Mount Hope Finishing
In 1901, the story begins. Joseph Knowles and his nephew Joseph Knowles Millikin, who was 26 years of age, known to his associates as J.K.happened by an abandoned mlll in the tiny town of N. Dighton, MA. They immediately saw its potential. The mill soon represented prominent investors: the Hathaways, Stantons, Tiffanys and Crapos. Eventually Joseph Millikin would be top shareholder due to his phenomenal success.
Within 6 short months, they had established a cloth finishing company to support the booming textile trade in nearby Fall River, New Bedford, and Rhode Island. J.K procured rights to copious water needed, then sought the necessary labor….and therein lies his fame.
To find and keep good labor in this area of New England, J.K. adopted the Company Town model. In the days when there were few cars and no highway system, it helped to centralize housing close to the site of work. This was not new to the U.S., coal mining companies and others had adopted it. Perhaps, none as pervasively as J.K.however. In 1901, there was only one macadam road in N. Dighton. This soon changed. Eventually, the company created a beautiful park where it hosted employee picnics, sponsored ski trips by train to New Hampshire, created a hospital where a nurse would visit the Plant daily, created the town’s water system (some of which is still is use today), a dairy (still historically intact today as well). If you lived there, as an employee, you were provided with paved roads, had your own police department and fire station. The farm, though it has changed hands often throughout the year/s remains intact to this day with its current owners, the Reed Family Limited Partnership. Milk and vegetables were sold at cost to employees. There were men from the Village employed at the company, too. The company paid for church buildings, a library, card rooms, dances as well as theatre performances Emergency services were provided and employees never had to shovel.
“Shortly after obtaining the old mill, J.K. bought 13 old tenement buildings and completely remodeled them inside and out. Each was decorated and outfitted with new plumbing. The Company continued to acquire, build and rent nearly 200 homes, many small bungalows and single family distinctive homes. Each had its inviting entrance, a well kept lawn, a little garden, was located to best advantage along the roads of the model village. The Company mowed lawns, trimmed trees, raked leaves and cleared snow for its tenants. All houses were repainted and repapered every three years. Rents ranged from $1.25 per week to $5.00 per week (on average salaries tended to exceed those of Fall River). The newest houses, circa 1922, included steam heat, hot and cold water, baths, set tubes, hardwood floors, electric lights, gas, sanitary closets and sewer connections.”
– Eric Schutlz
Source: Dighton Historical Society, Myrna Santos, Eric Schutlz’s article Purchasing Worker Loyalty, and Sandy J. Pineault’s blog
Mount Hope Finishing Company: Historic Mill Comes Down
The dream that began in 1676 with two men from New Bedford and a stroll through an empty factory building in the north part of town has been reduced to rubble.
Owners J. Frank Knowles with his nephew Joseph Knowles Milliken, bought the 1,250 square feet of abandoned mill in 1901 and turned it into Mount Hope Finishing Company, one of the largest finishing plants in the world under one roof.
The name came from the Indian word Montaup after the village where King Phillip was killed in 1676.
The men represented prominent mill owners and investors in New Bedford who were in search of a site for a new plant to bleach, dye and finish fabrics for the many cotton mills of Southeastern Massachusetts and Rhode Island.
With the help of many investors, many of the names now synonymous with great success including the Hathaways, Stantons, Tiffanys and Crapos, Mount Hope was incorporated on June 13, 1901.
“If it isn’t fit for a bleachery, it’s no good for anything,” said Knowles after he took the walk around.
With hundreds of workers operating a plant that consumed 10,000,000 gallons of water daily from the company’s wells and nearby Three Mile River, Mount Hope enjoyed steady growth in its first years and by 1903, profits reached $175,000. Just four years later, that growth increased to $430,000 and by 1910, profits reached more than $600,000.
Many of the workers designed and built their own machines because after some time, only they knew what worked.
During this time, Milliken had an offer to go to another mill and considered making that move until Knowles asked him to remain at Mount Hope as Executive Head and increased Milliken’s capital stock by 250 shares all to be sold to Milliken over 25 years.
Milliken had four children; Robert, Helen, J.K. Jr, (called Pete) and Ruth. In their childhood years, Bob and Pete went to the mill on Sundays with dad. By the mid-twenties, both sons were brought into the business.
The company touched every aspect of life. Milliken tried to think of everything that would make for a good work environment and dedicated employees.
The Mount Hope Clubhouse offered card rooms, dances, a library, theater performances and other activities. The company paid for the village’s emergency services as well as several churches. They also owned a farm that produced and delivered eggs, milk and vegetables to all the employees at cost.
Rates were kept at a minimum at the local hospital where two nurses and two assistants were on duty at all times with a doctor on-call. The most severe cases were sent to Boston Hospitals on Mount Hope’s dime.
However, by 1950, the Korean War did more damage on profits than the Great Depression and for the first time, talk of relocation began.
Source: Historic Mill Comes Down, Feb. 22, 2009 article written by Kendra Leigh Sardinha of the Taunton Gazette