The Somersville Historic District is located on the western side of Somers near its border with Enfield. The time frame of the district extends from the pre-industrial period into the early twentieth century and encompasses the industrial village of Somersville and the factories and mill related housing which sprang up in response to the industrial growth. As is typically found in a rural industrial setting, however, agrarian pursuits were not abandoned and farming continued in tandem with industry producing a number of nineteenth century farmsteads. The impetus and the main driving force for industrial growth in Somersville since 1836 had been the textile mill business. In 1879 Rockwell Keeney purchased the existing textile mill and its water rights and founded the Somersville Manufacturing Company. Keeney and his sons expanded the existing plant which his grandsons later fully modernized.
By 1886 the company employed 200 workers and had built a new three story brick weaving and spinning mill which soon tripled production. It was powered in tandem with the original wooden mill with both steam and waterpower. By the early twentieth century the plant had fully converted to hydro-electric power; modern looms were installed which increased production capacity fivefold. Since investment in the community was necessary to attract labor force and sustain growth, scores of workers’ houses were built on company land. It can be estimated that at least 150 families and many single workers were housed in this manner, but company housing did not fully meet the demand. A number of rental properties were built by others, especially on Main Street. Some of the workforce lived outside the district; those who came as far away as Enfield travelled to work by trolley.
The firm continued to specialize in heavy woolen cloth, such as kersey or melton, and supplied the military during world wars. Expensive coatings and suitings, such as chinchilla or cashmere, were added to the product line in the twentieth century. Raw materials for these products came from all over the world. Wool from Australia and New Zealand and cashmere and camel’s hair from China and Arabia were shipped to the port of Boston and carried by rail to the nearest depot located in Enfield. Wholesale jobbers marketed these products, an unusual practice for a family-based firm. More commonly, such companies maintained sales offices in major cities run by a family member. After weathering the depression and its attendant labor unrest, circumstances that forced many textile mills out of business, the Somersville Manufacturing Company prospered during World War II. Unlike many textile firms that closed or moved out of Connecticut in the postwar period, the company continued to grow. Much of its post war success was due to Robert Keeney, a member of the fourth generation who returned after World War II to enter the business. Following the precedent set by his great grandfather, one that was followed by every member of the family involved with the company, he chose to live near the mill, renovating the house at 63 Maple Street.
By the1950's production was ten times what it had been in the 1880s and 400 workers were employed. Rising labor costs and the expense of meeting new environmental regulations in the 1960s were finally the Somersville Manufacturing Company’s undoing and it closed for good in 1969 and sold off all of its real estate in the village. The mill was destroyed by fire in 2012. The site is currently vacant with the Town weighing various options for future mixed use development. Even though the mill is gone its historical presence still dominates Somersville together with the worker’s housing that is a reminder of the industrial presence that existed for over a century.
The 1880 buildings currently existing on the east side of Maple Street next to the dam were built as a pump house and picker house that was used for preparing raw cotton for spinning in support of the mill. The Mill Pond is now retained by a 90 foot stone and concrete dam enlarged over the years from the original sawmill dam that was built in the mid-1700s to produce power. One important pre-industrial building remaining is the Loomer’s Blacksmith Shop at the intersection of Maple and Pinney Streets. Built of local brownstone rather the more ephemeral wood, it has survived long after it ceased to function and a reminder of the way of life a century ago.
63 Maple St. Somers, CT 06071
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