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Coventry in Tolland County, Connecticut — The American Northeast (New England)
 

Thomas H. Wood’s Silk Mill

 
 
Thomas H. Wood’s Silk Mill Marker image. Click for full size.
By Michael Herrick, November 6, 2019
1. Thomas H. Wood’s Silk Mill Marker
Inscription.  
Thomas H. Wood’s Silk Mill
This mill site has been in continuous commercial operation since 1716. That year the town fathers commissioned Jonathan Hartshorn to build a mill at the brook. The small grist mill, serving at first about forty families was sold to Thomas Porter and stayed in his family until1792. The miller usually charged a fee at ten percent of the grain (primarily rye) milled. In 1795 the lake was dammed for the first time to provide a gate for better controlling the water. The dam would be raised several times in the 1800’s to a height of about fourteen feet above its original level. The lake is now 550 feet above sea level and a maximum of forty feet deep. The grist mill site ownership was split eleven ways after Noah Porter’s death in 1792 and was later owned by the Coventry Manufacturing Company then by John Boynton in 1834. It produced about 240 tons of flour per year.

In 1859 the mill was owned by the Tolland Bank from the foreclosure of John Boynton and it was sold to Daniel Green. By 1863 Mr. Green was making fine colored cotton batting, then cotton rope as well as operating the grist mill.
Thomas H. Wood’s Silk Mill Marker image. Click for full size.
By Michael Herrick, November 6, 2019
2. Thomas H. Wood’s Silk Mill Marker
Beyond the marker is a small waterfall from Washburn Pond, on Mill Brook.
The dam and pond on the site today was likely built in the mid-1800’s to accommodate the increased use of the mill. In 1870 the mill had 6 employees, used 13 horsepower (by water) and made 116,000 pounds of product. Mr. Green died in 1875 and Ebenezer Eaton acquired the mill. He rented it to M.B. Bessey who made bed quilts at a rate of 200-250 per day. he erected an out-building with a machine called a “duster.” The function of the machine was to “shake” the filling of the quilts to free them of dust. In 1879 Eugene Tracy and Thomas Wood became active on the site. They made “shoddy” which is a recycled wool material made from scraps of used wool clothing. Mr. Wood added an oaken flume (see picture) to better direct the water from the dam to his mill, extended the factory and added machinery. He replaced the old water wheel with a newer one and prepared to add steam power. Mr. Eaton sold the mill to Mr. Wood in 1880.

Thomas H. Wood was born in 1846, came to Coventry from Danvers, Massachusetts with his father and brother John. He was likely employed in one of the textile mills downstream. Mr. Wood operated the mill until his death in 1931, though the company he founded occupied the site until 1961.

Mr. Wood began, in 1888, making twisted silk fishing line of very high quality under the label “Silver Streak Fish Lines.”
Thomas H. Wood’s Silk Mill Marker image. Click for full size.
By Michael Herrick, November 6, 2019
3. Thomas H. Wood’s Silk Mill Marker
Samples of this product exist today. The company also made thread for bead necklaces. He enlarged the mill in 1892. In 1903 the brook and penstock were still separate and the mill had machines for wringing, reeling and spinning. Some of those machines exist in the present building and are used to make medical sutures. The T.H. Wood Company was incorporated in 1911. Its officers were Thomas Homer and Jennie Wood. Electricity was introduced to the mill by 1914, and another addition made in 1925.

The mill was sold to the Sutures Company in 1961, and they begin to make silk sutures for the medical community. That product continues to be made today although of a plastic material. The company changed its name to the Deknatel Company and then was sold to the Genzyme Corporation and then to the present Teleflex Corporation. An original grist stone sits near the office entrance.

The Penstock at the Thomas H. Wood’s Silk Mill
The Village of South Coventry as it is historically known, grew and prospered during the 19th century because of the abundant waterpower along Mill Brook. Mill Brook flows along a two-mile course from Lake Wamgumbaug to the Willimantic River, dropping a total of 250 feet along the way. The concentration of water mills that developed within this short distance resulted in South Coventry becoming one of the most vital small mill villages
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in New England.

In recognition of this significant industrial history and he historic and architectural resources of the village, on May 6, 1991, the South Coventry Historic District was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

This Greek revival style hotel was built in 1822 by Solomon Bidwell on a one hundred forty acre track of land. The ell was added by Solomon's son, Lyman Bidwell, around 1850. The property descended to Lyman's son and daughter-in-law, Charles and Lydia Bidwell who operated the establishment until Charles's premature death in 1881 at age 26. During the mid-19th century the hotel also served as the South Coventry Post Office. A Ballroom on the third floor was said to have been a popular gathering place. The double porches were added around 1908. When the trolley started in 1909, the Bidwell House became a stop for the trolley line that ran between Willimantic and Lakeside Park at Lake Wamgumbaug.

By the 1880's most of the one hundred forty acres had been sold. In a 1911 A seven page hand written mortgage of the property the Bidwell House was listed as consisting of “2 acres, a 33 room hotel, barn, and garage, shed, hen coops, the right of using the two springs of water and a list of the entire contents of the hotel including salt & pepper shakers and chamber pots. When Lydia Bidwell Josselyn died in 1918,
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a judge determined the right descendants to be Charles Bidwell’s sisters. In 1920 the property was sold to Edward Navens by the estate of Charles Fitch and Mary Bidwell Clark. Thus ended the Bidwell family connection to this property.

Mr. Navens and his family operated the hotel for 16 years. They added a Pan-Am gas station and in 1933 leased part of the lower level to Frank Parker who opened a tavern. In 1937 Judd Fitch became the new owner. Subsequent tavern owners were Leo T. Flaherty in 1944 and Fred Flaherty in 1956. The property was sold in 1968 to T. Leo Flaherty and the tavern was converted to a Package Store. Since 1982 the property has changed hands four times and in the early 1980s, the hotel was converted to private apartments.
 
Location. 41° 46.104′ N, 72° 18.23′ W. Marker is in Coventry, Connecticut, in Tolland County. Marker is at the intersection of Monument Hill Road and Main Street (Connecticut Route 31), on the right when traveling east on Monument Hill Road. Touch for map. Marker is in this post office area: Coventry CT 06238, United States of America. Touch for directions.
 
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within walking distance of this marker. South Coventry Village (within shouting distance of this marker); Warfield Pond (within shouting distance of this marker); E.A. Tracy Wool Extract and Shoddy Mill (about 300 feet away, measured in a direct line); The Tracy Shoddy Mill (about 300 feet away); The Washburn Mill & The Visitor’s Center (about 700 feet away); Veterans 1861-1865 (about 700 feet away); Captain Nathan Hale Monument (about 700 feet away); Nathan Hale Cemetery (approx. 0.2 miles away). Touch for a list and map of all markers in Coventry.
 
Categories. Industry & Commerce
 

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Credits. This page was last revised on November 10, 2019. This page originally submitted on November 10, 2019, by Michael Herrick of Southbury, Connecticut. This page has been viewed 53 times since then and 4 times this year. Photos:   1, 2, 3. submitted on November 10, 2019, by Michael Herrick of Southbury, Connecticut.
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