To The Daily Sun,
After the recent (Nov. 12) Sun article on the Belknap Mill being "up for sale," we need to understand the importance of the mill.
The building is a historic landmark Indeed, it's a national treasure. Its importance is often described as the oldest brick mill building in the U.S. Although this is true, I prefer to think of it as the oldest example of an integrated-mill. An integrated mill is a mill where raw cotton/wool enters the building and finished cloth goes out.
Prior to the integrated mill, the different steps in the cloth manufacturing process were handled in different factories, or parceled out to cottage industries, a system that required significant movement of materials. The first integrated mill was built by Francis Cabot Lowell circa 1815 in Waltham, Mass., with water power produced by the Charles River. Lowell proceeded to build two more integrated mills in Waltham before he ran out of water power from the Charles River. He then relocated to the area of the Merrimack River that is now the city of Lowell, Mass.
The Belknap Mill was built in 1823 and was modeled on Lowell's Waltham Mills, which have since been torn down. Thus the Belknap Mill, if not the oldest, is at least close-to-the-oldest example of the original integrated mill, not only in the U.S., but in the world, since the concept of an integrated mill originated in the U.S. with Francis Cabot Lowell.
The Belknap Mill is a very unique piece of history. It contains a collection of antique knitting machines. Through the efforts of volunteers, several of these machines can still produce products including shoestrings, stockings, and baby hats. Many of these knitting machines were made by the Scott & Williams Company here in Laconia. In addition to the 1823 mill building, the mill houses a hydroelectric powerhouse that is nearly in the same condition as when it was built in 1918. This power-house produced hydroelectric power up until 1960. It's doubtful that any similar facility exists in this pristine condition. This powerhouse, along with the Avery Dam, allows children in the fourth-grade program to understand energy and energy conversion as practiced in the early 1900s.
Each year since 1995, over 1000 fourth grade students from Belknap County, as well as surrounding cities, towns and states have enjoyed the history of the Belknap Mill's architectural features, manufacturing process, knitting machines and turbine power demonstration.
The mill houses over 10,000 archived artifacts related to the mill, the manufacturing industries in Laconia, and the culture of early Laconia. Included in this archive are over 100 audiotape interviews with mill workers made in the 1990s. Many of these mill workers have since passed-away. This archive was the main reference for Carol Anderson's excellent book "A History of the Belknap Mill" which is recommended reading to better understand the mill's role in the community.
The history of the mill outlines the history of Laconia. Laconia was born of the American Industrial Revolution due to its location near available water power, and Laconia and the Belknap Mill were shaped by that Revolution into what they are today. The Belknap Mill represents pride in that heritage and pride in Laconia, something to remember in the ongoing discussion.
Member, Belknap Mill Society