Colt Paper Mill

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His mill and the paper produced in it have long been associated with the Crane family, but the neighborhood on the border between Pittsfield and Dalton still bears his name.

Such is the fate of Coltsville, named after Thomas Colt, who bought a paper mill in 1851, converted just three years earlier from a tannery.  The site had first been occupied, like other mills in the town, as an iron forge, next to the eastern branch of the Housatonic River.

Still, Thomas Colt needed more water – and clean water — to power his machinery and to turn the pulp into paper.  Upstream in Dalton were the paper mills owned by Zenas Crane and his sons.  So, Colt dug the first artesian well in western Massachusetts in 1856 to a depth of 250 feet.  Digging through the rock and granite, Colt was able to tap into 8000 gallons of pure water every hour.  In 1862, with increasing demand, Colt demolished the old building and built a two-story brick mill, measuring 100 by 50 feet with a lean-to in the rear of almost the same size.  The new plant had two rag engines that turned 350 tons of rags into paper each year, employing 15 men and 30 young women.  A few years later, in 1868, he added a second well, this time to a depth of 501 feet.  Colt also operated a saw mill on the same water privilege.

Like many in the last half of the 19th century, fortunes were fleeting, and the Panic of 1873 hit Colt hard.  On August 11, 1873, a notice appeared in the New York Times saying Thomas Colt had liabilities of $220,000 and creditors could secure his real estate against their losses.   He leased the building out to another concern, who also could not make the enterprise profitable, and the building sat empty for several years.

When the Crane family secured the first government contract to print paper money, they needed to expand their operations so they bought Colt’s mill in 1879.  A few years later, in 1892, a fire destroyed the original mill.  With the lucrative contract to print currency, the Cranes quickly rebuilt the Government Mill that currently stands on the site of Colt’s old building.

Thomas Colt’s fortunes paralleled those of one of his brothers, Henry.   The year after Thomas bought the paper mill, Henry purchased Pittsfield Woolen Mill, on the western branch of the Housatonic, and served as President until 1873, when he too was forced to sell this mill to Bel-Air Manufacturing.  A third brother James followed his father into law, becoming a member of the state’s Supreme Court.

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