Weekly Update

Greetings from a very warm and sunny Easton! The return of great weather helps to make it at least a bit easier to get through these days of uncertainty. My thoughts and prayers continue to be with all of you who have been touched in some way by this pandemic.

Today we will continue with where we left off last week, the Keith Mill site on South Street. When we last were there, Lemuel Keith was the owner of the saw mill first erected in 1742 by Eleazer Keith. The property had passed from Eleazer Keith to his son Lemuel by 1765, at which time it was in operation as a grist mill. As we turn to the 19th Century, we find the mill still operating to some extent, and in 1802 Lemuel gave the mill to his son Lemuel Keith, Jr. The son ran the mill for a number of years, eventually taking in a partner (Isaac Lothrop) and adding an oil mill to the existing site before 1823. Once again, competition became a problem, and the oil mill was given up in 1830. One can assume that the grist mill was still running, and the business continued along unchanged until an attempt was made to add a shingle mill. This was done in 1834, and the mill was soon buzzing as machinery split and sawed shingles for the growing neighborhoods.

It was around this time that a thread mill was being run just to the north by E.J.W. Morse. Perhaps seeing an opportunity to expand, Keith partnered with A. A. Rotch and others to begin the manufacture of cotton thread at the site. "Judge" Rotch, as he was called, lived in the old farm house at the end of South Street just past the current Furnace Village Cemetery, and was a man of some means. Mr. Morse, however, had several sites in Easton already producing thread, either finished or performing some part of the operation, which made this a difficult business to compete in. Keep in mind that both firms were dependent on the same water power, and with the Morse factory being upstream and across from the dam, Keith basically had to use whatever water was available to power his mills. The thread manufacturing seems to have continued with some success until about 1861. By then, Mr. Keith had died and his son Hiram was a partner with Rotch and a man named William Davidson. After this, the mill closed and was unused for a number of years.

A new life was given the property following the Civil War, when Isaac Pratt from Illinois and others founded the firm of Pratt, Belcher, and Co. and produced cotton batting and wood shingles. This continued until 1878 when James Belcher bought the property and once again returned the mill to its original roots as a saw mill. The building was expanded, and a steam engine replaced the water power, finally giving the mill a power source not dependent on water power. This saw mill was very successful. The large amount of trees, some exceptionally large in length and girth, being jockeyed to the mill over the old dirt road, gave rise to the name "Jockey Lane" for that stretch of South Street. (I have seen a sign that has that name on it!). The saw mill continued for decades. Around the 1920's, F. Sherwood Keith either obtained ownership of the mill or rented it out, and there he used the building as quarters for a duck farm. The duck farm continued through the Great Depression. However, around the time World War II was being fought, the farm was ended, and the building was finally torn down. A business enterprise had existed at this site for 200 years! The Belcher Foundry still owned the property until recently as a way to prevent development from coming too close to their own growing operation. Today all of that is gone.

Today's photos show a few things. First, there are two streams of water at the mill site: the original brook and a man-made canal. The photo of the canal shown here shows a fairly well laid path lined with stone to prevent erosion when the water was high. The second photo is of a brick and iron structure, adjacent to the wheel pit, where a steam engine was mounted. The final photo is of a stone-lined well, probably from the first mill period, and serves as a reminder that one needs to keep their awareness whenever one is exploring. You are a long way from help if you take a wrong step.

Stay well, stay safe, and thank you for following me on this adventure!


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