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Granite Mills (Circa 1850-1912)

Granite Mill
The 1895 Bailey & Co. Rockville Map has this inset showing Talcottville & Dobsonville with mills.
In the upper left corner is the Granite Mill. Click to enlarge; Kelly Road will be on lower left.

The Granite Mills, located on the Hockanum River just above Kelly Road, were paper mills manufacturing albums, binders, boards, manilla and press papers. Ownership changed many times and it was also known as Granite Paper Mills and Talcottville Paper Mill.

Established during the Civil War it burned in 1863, was rebuilt, burned again in 1871 and was rebuilt a second time in 1881. There may also have been an even earlier mill on this site. In addition to the main building there were store houses, three large tenement houses, sheds, offices, etc., all located on a plot of about six acres. The mill burned a final time on August 1, 1912 and was not rebuilt.

An article in Cole describes the business in 1888: "The material used at this mill is exclusively old paper, which is purchased in the large cities, and is received in bales weighing from four hundred to one thousand pounds each. The company employs about fifteen hands. The average weight of paper product per twenty-four hours is about three tons, and in times of business activity twenty-five tons per week."

"The mill is run continuously, this being necessitated by the nature of the materials used, and the extra labor required to prepare the pulp after being allowed to remain idle for a few hours. The product of this mill finds a ready market in New York, Boston and Philadelphia, and the fact that the mill has plenty of business is an indication that it is successfully managed."

Above the mill on the Hockanum River was a dam and mill pond. From there a race on the east side of the river led to the mill. The tail race did not rejoin the Hockanum River until about where I-84 is today.

At the time the mills were in operation there was no shopping center, circle or highway. Construction of the circle in the early 1930's and the highway in the 1940's erased roads to the mills. When Tri-City Plaza was built in 1963 it cut off access to the area and the Granite Mills were forgotten.

Locating The Mill

The 1869 O. W. Gray Map locates the Granite
Mills just above Kelly Road. The Map Legend
indicates it is in Vernon Depot.

The Granite Mills are mentioned in a number of publications and directories without clearly indicating their location. Early city directories list Vernon Depot, which would seem to put it on the Tankerhoosen River. Later directories put it in Talcottville. There is also evidence of mills on the Hockanum River near the Mansions.

The 1853 Woodford Map shows a Talcott Paper Mill on the lower Hockanum River. The 1869 O.W. Gray Map clearly locates the Granite Mills just above Kelly Road. The 1889 Rockville Directory ad says the Granite Mills were established in 1863, but perhaps that was just the corporation name.

"Nearly a half mile from Talcottville proper is located a mill for the manufacture of binders' board and album covers, the necessary power being derived from the Hockanum, as is that at Talcottville, but this is under entirely different management." (Cole)

The Rockville Sanborn Insurance maps of 1911 include a plan of the Granite Mill Company Paper Mill. It notes that it is located 4 1/2 miles southwest of the Rockville Post Office. This would put it on the Hockanum River.

"At the same time the Ackerly Mills in Vernon made twine and cheese cloth while the Granite Paper Mills in Talcottville, operated by E. E. Alvord and F. L. Brown, made binder boards, album boards and leather boards." (Ronson, page 146)

The references to the location of the Granite Mills in both Vernon Depot and Talcottville are a point of confusion. It may be that in the mid Nineteenth Century Talcottville was formally the properties owned by the Talcott Brothers and their successors and everything else in this section of Vernon was referred to as Vernon Depot. But then why not list it was in Dobsonville which is closer to the mill than what we today consider Vernon Depot?

Reviewing maps from 1853 to 1940 the name of Dobsonville does not appear as a village. In early maps the area is called Centreville and by 1865 that is replaced by Vernon Depot. Some later maps just label it as Vernon or Vernon P.O.

Perhaps before rural streets were named and numbered the post office where mail was received would have been the company address. There were four in Vernon - Rockville, Vernon Center, Vernon Depot and Talcottville. Vernon Depot would have served the southwest section of Vernon except for Talcottville. Around the turn of the century the Granite Mills may have begun using the closer Talcottville post office. The 1889 Granite Mills directory ad seems to reinforce this concept.

Description

Old Meetinghouse
This undated photo of a paper mill is from a Dobsonville scrapbook of photos at VHS
with other local photos. An easy walk from Dobsonville it could be the Granite Mill.

"The Granite Mills have been in operation about twenty-one years, but two or three of the buildings have been burned in the meantime, the present structure being erected in 1882." (Cole)

Always referred to in the plural there is no evidence that there was more than one mill, unless it refers to the succession of mills built at that location. It is also possible that the mills were owned at one time by an out-of-town corporation with mills in several towns, some actually working with stone. There was both a Granite Mills Co. and Phoenix Woolen Co. in Stafford Springs in 1878.

1911 Sanford sketch.
Granite Mill Site Aerial Photo
1934 Aerial photo of site.
Horizontal road is Kelly Road.
Note where race rejoins river.
Click photo for closer view.

At the time of the 1881 fire the Tolland County Journal says, "The main structure was two stories high, about 60 feet long, with two wings about 75 feet each.

Rebuilt in 1882 the mill increased in size: Cole in 1888 says, "The main building is one story in height, 120 feet long and 54 feet wide, with a wing 34 by 60, and another 20 by 30, besides store houses and three large tenement houses (note the adjacent structures in the 1895 Bailey Map), with sheds, offices, etc., all located on a plot of about six acres in extent."

Smith in 1908 says, "The Granite Paper Mills, located at Talcottville, manufacture binder boards, album boards and leather boards. The mill is a one-machine one, capable of turning out four tons in twenty-four hours. Included in the property are two double tenement houses and one single tenement. E.D Alvord and J.L. Brown (sic) are the owners."

The 1911 Sanborn sketch, made a year before the final fire, shows the use of rooms in the main plant. It also shows four other buildings including a small office, a shed and a large storage building along the head race. The note says: 'Runs day and night. Power: Water and Steam. Heat: Steam. Fuel: Coal. Lights and electric. No fire apparatus.'

The 1934 Aerial Photo seems to show a long tail race coming from the dam above the mill, well east of the Hockanum River and not rejoining the river until below Kelly Road. Remnants of the race can be found below Kelly Road where it rejoins the river.

The Fires

Fire was a constant threat to the early mills. There is limited safety equipment and in this area no fire department. The buildings were underinsured so a challenge to rebuild. Following are the accounts of the 1881 and 1912 fires that destroyed the mill itself.

From the Tolland County Journal January 28, 1881 article:

"About nine o'clock on Saturday night, the Granite Paper Mill, at Talcottville, was discovered to be on fire in the second story. The mill was being run to supply orders till midnight right along, and one of the workmen who saw the fire promptly gave the alarm; but the fire had got under such headway that it prevented any one from going into the second story and as there is no fire department there, the entire building had to go. There was a hose and hydrant in the story where the fire originated, but it was entirely useless in this emergency. If it had been on the outside of the building it might have been of good service and possibly have saved the mill. The paper made at this mill was the heavy kind, such as is used for book-binding, and a heavy stock of material was stored in the building.

"The main structure was two stories high, about 60 feet long, with two wings about 75 feet each. The loss is put down at $25,000 and the insurance is $16,000, placed in fourteen companies, some of them foreign.

"The building, which was owned by Smith S. and Anson F. Talcott, was erected about eleven years ago to replace the mill then burned down. Since that the drying house has been burned and once before the main mill had been given up to the flames. Twelve or fifteen hands only are thrown out of employment."

From The Hartford Courant August 2, 1912 article:

"There was a $15,000 fire at Talcottville yesterday morning, when the Talcottville paper mill, formerly known us the Granite mill, was burned. The fire was discovered about 4 o'clock by Mrs. Coleman, who lives nearby. She aroused a boarder, Walter Ford, who notified the owner and manager, John L. Brown. They were helpless, however, as there was no fire fighting facilities at hand.

"How the fire started was a mystery, one theory being that it was due to spontaneous combustion, the waste paper stock having contained something of a combustible nature. There was about seventy-five tons of waste paper in the plant at the time of the fire, as well as fifteen tons of the finished product. The plant had been fairly busy of late. Mr. Brown had recently received a large rush order. In common to paper mills, the plant had been operated day and night, but was shut down Wednesday night, owing to lack of coal, a shipment having been delayed in its arrival. The loss is estimated at $15,000, with Insurance of $10,000."

Ownership

Ownership has not yet been tracked through deeds. The Hartford Courant account of the 1912 fire provides a list of owners. Although members of the Talcott family owned the Granite Mills they were not directly connected with the owners of Talcottville.

Old Meetinghouse
Ad from 1989 Rockville Directory.

Samuel Smith Talcott, also known just as Smith Talcott, is credited with building the mill. His house is shown nearby on Talcottville Road and is likely the one that became the Vernon Inn surviving into the 1950's. (See 1853 Map)

Samuel S. Talcott & W. B. Miner (1869 Map)

In 1879 Edwin Dwight Alvord (1831-1891) purchased an interest in the mill, then under the direction of S. S. Talcott. (Alvord Genealogy)

In 1881, at the time of that fire, the Granite Paper Mill was owned by Smith S. and Anson F. Talcott.

Samuel S. Talcott, Anson F. Talcott & Edwin D. Alford (1889 Tolland County Directory)

About 1889 Edwin D. Alvord retired in favor of his son, also an Edwin D. Alford (1862-???).

For a brief time in 1896-97 Rev. Frederick Alvord (1828-1903) had an interest in the mill. He was the brother of Edwin Dwight Alvord, Sr.

R.K Sweet Company (or Swett) (1904 Price & Lee Directory) The mill was purchased by John Gemmill of Hartford for his son-in-law. Swett in 1904 filed a lawsuit against the city of Rockville for $5,000 (a third of the mill's value) for damages. Why and the outcome is unknown. (Hartford Courant, March 4, 1904)

John Gemmill ran it himself for a time.

E. D. Alford & John L. Brown purchased from Gemmill. (Smith, 1908 & Ronson)

John L. Brown as Talcottville Paper Mill was the final owner and manager for the last two and a half years: 1910-1912.

Olin Talcott had it for a time. Harry D. Forster of Rockville next had charge of it per The Hartford Courant article. Don't see where he fit in.

Today

Granite Mill Outlet
The race exits the old foundation.

The land between Tri-City Plaza and the Hockanum River is wooded near Kelly Road and marshy and overgrown upstream. The site is on private property. Scott Lent and Dick Symonds visited the site with the owner in December 2014 and Dick and Jon Roe visited again in March 2016.

The tail race behind the Free Spirit is clearly visible, although much shallower today. Water from the race is piped under Kelly Road and rejoins the Hockanum River north of I-84.

Much of the mill site has been filled in and destroyed. A newer building now stands on the foundation of the old mill, but the race exit from the building has been preserved. Above the mill itself the remains of the dam are evident, as well as the pond, one or more head races and a penstock. The mill likely used a small undershot wheel. With at least three generations of mills and a variety of storage and housing structures it's difficult to distinguish after more than a hundred years without an archeological study.

Other

Injuries were common in mills: "Just learned this morning that young Nickols, living at the paper mill and working in the carding room, got his foot caught in the belt and it is feared the bones are broken - rather a bad job, but I hope it is not as bad as is feared - a pretty tight squeeze anyhow." (Royal Talcott Journal, Nov. 26, 1877)

"Thomas Kington, who has for years lived in one of the Granite Paper company's houses, has moved his family to one of Talcott Brothers' houses. He is in the employ of the Foulds Paper mill at Manchester." (May 24, 1910 Rockville Leader) 1920 Census records indicate Thomas lived in the Talcottville District and was an engineer in a paper mill.

To Do

1- Look for newspaper article on the 1870 fire.
2- Trace ownership.
3- Determine if there is a relation between the Granite Mills in Stafford Springs and Vernon.
4- Learn more about Samuel Smith Talcott.

Sources

Richard N. Symonds, Jr researched this site with me. He has written serveral books and historical guides on mill sites in Tolland County and his knowledge of old mills and experience in reading sites were invaluable to this project. For more see his website Lost Mill Sites.

1853 E. M. Woodford Vernon Map published by Richard Clark. This is the first detail map of Vernon and includes houses, businesses and owners.

1869 O.W. Gray Atlas of Windham & Tolland Counties. Colored maps of each town including Vernon and Rockville. Includes houses, businesses and names.

1895 Bailey & Co Rockville Map. Sketches of buildings and houses; three dimensional artists birds-eye view. Includes insets of Talcottville and Vernon.

1911 Sanborn Map. Sanborn is an American publisher of historical maps of U.S. cities and towns. The maps were created to estimate fire insurance risks. Maps of Rockville from 1885-1946 include a few from Vernon also. The Granite Mill is on Sheet 13.

Cole, J. R. (1888). History of Tolland County, Connecticut. 992 pages. Detailed Granite Mills description on page 792.

Price, Lee & Co. 1889-90 Directory. Lists the Granite Mills, manufacturers of binders and album boards at Vernon Depot. It notes that the proprietors are Talcott and Alvord. In a display ad it adds that the business was established in 1863.

Ronson, Bruce G. (1970). BOLTON's Heritage: Historical Sketches of Bolton, Connecticut. 220 pages. Edited by Ronson for The Bolton Historians. Granite Paper Mills mentioned on page 146.

Smith, Harry Conklin (1908). A Century Of Vernon, CT 1808-1908. Prepared and published for Vernon's Centennial. Good history of Vernon's first 100 years drawing on contemporary sources. Granite Paper Mills on page 37.

The Hartford Courant article, August 2, 1912, page 11. Report on 1912 fire and lists ownership history. Click to read.

Talcott, Royal Journals. Royal lived in Talcottville, a poor relative of the mill owners. He kept journals (diaries) from 1877-1879 detailing his life.

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