Historic Killingly Ballouville Mill

 




As I recall that April day in 2018, the memory unfolds with the vividness of a carefully preserved photograph. The sky, a vast expanse of unyielding blue, served as the perfect backdrop for our excursion. J and I, driven by curiosity and a keen sense of adventure, stood at the threshold of the historic Ballouville Mill in Killingly, Connecticut. This relic of a bygone industrial era was nestled imposingly between two homes as if guarding the secrets of its storied past.






Our entry into the mill was less an act of intrusion and more a gentle push through time's veil. An opening – not quite a door, nor a window – beckoned us into the heart of a forgotten world. Inside, the mill presented itself as a cathedral of industry, now silent and solemn. Wooden beams and columns, like the ribs of a great leviathan, stretched upwards, supporting the weight of history and time. The machinery, once the pulsing heart of this place, had long since ceased their hum of productivity. In their absence lay a collection of detritus: PVC pipes, construction materials, and scattered refuse, each layer marking a distinct epoch in the mill's descent into quietude.


Amongst this disarray, a peculiar structure captured my attention – a metal roundhouse compartment, incongruously perched on the third floor. Its presence was as enigmatic as a greenhouse trapped within the confines of these aged walls, a silent witness to the mill's unspoken history. This singular feature, with no apparent purpose or origin, added a layer of mystery to the already rich tapestry of the mill's past.





Nestled in the heart of Windham County, Connecticut, Killingly is a town rich in history and steeped in the legacy of the Industrial Revolution. The Ballouville Mill, a cornerstone of this heritage, stands as a silent witness to the town's evolution. Killingly, comprising the borough of Danielson and the villages of Attawaugan, Ballouville, Dayville, East Killingly, Rogers, and South Killingly, is a mosaic of communities each with its own unique story.


The roots of Killingly stretch back to 1653 when John Winthrop, the son of the founding governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, was granted land once held by the Quinebaug Indian tribe. The name "Quinebaug," derived from the indigenous languages of southern New England, means "long pond," a nod to the area's abundant water resources. These waterways, vital to the town's growth, would later power the mills that became the backbone of Killingly's economy.


In 1700, English colonists first settled the area, initially calling it "Aspinock," a name that perhaps intertwined the native term for "place" with the name of an English settler, Lieutenant Aspinwall. The incorporation of Killingly in May 1708 brought a new name, suggested by Governor Saltonstall, who drew inspiration from his ancestral lands in Yorkshire. Thus, "Kellingly," later altered in spelling, came into being.


From its inception, Killingly's destiny was intertwined with its waterways. Sawmills and gristmills sprouted along the streams, harnessing the natural power to grind grain and saw lumber. The availability of water power made the area ripe for manufacturing, leading to the birth of numerous small mill villages, each a self-contained community with its own churches, schools, stores, and housing.





The Industrial Revolution, a transformative period in American history, found fertile ground in Killingly. The town's textile industry, mechanized and vibrant, positioned Killingly at the forefront of this industrial awakening. By the 1830s, it had become Connecticut's largest producer of cotton goods, processing cotton shipped from the Deep South in its numerous mills. This industrial might was not confined to cotton alone; by the 1930s, Killingly had earned a reputation as a significant producer of window curtains, another testament to its versatile manufacturing capabilities.


Yet, the tides of fortune are ever-changing. The Great Depression, a period of economic turmoil, brought challenges that forced many of Killingly's mills and factories to close, retool, or face abandonment. Fires, floods, and the relentless march of time took their toll, leaving behind architectural ghosts of a once-thriving industrial landscape.




The tale of the Ballouville Mill, nestled in Killingly, Connecticut, is not just a story of bricks and mortar; it's a saga of American industrial evolution, of dreams built and dreams lost. The mill's journey began in 1825, under the auspices of Leonard Ballou and his father-in-law, Jabez Amesbury. Constructed as a cotton mill, its scope broadened over time to include the production of clocks, precision equipment, and textiles, becoming a central figure in the bustling mill village aptly named Ballouville.





Ballou and Amesbury, visionaries of their time, seized the water privileges along the Five Mile River, harnessing the river's might for the mill's operations. Their collaboration lasted until 1845, after which Ballou took the reins alone. Around the mill, a community sprang up, with houses for workers and their families, hinting at the mill's burgeoning influence.


In 1859, a new chapter began when the Attawaugan Manufacturing Company, founded by Norwich residents H.B. Norton and L. and W.L. Blackstone, purchased the mill. This acquisition heralded a period of significant expansion, with the company eventually operating three mills along the river. By the late 19th century, the Attawaugan Manufacturing Company had become a pillar of Killingly's economy, boasting over 500 employees and more than 900 looms by 1893. However, the shifting sands of economic fortunes in the 1920s led the company towards liquidation, a common fate for many New England textile mills of the era.





The mill, along with other properties, was sold in 1926 for $2,000,000 to Powdrell and Alexander, Inc., a Boston-based firm that transformed Killingly into "Curtain Town U.S.A." This new chapter saw the expansion of the mill's output to include a variety of curtains and window treatments. The deal was not just about machinery and buildings; it included water privileges, housing, and communal buildings, a testament to the mill's integral role in the community.


Powdrell and Alexander's reign lasted until the 1950s, after which the mill's story became one of changing hands and shifting purposes. From the R.W. Cramer Company to the Hale Manufacturing Company/Monsanto Corporation, each owner left their mark, yet none could rekindle the mill's former glory. The once-thriving industrial hub slowly transformed into a storage facility, its productive heartbeat fading into silence.





The mill's final chapter seemed set for a hopeful revival. Plans for transforming the site into residential units, including 80 condominiums and retail space, were mooted. The Turner Group's vision promised a new lease of life for the old mill, repurposing its historic walls for modern living. Yet fate, it seems, had other plans. On November 16, 2023, a fire, likely set by arson, ravaged the structure, dashing hopes of revival and leaving behind a legacy of what could have been.





The Ballouville Mill, a three-story masonry edifice in Killingly, Connecticut, stood as a testament to the industrial ingenuity of the 19th century. Comprising four primary blocks adjoined in architectural solidarity, the mill was a prominent feature on Ballouville Road, a mere 150 feet west of its intersection with Chestnut Hill Road. Its location, approximately 850 feet southwest of Ballouville Pond, was strategic, tapping directly into the pond as its original power source.


This historical complex, with roots tracing back to around 1825, showcased the architectural norms of its time. The primary building, a three-story structure measuring 86 by 189 feet, was constructed of stone with a low-pitched front-gabled roof. Its design was complemented by a secondary block, slightly smaller at 72 by 58 feet, which adjoined the main building's north elevation. These structures were notable for their distinctive stone quoins, rectangular window openings with stone sills and lintels, and diamond-shaped masonry anchors – features that echoed the mill’s historic origins and its enduring presence.





One of the mill's unique characteristics was its millrace, which originally ran under the block at the northern end of the plant. However, the course of time saw this watercourse decommissioned and filled in, marking an end to the mill's direct engagement with the natural forces that once powered it. The mill’s design was further accentuated by a four-story rectangular stair tower at the center of the primary block's south elevation, flanked by two additional four-story stair towers on the east side. These towers not only served a functional purpose but also added to the architectural gravitas of the structure.


Tragically, on November 16, 2023, the Ballouville Mill was engulfed in flames, a fire of unknown origin that ultimately led to the loss of this historic structure. The following day, the town, in a bid to ensure safety and manage the aftermath, engaged a demolition contractor to dismantle what remained. As investigators delve into the cause of this devastating blaze, concerns have been raised about the presence of squatters in the mill, adding a layer of complexity to the ongoing investigation.






Sources

1. Yankowski, Peter, "Eversource: Power restored after fire at old Killingly mill caused hundreds of outages", November 16, 2023,  CTInsider

2. Ingalls, Courtney, "Crews battle mill fire on Ballouville Rd. in Killingly", November 16, 2023, News8 WTNH

3. Bouras, Joanna, "Massive fire engulfs old mill building in Killingly", November 16, 2023, 10 WJAR

4. "Demolition begins after fire damaged vacant mill in Killingly", November 16, 2023, NBC Connecticut

5. Killingly, Connecticut, Wikipedia

6. Coolidge, Natalie L., and Spencer, Robert A.. Killingly. United States, Arcadia, 1999.

7. Grahn, Matt, "Killingly gets money to start redeveloping three polluted parcels of land: What's next", August 21, 2023, Norwich Bulletin

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