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Fulling Mill 1937

Fulling Mill and Carding Mill

By Jim Gould

FULLING MILL and CARDING MILL  (west of the southern portion of Route 149): Marstons Mills  got  its name  from  the  Marston fulling  mill  and  its neighboring mills. A fulling mill was a kind of a giant washing machine that scrubbed  the oil and dirt out  of the  raw wool  taken from  recently  shorn  sheep  and  pounded the  loose fibers into  a solid  mat. A water wheel turned  a horizontal  shaft that  rotated  tippet  arms  to  push  twin  beams attached  to mallets that  were as big as a man.  These huge  mallets alternately  pounded  on the wool  in a two-foot-high stock or tub.  The racket caused  by the  pounding hammers  was notorious,  as  we  know   from  the  fictional   tale  of  Don Quixote, who  mistook  the  hideous  sound  from  a mill to be the tromping of bearded  giants.  The solvent added  to water   in   the   tub   was  fuller's   earth,   a  clay  found   in abundance at Gay Head  on Martha's Vineyard. The Wampanoags used it to launder  their blankets and cloches.


After the mill had cleaned  the wool and pounded it to an even thickness,  the  wet cloth was stretched  between  two horizontal  cedar poles and fastened at the  top and  bottom by iron tenterhooks (hence the saying, "being on tenterhooks"). We can imagine long, fencelike tenteryards on the field and hillside below the mill.


Close  by the fulling  mill was the Carding Mill, propelled by the same wheel, where the nap was raised, or teased by teasels--a  thistle-like   plant  pod--and  later   by   metal hooks.  Next the cloth  was smoothed  on a table with razor sharp  shears. Then  came dye vats, located  perhaps  where the present pond is.


The Marstons  Mills fulling mill, authorized in 1687,  is one of the earliest in America. It was the second on  Cape Cod and in southern Massachusetts, following the Nye mill in Sandwich  in  1676.  The  first American  fulling  mill  had been started  in the town of Rowley in 1643,  followed by Watertown 1662, Andover 1673,  Ipswich and Salem 1675 and   Dedham  1681.   The  Barnstable  Town   Meeting   of February 11,  1686/7 gave John  Andreas eight or ten acres of upland  next to John  Goodspeed's  property on  the river "to  full Cloth  provided  he set up and  keep a fulling  mill and   full  and  Dress  ye Towns   Cloth   Upon   Reasonable Terms  or Prices."  John's  father, Roger,  had founded  the village in 1648).  The property  was located on the east side of the Herring River (then called Goodspeed's), well above today's   road  named   Fulling   Mill   Lane.  The  river  was dammed   about  where  the  public  footbridge   crosses  the river to Willow  Dell, forming  a pond  that extended  up to where River Road crosses the stream.

A sluiceway fed a mill race below the former  Loring Jones house  (#145  River  Road)  to  the  mill  below  the  Pierce house (#105 River Road).


The first miller, John Andreas, may have been a skilled operator  from  the North Shore, but construction required capital.   In   1688,   the   town   gave  8-to-10   acres  to  ten proprietors  of Barnstable, all of them  from  the  north  side except for Joseph Crocker of Santuit  and mill site neighbor John  Goodspeed.  By the terms of the agreement,  they had to  build  the mill  and  maintain  it  for  20 years, providing the service to any townsperson  who  brought  his raw wool to the site.


The early history of this mill was told by our local historian Vivian  Cushing in  the  bicentennial   history,   The  Seven Villages   of  Barnstable.  By  March  1691,   the   mill  was working   under   Thomas  Massey  (or  Marcy,  Macy?),  to whom  the town gave 5 ½  acres near the mill. The resident owner of the mill, John  Goodspeed's niece Lydia, married Benjamin Marston  in 1716.  He was a third-generation carpenter  from  Salem,  who  may  have  rebuilt  the  fulling mill on the model of those already operating on the North Shore.  Before his death  in  1769,  he had  added  spinning and   weaving   machines   in   buildings   below   the   mill.   Marstons  Mills was thus  already a major  industrial  village even before the American Revolution.


Benjamin  Marston,  the  first Marston in  Marstons  Mills, left  the   clothing   business  and   tools  to  his  son  Prince Marston, born   1735, who  managed the  factory   until his  death  in  1775   at  the  early  age of  40.  Prince's  son, Isaiah,  was  only  18,  but  he  took  over  the  wool manufacturing until 1801 when he moved to Waterville, Maine, where he built a mill.


The  operation   and  ownership   of  the   mill  in  the  early nineteenth  century  is confused and fragmented.  The actual owner-operator from  1792  to after 1818  was the clothier, John  Gallison, of Yarmouth.  Then, from 1818  to 1829,  it was  the  dyer,   Robert   Francis.  At  the  same   time,   the Marstons  were   active   clothiers, that  is, wool manufacturers.


In  1829,   the  last  owner-operator  bought  a share  in  the mills. This was Nathaniel Hinckley,  the first Postmaster  of Marstons  Mills and storekeeper,  owner of three grist mills in the area, sheriff and register of probate,  ten times a Representative on Beacon Hill at the Massachusetts State Legislature  and  wealthy  land  owner.  The  Marstons  sold him  their share in 1832 ending  more  than  115  years of profitable involvement   by the family. Hinckley  expanded the  mill,  installing  some  of  the  newly  invented   textile machinery.    In    1852,   he   took   on   as  partner    Rufus  Churchill, who  produced cotton batting. The death  of Churchill's son  in 1855  ended  the operation entirely.


The Abandoned factory buildings were probably reused.  Derelict remains were washed away in the periodic floods of the river.  Today all we see is the marker put by the Tercentenary Committee at the lower pond which is today’s Mill Pond at the intersection of Routes 149 and 28 a quarter of a mile downstream from the old fulling mill. (Barnstable Enterprise 17 Dec. 2010)

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