Before the Age of Steam, industry was almost entirely dependent on natural sources of energy such as wind and water. The power of water, being the cheapest and most dependable method which could be applied to manufacturing, became the basis for almost all early industry in America. No stream. however small, was without potential power. The New England region in general and Connecticut in particular was blessed by nature with waterpower suited to industrial development. All that was needed was a dam, race, waterwheel and a watermill was born. A millsite could be any point in a stream where the fall of water could be harnessed and put to work.
Soon after an area was settled almost every stream and river was put to work driving waterwheels in grist and sawmills. Within 150 years waterpower was driving machines that made a variety of needed goods. Until the 1840’s water power determined the location of most villages and towns. At one time in Connecticut there were over 200 “villes”, usually established for a particular manufacturing purpose, next to a river or stream. Thirty five of these “villes” still exist today, one of them being Westville, through which the West River flows. The West River had the waterpower to attract manufacturers to the area. Men with capital to invest, men like Beecher, Blake, Parker, Bunce and Doolittle. In the years between 1776 and 1896 over fifty mills were located in Westville producing a wide range of goods for the public.
Industrial archaeology deals with the physical remains of past industries. In Westville any hope of discovering an early waterwheel, mill, race, or dam is very slim. Most, if not all of the early industrial sites have been destroyed by road building, industrial expansion, urban development and the changes in the course of the West River made by man. The only known evidence of early sites are the remains of the foundation of the Parker Paper Company, at the corner of Dayton and Whalley; part of the spillway behind Parker; and the dam behind the former Pond Lily Company on Litchfield turnpike.
Documents such as reports of factory inspectors, early writings, documents of the government of Westville, and maps are some of the most important sources of information in tracing early industrial sites. Many of the early dams and races are marked on early survey maps. In doing the research for this unit I ran into one dead end after another. Checking out all possible sources for information I came to one conclusion there are almost no written records of early Westville to be found. Although they did exist at one time no one seems to know what happened to them. The bits and pieces that are available on the early industries along the West River have conflicting information in some dates and specific locations. This unit gives a history using all the available sources of information to date.
The unit is divided into three sections. Part I covers the West River system as the source of water power for early industries. Part II deals with the five most important facts to be considered before erecting a mill along a river. Part III covers the specific industries located in Westville that used the river as their source of power. A set of slides accompanies this unit as the illustrations for the text. The overall objective of the unit is to develop in the student the ability to make observations and draw conclusions from the available evidence. The lessons that are found at the end of the unit are designed to develop these skills. Although the materials deal with Westville the skills can be applied to any area of study.