17 March 2018

Shadows of Industry

updated 1 October 2018

Pawtucket, RI:

Shadows of Industry

Thanks to Alix, we're here!
The reverse of Alix's card stimulated our interest in the Pawtucket operations of J & P Coats.
Location, location, location is the mantra of the Real Estate industry. Profit, profit, profit motivates corporate decisions. In the 19th century, cheap water power and inexpensive transportation to market gave New England manufacturing locations advantages. In the mid-20th century, however, locations in the northeastern United States began to lose their hold on industry as labor costs gave other locations, both within and outside the US, decisive advantages for those concerned with profit margins.

J & P Coats once employed thousands in Pawtucket RI. Today, its successor company, Coats, records its history on the company site. 
This all looks very positive, with the emphasis on growth and mergers and innovation. Anything missing? Why yes, now that you mention it. It was during the 60s that Coats left its Pawtucket employees behind, all 4,000 or so.

The importance of Coats to Pawtucket was described in Slater Trust Company, "Pawtucket Past and Present, being a brief account of the beginning and progress of its industries and a resume of the early history of the city." (1917). Rhode Island History.Book1, p.22. This selection is part of the United States History Commons.
Page 32 of the reference above notes that in the early 20th century, J & P Coats was one among several companies operating in Pawtucket:

Typical of much 19th century mill architecture is the Conant Co. tower shown next. You can spot such towers on the buildings on both the 1877 and 2018 maps below.

Below is an 1877 map (credit: Library of Congress) showing the Conant Co. buildings (marked "2") to the left of Pine St. across from the Fales & Jenks Machine Co. I'm not sure how the pond in left center survived all this industrial activity intact, but it appears to have come through with a clear, unpolluted appearance in the 2018 photo (credit: Google Maps). Click on the map images to enlarge them.

2018 (Fales & Jenks was demolished)
What was it like inside these mills when they were in working? We can show you one of the operations from 1956. If there were a sound track on this film, you probably wouldn't want to listen to it. Workers just had to get used to cacophony. Click the arrow to watch on this page.

[1956 ~ 1 min.]

A woman who used to work in one of the Lowell, MA factories describes the sound for us in the video below. I've started this clip 18 minutes into the original 27 min.YouTube post.

While adults staffed most 20th century American thread mills, the history of employment in these places both in America and Scotland, where J & P Coats originated, was sordid. In 2018, many industries, deprived of cheap labor in their countries of origin by union contracts and child labor laws, have distinguished themselves by chasing cheap labor, first to southern states of the US and then by moving their factories to countries where cheap labor abounds.

The 15 min. documentary below introduces us to the labor practices prevalent in industrialized Britain in the late 18th and 19th centuries. The worldwide persistence of this pattern of exploitation into the 21st century is remarkable and speaks poorly of those of us who allow its persistence anywhere.

Part 1 of a BBC documentary ~ 15 min.

Vintage postcards show the prominence of Coats on the Pawtucket skyline in the early 20th century:

Published by the Hugh C. Leighton Co., Portland ME, unknown date
publisher & date unknown
When companies move, what gets left behind? In the case of Pawtucket, lots of potential! Potential for pollution, big fires and civic decay, that is. All communities that lose big companies suffer for awhile, most for decades. Here's the condition of Pawtucket's J&P Coats campus as seen by Google Street View in the early 21st century:

28 February 2018

Taylorstown PA

The Anderson & Buchanan Connection:

Taylorstown, PA 15365

Where our trail began...
Taylorstown? Just had to find out more!
A Google search gave us some enticing leads...from Thursday, January 27, 1887 and Thursday, September 29, 1887. (source: Google Search: '''Anderson & Buchanan' Taylorstown")
We began to narrow things down...
...and discovered this small town. Links below are to Google Street View images.
We headed towards the center of Taylorstown down this gentle curve, turning left at the four 
corners around the Presbyterian Church (across from the Taylorstown Christian Church.)
As we turned onto Taylorstown's Main Street, we were entering the Taylorstown Historic District (click to enlarge or read original page.) email Washington County History & Landmarks

There were vacant lots and ruins, any one of which might have been the site of the Anderson & Buchanan store. It was difficult to tell if their building was still standing as we passed through.
Our attention was drawn to the many Victorian & Federal style windows that surrounded us on Main St. The Post Office seemed to be among the newest buildings in town. (Remarkably for such a small community, they still had one!)
Some of the earliest buildings had metal anchors and stone lentils.
Paint colors were used to emphasize some of the Victorian features.
Some folks used a single color for the entire house...
...but most used color to complement their restorations.
Not every building in town was restored. This one had an addition attached to the original Federal structure. The addition (left) appeared to be in worse shape than the original.
21st century pedestrians come across occasional stretches of what might have been Victorian sidewalks. They disappear into vacant lots only to reappear further on.
Motorists fare no better. This appears to be a remnant of a very early gas station.
The only other pumps appear to have been removed from the front of this closed store, which was for sale when we (via Google's Street View) drove by in July 2012. There were no operating gas stations nearby.
Accustomed to seeing weight limits for bridges, we were surprised to see this sign. It was good not to be driving ANY vehicle over this colorful bridge:
Historic? No doubt. Safe? Maybe.
We departed Taylorstown reluctantly, as we had not been able to complete our original mission, to identify the location of the former Anderson & Buchanan store.

P.S. Just found this interesting video on YouTube. It's been 24 years since it was filmed. I wonder what's happened to the bridge since then...

YouTube also revealed that Taylorstown residents have been influenced by the natural gas extraction process called "fracking" in the years since Google Street View passed by.

clipped from the video below:

As Cineplex Rex shows, activity surrounding fracking sites when they are first constructed can be very disruptive:
 Anna Belle Peevey's video gives us a narrative of fracking's consequences near Taylorstown:

Money isn't everything!

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