Industrialization, Deforestation and a New England Mill Town

So when we think about industrial environmental impacts we often think about the after effects like air and water pollution or ground contamination If you’ve taken a boat tour of the Pawtucket canal in Lowell you’ve passed this containment boom near the Western Avenue loft building The boom is there to contain chemicals leaching through the canal walls and into the water This evidence of chemical seepage suggests how the site has been used Specifically mercuric chloride now in the ground and canal sediments indicates nearby industrial activity A further clue is in the name of the adjacent street which is now called Cayenne Street referring to a manufacturing process that was sited here in the mid-19th century. the chemical treatment of lumber These are the kind of data that historical archaeologists, such as myself, used to study the material of human activity over the last several hundred years and with that as an introduction i want to offer for your consideration the environmental impacts of early 19th century industrialization in Lowell as exhibited in its once busy factories and other structures The City of Lowell was envisioned as a manufacturing site by merchant capitalists interested in reinvesting profits they’d collected from the transatlantic trade Their one overarching objective was to realize a return on their capital by mechanizing cloth production so they could sell great quantities of woven cotton at a profit.They didn’t intend to weave the cotton themselves of course. They hired others to weave it for them Nor did they intend to sell the cloth directly to end users. They sold wholesale to distributors Mill owners thought of and the law protected their social obligations exclusively as buying and selling commodities. So mill owners offered to pay a specific wage for a specific quantity of cloth produced during a specific number of hours each week or, in the case of raw cotton, to pay a plantation owner a set price for a specific quantity of cotton fiber grown by enslaved labor These relationships followed the practices of liberal capitalism in the 19th century Even by mid-century, however, environmental impacts of early industrialization were being recognized as harmful changes produced by human action One observer, George Perkins Marsh, based most of much of his 1864 examination, Man and Nature, on his travels as government ambassador in Asia and Europe For the most part however the alarms raised by Marsh and others were drowned out by the din of industrialization which, to many, represented a cornucopia of abundance as depicted in the city seal In the mid-1840s Lowell included about 7 million square feet of factories owned by 10 textile corporations and related industries like the Lowell Machine Shop. These factors were managed by agents of Boston capitalists but operated by thousands of women and men workers who transformed raw material into finished products Seven million square feet of factories machines and power supplies were purpose-built to achieve a specific and limited product Each type of yarn or cloth required dedicated machinery Each mill complex housed hundreds of machines and in their continuing effort to manufacture and sell cloth at a profit Lowell companies repeatedly demolished and rebuilt factories, added or replaced machinery, and expanded and rebuilt the canals All of that construction and reconstruction work consumed tremendous amounts of timber, iron, granite, lime and clay. The earliest buildings were three and four story brick structures measuring about 45 feet wide by 140 feet long Each floor was supported by thick brick walls and heavy timber girders The second generation of mills such as Boott number five were even larger at 510 feet long While many of these first structures of the Merrimack, Hamilton, Lawrence and other companies are now demolished, enough remain to show us how those materials were used The typical girder was a solid length although later construction used timbers in pairs and measured 12 or more inches in depth by 20 or more feet long cut from old growth trees found in New Hampshire and Maine The floor decks consist of three inch thick subfloor planks with finished floorboards fastened on top and ceiling boards nailed to the underside In many of the surviving mill buildings ceilings and walls have been abraded to remove the paint, obliterating surface details But in less disturbed material we see the tool marks suggestive

of the up and down sawmill process that was typical of the 1800s. Massive amounts of timber were used in this construction Boott mill number six, for example, contains 132,700 board feet of girders, 268,750 board feet of flooring and about 10,000 board feet in doors and window frames or a total of about 411,000 board feet In the mid-1840s Lowell buildings comprised almost 32 and a half million board feet of lumber or about 36,000 trees representing 10 square miles of forest The girders in the 30s and 40s were made from northern white pine from New England forests Mature white pines may live 200 or more years and grow to a height of 150 feet with a diameter of up to 5 feet Also used in the Lowell mills was flooring and other structural lumber that was milled from longleaf pine. These trees also grow to about 150 feet in height although they’re not as wide in diameter as the northern white pine The longleaf or southern yellow pine is native to the Carolinas, Georgia and Alabama and before the civil war would have been harvested by enslaved foresters The lateral branching typical of conifers is evident in many of the girders found in early Lowell mills including this one as is the whitewash that’s still embedded in the wood Despite being described as soft woods northern white and longleaf pines are as dense or denser than many deciduous hardwoods Before American independence northern white pines in New England were reserved by the British colonial government for making masts for the royal navy and longleaf pine was undoubtedly used in flooring in the Lowell mills because of its hardness as much as low cost. Besides construction, wood was a major industrial fuel for much of the 19th century either used directly or as charcoal for smelting iron, firing bricks or sintering lime. Lowell factories were built with millions of red clay bricks which were inexpensive to buy and to lay Prior to the 1800s most of that brick was cast by hand, in molds of five or six bricks, and fired in temporary wood-fired kilns that burned for most of a week because of the amount required and because brick making was labor intensive The bricks used in Lowell came from many suppliers but the largest brickyards were near Cambridge Massachusetts and Manchester New Hampshire Tthe mortar that bonds Lowell’s brick walls is a mixture of lime and sand Mortar lime is made by baking crushed limestone. And an efficient lime kiln needed 15 cords of firewood to calcinate 100 casks of limestone Making lime to mortar a single lowell building such as Boott number six would have burned 256 cords of firewood or about 13 acres of forest Wood was also burned in charcoal used for smelting and casting iron Each ton of cast iron required 80 to 90 bushels of charcoal and Lowell mill agents reported using about 600,000 bushels of charcoal in 1844 which would have meant about a thousand acres of trees Another immense demand for timber was in transport In the late 1830s iron rails were redefining movement in New England, linking commercial and production centers throughout the northeast The proprietors of locks and canals in Lowell incorporated the Boston and Lowell railroad on June 5th, 1830 to move materials and finished goods between Lowell and the wharf that they owned in Boston harbor A real network of dozens of independent lines crisscrossed the region and connected it with points west In 1850 about 360 miles of railroad traversed new england By 1861 that network had expanded to nearly 1700 miles Half of that consisted of three lines that converged on Lowell railroads used vast amounts of iron and wood for fuel, trestles and ties The New England network alone sat on 65,280,000 board feet of oak and other dense species. About eight and a half square miles of forest sawn into ties. It had to be replaced every six to eight years That improved access and transport further accelerated industrial consumption The growth of industrial markets drew more capital investment into manufacturing including textile manufacturing in New England Eager to profit from the industrial expansion of the 1840s Boston capitalists invested in new textile new textile factories elsewhere

and the proprietors of locks and canals and the Lowell Machine Shop contracted, eager to profit from that demand on building new plant and equipment for the same corporations that then became competitors to the Lowell mills Mexico mills in the Carolinas were built with profits collected from operations in Lowell The machine shop was contracted to build and equip the new mills just as it built locomotives for the Reading Pennsylvania railroad as well as for the Boston and Lowell All of that frenetic investment required more workers, more raw materials, more landscape transformed by manufacturing The city of Lowell exists of course in part because of the hydropower of the Merrimack River and because the land on which those early capitalists intended to build factories was available and cheap The Merrimack River drains a watershed of more than 5,000 square miles including most of the state of New Hampshire from the point where it’s joined by the Concord river the Merrimack sends nearly 650 billion cubic feet of water annually into the Gulf of Maine Forests and other vegetation within a watershed are essential to regional and continental water cycles In forested landscapes snow melt and rainwater infiltrate the ground and during the growing season some of that groundwater is taken up by the root systems of trees and other plants and released throughout the day in a process known as evapotranspiration In the 19th century New England forests were thought by many to be a limitless source of fuel and building material That deforestation for farming and lumbering destroyed or significantly altered long-established ecologies of animal and plant species, disrupted the water cycle and changed regional climates. That change is evident in extraordinary flood events. 65 major floods on New England rivers during the 1800s have been identified in a 1964 USGS study The geographic extent and frequency of floods parallels the deforestation in the region and much of the topography in and around Lowell is a flood plain for the Merrimack and Concord rivers and their tributaries In response to the regular flooding by the Merrimack and to protect their fixed capital downtown, the proprietors of locks and canals commissioned a massive portcullis across the Pawtucket canal just below its juncture with the Merrimack river Locks and canal’s agent James Francis attempted to hold back flood waters that were in large part due to the industrial processes that he and his fellow lowell capitalists invested So my presentation is focused on deforestation and early industrial processes in New England Much more can be said about other distant impacts of industrialization in the northeast especially impacts in the southern United States Certain economists estimate that it took 2755 hours of enslaved labor to grow and harvest one ton of american cotton In 1844 the Lowell cotton mills processed 12,064 tons of cotton which would have been grown with more than 33 million hours of forced labor, and all of the accompanying brutality, on about 150,000 acres of arable land The extraordinarily high profit taken from agricultural and industrial products of enslaved labor attracted further investment into textile factories and prompted further severe productivity of coerced work and further resource depletion in the cotton growing regions The inrush of investment is documented Between 1825 and 1845 194 textile manufacturers were incorporated in Massachusetts alone Between 1836 and 1856 the fixed capital assets of the major Lowell mills increased from 6.2 million to 15.8 million Investment in cotton manufacturing spurred further automation In 1845, 72 percent of the mill force were operatives. 25 years later just 63 percent were That increased productivity meant was that the value added by the textile workers labor was distributed over greater quantities of cloth so while the finished cloth per worker increased by as much as 30% during the 40s, profit realized per yard steadily decreased over the same period from 9 cents a yard in 1830 to a half cent a yard in 1850 Mill owners attempted to counteract the decline in profit with wage cuts, speed ups, stretch outs and increased output by workers in textile mills They also placed greater demands on raw material producers in the south and increased depletion of environmental resources throughout the northeastern and southeastern United States

So as we’ve seen integrated textile factories required huge amounts of raw material especially wood, clay, limestone and iron before a single bale of cotton could be processed in the beginning of the 1800s timber and minerals came from local or mid-range sources and moved over waterways As railroads connected new england with the mid-atlantic and great lakes region extensive supply chains and distant markets also greatly extended the environmental impact of industrial Lowell. When Nathan Appleton and Patrick Tracy Jackson and Francis Cabot Lowell first toured the riverside farms of Chelmsford it’s unlikely they envisioned the extensive impacts that their investment scheme might have on people or environments. At a distance looking backward, we perhaps, better appreciate the wide area impacts of industrialization and urbanization on land, on animal and plant species, water resources and on people As we engage now with resource dependencies difficult to untangle, we revisit those changes produced by human action that remain to be addressed thank you. we are going to open it up now to a q a session kevin while we give people a a chance to type out some questions and everything i was wondering would you be willing to talk a little bit about maybe your process of doing some of your research kind of in the park and around Lowell you know i know you take advantage of you know being and working right here in the city part of my training is as an historical archaeologist and of course i find Lowell fascinating from a historical archaeological perspective There’s a fair amount of material that remains from the 1820s and 30s and of course much more that remains from the later 1800s and early 1900s so my research is based first and foremost on doing surveys of that of those standing structures and of the landscape as andrew said i mean obviously i work in lowell i also live in lowell and it’s great to be living in the resource that you’re studying including the mill buildings that you’re studying. Another source of information of course is documentary evidence and because we’re studying an industrial period there’s quite a bit of a of documentary evidence in the form of financial records and you know social and cultural history records and other kinds of materials so additional data and some of the images that i showed for example are of ledger books that are kept in the harvard business schools library in cambridge which is where the proprietors of locks and canals sent most of their financial records. So those are the the two main data sources that i’m relying on But there’s obviously a range of other kinds of pictorial information and documentary photographs you know studies done of things that are only tangential to you know textile manufacturing such as the united US geological survey study of floods in new england which was done for an entirely different purpose and also in terms of forestation the work that’s been going on at the harvard forest station for decades that you know again is done for a much different purpose so one of the things that historical archaeologists do is try to marshal all of that data as we as we look at the past and try and help it talk back to the present so we got a question that just came in saying hi kevin did your research uncover any estimates regarding the total percentage of new england land that was deforested as a result of the industrial economy yes actually the the forest station that harvard has and the ecologists and biologists that are attached to that that have been working in that area for decades have studied that question and this slide which, perhaps was only up for a few seconds shows you a couple of graphs that are the result of their data collection so you can see in the graph on the left a series of of different watersheds that they’ve calculated in Vermont, in Connecticut, in the Berkshires and in the Worcester plateau so this is

you know Massachusetts and going into Connecticut they’ve similar studies uh or this actually these same researchers have shown similar kinds of effects going on into new Hampshire and into Maine Maine, i guess, benefited from the fact that it that forests were more remote and so less easy to clear-cut but it’s also true that most of this deforestation is not coming just, you know, it’s not mainly coming from building factories It’s mainly coming from farming or attempts at farming and then later the that wood is sold off so it’s a combination of of ingredients I don’t want to leave the impression that all of this deforestation happens simply because of industrialization now kevin with that we talk a lot about you know the raw materials like you addressed both the wood to sort of help build these factories the cotton from southern plantations and everything you know and here in the city there’s you know a lot of talk about relationships that the mill owners had with the cotton plantations Did mills or did these companies also have relationships with the people that were providing this type of wood? were there long sort of standing agreements there? i don’t i don’t think that there were that many long-standing agreements i think that they Kirk Boott and and others who were the agents for the proprietors of locks and canals and then for the machine shop and some that would have included James Francis you know source this stuff as they needed it so there is documentary evidence in the ledger books for example of boott writing to some William Moore and and contracting with Moore or offering to contract with moore to buy a million bricks you know at the same time he’s contracting with two other suppliers to buy another half a million bricks you know it was that the building materials were on demand i think that of course there were mills that burned down and were utterly destroyed but i think also you know in many in some instances and certainly in terms of the timber i think we can expect that girders for example would have been recycled if a bill a mill was rebuilt but up and up through the the 30s and 40s and 50s and we see in the you know the the accounting ledgers and the copy books from locks and canals orders for massive amounts of brick, orders for massive amounts of timber, orders for pig iron and they were sourcing pig iron from you know the again looking at it from what’s the least expensive place to get this so we see orders for pig iron from foundries, smelters in Virginia and Maryland that we also know were mainly operated by enslaved labor so there’s putting two and two together At the same time or as part of that putting the two and two together we see that this is done episodically Now that makes a lot of sense that they’re going to be you know buying buying those goods as needed and as the projects sort of dictate and i think it’s an interesting point there that you ended on too and something that you brought up in the presentation is you know this presentation focused on sort of the New England you know deforestation but there are so many other impacts that the mills of Lowell have towards the Midwest as the railroads grow or down towards the South from the very beginning obviously but continuing on even more aggressively as time went on well and i think that and the reason i went into the economics of it as much as i did was to point out how this was being this was a compulsion to do this uh was tied directly to you know the compulsion to continue to profit you know they were trying to make this business work and so they were you know placing orders to build new factories as an investment opportunity It wasn’t like there was this long-range strategic plan of where should factories be you know or what should lumber be used for? These are all of the unintended consequences of you know working from quarter to quarter, annual statement to annual statement

so here on the screen now um is one of the slides that i showed that shows an a a an assembly of orders these are orders and you can see in the right hand column they’re coming from several different locations several different brokers but a total of 150,000 board feet of lumber just in the single month of june 1845 you know to get that much lumber you in 1840s america you’re going to have to be working through a broker or directly with uh landowners who who have woodland that are willing to sell their wood you know their their um their trees to you but to get that amount of wood you’re talking about a a wide network of suppliers we’ve got one here uh is the reforestation in northern Maine mitigating the issues i imagine the issues of things like the floods and things like that and can you also relate this to current issues that we see in places like the amazon well you yes I think that there you can see now the same kind of deforestation going on in the amazon and going on in indonesia it’s being driven by you know individual plantation owners or plantation investors clear cutting in order to grow palm oil or to grow in in the amazon you know to grow you know to clear land for for cattle ranching So yeah i think that there’s there’s some similarities what’s happened in New England and what’s happened actually you know in in much of the US since the civil war particularly since say 1880 is a reforestation because you know subsistence farming um you know stopped happening um you know the subsistence farming in new england certainly went in the other direction. So land reverts. but of course it’s not the same forested land that it was before you know these the the the the old growth trees are long gone um you know the second or third or fourth growth is a much different wood you know tree species. and then of course the the plant and animal the other plant and animal communities that were in the in the earlier forest or have been disrupted so but you know it it it is also true that after say about 1870 forests in new england start to come back precisely because this area this this spurt of economic activity is over. I think it’s also tied to the fact that wood is replaced as a structural material by steel, wood is replaced as a fuel by coal and so the the massive demand for wood fuel as is changing excellent thanks Kevin and thanks for the questions in the comments here uh we got another one too talking a lot about you know where things are located you know things like mills but one question was about brickyards you know maybe where were those located locally and why were they found where they were found that’s a great question and one that i skipped over in the interests of brevity um but yeah brick brickyards were everywhere um but of course they depend first and foremost on a seam of usable clay and a fresh water source because you need fresh water for brick making if you have salt water those bricks won’t be any good um they’ll they’ll blow up in the kiln and or they’ll disintegrate later um so you you you have that but i the the other thing to think to remember in the course of the 19th century is that brick making in america is still a manual process brick making isn’t really automated in america until starting in the 1890s when you start seeing mechanized pug mills and that kind of thing so it’s it’s a combination of where’s the clay where’s the fresh water where’s the manpower the person power to do that um so there are or were very good seams of clay usable clay in and around cambridge so that’s why that became a center for brick making in the New England Brickworks which was an amalgamation that happened at the end of the 1800s and early 20th century was centered there but in the 40s and the 30s and 40s the bricks would have come from anybody that had clay available

and the labor available and the ability to fire the bricks so if we look at uh bricks compare bricks between say and i actually have recently say between Merrimack Mill number three which is basically a remnant at this point um over by where i think it’s called the Edge apartment building is there’s a bit of brick wall that’s sort of just hanging out still i mean if you look at that brick where if you look at a brick that is from Suffolk Mills one of the remnant walls or maybe it’s Tremont Tremont mills so the Tremont side of the Suffolk-Tremont complex um and there’s there’s a remnant of that that’s over by the Jean d’arc credit union building over on Father Morissette or take a look at uh some of the brick well it’s hard to take a look at any of the brick in the Boott because it’s all pretty much well it’s all being used but you know where you can see an exposed brick and take a look at the at the the wide broad face of it you’ll see uh evidence that this is handmade you know the the surface is uneven there’ll be seams and fissures in it for from the firing process and so on whereas if you take a look at bricks that were used in the late very end of the 19th or early 20th century and there was still a lot of building going on in lowell right and so that might be the newer of the Hamilton Mills or the newer of the Massachusetts Mills you’ll see a very even smooth you know uh brickface of the kind that that you would expect to see if you went to Lowe’s and bought some brick um that’s produced by you know with machinery and is very uniform and was fired um you know in a continuous firing process susan asks where interior bricks the same as exterior bricks um yeah the inside and the outside walls are at the same wall um so in uh in any of the uh mill buildings especially in that were built say between 1823 and 1870 or so you’re going to see it’s it’s a solid brick wall it’s not a hol.. there’s no void no hollow void in it as you might find in other kinds of 19th century brick construction for example and that of course probably is mainly because this this brick has got to hold up several tens of thousands of tons of stuff um but the the brick walls are typically uh 24 inches across you know 24 inches thick at the first floor and then maybe they’re 20 inches thick at the second and third level and then maybe 16 inches thick at the upper levels so that’s uh four or five bricks across you know mortared on on all sides on the interior bricks but certainly on six sides five sides on the on the exterior bricks an interesting uh well interesting to me anyhow fun fact is that um before they painted the brick uh they coated them with linseed oil so you’ll see references to oiling the bricks and that’s what that’s referencing is that um you know in in the early 18th century paint technology was considerably more primitive than it is today and so the the process of coating the brick so if you want to whitewash the inside of your factories so as to reflect more light so that you can see you would first soak the brick literally with you know with you you’d apply with a brush um a fair amount of linseed oil so that your white wash would sit on the surface and not get immediately absorbed into the brick and kevin i want to encourage you if there’s any final uh things you’d like to share or maybe uh maybe something that you think people sort of at this program should know about well i’d just like to thank everybody for uh for joining us in this um i think these are really good ways for sharing information and as i say this is

research that i find exciting and so of course i want to share my excitement with others but again i thank everybody for for being part of this