Taconic Woolen Mill

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Taconic Mill, as seen from North Street, 1911. Photo, from "Pittsfield, The Gem City of the Berkshire Hills
Taconic Mill, as seen from North Street, 1911. Photo, from “Pittsfield, The Gem City of the Berkshire Hills”

Before the Civil War, the profitability of woolen mills meant that every conceivable site along a falling river was re-purposed to house the new industrial machinery for carding, spinning and weaving wool.  In 1856, the brothers George and Edward Learned launched Taconic Mill on the western branch of the Housatonic, wedged between two other mills:  the Pontoosuc Woolen Mills upstream and the Pittsfield Woolen Mill downstream.  The site they chose had been a musket shop owned by Lemuel Pomeroy (who had started his own woolen mill in the center of the city.)

The original building was a large wooden structure measuring 150 feet by 50 feet and four stories high.  The choice of wood material ran counter to the trend since most of the mills in the city were of brick construction by mid-century, better able to withstand fire.  The company ran a brisk business through the Civil War, employing over 150 operatives to produce 450,000 yards of woolen cassimere (a soft wool like cashmere.)

Perhaps the Learneds had too many financial interests (including silver mining near Lake Superior and a railroad across Mexico) as they shut down operations for seven years in 1873, the same year as a financial panic across the nation.   Then, James Wilson leased the mill and later purchased it outright with a series of successive partners and sporadic shutdowns due to recurring panics in the late 1800s.    During this time, Wilson and his partner Arthur Horton bought out the mill downstream, then known as Bel-Air manufacturing.

One of the most unique structures ever seen in Pittsfield was the office building that James Wilson had built in the 1890s.  With a wrap-around porch and a hip roof with dormers, the shingled house resembled a country lodge and stood at the front of the complex of brick and wooden structures.

The mill stayed in operation until 1927, and slowly the buildings were razed.  One of the last remaining structures was the office building that was destroyed by fire in 1981.  The only building still standing today is a square, two-story brick building with a brick smokestack that may have served as a boiler room powering the entire complex.

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