Manuscript survey of Lancaster Mills in Clinton, Massachusetts

J[oshua] Thissell, PLAN OF NASHUA RIVER FROM LANCASTER MILLS TO S. HARRIS. SURVEYED AND DRAWN AUGUST 1850 BY J. Thissell CLINTON. Clinton, Mass, August 1850.
Ms in ink and watercolor on wove paper, 22”h x 35 ½”w at neat line plus margins. Lined with linen by the previous owner.
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An accomplished map of the Lancaster Mills complex in Clinton, Massachusetts.

The Lancaster Mills Corporation was founded in Lancaster, Massachusetts in 1844 by brothers Horatio and Erastus Bigelow. Horatio seems to have been the entrepreneur of the two, while Erastus was a serial inventor and an expert in process improvement and reengineering. He used his skills to revolutionize the production in America of “figured fabrics,” textiles where the design is woven or knitted in rather than printed on as a separate production step. By 1844 the Bigelows had already built and operated other successful textile mills in the area, but the Lancaster Mills, expressly for the production of gingham, was their largest venture yet. The mill complex was situated along the Nashua River, across which a dam was constructed to power three enormous “breast wheels,” each 26 feet in diameter. It was a classic “company village” and included not only machine shops and other support functions but also attractive worker housing just across the street.

This manuscript map depicts the Lancaster Mills and surrounding area, including the mill buildings, the dam and canal facilities that powered them, company housing across Green and Chestnut Streets, and some of the surrounding area of Clinton. The map was surveyed drawn and signed by architect and civil engineer Joshua Thissell (1823-1907). Thissell was a Lowell native who first came to Lancaster in 1847 to assist John Hoadley, the chief engineer of the Bigelows’ enterprises. Already by the following year he had succeeded Hoadley, and went on to achieve much success as an engineer and a valued citizen of the Town of Clinton:

“For many years all the civil engineering done by the corporations, and nearly all that of the town, was done by him. He was also an architect and many hundreds of the buildings now standing in Clinton were constructed in accordance with his plans…. Mr. Thissell has been a justice of peace since 1858, and has made out many legal papers. For years, civil cases were tried before him. The confidence in his judgment was universal….. Few of our citizens have been so often elected to town offices.” (Ford, pp. 379-380).

It is dated August 1850, the year the Mills became fully operational, produced almost 4.5 million yards of cloth, and yielded the first dividend to investors. In March of that year the area around the Mills, which had developed a large population and assumed its own identity, separated from Lancaster and was incorporated as the Town of Clinton. The Mills remained in operation until 1931, were listed in 2010 on the National Register of Historic Places and have been converted into condominium residences, the “Lofts at Lancaster Mills.”

References
Background from Andrew Elmer Ford, History of the Origin of the Town of Clinton, Massachusetts. Clinton, MA: W.J. Coulter, 1896, pp. 216-229 and 379-380.

Condition

Minor toning, soiling and staining, with a few equally minor tears and chips along the edges.