Timeline of Mill Brook and
The Old Schwamb Mill


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 tablet.
(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 235.)


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 relations.
(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 Arlington).


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 11651171 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.


Schwamb MillCharles 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 room above.


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 wooden frame.


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:

Louis H. Schwamb, President

 Clinton W. Schwamb, Treasurer

Clinton W. Schwamb & Co., Inc.
Manufacturers 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 woodwork.


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 resident sculptor.


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 the Mill.


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 (1923-2001)
Doris Atwater (now Bouwensch)
Rudolph Kass
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 in America.


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
David Graf,
David Hogan,
Walter Horak,
Ronald J. McLellan (15 May 1924
-30 Dec 1995),
Gordon E. Richardson (10 Aug 190223 Jan 1990), and
Gordon Whitermore.

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 tenants.

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 string instruments.

Two potteries 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 Constitution.

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.


Shaker Workshops 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 Old Houses.


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 Wellesley.


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 Mill building.


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 operating.

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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