How the Cocheco Mills reshaped Dover

My history of Dover, focused on its Quaker Meeting, begins trailing off about the time the textiles mills prosper at the Lower Falls in the Cochecho River. There’s no escaping the fact that the mills completely reshaped the direction of the emerging city, then and now.

  1. The complex began with the Dover Cotton Factory in 1812, but the surviving buildings were constructed between the 1880s and early 20th century. The downtown is built around them. The mills even span the river below the falls.
  2. A clerical error in the company’s 1827 reorganization, as the Cocheco Manufacturing Company, dropped the second h from Cochecho, leading to ongoing confusing about the proper spelling of the river’s name.
  3. In 1828, the mill was the site of one of the earliest labor strikes in the nation, the first to be conducted entirely by women. They were protesting a pay cut.
  4. The mills brought waves of immigrants to the city, especially from Ireland, Quebec, and Greece. The complex eventually employed 1,200 workers, most of them women.
  5. At its height in the 1880s, the mills shipped 65 million yards of printed calico worldwide annually, with esteemed designs from the associated printing operation on the site of today’s Henry Law Park.
  6. The buildings were subject to disastrous fires and floods. They were also noisy and cold in winter, hot in summer.
  7. The company owned lakes upstream to ensure water power through the year.
  8. The mills operated as the Cocheco Manufacturing Company and then the Cocheco Mill Company until 1908, when the operation was bought by the Pacific Mill Works of Lawrence, Massachusetts, which shuttered everything in 1937. The buildings were then bought at auction by the city.
  9. In the early 1980s, entrepreneur Joseph Sawtelle purchased the largest vacant building in the county and began a visionary restoration that uncovered the boarded windows and led to offices, entrepreneurial incubators, and retail stores in the heart of the city. After his death in 2000, Eric Chinburg acquired the properties and added trendy apartments to the mix.
  10. The mills were placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2014.

Check out my new book, Quaking Dover, available in an iBook edition at the Apple Store.

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