Now I know what to do with those photos – “thanks” to Heather Wilkinson Rojo at Nutfield Genealogy; she blogs Weekly Wednesday Weathervanes in New Hampshire. Please check out her page and enjoy the many unusual weathervane photos and often you’ll be entertained with a history lesson. It’s amazing at what you can encounter in your travels – You Just Need To Look Up!
Ponemah Mill (Taftville, CT)
My husband and I discovered this textile mill several years ago on an antiquing hunt. It’s always when you’re looking for one thing, when you discover another. As we drove down Rt. 97 we first saw the top cupola looming high above the tree tops, and in unison we said, “what is that?” We soon rounded the corner and were at a lost for words at the majestic buildings, that seemed to go on and on and on – as far as the eye could see. We were in such awe, that we pulled off the road for a better look and out came my camera.
We have made several visits to view this mill and each visit always results in discovering something new. On our second visit, we even braved a closer look to this mammoth building – that my husband says has to be 50 to 60 feet to the top peaks – but that’s not to the cupola’s, which are extra added height. We bravely pulled our car through the gates and drove bravely down to the side of the building. I quickly grabbed my camera for more closeups before the police arrived, which I just knew any minute I would discover behind our car. But we were lucky and we escaped without having to explain what crazies we were – and how we were obsessed over this mill.
The name “Ponemah” was taken from Longfellow’s poem, Song of Hiawatha, and is said to mean “our hope.”
On this last weekend trip, I looked up to discover an awesome weathervane – out came the camera for closeups. My next mission was to find a route to the other side of the Shetucket River for some back shots of the building. I had wanted to do that for a long time, but had never found my way. After taking a few wrong turns, we gave up and went antiquing instead. On the way home, my husband exited off again at Taftville and said, “let’s give it one more try.” We drove over a small bridge, just down Rt. 169, and as soon as we cleared the bridge, he yelled, “boat dock.” It was the sign for the boat dock we had been looking for; we had seen the boat ramp from over on Rt. 97 as we looked across the water.
YAY… I finally found the site I needed to photograph the back of the mill. Even though, I’m happy with my shot – I know I will be making a return visit in the fall – too many leaves. A boat would be better, but I don’t think that’s going to happen.
My photos don’t do this impressive structure justice – it needs to be seen with your own eyes to drink it in. So if you’re ever in the area of I-395 in Connecticut, exit off for Taftville on Rt. 97 and within a mile or two, you’ll be in awe of a structure larger than any you’ve ever seen.
The main building was started in 1866, but wasn’t completed until 1871. Additional mill buildings were built later in 1884 and 1902. The last building, a large weaving shed, was added in 1910. At the top of the working peak, the mill employed over 1500 individuals, who operated 265,000 spindles and over 4000 looms. What I haven’t discovered, and seriously want to know… how many people were hired to build this mill – and what was the cost.
It was predominantly Irish workers who manned those machines, but soon the depression panic of 1873 caused bad relations with the mill owners and a strike occurred in 1875; 1200 workers walked out on strike. The owners soon replaced the workers with French Canadians and evicted the Irish worker from the company owned mill housing.
Ponemah Mills operated for over 100 years and was considered the largest textile mill in the world. It originally was called the Taftville Mill, but later renamed Ponemah Mill. It sits on 600 acres of land on the banks of the Shetucket River. The mill was first powered from huge wheels turned by the running water, but later converted to electricity.
Today the massive Ponemah Mill sits silently along the Shetucket river – full of history – full of stories to be told – and waiting to be restored. It has been bought a few years ago by a development corporation and their plans are to renovate and turn these buildings into condo’s. We finally saw evidence of the beginning of renovations this weekend, but it is going to be a long haul; there is just so much to do – it overwhelms me even trying to figure out where would you even start?
Unfortunately I can’t zoom in enough on the postcard pictures to see if the same weathervane that is on there now – was on there then. I’m thinking that once it went up, no one was going to remove it – and I hope no one ever attempted to steal it – it’s seriously up high!
The Ponemah Mill closed its doors in 1972 and was one of the last New England mills to shut down.
If you’d like more history and photographs, search Taftville or Ponemah Mill in Taftville, Ct. I even found a great story, Walking in the Footsteps of my mother; an awesome account of her mother’s life working in the mill.
If you have seen this mill in person, I’d love to hear your thoughts! Any ideas on the design motif of the weathervane – send me your comments!!!
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