Unraveled Threads: The Decline and Fall of the Connecticut Textile Industry, A Story of Deindustrialization

Jamie H. Eves, Beverly L. York, and Jared Leitzel

One of the most important parts of the story of industrialization in Connecticut, the rest of New England, and elsewhere is the story of how it ended. In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Connecticut was a “maker state,” part of the “cockpit of the American Industrial Revolution.” Today, industry in Connecticut is in sharp decline. “Unraveled Threads” was an exhibit at the Mill Museum (Windham Textile and History Museum) in 2018. The exhibit focused on the concept of deindustrialization — why the Connecticut textile industry, once a dominant feature of the state’s economy, first declined, and then disappeared almost entirely. The exhibit also explored postindustrialization, what had emerged to take the place of the vanished textile industry, what had happened to the state’s scores of abandoned mills, and the fates of the people who lived in the former mill cities and towns. As we researched the story, we found that it was not what we had expected it to be. We found that deindustrialization had begun far earlier than we supposed, in the 1880s. And we discovered that the reasons for deindustrialization were more complicated and complex than we had thought. The exhibit was sponsored by a grant from Connecticut Humanities. One product was the following exhibit display boards. The boards still exist, and the exhibit can be taken “on the road” to other locations. And they tell the story of deindustrialization and postindustrialization in Connecticut.