The Peoples of the Mill Towns: Biographies of Men, Women, and Children Who Lived in Connecticut’s Factory Cities and Towns
The State of Connecticut is known for its former mill towns — communities that, in the industrial era, thrummed to the beat of the chuffing factories that produced textiles, tools and other metal products, and other manufactures. Today, Connecticut has 169 towns, ranging in population from rural Union (854 inhabitants) to urban Bridgeport (144,229 residents). Some Connecticut towns are small in area: the industrial town of Derby at the confluence of the Housatonic and Naugatuck rivers is only 4.98 square miles. Other towns sprawl across large expanses of forested hills: New Milford, Connecticut’s largest town by area, is 61.59 square miles, more than 12 times the size of Derby. Connecticut’s oldest towns were founded in the 17th century as agricultural communities. The three Connecticut River valley towns of Windsor (1633), Wethersfield (1634), and Hartford (1635) — the capital — are the oldest. Most of the newer towns were set off as factory cities, carved out of older, farm towns in the 19th century. The newest are Thomaston (1875), home of the Seth Thomas clock company; Ansonia (1889), known for its metal works; and West Haven (1921), a suburb of New Haven and Connecticut’s only town to be incorporated in the 20th century. More than half of Connecticut’s towns historically had mills large enough to be considered factories.
Various different peoples built and populated Connecticut’s mill towns. They included mill owners, managers and other executives, investors, foremen, and skilled and semi-skilled mill workers. They also included the merchants and craftspeople who provided the owners, managers, and workers with food, clothing, and other goods; government officials and town workers; school teachers and librarians; printers, publishers, and journalists; gardeners, nurserymen, and sextons — a large array of trades and occupations that made the mill towns function as diverse and viable communities. They included both native-born and immigrants, Yankees and other ethnicities, European Americans and people of color, and peoples of many different faiths and creeds. In this section of the website, you will have the opportunity to meet some of the people who lived in and built Connecticut’s mill towns. Follow the links to meet … the Peoples of the Mill Towns.