In the history of New Hartford, the Greenwoods Company is an unavoidable presence. The company started in 1845 and moved out of the town in 1902, heading for Alabama. In 1901 it employed 700 people with a monthly payroll of $16,000. It is estimated that approximately a third of the town’s population left within a year of the factory’s closure. The company’s move was due to Connecticut’s high labor and freight costs, and increasing restrictions on workers’ ages and hours. It may also have been caused by a dispute over the town’s assessement of the mill buildings for property tax. Many of the former Greenwoods employees moved to either the North Adams, Massacusetts area, which was still producing textiles, or to the Pennsylvania coalfields.
Although Greenwoods Company was organized in 1845, it was in 1849 that the company truly took off. The company’s growth was enabled by the building of a large dam across the Farmington River, replacing a dam built in 1816. The Greenwoods dam would eventually be raised another six feet, in order to supply more power. The final height of the dam was thirty-two feet, with a length of 200 feet; and Greenwoods Pond extended up the Farmington River nearly to Pleasant Valley in Barkhamsted. The mills were entirely water powered.
The factory made cotton duck, sail cloth, paper felts, twine, cotton belting, and other heavy cotton fabric. Their looms could handle cloth up to 220 inches wide, allowing them to supply tent and sail-cloth manufacturers. Their customers included the U.S. Army for tents, U.S. Post for mailbags, and the America’s Cup racing yachts for sailcloth. Specialty textiles were an important part of their business, allowing the company to remain competitive even after many of the other textile mills had left the region; it also gave them an international client base.
At its height the company owned around 1500 acres, 78 houses, six mills (the principal two were a five story brick building and a four story wood building, both over 300 feet in length), a 15,000 cubic foot ice-house, and a gas plant, which supplied light to the mills and to much of the North Village of New Hartford. Subsidiary factories included a scythe shop, sawmill, and a shingle mill. Additional infrastructure included the Farmington River dam, a 248 foot long bridge, and a private railway. Reputedly, it was one of the four largest cotton mills in the United States in the 1890’s, with an output of 60 tons of finished product each week.
After the company left in 1901, with a final sale of inventory/real estate in 1903, the buildings were used by several other companies. However, the last of these left in the early 1930’s. The Greenwoods dam, by then over eighty years old, failed in March, 1936. The failure was caused by poor maintenance combined with an ice jam and unusually high water; and the entire 32 foot tall, 200 foot long dam gave way. This event dramatically changed, beyond all recognition, the face of New Hartford: Greenwoods Pond, most of the mill complex, a large portion of downtown, and a substantial amount of Pine Meadow vanished in a matter of minutes.
However, a portion of the mill’s main, brick building still stands and remains in use; the most recent tenants include the world-famous Ovation Guitars and Hurley Manufacturing.