Wednesday, April 24, 2019


I discovered this dam while driving above it on Route 32 to New London a couple of winters ago. Winter is good for seeing things in the woods the trees hide elsetime. It's on a fast, steeply falling stream, and build on a ledge of massive schist, our native rock around these parts. And though it looks to be a dam from this angle, it might not have been. The whole thing is a bit of a puzzle, and I'm pretty good at dissecting old mills and their works.

From this angle, it appears that the wall once crossed the stream, creating a pond above. But observations from above made me question this. Yet how would they have controlled the flow of the water? Most millponds have penstocks and races, manmade flumes with gates that allow for control of the water that drives the wheel as well as bypassing said wheel in times of flood..

I found no traces of races. Or blocks of the penstocks. Sorry, I had to say that. This wall was likely built to hold back some non-ledge blessed earth.
Still, no manmade flume.
Unless the wall was the side of the flume and its streamside wall is no more...
But what was that flat area ahead? Looks like a foundation. Certainly an overflow channel wouldn't go behind a structure there.

The Far Side.
The dam wall stops there, and wasn't knocked down in a flood. The stone is also backed by concrete, which I thought might have come later than the stone construction, but upon further examination, seems to be a part of the stonework. The perfect 90 degree end of the wall shows that it stepped down to a lower wall, the foundation visible to its right.

Looking downstream. No penstock again. Not even a remnant of one. But a nice snag of old trees and branches make for a natural dam. Might have some beaverage in there, though I didn't see any teeth marks when I looked closer.

How's about a little schist, scarecrow?
That's a LOT of schist, ma'am.

Just why there is this concentration of acorns and acorn refuse is not clear to me. There wouldn't be a squirrel nest on the ground, especially this close to the road. No tree above could hold a nest that would have dropped the nuts.

AH! HERE is the flume, race, penstock...
No it isn't. It has no exit for the concentrated water. And the one beyond has no entry...
Like the idea of concentrated water.
What, do you just add...water?
Ah, humans. Give 'em a hole and they'll...
..fill it with old tires.

I decided to investigate from above. This is the sort-of road above the dam.

Again, concrete behind the rockwork. And rots and rots of poison ivory..
Won't come here in summer!
But I get the idea that this 'dam' was more of a way of concentrating the flow towards the lower left of the picture. The walls on either side never met. The one upon which I'm walking ends ahead, and the one across the stream goes at a different angle, including the lower section.
I think it concentrated the water and turned it on an angle.
Or it possible they used the stream without penstocks or races? That the stream itself was the race?

Something existed on the foundation seen in the center of the picture here, and the stream is most concentrated to its right. There is also a wall there.
Perhaps there was a gate in the wall above. If so, they'd need a way of redirecting the water in times of flood, and unless the 
large wall to the left is all that remains of an overflow channel, I don't see how it wouldn't just tear the wheel from its moorings.
Maybe that's what happened.
Or maybe those walled enclosures that pretend to be penstocks were there to slow down the water as it raced through them in flood, preventing erosion.
Still, there's no evidence of a built-up race to get the water there. And it would have had to go around the left side of this foundation.

Mought be it did.
I wonder no...

Monday, April 22, 2019


I thought I'd illustrate a few of the techniques and results that make antique window restoration so fulfilling. I've been doing it as part of my restoration services for years, but got much better while working for Stephen Marshall LLC of Coventry, Connecticut. Steve did most of the repair work and left the glazing and painting to me.
Yes, it takes practice, time, and effort. Yes, you can spend a lot more and get replacement windows for your old house. They won't look the same, even if they LOOK the same. Shadow lines and relief angles will be slightly off unless you get a really great mill shop to make exact replicas, and then you're talking mucho dinero.
Original windows, if restored properly, outfitted with weatherstripping, and fitted with a storm window, are just as efficient as replacements.
Plus, if you have your original windows restored, there are tax credits available you'll lose if you replace your windows with anything that doesn't match the original. Sometimes TENS OF THOUSANDS OF DOLLARS in tax credits. But that is another story.
I'll use the J.B Williams Soap Factory Main Office in Glastonbury, Connecticut, as an example. I may have posted this building before, but not in this context.

The Soap Company Main Office, now owned by Translators and Interpreters Inc. It was the Glastonbury Board of Education before IT got it, an apparently someone tried to burn it down. Probably has more history I don't know. I do know its windows. Intimately.

A beautiful building with Classical details, fantastic brickwork, and a Portland sandstone foundation quarried from the town next door.

Arch top windows, fourteen over twelve lite double hung overhead sash. This one needed work. They all did.

Same side, similar window, totally restored. We only restored the sash, not the frame, The frames had been repaired and repainted a bit before.
And yes, they all operated once we reinstalled them. Not that anyone was likely to open them. Why?

One of the interiors before removal. One of the reasons the windows are in such gnarly shape is that they never had any outside storm sash. Until we got there, they never had any storms at all. The owners decided to have Innerglass interior storm windows installed, which seal very well, but still don't protect the exteriors.
They also keep people from opening them. But this is an office, and they didn't WANT to open them.

We had to remove and install the sash on weekends, as the place is a hive of translator activity during business hours. We also could not remove the desks, file cabinets, or computers, so we built some amazing structures to access the windows from the inside. We also worked in winter, so as soon as the sash were removed, we installed  pre-made plywood inserts lined with insulating material, then reinstalled the Innerglass storms. It stayed pretty toasty, and we brought the sash back to the shop for restoration to be returned as quickly as possible. The ladies that work there like their light.

First step is to steam the sash to soften, then scrape out the putty. This is actually a different window, but you get the picture. We were salvaging the glass from this window to put into another, newer sash. We wanted the old glass, and steaming the sash is the safest way to remove it without breakage. The steam box is in the background, built into the wall. It takes about twenty minutes to soften the putty and about half the sash can be scraped before it starts to harden again. So we stagger sashes for efficiency.

This particular set of sash had one of our banes; twisted glass. This stuff, sometimes referred to as 'potato chip' glass, is very difficult to set in a flat sash. Normally backbedded in glazing compound and held in place with small metal points, these babies need to be set in caulk without points, otherwise they'll break. And we don't break glass, oh no. Especially this stuff; it's very old, filled with streaks, bubbles, and convolutions, and can only be replaced with glass of its kind.
Otherwise the earth will fall off its axis.
Yes, that's an air conditioner in the interior wall. It gets godawful hot in that room in the summer.

This is the new sash that got the old glass; note the squoozed-out caulk. Technical term, you're not allowed to use it. It would be cut away with a razor after hardening. Non-traditional method, but we didn't break no glass!

After removing the glass, which we soak in water to loosen the remaining hard putty and paint before hand-cleaning it, we use an infrared heater to soften the paint and remove it. Then the sash is hand scraped, sanded, and taken to the paint shop for priming, painting, and reinstallation of glass. All the dirty work is done in the 'clean room,' which is anything but. Since we work with lead paint dust and heated paint fumes, we wear custom-molded respirators, Tyvek suits, and use a lot of ventilation. The lead paint dust, chips, and refuse is gathered and disposed of in accordance with good environmental procedures set by the State and Federal agencies.
In the picture above, the chips are falling into our downdraft table, which has a very powerful motor to gather the debris. But the sash on the table had a pleasant surprise for us; it was coated with amber shellac before being painted. This made it very easy to remove the paint from the shellacked surface. Then we merely used steel wool and denatured alcohol to strip the shellac.
See how easy it is?
Yeah, we didn't think so either.

Here is the first glazing/painting shop. We set up a separate one later, to divide the sash repair area from this, which needs to be kept very clean to do good work. Everything on wheels. Formica table for glazing without marring paint, easels that can handle small, medium, and large sash. And the Soap Factory Office windows were perty big.

Applying putty. The closest three panes have been puttied, the farthest there have just have the putty applied by mashing into the putty rail with thumb and palm. The rest of the window hasn't been puttied yet. Once the putty is applied, it's worked into its tight angles with a bent bladed putty knife. It takes some time to learn to glaze like this, but once it's done properly, it looks great by being nearly invisible from both inside and out, and it repels water for many decades, sometimes for a hundred years if kept painted. The putty should never go over the line of the interior crossbar, or muntin. Hey, these are technical terms, people. Not for civilian use!

My lil' fren. We glazed a lot of windows together...

I clean my glass as I go; putty has linseed oil to help it adhere as well as making it malleable, so it leaves a seriously oily haze on the glass. But we have ways of dealing with that.

Yes, a few lines of this and you don't even notice the haze!
Okay, it's actually CaCO2, calcium carbonate, known in the business as 'whiting,' but known to you as chalk. I'd sprinkle just a bit of this on the glass and use a china bristle brush (seen in the background) to lightly scour the edges of the glass. It's just enough to remove the haze without marring the still-soft putty.
Like working the putty, it takes practice to do it right, but the results are staggeringly beautiful. And it cleans the glass quick, too.
I have since switched to pumice for cleaning the glass. It works faster and helps the putty to cure just a bit quicker.

You can see the glazing haze here.
Along with proper putty application.

Back at IT, the windows gleam. Okay, it's the sunlight, but having restored, newly painted windows with clean glass helps.

This bank turned out especially well, as it allows for some standing room on a sunny winter day. That it faces south helps let the sunshine in.

Didn't see this until installation. And I'm not talking about the painters' scratches around the edge of the pane; those come from using a flat-bladed scraper known as a 'five-in-one-tool' instead of a single-edged razor blade. We mark each sash with a sharpie before removal so they will go back in the same place; this saves a lot of headaches upon reinstallation of each pane. But others marked them earlier than we; I hadn't noticed this etched letter "E" (I suppose it is, I print) on the glass. Easily accessed from floor level, I thought some kid might have done it while bored, but it was the Board of Education, not a school. Or maybe it was a school. As I said, I don't know all of the building's history.
But the pen(knife)manship is nice.

Not so much with this letter "I." Or perhaps it's an "H" carved from a prone position.
Hey, education made me sleepy, too.

Thursday, April 4, 2019



There are several Velvet Mills around The Land of Steady Habits, as Connecticut likes to call itself, but the biggest and most impressive is in Manchester, just east of Hartford. Building began in the 1830s, when Connectikittens were really cashing in on the Industrial Revolution (though we started it long before Engaland claims to have done in the 1820s), the Velvet Mill was actually called the Cheney Silk Mill back thin the 19th century. It reached its peak in 1923, then declined due to changes in fashion, advancement of synthetics, and the likelihood that the silkworms went on strike. Or maybe it was the women that had to unravel all those inch-long cocoons. But I jest. Huge chunks of machinery did it by that time.

The entire operation ended in 1984, and though a few enterprising people used the many structures there for manufacturing on a small scale after that, what was left was eventually turned into apartments. Lofts, they call them now. They are quite trendy.

I had the experience of removing, repairing, and restoring some of the windows from this massive expanse of apartments, and the few pictures I took on one of these trips are presented here. The complex is not as massive as it once was, but it still inspires awe. The apartments are, as far as I saw, fairly nice and very eclectic in design, but many also sport high ceilings that I imagine lend to uneven heating.

But the windows are HUGE, and most have been re-outfitted with dual-pane thermal glass called IGUs (insulated glass units). This makes them heavy and difficult to move, much less maintain. They were an absolute pain in the ass to restore.

But the place is magnificent, and the folks that run it have a genuine love for what they are doing. The tenants are almost defensive about the place.

It is one of a kind.

I like the design, but I mostly like the brickwork.

And though I wouldn’t want to live there (I am a country gentleman), I would like to work on it some more.

While I worked with Steve Marshall, I restored, reglazed, and repainted the windows that were reinstalled in this walkway. Steve did the nearly impossible task of rebuilding them, as their bottom rails had to be replaced in nearly every sash. He is quite the wood mechanic, and these things brought out his considerable skill as a woodsmith. The bridge is not new, and  there is at least one more. I'm glad I didn't have to reinstall them; the crew that did so did it from the outside. Both Steve and I wondered why the window frames weren't reframed and trimmed out so the fixed sashes could be pulled from INSIDE the bridge. It would have been the time to do it.

Other side of the bridge. Another, yet to have its windows restored, is in the distance.

Looking down the street, which still looks like mill workers should be coming out en masse at the end of the day. The Dye House Apartments.
(At this point I'd like you to begin humming The Rolling Stones' "Waiting for a Factory Girl")
One of the reasons that mills like this are converted to apartments is because it's just too damn expensive to tear them down and build something else. Another is because Connectikittens are loathe to replace anything they can reuse, as they are the frugalist of frugal Yankees. Yet another is that Connecticut is a very densely populated state (though you wouldn't know it from looking at MY end of the state, shush and don't tell anyone), and housing is at a premium. But one darker reason is that mills of this size sometimes have vewy vewy nasty things buried nearby, and disturbing those things can bring, pain, sickness, death, and lawsuits. I am sure that the area around Velvet Mill was cleansed before reconstruction was begun (I'm not kidding; we are VERY conscienscious [I have no idea how to spell that word and the computer doesn't believe it exists] about such things here), but it does happen that industrial sites from the past have been known to harbor ground-dwelling nasties.

I love the brickwork here. It harks back to the days when folks took pride in the workmanship around their industrial facilities. I wish I took closer pictures of the rather magnificent lamps on either side of the arch.
I'm not sure the origin of the white deposits on the bricks to the right of the arch; it is caused by redeposition of lime from water leaking, dissolving the calcium from the mortar, and redepositing it elsewhere.

More of the same calcium. But the green algae and erosion of the mortar near the downspout is a direct result of the gutter above not draining properly. Either it is clogged (unlikely, there are no nearby trees to fill it with leaves), the seams need sealing or resoldering, or, as I surmise, it has pulled away from the parapet to allow water to course behind it. The dark areas on both sides suggest this.
But I still like the roofline and the brick fancies up near the roof.

Tuesday, March 5, 2019


I pass this old dam nearly every day. It's located in a stand of woods in Preston, Connecticut on Highway 165, and I knew I wanted to include it with these old mills. Unfortunately we had fifteen inches of snow the day I went to take it's picture, and the accompanying cloud cover made it even harder to photograph. There are several odd depressions nearby, all looking suspiciously like cellar holes. I haven't gotten close to it, but I will. Eventually.

From the road

With a little bit of zoom. The rocks are very large, and the stream now flows beneath the wall.

This is located in Uncasville, Connecticut on Highway 32. It is massive, extremely well built, and must have served a large complex of buildings once. But no building exists. Weird for as large a dam as this is. Large mills like the one this dam likely served are seldom torn down, but reused as apartments or retail spaces. Mought be there WAS no mill there, but the pond it holds back is still there, as are the roads and additional infrastructure that served it. If I get more info, I'll pass it along. I'm sure you'll lose sleep until I do.

With the highway below the dam.

Saturday, March 2, 2019


Well, no longer running, anyway.
Connecticut  is filled with them. Just drive down any country road in winter and you can see them; small walls that used to hold back water to form a millpond and thin, deep races that took water from the long-gone pond upstream to a vanished grist or lumber mill remembered only as a couple of walls or a depression in the bank.
Connectikittens and Yankees have always been frugal, hard-working and  industrious. There were mills of different sorts within five years of the Pilgrims' landing at Plymouth, and many were tiny one-man (or single family) operations. All you needed was a stream with a more or less constant flow, some vertical fall, a lot of rocks for walls, and a market.
New England has a lot of all the above.
I'll feature a few here and some more as I can get decent pictures. I'm doing this in March, which is a winter month up here, so I don't always get as much sun as I'd like for my pics to jump.
So it was this day.

I used to take a long, winding bunch of backroads to work, which was forty two miles north of here in Preston, and each day, I'd pass a few of these millsites and say, "I need to stop and get some pics of those for the blog!"
It took for me to get laid off to do it.

The Natchaug River is one of the premier trout streams in the state of Connecticut; drive by on opening day and you'll see hundreds of cars parked illegally for a mile in either direction. After opening day, there are only a few. Fair weather fishermen the first day. I've seen this fast-moving river in full flood in spring, and trust me, it sports killer Class 6 rapids. Don't try it. Too many rocks to make it an easy kayak in low water, it is quite the challenge in midwater times. This is Diana's Pool, a popular swimming hole in summer. I took this pic from the 198 bridge.

Just downstream of the bridge, the remnants of a mill can be seen in the center of the picture, as well as the old Bedlam Road bridge abutment just downstream from that. I have no idea what the mill was used for or its configuration. As close as this wall is to the water, I can only guess it was hell to run in high water. The road coming into the larger road is Diana's Pool Road, and was likely the original road, as it heads directly for the old stone abutment.

Hard to get a good picture from this side of the river, and ice underfoot made it impossible to get closer. Unless I wanted to go swimming. It was twenty six degrees this day.

Highway 198 bridge, built in 1926 and recently restored. Built right into the massive schist cliff, it is. Diana's Pool Road and my black van in the parking area beyond.

I don't know that this is ever enforced, except possibly in times of high water. But that's usually in spring, when the water temps are just above freezing as is the air. In July and August there is a train of local kids walking to and from this spot, all in differing degrees of wetness.

Danger! Danger Will Robinson!

Just down the road are the remnants of the Chafeeville Silk Mill, which operated in the 1830s until the silk industry in Connecticut died. Always entrepreneurs, some Connecticut Yankee decided to import silkworms and to grow mulberry trees for them to feed upon. Local women were hired to unspin the cocoons and the mill here (and many others) respun the silk into fabric. It worked for a while until the overseas trade with China got going, and we couldn't compete. Or so they say. I think the women got tired of unravelling tens of thousands of inch-long cocoons. The dam on Fenton Brook can be seen through the trees, and one of the race walls can be spotted a little closer. An interesting fact: gypsy moths were also brought in to expand the silk industry, Smart idea, hunh? Kind of like Asian Carp, the snakehead, Dutch Elm Disease, Burmese pythons, the Emerald Ash Borer and the Chestnut Blight. All brought here by humans with too much money and too little brains.

A better pic of the race, which concentrated the water from the millpond above the dam and could be controlled for rate of flow by restricting or cutting off the amount of water, usually with moveable doors that slid up and down in wood frames.

An old road that served the mill area. Now a trail for hikers. We have a lot of these in Connecticut. Old railroad beds and wagon roads crisscross the state.

A little better view of the dam, showing where Fenton Brook goes between the two sections. Likely had a bridge over it in olden days. The stonework is beautiful. I couldn't get much closer, as the snow had turned to ice and the footing was treacherous this day.

The Gurleyville Grist Mill, also on Fenton Brook, restored as a museum open on weekends in warmer months. Unusual rockwork, it resembles what we in Arkansas and Missouri call 'giraffe rock,' where the stone is put on edge rather than stacked horizontally. It utilizes a lot less stone, but that stone must be flat and uniform, and the structure is not as solid as horizontally-laid rock. My immediate question upon seeing this mill was "Where the hell is the race? Or the remnants of the wheel?" It unlikely had a turbine (those were used in much larger industrial mills), and though it is obviously not used anymore, there should be vestiges of the mechanicals. Hell, there's a WINDOW where there should be a wheel!

On the street side, it looks like the left wall is bulging. Giraffe rock will do that. Unusual species, too. It looks like sandstone, which is fairly rare in this state. Some of the gray corner stones look to be fine-grained granite or granodiorite.

It IS bulging.

Someone drilled through the rock and put anchor rods through to a more stable element inside, tying it  in place with large nuts. Two windows so close together (and the two above) were prolly the culprit, weakening the already-prone-to-move giraffe rock.
I looked in the windows to see the workings, but couldn't see any. Some elevated wood walkways were all I could see in the darkness. I'll revisit it in warmer months and update you then.

No race! The concrete wall seems to be for retaining the soil.

The bridge below the mill is made to look as if it is stone, and someone went to some effort to do so. The stone is cast concrete in panels about eight feet long. You can see the seams if you look closely. Nice effort if you don't have the cash for a real stone bridge, which costs mucho dinero. Fenton Brook, which is really more of a river, flows at the left. And strangely enough, the millpond is on the opposite side of the river from the mill. It's possible that there was an elevated race that crossed the river in a wooden flume.