Mills were a necessity in early New England: mills for shelter (saw mills); mills for food (grist mills); and mills for clothing (carding and fulling mills). Andover was no exception.
In Ballardvale, William Ballard was one of the earliest settlers in Andover. William's first endeavor was the operation of both a saw mill and a grist mill. In 1794 Timothy Ballard, of the fifth generation, was granted the use of "the falls of the Shawshire River and the land adjoining" on the condition that he should erect and maintain a fulling mill, Here, homespun cloth was finished and pressed.
Upon the death of Timothy Ballard in 1836, a portion of the Ballard estate was sold to Dathniel Poor, Jr. and Abel Blanchard. Plans were begun to construct a paper mill.
Before that was finished, however, a new corporation was formed by John Marland (son of Abraham), John's brother William, Abraham Gould and Mark H. Newman. This partnership established the Ballardvale Manufacturing Company (BMC) and set the wheels in motion for Ballardvale to become a true 19th-century planned mill village.
The company initially produced woolen goods, cotton cloth and experimented in silk production. Soon it focused exclusively on the manufacture of woolen goods. Here in 1943, the first piece of worsted in the U.S. was woven. In 1844 a wooden structure across the river was built exclusively for this purpose and, later that year, also produced the country's first wool flannel.
In 1853 both the brick and wooden mill buildings were turned over to the manufacture of flannels. It was in this area that the company gained world recognition.
Much of the success of this operation is credited to J. Putnam Bradlee who was connected with the mill for more than 50 years, becoming the sole proprietor in 1866. The mills were now known as the Bradlee Mills.
Foremost of Bradlee's accomplishments was the maintenance of good relations between management and labor. Over the years Bradlee furnished workers with supplies at cost, established a library in the Andover Street estate and provided lectures and concerts. Bradlee died in 1887 leaving the bulk of his estate to his sister, Miss Helen Bradlee, who continued her brother's benevolent activities. Among the most notable was the establishment of pensions for employees. In 1893 at the World's Fair in Chicago the mill won top awards for superior flannels.
The brick mill was in operation until 1930, when the building was sold to the Northern Rubber Company. In 1944 the wooden mill was purchased by the Shawsheen Rubber Company.
Another well-known Ballardvale operation was the Machine Shop, established in 1847 by John Marland. Here machines of various types were made, including steam engines. In 1860 this mill was sold to the Whipple File Manufacturing Company.
By 1866 Whipple File had a capital of $1 million, a building site of 4 acres, and employed 600. By 1869 it failed, apparently due to mismanagement.
Other factories included the Abbot Hat Factory, the Craighead & Kintz Company, and the famous Ballardvale Stoneware Manufacturing Company. Craighead & Kintz set up operations in the 1880s at the site of the old Whipple File Company.
They engaged in the manufacture of artistic bronzes, plaques and daylight lamps - the latest word in artificial lighting.
Tragedy struck the company on May 13, 1898. A fire was started by a tinner's torch that had overturned. One of the worst fires in early Andover history, damage was over $500,000; the once prosperous company was in rubbles.
Today, diverse businesses have taken over mill properties, but the charm of yesteryear's Ballardvale can still be found at its mill pond and the buildings beyond.
"Andover Stories" is a weekly column about interesting local people and events, told to celebrate the Andover Historical Society's 100th anniversary in 2011.