The textile mills of the Naugatuck Valley brought tremendous change to towns like Beacon Falls. The mills not only brought railroads and factories but also the thousands of German, English, Irish, and eastern European immigrants that, even today, make-up the area’s diverse population. From its simple start in home-woven woolen fabrics to its eventual conversion into affordable residential housing, the evolution of the textile facilities in Beacon Falls sheds light into the impact the industry had on the entire Naugatuck Valley region.
Lying on both sides of the Naugatuck River, Beacon Falls took advantage of its coveted water-power supply to foster the development of new industry in the 19th century. As early as 1836, companies explored the possibility of increasing the natural water power of the river. In 1850, the American Hard Rubber Company helped facilitate the construction of a dam for these purposes and began producing vulcanized rubber goods in town.
From Home Woolen Company to Homes
In 1860, the American Hard Rubber Company moved its operations from Beacon Falls to Long Island, New York, and three years later, the Home Woolen Company bought the vacant rubber plant. At the time of this purchase, the facilities consisted of a three-story factory (approximately 160 feet long) and about 30 houses. Under the supervision of John Wolfe, the Beacon Falls agent of the Hartford-based Home Woolen Company, the enterprise upgraded its facilities and installed new machinery. By the following year, Home Woolen capably manufactured 40,000 yards of cloth per month, much of which went into the production of woolen shawls.
In 1867, the company expanded the main mill—doubling its initial size. After producing nearly 13,000 shawls per month, work at the mill temporary halted in December 1876, thanks in part to an American interest in long coats that reduced demand for the woolen shawls made popular during the Civil War. But just 30 years later, John Wolfe purchased some of the machinery and tenements at the mill facility, reorganized them the following year and resumed production. The Home Woolen Company remained in operation until July of 1887.
Today the mill facilities are largely residential. Converted to apartments in 1986, the Beacon Mill Village is a shining example of adaptive reuse. Its rich history and beautifully restored brick and timber structures are just two of the many reasons why this complex received a listing on the National Register of Historic Places.