We have identified a lovely parcel of land in the historic Blackinton District in North Adams, adjacent to Williamstown, Massachusetts. The site is being offered by Murphy Builders & Remodeling, a local builder of Net Zero homes.
The history of Blackinton is practically defined by the history of the Blackinton Mill, but not completely. The factory wasn’t built until 1821. At that time, the place was known as Centerville. The first house was built there in 1770, but not much happened in that area of North Adams until about 1810, at which point there were 3 houses.
In 1813 Artemis Crittenden built the Eagle Mill to produce cloth. While the river powered the spinning, the weaving was done on hand looms. As a teen Sanford Blackinton began a four-year apprenticeship there, and then spent a few years working at other textile plants. In 1821 he and two friends built what came to be known as the “Boys’ Factory” close to where the current mill (pictured to right) stands. The name of the community was changed to Blackinton sometime before 1856. Over the next 50 years there were several expansions, fostered in part by the arrival of the railroad in North Adams* in 1846.
The mill was run in a paternalistic manner. Sanford Blackinton provided housing, a company store, a church, cemetery, library and a school. In return, the workers were expected to work from sunup to sundown in the summer and winter. This was a common practice throughout New England. The system worked fine until the 1850s, when workers began protesting for better hours and wages.
During the Civil War, Sanford Blackinton received a contract to make cloth for union soldiers’ uniforms. The cloth was printed nearby at the Arnold Print Works, the current site of Mass MoCA. Even after he built his mansion (now the public library of North Adams) downtown in 1872, he still toured the mill daily. Following the Civil War there were several major strikes and protests.
After the Hoosac Tunnel opened in 1875, there was an influx of Welsh workers. This helped increase solidarity among workers, and strikes became more effective. The Welsh settled in the community, and many families today can trace their roots back to those workers. The village still straddled the line between Williamstown and North Adams as late as 1876 (see map to right).
In 1875, Sanford Blackinton’s son William, who was expected to take over the mill, died of seafood poisoning. The paternalistic model was fading nationwide and the operation was breaking down. Sanford died in 1885.
At the turn of the 20th Century, the village had its own post office, fire department and jail as well as the amenities provided earlier. It was fairly self-contained. Residents thought of themselves as being from Blackinton, not North Adams. Although the mill closed in mid 1950s, some still do.
Today, Blackinton is a village of close-knit families. There are two churches, a small restaurant, but no stores, branch library or school. Residents remain proud of their village, but go elsewhere for work, school and other community functions. The mill buildings will be undergoing renovation as studios, workshops and businesses.
*At this time North Adams was actually the north village of the Township of Adams. They separated in 1878.