Manuscript plan of a textile mill complex in Massachusetts

J[oshua] Thissell Jr., PLAN of Clinton Company’s Property, “Sawyer’s Mills” Boylston Mass, surveyed and drawn by J. Thissell Jr. December 1855. Boylston, Mass., 1855.
Ms in ink, pencil and watercolor on wove paper, 24 ¾”h x 37 1/8”w at neat line plus margins. Lined with canvas by the previous owner.

An accomplished and detailed manuscript plan of a textile mill complex on the Nashua River in Boylston, Massachusetts.

The spinning mill was opened in 1846 by the Clinton Company, which in turn was owned by the Lancaster Mills Corporation of 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. Their Sawyer’s Mills complex was situated at the head of the south branch of the Nashua River, where it flows out of what is now known as Lancaster Mills Pond. It was powered by a “feeding canal” carrying water from above a dam across the Nashua. Though on a much smaller scale than the Bigelows’ textile mills in nearby Lancaster, Massachusetts, Sawyer’s Mills was a classic “company village:” It included not only machine shops and other support functions but also housing for its workers, most of whom had migrated to Boylston from distant agricultural communities.

This manuscript map depicts the Sawyer’s Mills and surrounding area, including the mill buildings, the dam and canal facilities that powered them, outbuildings and company housing surrounding the complex, and some of the surrounding area of Boylston. Much care is given to depicting property boundaries south and east of the mill, with many of the parcels having been purchased from residents by the Clinton Company. The map maker offers however an interesting caveat: “Courses and distances taken from deeds some of the lots were imperfectly surveyed in the first place and where the lines were covered with water and no bounds existing, it was impossible to detect the errors.”

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, just north of Boylston.

“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).

Click here to view a Thissell plan of another Lancaster Mills Corporation property.

Background on the Bigelows 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.


Minor to moderate toning, soiling and staining, with some tearing and chipping along the edges.