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The History of Talcottville

1895 Contemporary Sketch
1895 Contemporary Sketch of Talcottville

Talcottville: Uniquely preserved factory village of the mid-1800's by Ardis Abbott

The first stirrings of change had already taken place prior to the founding of the town in 1808. As early as 1794, John Warburton, an English immigrant, had built "some cotton machinery to spin cotton" at a mill owned by Samuel Pitkin and Co. on the Hockanum River in East Hartford. Warburton soon left Pitkin and went to north Bolton (later Vernon) where he built a dam, a mill for carding and spinning, and two dwelling houses. This was the nucleus of what was to become the manufacturing village of Talcottville.

Warburton sold out in 1809 to Alexander McLean, Col. Francis McLean, L.P. Tinker and Irand Fuller. These men, whose names are found among the original 108 Freemen of the town of Vernon in 1808, appear to have been the town's first industrial entrepreneurs. Their names occur over and over in the industrial history of Vernon, as they were frequently involved in the building of roads, the erection of new factories, or in complex land transactions. Their biographies tell us that Vernon's pioneer industrialists were farmers whose primary resources were in land ownership and their financial interests were as often in land speculation as in industry. For example, the Warburton mill, after being run for a time by Alexander McLean, was sold in 1816 to Thomas Bull of Hartford partly for cash and partly for new lands in Ohio.

After changing hands several times, the Warburton mill came under the sole proprietorship of Nathaniel 0. Kellogg in 1835, and it was Kellogg who developed the first manufacturing village here known as Kelloggsville. Kellogg operated the mill for 20 years, adding several more dwellings and a new three-story mill building. The basis of the new industry was the manufacture of satinet, a wool cloth having a cotton warp which was first manufactured here by Peter Dobson and Delano Abbott in 1812.

When Nathaniel Kellogg died in 1854, the management of the factory was entrusted by his executors to the brothers Horace Wells Talcott and Charles Denison Talcott who had been working in the mill for several years. In 1856, the Talcotts bought the property and subsequently brought to completion here the manufacturing village so typical of the early nineteenth century textile industry in New England. Like the many other "villes" that dotted the Connecticut countryside in this period, Talcottville, as it was now called, was a unique planned community.

The Talcott brothers provided their workers with not only housing but also a church, school, library, social hall, and store. A Talcott owned farm provided dairy products and produce as well. It was the stated purpose of the owners to operate an. orderly and well-regulated industrial village. A contemporary historian has provided us with the following description of the village of Talcottville in 1888:

"Talcottville Is admirably located, beautiful in appearance and cleanly almost beyond comparison. The similarity of design, color of ornament, and general appearance of its residences is sufficient evidence that the aggregate are under the control of one corporation. Mill, store and dwellings are of puritanical whiteness, and the window blinds are of the regulation and time honored green. Not a fence of any description mars the beauty of the well-kept lawns."

It was not only the buildings that reflected a "puritanical" character. The Talcotts sought to regulate the moral and religious lives of their workers as well. New candidates for employment were "closely interrogated regarding morals, fitness, where last employed, willingness to submit to existing rules, disposition of children, if the applicant has a family, etc." Those who could not conform to prevailing standards were soon dispensed with.

Talcottville was not unique for its time. According to Ellsworth Strong Grant's study there were as many as 203 factory villages in Connecticut in the early nineteenth century. The practice of employing whole families and locating them in rural areas near the mills as Samuel Slater did at Slatersville has become known as the Rhode Island system. As a system of social organization of workers it did not long endure in the United States and was soon abandoned in most places. What makes Talcottville unique is the length of time it endured.

The village created by the Talcott brothers in the mid-nineteenth century was to last until 1940 when the mill was sold and converted to other manufacturing processes and the land divided and sold to individuals. Because of this circumstance, Talcottville today has the appearance of a uniquely preserved factory village. Like its predecessor, Vernon Center, it was for nearly a century frozen in time. As a result both villages retain an architectural integrity that reflects their origins on the eve of the Industrial Revolution.

This is quoted from an article written by Vernon Historian Ardis Abbott in Vernon's 175th Anniversary "Vernon Through The Years," published by the Tri-Town Reporter, October 14, 1983.

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