English Puritan colonists
first settled in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 1630 during the
thirty years of the Great Migration. They brought with them,
from England, the waterpower mill technology that was implemented
on Mill Brook in Arlington for 235 years (after which a steam
turbine replaced the water wheel). The Mill Brook, which drops
more than 150 feet in two miles through Arlington, powered mills
of various kinds at seven to nine mill sites.
The brook has been called
successively Vine Brook, Sucker Brook, and Mill Brook. According to
one local historian (Edith Winn), the brook was a "mighty rushing river"
at the end of the last ice age.
The first mill on the
Brook in Menotomy, or the Northwest Precinct of Cambridge (now
Arlington), was the earliest water powered gristmill within the
limits of colonial Cambridge. It was financed by Dr. Samuel Read
of England and was established in 1637 by Captain George Cooke
(b. c. 1610; d. Apr 1652) near the present day location of the
Community Safety Building on Mystic Street in Arlington. Cooke's
Mill is now commemorated by a park, Cooke's Hollow, and a bronze
(Ref. 7, page 233, and Ref.18)
Cooke had sailed for
New England in the ship Defence in 1635, at the age of 25. In
Massachusetts, on 3 Mar 1636, he was admitted as a freeman. From
there he became a representative in its Assembly, and Speaker
in 1645. In addition, he had been appointed Captain of the Artillery
Company in 1637 and once returned to Boston with nine Indians
captured during an "excursion".
Edward Winship bought
a three-acre estate at the easterly corner of Brattle and Mason
Streets and extending through the Cambridge Common (in Cambridge). He was a
Lieutenant of Militia in 1660, a Selectman for 14 years between
1637 and 1684, and a Representative in the General court for
eight years. He died on 2 Dec 1688.
The Squaw Sachem (i.e. woman chief) of the Massachuset
tribe ceded all the lands of her tribe, excepting her homestead
(which was bounded on the east by the Mystic Lakes and on the
south by Mill Brook), to the English Puritan settlers of Cambridge
, for "twenty and one coates, ninten fathom of wampom, and
three bushels of corne". Three epidemics of European diseases
and warfare with the Abenaki tribe from the north had greatly reduced
the number of men in the Massachuset tribe. The survivors were
too few to defend their land against the invaders from England
and had little choice but to agree to the contract. The Squaw
Sachem (whose name is unknown) died in 1658.
The exchange of property
is illustrated in two local WPA murals:
Purchase of Land from the Indians by Aidan Lasell Ripley,
1934, in the Winchester MA Public Library, and
Purchase and Use of the Soil by William A. Palmer, 1938,
in the Arlington MA Post Office.
Captain George Cooke
abandoned his mill, returned to England, and joined Cromwell's
army as Colonel of a regiment
of foot soldiers. Puritan "Roundheads" formed the backbone
of Cromwell's forces.
On 11 Oct 1649,
Cooke's regiment captured the town of Wexford (in County Wexford, Ireland). Cooke became governor and
"exacted bloody retribution against the defending Irish".
Houses and cabins, and stores of livestock and corn were all
plundered and burnt. Cooke insisted that this was the only way
to subdue the roving parties of Irish, by denying them sustenance
and shelter in the region.
Many of the
principal inhabitants of Wexford as well as several hundred females
gathered around the great cross in the marketplace of Wexford
in the hope that their defenceless condition would move George
Cooke and his men to compassion. However, Cooke butchered all
of them and filled the marketplace with their blood. (Ref. 20)
Dr. Lynch describes
George Cooke, the commander of the Puritans in Wexford, as especially
remarkable for his brutality and cruelty. Having given a security
to the inhabitants of Wexford, that they might reside in their
own homes, "Cooke afterwards authorized Captain Bolton,
before the extirpation of the stipulated day, to scour that county
with his cavalry and plunder it. Then commenced an indiscriminate
massacre of men, women, and children, by which not less than
four thousand souls, young and old, were atrociously butchered."
In 1652, General
Cooke shut up 300 men and many infants in a house in the county
of Wexford, and then setting fire to the house, all were burned
in the flames. But Captain Gore, one of the officers under Cooke,
succeeded in concealing on his horse, under his cloak, a little
boy who had escaped out of the house. Cooke, discovering the
fact, severely condemned the captain, and returning himself with
the boy, hurled him into the flames. (Ref. 20)
In April 1652,
Cooke and his mounted escort had a running fight with the troop
of the Irish patriot, Captain Nash, on the road from Gowran to
Loughlin. Both Cooke and Captain Nash were found dead after the
battle. (Ref. 18)
Cooke's mill in Menotomy
was allowed to decay and eventually crumble away.
(Ref. 7, page
Cooke's daughter Mary,
then living in England, sold her father's 600-acre farm at Cambridge
Farms (now Lexington) as well as the twenty acres of land in
Menotomy (now Arlington) to John Rolfe of Nantucket. (Ref. 7,
page 235.) Rolfe erected an entirely new waterpowered mill on
the old site.
John Rolfe died. His widow, Mary (Scullard)
Rolfe, sold a fifth of the Cooke farm at Cambridge Farms, or
120 acres of land. She and her son Moses laid out the second
Mill Brook watermill power system of pond, dam, mill, and mill
race at what is now Mill Street in Arlington. They first built
a dam but then waited several years before completing the entire
mill raceway system.
(Ref. 7, page 227.)
The third watermill power
system of ponds, dam, mill, and mill race had been laid out before
1684, and a mill built by David Winship, at the Foot of the Rocks
in the Menotomy section of Cambridge. This is the site of the
present Old Schwamb Mill.
This third mill privilege, at the Foot
of the Rocks, was willed to Joseph Winship (b. 21 Jun 1661; d.
18 Sep 1725; resided in Menotomy) by his father, Lt. Edward Winship
, who had also built mills in Lexington at the edge of the Great
Meadow. Evidence of a mill pond is still visible as a grassy
park near Bow Street.
Lieutenant Edward Winship
died on 2 Dec 1688 and left to his son Joseph "a certain
gristmill in Cambridge, with all and singular the dam, flooms,
mill-pond", etc. This mill was on the site of what is now
called The Old Schwamb Mill.
William Cutter built a dam 18 feet
high near his home at the present Mill Street, raised the level of the
pond, and erected a sawmill.
Moses Rolfe, a son of
John Rolfe, sold 130 acres of Cooke's farm to John Cutter (a
glazier b. 1690), a son of William Cutter.
Moses Rolfe sold 100
acres of the Cooke's Farm to his brother-in-law, William Cutter,
husband of Moses Rolfe's sister.
(Ref. 7, page 227.)
On 27 Dec 1732, the General
Court designated the part of Cambridge on the west side of the
Menotomy River (now called Alewife Brook) as the Second or Northwest
Precinct of Cambridge. This was the beginning of the First Congregational
Parish, the parish being simply the precinct in its religious
(Ref. 19, page 4.)
After several changes
of name the First Congregational Parish eventually evolved into
the First Parish Unitarian Universalist Church of Arlington.
On 1 Feb 1735, the First
Parish dedicated its Meeting House at Menotomy. It had been erected
in 1734 and was located at the intersection of the "Great
Rode to Concord" and the "Watertown Rode" (now
Massachusetts Avenue and Pleasant Street). The meeting house
was about 50 feet by 40 feet and contained at first 17 pews.
(Ref. 19, page 5)
On the first day of the
American Revolution, Paul Revere and the British regulars all
passed at a distance of about 200 yards from the Mill at the
Foot of the Rocks on their way to Lexington and Concord. The
British returned by the same route, fighting their way through
Menotomy on their way back to Charlestown.
In 1807, Menotomy (which
was officially called the Northwest or Second Parish of Cambridge)
became a separate town, West Cambridge.
In 1808, Stephen Cutter
constructed another sawmill on the pond at Mill Street.
In 1827, Mary Cutter, the widow of
Stephen Cutter, granted land abutting the Mill Pond to the Baptist Society
"for the erection of a meeting house with the privilege of using so much
of the mill pond as necessary for the ordinance of baptism." Sylvia
Brazy was baptized on 3 June 1827.
Jacob Schwamb emigrated
to Boston from Untenheim, Rhein Hessen, Germany. Jacob was the first
of the Schwamb brothers to emigrate to the United States. By 1857,
six of the seven Schwamb brothers had emigrated from Rhineland Pfalz to
the United States.
Ludwig Schwamb emigrated
to the United States and worked in Boston. Ludwig returned to Germany
after becoming ill from typhus and, perhaps, lead poisoning.
The Lexington and West
Cambridge Rail Road commenced service between Bedford, Lexington,
Arlington (then called West Cambridge), and Boston.
Charles Schwamb emigrated
to Boston from Undenheim, Rhein Hessen, Germany to join his older
brother Jacob in the burgeoning Boston piano industry.
Charles and Jacob Schwamb
moved to the Dodge Mill (built by Gershom Cutter) on Mill Brook
(1167 Massachusetts Avenue) to make piano cases. They were joined
by brothers Peter, Theodore, and Frederick.
Ludwig Schwamb had returned to Germany
in 1842. On his return to America,
Ludwig went directly to Ripley County, Indiana. According to one
source, Ludwig farmed in Indiana. According to a second source
Ludwig went to Indiana to study for
the ministry with a Lutheran pastor.
From 1853 to 1862, Charles, Jacob,
Theodore, Peter, and Frederick Schwamb operated a collaborative piano-case
business at 1165 Massachusetts Avenue in West Cambridge (now called
Peter Schwamb died suddenly,
leaving a widow and a two-months-old son, Peter Schwamb, Jr.
Theodore Schwamb married the widow
of his brother Peter. Theodore adopted Peter Jr. who would become a
professor and Director of the Mechanical Laboratory at M.I.T. and
Treasurer of the Theodore Schwamb Company at 1165—1171
Massachusetts Avenue in Arlington.
After ownership of the
Foot of the Rocks Mill property had descended through many generations,
it was acquired by Henry Woodbridge for grinding spices. The
mill was severely damaged by fire in 1860.
The Woodbridge Spice Mill at the
Foot of the Rocks was rebuilt
on the old foundations circa 1861.
Theodore Schwamb founded the
Theodore Schwamb Mill to manufacture piano casings. The address
later became 1165 Massachusetts Avenue in Arlington, Massachusetts.
Charles Schwamb and his youngest brother,
Frederick, acquired the Woodbridge Spice Mill at the Foot of
the Rocks. Using skills that they had developed in their native
Germany and in their American apprenticeships, they converted the mill to woodworking, especially for
making oval frames for portrait photographs. They installed shaft
and pulley belt-driven machinery, including German eccentric
faceplate lathes and a moulding machine. Four generations of
descendants of Charles Schwamb operated the Mill until 1969.
Frederick shortly left
for Chicago and the lumber business. Frederick and his wife (Thekla
Breivogel) were living in New York State in 1871.
Theodore Schwamb and Peter
Schwamb acquired the Dodge Mill. Jacob Schwamb, the oldest of
the Schwamb brothers, opened his own piano case business.
The popularity of the
oval portrait frame arose just after the Civil War along with
the increasing accessibility of photography. Beginning then,
the Old Schwamb Mill became the leading maker of hand-turned
oval and circular portrait and mirror frames in the United States.
In order to distinguish
itself from its parent community and to honor its Civil War heroes,
the town changed its name from West Cambridge to Arlington on
30 April 1867.
A new three-story wing
was added to the Old Schwamb Mill in 1869 to provide for a four-sided moulding
machine on the first floor and finishing rooms above.
The Town of Arlington
took Mill Brook for a public water supply. The Charles Schwamb
Mill at the Foot of the Rocks installed a steam engine in the
cellar of the barn. A 40-foot-long underground drive shaft transmitted
power to the Mill machinery.
Charles's son Carl William (or
"Will") was taken into partnership. Carl often played the organ at the
First Baptist Church in Arlington. There is a report that Carl was
the organist at the Follen Church (Unitarian) in Lexington.
A two-story ell was added
to the Mill in 1883 to provide a first-floor office and a shipping
A water turbine was added
to the Charles Schwamb Mill at the Foot of the Rocks in 1888
to supplement the existing steam engine power.
Carl's sons Clinton and
Louis acquired the Mill property and business, which they named
the Clinton W. Schwamb Company.
In the photo above, Clinton is on the
left and Louis is on the right. The date "1905" was written by pencil
on the print that was scanned. It was not written on the actual
The Theodore Schwamb Mill included
seven buildings and had about 100 employees.
The following advertisement
appeared in the "Arlington Firemen's Historical Issue"
of the Firemen's Herald:
W. Schwamb, Treasurer
Schwamb & Co., Inc.
of Hardwood Mouldings,
Oval and Circular Picture Frames
29, 31 and 33 Lowell Street
Arlington Heights, Mass.
A nephew of Theodore Schwamb
assumed ownership of the Theodore Schwamb Mill. He discontinued
manufacture of piano casings and began to manufacture architectural
The Theodore Schwamb Mill was
reorganized by Donald E. Nickerson, Donald A. Davis, and Alvin W. Davis.
The Theodore Schwamb Mill added an
ecclesiastical department which included Arcangelo Cascieri as
For the duration of World War II,
the Theodore Schwamb Mill discontinued all civilian work. It produced
millwork and cabinet work for military bases, Liberty ships, and PT boats.
The Clinton W. Schwamb
Mill installed electric motors and sold its steam engine. The
original 19th century shaft and pulley belt-driven system remained
in place to transmit power to the individual machines throughout
Deaths of Clinton and
Louis Schwamb, and the approaching retirement of Clinton's son
Elmer, prompted Elmer Schwamb and Louis's widow to enter into
a purchase and sale agreement with neighboring lumber terminal
truckers to honor Clinton's promise to the truckers to provide
additional truck access to their property. The plan of the truckers
called for demolition of the three Mill buildings.
The Schwamb Mill Preservation
Trust, a nonprofit charitable educational trust, was formed by
four Arlington Conservation Commission members:
Patricia C. Fitzmaurice
Doris Atwater (now Bouwensch)
David D. Wallace
The purpose of the Trust was, and
is, to raise funds to save the Mill, to maintain
the production of oval frames, and to exhibit the Mill's collections and traditions. This was apparently
the first case of grassroots historic industrial preservation
On 16 Jan 1970, the Old
Schwamb Mill was acquired by The Schwamb Mill Preservation Trust
with contributed funds from two Boston foundations, a Cambridge
bank, and several individual donors. The Trust appointed Patricia
C. Fitzmaurice as Managing Trustee, a position which she held
until her death on 15 Feb 2001.
During the years
following the acquisition, frame makers working at the Mill included
Ronald J. McLellan (15 May 1924-30
Gordon E. Richardson (10 Aug 1902—23 Jan 1990), and
After being acquired
by the Schwamb Mill Preservation Trust, the Old Schwamb Mill
continued to manufacture museum-quality frames but relied on
the additional income that it received from donors and appropriate
In the summer
of 1970, the Old Schwamb Mill created a Craft Center which offered
10-week courses in
Silver Jewelry Making taught by H. Val Fay
Printmaking taught by Anthony Pilla
Pottery and Ceramics taught by Nadine Hurst
Clay Sculpture and Pottery taught by Lisa McLean
Furniture Refinishing taught by Bron M. Warsaskas
Waste Conversion taught by Richard Darling
In the Autumn,
the Mill added courses in
Life Drawing, Water Color Painting, Italic Lettering, Gold Leafing,
Furniture Stenciling, Weaving, Leathercraft, and Basic Oil Painting.
Part of the
second story of the Mill was rented to The Hart Viol Workshop.
The proprietor, Richard Hart, manufactured Viols da Gamba, Vielles,
Psalteries, Rebecs, Fiedels, and other Mediterranean and Renaissance
were started at the Mill:
the Barn Potters, Cora Pucci and Kathy Ingoldsby; and
the Mill-Race Pottery with Telle Bjork and Nadine Hurst.
The Theodore Schwamb Mill closed.
That property was acquired by another immigrant entrepreneur, John P. Mirak, partially for use by his automobile
dealership and partially for lease to numerous small businesses.
The Old Schwamb Mill
was listed in The National Register of Historic Places by the
Secretary of the United States Department of the Interior for the Mill's
national historical significance.
The Old Schwamb Mill
held its first annual "barn sale". This fund-raising
event was continued for at least three years.
The Old Schwamb Mill
obtained the last remaining timbers from the "Washington
Elm" (under which General George Washington assumed command
of all colonial troops on 3 July 1775). The Mill manufactured
for sale 75 spandrel frames using wood from the Washington Elm.
Each frame contained a print showing Washington taking command
of the Continental Army.
At the request of the
Commandant of the First Naval District, artisans from the Old
Schwamb Mill made an oak jewel chest from timbers of the USS
J. William Middendorf II, Secretary of the United States Navy,
gave the chest to Queen Elizabeth II at the time of her bicentennial
visit to Boston.
became a tenant of the Old Schwamb Mill in May 1979. They occupied
the westerly half of the first floor of the main Mill building.
The Mill offered
classes in Design, Advance Calligraphy and Manuscript Illumination,
Life Drawing, Painting, Silver Jewelry, Stained Glass, Pottery,
Woodworking with Hand Tools, Woodworking in Miniature, and Researching
Artisans of the Old Schwamb
Mill produced 13 oval display cases as part of the renovation
of the throne room in the Iolani Palace in Hawaii. The cases
are being used to display the jewels which kings, queens, and
emperors gave to the Hawaiian royalty during their travels covering
a period of 15 years. Each case has an oval shape and has a royal
crest at the top. The oval cases were carved out of seasoned
poplar. The crests were carved out of maple from the town of
In Dec 1983, Shaker Workshops
expanded its operations. They established their office in the
upper level of the barn and used the lower level of the barn
for production. Their showroom remained in the main building
of the Mill.
Sometime in 1985, Shaker
Workshops moved its production to Fitchburg and expanded its
showroom at the Old Schwamb Mill to occupy both floors of the
barn. By Jan 1986, they had moved completely out of the main
The Massachusetts Historical
Commission gave a 25th Anniversary Preservation Award to Patricia
C. FitzMaurice for her preservation activities in connection
with the Old Schwamb Mill.
On 17 May 2000, Patricia
Fitzmaurice received the Ayer
Award from the Bay State Historical League for being
"a visionary preservationist who recognized the historical
and educational value of the Old Schwamb Mill property in Arlington
in 1969 and since then has worked tirelessly in leading efforts
to fulfill its mission."
On Sat 17 May
2003, the Mill held a successful Multi-Family Yard Sale. This
was the first such event held in recent years. The Shaker Workshop
benefited from the numerous visitors.
The site of The Old Schwamb
Mill is now the longest continuously operating mill site in the
United States. The earlier mills are either long gone or no longer
Schwamb frames and mouldings are in every
major art museum in the United States and are included in the
collections of the White House, the Vatican, Buckingham Palace,
the Palace of the Kings of Hawaii, and the collection of Queen
Sylvia of Sweden.
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