«REPORT ON THE PIERCE SHOPS SPOFFORD VILLAGE CHESTERFIELD, NEW HAMPSHIRE JAMES L. GARVIN JUNE 11, 2005 The following report is based on a brief ...»
NEW HAMPSHIRE DIVISION HISTORICAL RESOURCES
State of New Hampshire, Department of Cultural Resources 603-271-3483
19 Pillsbury Street, 2nd floor, Concord NH 03301-3570 603-271-3558
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REPORT ON THE PIERCE SHOPS
CHESTERFIELD, NEW HAMPSHIRE
JAMES L. GARVINJUNE 11, 2005 The following report is based on a brief inspection of the Pierce Shops buildings in Spofford Village on the morning of June 9, 2005. The purpose of the inspection was to gain an understanding of the structural system, approximate dates, evolution, and structural and cultural integrity of these buildings. Present during the inspection were Catherine Young of the United States Environmental Protection Agency; John Liptak of the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services; Cornelia (Neil) Jenness, Chesterfield local historian; James McConaha, New Hampshire State Historic Preservation Officer; and James L. Garvin, New Hampshire State Architectural Historian.
Historical Background The Pierce shop buildings appear to be the last surviving structures in Spofford Village, in the township of Chesterfield, that relate to two categories of manufacture for which Chesterfield attained national prominence: the manufacture of bits, gimlets, and augers, and the manufacture of spinning wheel heads.1 The northernmost building in the group was apparently erected about 1880 for the manufacture of brush handles, and therefore relates to a third theme and a pervasive manufacturing phenomenon in southern New Hampshire in the latter nineteenth century: the prevalence of mills and shops for manufacturing products from native woods.2 1
The following introductory paragraphs are excerpted from the document, “Pierce Shops, Spofford Village:
National Register Statement of Significance,” written by James L. Garvin on December 5, 2004.
2 Local historian Cornelia Jenness states that local oral tradition asserts that the brush handle shop was a separate building located somewhere to the east of the larger, rear building of the surviving Pierce Shops.
2 According to a plan showing the property of F. B. Pierce & Company in 1902, the firm then owned three water-powered mill sites arrayed along a declivity along which Partridge Brook fell a total of 47 feet, providing hydrostatic heads of 15 feet for the upper mills (the property addressed here), 12 feet for the middle or lower mill, and 20 feet for a sawmill that was located farthest downstream. Of these three waterpower sites, only the upper mill complex survives; the middle or lower mill and the sawmill have disappeared.
Frederick Benjamin Pierce (1845-1928) was a manufacturer of bits and augers, spinning wheel heads, and brush handles. He was the son of, and business successor to, Benjamin Pierce (1814who pioneered in the manufacture and distribution of both bits and spinning wheel heads and attained national prominence in both industries. The New Hampshire Historical Society owns a ledger and a daybook/diary of Benjamin Pierce, and the Old Sturbridge Village Research Library owns a Pierce daybook, recording the years between 1859 and 1866. The latter afforded the documentation for a detailed study of Benjamin Pierce’s manufacture of spinning wheel heads in 1997.3 Factory Village (now Spofford) in the township of Chesterfield attained remarkable eminence in the production of edge tools, bits, augers, and gimlets in the latter half of the nineteenth century.
Many of the settlers of this area immigrated from Connecticut and Rhode Island, and brought with them a tradition of manufacturing wood-boring tools. The town of Chesterfield, which never attained a population of more than 2200 inhabitants during the nineteenth century, nevertheless claimed no fewer than ten auger makers during that century.4 One of these men, Richard Henry Hopkins (1831-1877), patented a design for an auger or bit in 1870. Hopkins worked for, and in partnership with, Benjamin Pierce, who owned the manufacturing property discussed here.5 Chesterfield manufacturers often combined the business of forging and finishing bits and augers with that of manufacturing spinning wheel heads. The skills necessary to fashion augers were similar to those needed in the forging and polishing of iron or steel spindles for wool wheels.6 The history of bit manufacture in Spofford Village seems initially to have focused on a large building that formerly stood on Partridge Brook south of Main Street, close to the point where the course of the stream turns sharply north and passes under the road to intersect the Frederick Benjamin Pierce property. As noted in the 1882 History of Chesterfield, this building was 3 Frank G. White, “Heads Were Spinning: The Significance of the Patent Accelerating Spinning Wheel Head,” Textiles in Early New England: Design, Production, and Consumption (The Dublin Seminar for New England Folklife Annual Proceedings, 1997): 64-81. At the time of his writing, Frank G. White was Curator of Mechanical Arts at Old Sturbridge Village. The ledger owned by the New Hampshire Historical Society covers the years between about 1850 and about 1870, and confirms the narrative and the analyses that White derived from the separate daybook at Old Sturbridge Village.
4 Population of New Hampshire, 1623-1940 (Concord, N. H.: State Planning and Development Commission, 1946):12-13; James L. and Donna-Belle Garvin, Instruments of Change: New Hampshire Hand Tools and Their Makers, 1800-1900 (Concord, N. H.: New Hampshire Historical Society, 1985), p. 18.
5 Garvin and Garvin, p. 77. Local historian Cornelia Jenness states that her research indicates that Richard Henry Hopkins, Jonathan S. Hopkins, and Elliot P. Hopkins always owned the property here referred to as the “Pierce Shops” during their lifetimes, and that the property passed into the hands of Frederick Benjamin Pierce at a later time. Thus, the “Pierce Shops” may historically have operated during their early years as the “Hopkins Shops.” 6 White, pp. 72-73.
3 originally the old meeting house of the east parish of Westmoreland. It was moved to this site on Partridge Brook by Benjamin and Gilman Farwell and purchased for the manufacture of bits in 1836 or 1837 by Joshua Richardson and Oliver B. Huggins.7 Benjamin Pierce, who had formerly worked as a sales representative for Richardson and Huggins, purchased the building about 1853 and continued the manufacture of bits there. Photographs of the bit shop supplied by the Chesterfield Historical Society show that the building retained the appearance of a meeting house throughout its existence, even displaying the old pulpit window located halfway between the first floor and the former gallery level. The building is indicated as “Benj. Pierce’s Bit Fact.” on the 1858 map of Chesterfield Factory [Village], and as “Auger Fact.” on the Hurd map of
1892. Benjamin Pierce sold the property to the Currier Brothers in 1882.8 The building was reportedly abandoned around 1909.
Although the manufacture of bits in Spofford Village continued throughout most of the latter nineteenth century, the allied manufacture of spinning wheel heads seems to have claimed an ever-increasing proportion of Chesterfield’s industrial output as the decades passed. When Benjamin Pierce sold the bit shop south of Main Street to the Currier Brothers in 1882, he had already commenced the manufacture of wheel heads in conjunction with his son, concentrating his own energy on marketing these devices.9 Benjamin Pierce appears to have taken his son, Frederick Benjamin Pierce, as a partner in his business around 1868 or 1870. Prior to that time, however, the elder Pierce had established an ever-growing business in the sale of spinning wheel heads, which he bought from local manufacturers.10 It appears that the shop used by the Pierces for this manufacture had previously been used for the same purpose by Jonathan S. Hopkins. According to the town history, “Jonathan S. Hopkins made ‘wheel heads,’ as they are commonly called... in the old building now  used by F. B. Pierce for the same purpose. Elliot P. and Samuel F. Hopkins, and others, have also engaged in their manufacture in the same building.”11 As made in Chesterfield, wheel heads were manufactured according to patents of 1803 and
1810.12 The patentee was Amos Miner, a settler in upstate New York. Miner’s patent greatly increased the speed of rotation of the spindle of wool wheels by adding a second pulley between the great wheel and the spindle pulley, more than doubling the spindle’s velocity. This increased speed of rotation imparted more twist to the yarn with less effort, and proved to be crucial in the spinning of the long-staple wool of the Merino sheep, which were just being introduced into New England and New York when Miner patented his invention.
Miner’s 1810 patent secured to him the exclusive right to manufacture, or to license the manufacture of, his wheel heads for the next fourteen years. As far as is known, the only 7 Oran E. Randall, History of Chesterfield (Brattleboro, Vt.: D. Leonard, 1882), pp. 160-161.
8 Hamilton Child, comp., Gazetteer of Cheshire County, New Hampshire (Syracuse, N. Y.: Journal Office, 1885), p.
97; Randall, pp. 136-137.
9 Child, p. 97.
10 White, pp. 73-74.
11 Randall, p. 161.
12 The following paragraphs represent a summary of Frank G. White, “Heads Were Spinning: The Significance of the Patent Accelerating Spinning Wheel Head,” Textiles in Early New England: Design, Production, and Consumption (The Dublin Seminar for New England Folklife Annual Proceedings, 1997): 64-81.
4 licensee of Miner’s patent in New England was the partnership of Abijah and Azel Wilder of Keene, who already manufactured spinning wheels. Azel Wilder eventually assumed sole control of the business, eventually extending his monopoly throughout most of New England.
Wilder’s monopoly ended with the expiration of Miner’s patent in 1824, and the center of manufacturing wheel heads in New England immediately shifted from Keene to Chesterfield, where several manufacturers had apparently attempted the infringement of the patent before its expiration.
As noted above, Benjamin Pierce was already supplementing his bit and auger business with ever-increasing sales of wheel heads during the 1850s, making use of the far-flung sales contacts he had developed through sales of boring tools. Selling wheel heads manufactured by the Hopkins family and others, and eventually made by himself and his son, Pierce developed an enormous market for the devices. According to Frank White, former Curator of Mechanical Arts at Old Sturbridge Village, By the 1860s, Benjamin Pierce and his fellow Chesterfield manufacturers virtually monopolized the wheel head market. In 1832, 30,000 heads were reported from the two towns of Keene and Chesterfield. In 1850, Chesterfield reported 20,000 heads, but only 8,400 in 1860; then in 1870 this town’s production rose to almost 30,000. Yet, these official returns do not accurately tell the whole story. Pierce alone sold over 13,000 heads in 1859 and over 60,000 in 1865, so in some cases the reported numbers reflect only a portion of actual sales.13 According to the town history of 1882, “at one time during the late war, he [Benjamin Pierce] employed about 75 hands in the manufacture of wheel-heads, there being a great demand for them at that time. At present, they are manufactured by his son, Fred B. Pierce, who employs in this business (and in the making of brush-handles) from 15 to 25 hands.”14 The Industrial Censuses from 1850 through 1880 document the business evolution that is outlined above. The 1850 census shows Sidney S. Campbell and E. Hopkins as wheel head manufacturers, producing a total of 20,000 wheel heads from birch and other woods. The 1860 census shows Campbell manufacturing 700 dozen wheel heads, and William W. Hopkins making 1,000 spinning wheels, while Benjamin Pierce first appears as the manufacturer of 200,000 bits and augers worth $12,000. By 1870, Pierce was making 150,000 bits worth $20,000. By 1880, just before he sold the auger and bit shop to the Currier Brothers and some ten years after he took his son into his business, Benjamin and Fred Pierce are shown together as manufacturing augers, bits, and gimlets, wheel heads and brush handles, and spinning and flax wheels. They employed 60 men, paying a total of $15,000 in wages and manufacturing products worth $25,000. Their shop[s] were then powered by a breast water wheel eight feet wide, generating 18 horsepower, and by a Houston turbine generating 22 horsepower.
In his 1997 study, Frank White attempted to explain the ever-increasing demand for spinning wheel heads at a time when more and more wool spinning was being done in the textile mills that
were proliferating throughout the eastern United States. White concluded that sheep culture moved steadily westward throughout the nineteenth century, and that western farmers had little access to factories for spinning their product. White noted that “the study of Benjamin Pierce’s account book shows that he was strategically poised to take advantage of this westward moving market for hand spinning equipment.” White documented sales by Pierce to hardware dealers and other middlemen in upstate New York; Toledo, Ohio; Detroit, Michigan; Chicago, Illinois;
and cities in Iowa, Wisconsin, and in Canada.15 The ledger at the New Hampshire Historical Society further documents sales to more southerly markets in Missouri, Mississippi, Tennessee and Kentucky.