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Self-guided Tour of the Springdale Mill Historic Site

The site is located on the Mass Central Rail Trail just west of the I-190 bridge in Holden, MA. Please enjoy your tour, but remember to follow all the caution signs at the site. Please stay on the trail and off the stones, and attend to younger children. Please park or walk your bike and don’t leave anything at the site or remove anything from the site.

Sign #1 – “Reduce Speed, Historic Mill Site Ahead

Sign #2 – WELCOME TO THE SPRINGDALE MILL SITE. Over a century ago this now-quiet area was alive with the sound of machines clanking and people working as they manufactured woolen cloth. The only remains of this once-bustling community are the foundation ruins. Yet these foundations still reveal a story. TIME LINE:

1867 – Greenman Smith, of West Boylston, built the first wooden-mill building.

1873 – Smith enlarged the mill and added one tenement house.

1875 – Fire destroyed the mill.

1876 – Two stone mills were built and two more tenements were added.

1881 – Massachusetts Central Railroad is extended past Springdale to nearby Jefferson, on the western end of Holden.

1892 – Property sold to James Dorr. Steam power added, as were two tenements.

1905 – Property conveyed to the Metropolitan Water and Sewerage Board.

Sign #3 – MILLPOND – Where you are standing was once covered by 10 feet of water as the dam held back the flow of the Quinapoxet River. The water provided power to run the machines in the mill. Many New England lakes and ponds were originally created as mill ponds. The three small openings at the base of the dam allowed the water to enter the flume.

Sign #4 – DAM – Extending 115 feet across the Quinapoxet River, the dam was enlarged in the 1870s from the 85-foot dam first built in 1865 to create the mill pond. The massive stone works to the right are the northern end of the dam. You can see the southern end of the dam across the river. Flashboards (wooden planks) could be placed on top of the dam and held in place by iron rods. These would allow for seasonal control of the mill-pond water level. Adding or removing flashboards raised or lowered the level of the pond.

Sign #5 – FLUME – This stone-lined ditch ran 300 feet from the dam to the mill. The flume maintained the same level of the water as the mill pond until it entered the mill, while the level of the river dropped. As the water entered the mill it fell 17 feetThe difference in height provided the head, or power, to spin the turbines.

Sign #6 – STOCK HOUSE #1 – This two-story, wooden stock house was one of two such buildings on the site. One floor stored the washed and dried wool before it was processed, and the other floor was a home for some of the mill workers. The building rested on granite corner posts. A woolen storehouse was often separated from the other buildings in a mill complex due to the combustible nature of wool.

Sign #7 – PICKER HOUSE – The picker house was a one-story stone structure. It was divided into two sections separated by a nine-inch thick brick wall with a heavy wooden door. Water from the flume entered the building, activated a separate turbine, and powered the picker machines within the building. Because of the nature of the dried wool and the speed of the machines, this building was made as fireproof as possible. One section had two “shoddy” picker machines, which were used for recycling woolen fabric. A shoddy picker would take old and used woolen cloth, rip it apart, and recycle the woolen fibers. Because shoddy cloth used recycled material, it was considered cheaper and of poorer quality than material made from raw wool. Hence, today the word “shoddy” is used to mean “of inferior quality.” The other section housed a mixing picker, which took the washed new wool that came from STOCK HOUSE #1. Here workers would feed the new wool into a machine equipped with metal pins that would break large chunks and knots of wool apart into smaller sizes suitable for use in the main mill.

Sign #8

WATER AND STEAM POWER – This was the power center of the mill. Water from the flume entered this one-story wooden building. The 30-inch turbine converted the flowing water into rotary motion to turn a series of shafts, belts, and pulleys, which powered the machines on all floors of the mill. Besides the turbine, a Fales & Jenkins Pump was located here to provide water for processing the wool. In 1892 James Dorr made extensive renovations to add steam power, though water power remained a source of energy. The large granite block with the protruding rods is the base for the steam engine, which required a coal-fired boiler.

COAL ROOM – A single-story stone building stored coal to power the steam boiler in the basement. The boiler provided heat for the mill and for the machines that dried the wool and fabric. Later, coal fired the steam generator to run some of the mill machines.

Sign #9

DYE HOUSE – The dye house was a single-story wooden building attached to the west end of the main mill. One end of the building sat on the edge of the stone wall that ran along the Quinapoxet River. A rotary pump in the dye house was powered by the main waterwheel. The pump provided water for the dye house. Here the wool was washed, dyed and processed. The wool was scoured in a series of successively cleaner washes. This reduced the wool in weight by as much as 50%. The wool was then sent to the drying room of STOCK HOUSE #2, and was later returned if it was to be dyed.

STOCK HOUSE #2 – This two-story wooden building was located between the flume and the river. The first floor contained the “Drug Room,” where the chemicals used in processing the wool were kept. Besides the dyes, such as indigo, copperas and logwoodand the mordants (which were used to fix the dye colors), the room would also store the soaps and an alkali, such as soda ash, and the oils needed to process the wool.

Sign #10 – MAIN MILL BUILDING – This building was the heart of the mill complex. The three-story building with a basement was constructed of locally quarried granite. Only three floors of the building were visible from this side, but all four could be seen from the river. A brick chimney rose from the steam boiler in the basement. Burling and fulling of the wool material took place in the basement. Burling was the first step in the finishing process, where defects such as knots were located. The burler repaired some imperfections and marked others that needed the mender’s attention. The process in which the finished wool fabric undergoes a controlled shrinkage to tighten the weave is called “fulling” or “milling.” Further processing softened the fabric from an almost burlap stiffness to a fine, soft wool. This was considered one of the most important jobs at the mill. A cold wool dryer and a Cleveland cloth dryer were also located in the basement. Large wooden doors allowed access from the basement into the COAL ROOM and DYE HOUSE. Weaving and warping took place on the ground floor. Warping, or “dressing,” was preparing the lengthwise, or warp, threads for the pattern to be placed on the loom. Sizing (a liquid made from starch) was placed on the warp threads to keep the yarn from fraying. Weft yarns (those running from side to side) were placed on bobbins, or wooden spools. The first inspection of the finished cloth took place here in the weave room.

Sign #11 – MAIN MILL BUILDING – Centered on this end of the main mill was a stone stair tower that provided access to all floors of the mill and rose above the roof of the building. Placing the stair tower on the outside of the building permitted more flexibility in machine placement within the building. Attached to this side of the stair tower was the mill office. Carding was carried out on the second floor of the mill. The carding machines gently separated the tangled wool fibers until no clumps remained, and aligned the fibers of the wool to create long lengths of wool called roving. The third story was reserved for spinning. Spinning took the long wool roving and stretched and twisted it into yarn. The spinning process had been so automated by the time this mill was constructed that a young child usually could tend two of the self-acting spinning jacks.

Sign #12 – RIVER OVERLOOK – The Wachusett Reservoir was constructed between 1897 and 1907 to supplement Boston’s water supply. The dam across the Nashua River in Clinton locked up the waters of the major tributaries, the Stillwater River and the Quinapoxet River, which can be seen and heard from this spot. As a result of the creation of the reservoir, about 1,700 people were required to leave their homes and six mills were displaced, including the Springdale Woolen Mill. After the Metropolitan Water and Sewerage Board purchased the mill from James Dorr, the buildings were razed and the site was abandoned in an effort to keep the water entering the Wachusett Reservoir as clean as possible.

Sign #13 – STABLE & CARPENTER SHOP – In this corner a single-story wooden building housed horses used to transport the materials and products to and from the mill area. A small carpenter shop also provided for general repairs and maintenance.

Sign #14 –BRIDGE ABUTMENTS – These abutments provided support for the bridge over the railroad in order to connect the mill site with the Mill Village and Springdale Road.



Sign #17 – SPRINGDALE MILL VILLAGE – It was important for the success of mill operation to have a reliable source of workers. To ensure this, mill owners in New England usually constructed housing near their mills. These multi-family buildings were owned by the mill owner and rented to the workers. Multi-family houses were called tenements. Over time, the owners of the Springdale Mill created a small community of homes. In 1905 the Springdale Mill Village consisted of a single four-tenement house and four two-tenement houses, along with several related outbuildings. Other members of the mill workforce were often the children of local farmers or boarders who rented rooms at nearby farms. The mill would have employed about 35 people.

Sign #17A – FOUR TENEMENT FOUNDATION – This site was the first of the tenement housing built for the Springdale Mill by Greenman J. Smith in 1873. Time and nature’s elements are slowly reclaiming the site.

Sign #18 – TWO TENEMENT FOUNDATION – A typical tenement house was a wood-framed, two-story house with two separate entrances in the center of the front wall. Based upon the 1880 and 1900 census figures, 8 to 12 people would have lived in a single tenement.

Sign #19 – TWO TENEMENT FOUNDATION – This tenement and the one to the left were added by Mr. Smith in 1876. Frequently, a whole family living in a tenement would be employed by the mill. Census records show that the youngest workers at Springdale were 11 years old.

Sign #20 – TWO TENEMENT FOUNDATION – The foundation of this tenement and the one next to it is unusual in that there are two symmetrical additions on each side of the basic building. James Dorr built this tenement and the one next to it in 1892. One of these tenements was moved to West Boylston the site in 1905 and has become a private residence.

Sign #21 – TWO TENEMENT FOUNDATION – Besides housing families, a tenement could also be home to 8 to 12 unrelated individuals. These people were called boarders. Across the road from these two tenements were barns and other outbuildings.

Sign #22 – [Identical to Sign #1, but would be located on the Rail Trail 100 feet east of the main mill building.

Thank you for visiting!

Please come join us for our annual Springdale Mill Celebration, held on the Springdale Mill site.  Check the website and calendar for more information (usually scheduled on the last Saturday – weather-permitting – of September).

Wachusett Greenways… Connecting Our Community with Trails and Greenways