massachusetts, as in many places, they were concerned about their wages and the mill owners didn’t want to give them better wages. So, they ended up hiring lots of immigrants and immigrant families to do the work. That is how Winooski was built up, based on immigrants coming to the area to find jobs; French Canadian people, Polish, Syrian, Lebanese, Irish, Italian, all came to work here at the mill,” explained Block.

“The immigrant families that came here were making very small wages and the entire family had to work, including the children. So we have a collection of photos taken by Lewis Hine. Hine was hired by the National Child Labor Committee in the early 1900s to document child labor in America. One of the areas that he focused on was the textile industry. And he came to Winooski and Burlington to photograph children that worked in the mills. So we have a bunch of photographs of them working here, both in the Champlain Mill and the Chase Mill, which is the building across the river from us.”

At ‘This Place in History’!

For more information on the Heritage Winooski Mill Museum, click here.

For more from our ‘This Place in History’ series, click here.

To view a map of Vermont’s roadside historical markers, click here.

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