This month, the Architectural Ambler visits a recent addition to the National Register of Historic Places: the Eagleville Historic District, a former textile mill village in the town of Holden, Massachusetts.
One of Holden’s eight original mill villages, Eagleville is the sole remaining example: a relatively undisturbed collection of 19th and early 20th century worker housing, with examples of Federal, Greek Revival and Victorian architectural styles, centered around the brick buildings of the former mill complex. Remarkably intact, nearly all of the properties built during Eagleville’s development remain, and only two new properties have been added to the district since the closing of the mill in 1940.
Like many New England mill villages in the 19th century, roads and rivers were crucial to the development of Eagleville. The Asnebumskit River flows under Main Street approximately 600 feet northwest of Morse Square, in what is now the center of the village. A bridge has crossed the river in this location since at least 1795; today the river is spanned by the modern (c. 1986) Main Street Bridge.
In 1800, the Sixth Massachusetts Turnpike, a toll road built to facilitate travel between Amherst and Shrewsbury, was opened, cutting through the center of what would become Eagleville and enabling the construction of High Street. The revenue generated from the Sixth Turnpike further contributed to the development of the village. In 1806 a saw and grist mill were constructed, and by 1812 a tavern had been built across from the mill on the north side of the turnpike. The Eagleville Hotel (also known as the Eagle Tavern), 1 Princeton Street, was likely one of the first buildings constructed in Eagleville, and a building still remains in that location today. The original three-story building was destroyed by fire in 1939, but was rebuilt in the same location, this time as a 2 ½-story building with a gable roof. While it is unclear how closely the replacement building resembles the original hotel, the brick construction, centered entrance, 6/6 wood windows, and equally spaced front-gable dormers retain the elements of the Federal style.
The Eagleville Hotel is one of three notable early 19th century brick Federal-style buildings in the heart of the district. Not only was the style somewhat uncommon to central Massachusetts, brick was a building material rarely used in Holden. This cluster of unusual houses, known as Brick City, includes the reconstructed Eagleville Hotel, as well as the c. 1820 White-Chapman-Rivers House, at 10 Princeton Street, a two-story brick structure with an interesting asymmetrical fenestration pattern, and the Herbert & Lyons Mill Housing
Building, at 184 High Street, an oddly configured building with the appearance of two five-bay houses joined end-to-end. Both sections retain their single entry doors in arched openings topped by five-pane fan lights, and the smaller western section of the building retains its endwall chimney, a typical Federal period detail.
The mill complex, situated on the banks of the Asnebumskit, directly across the road from the Hotel, exists in much the same configuration as it did when the last buildings were constructed in the early 20th century (although the earliest buildings, Buildings No. 1 and 2, both wood-framed buildings constructed in 1850, were demolished in 2000.). The existing gravity dam was constructed in 1918, with a central concrete spillway flanked by on either side by earth fill extending from the natural banks of the river, creating Eagle Lake to the south and Stump Pond to the west of the district.
A modern pedestrian bridge spans the spillway, and provides the best views of the mill complex, including the unique concrete foundation of Building No. 4. This one-story wood-framed mill building was constructed in 1918 in conjunction with the dam, following a huge increase in production during World War I, when the mill produced military blankets for American and Italian soldiers. Building No. 4 was demolished in 2002, but its unique concrete foundation is still visible. The concrete slab floor spans river below the dam, and the channels merge into a single concrete underground tunnel that empties into an open channel under Building No. 9, at the north end of the property. The river then flows under the Main Street Bridge.
On either side of Building No. 4’s remaining foundation are Buildings No. 3 and 5. Building No 3, constructed in 1904, was the first brick building in the mill complex, and originally adjoined Building No. 1, fronting on Main Street. Currently vacant and boarded, the three-story flat roof brick building retains many original features, including its double-hung windows in segmental arched openings. Building No. 3 is extremely utilitarian in design, and even the corbelled cornice – integral to the roof framing – serves a structural function.
In 1923, the operators of the mill decided to consolidate the activities of the Eagleville and Jeffersonville plants to one location, and the Jefferson Manufacturing Company Office, originally built in 1900, was moved to its present location near the former Eagleville plant. The two-story, cross-gambrel-roofed building is the only example of Dutch Colonial Revival architecture in the district and features Palladian windows in the north and east gambrel endwalls, 6/2 windows with diamond muntin pattern in the transom lights along the first floor, a tall central chimney and shingle siding. A one-story addition constructed in 1925 connects the building to the machine shop, also relocated from Jeffersonville.
Redeveloped into residential condominiums in 1985, Building No. 5 was constructed in 1925 as part of the mill modernizations undertaken after a prosperous period in the early 1920s. Erected just downstream of Building No. 4, over the remaining open portion of the river, the three-story fireproof-constructed brick building is the largest building in the complex. Utilitarian in design and construction, it mirrors the functionality of Building No. 3.
The most recently constructed building in the complex is the Jefferson Manufacturing Company Gatehouse, which fronts onto Main Street at the northern end of the complex. Built in 1935, possibly as an attempt to add security during an increase in union activity and worker unrest, the Gatehouse is one of the only intact buildings remaining, and also the most architecturally detailed. The one-story brick building retains its hipped slate roof, many of its original 4/4 wood windows, wood double doors with 4/4 window insets and transom lights, as well as a continuous brick soldier course that encircles the building just below the eaves.
Like many ‘company towns’, the majority of Eagleville’s population was employed either directly or indirectly by the mill, During the 19th and early 20th centuries the majority of the land in the district was owned by the mill company or its individual owners, and housing was constructed in direct response to increases in the workforce.
The residential section of the district is centered on Morse Square, a parcel of land in the center of the district where Main Street, High Street (originally part of the Sixth Massachusetts Turnpike) and Princeton Street intersect. The Federal style is best represented in the cluster of buildings comprising ‘Brick City’. Eagleville’s best examples of Greek Revival architecture – the American architectural style popular after the Federal period – can be found in the former mill worker housing along High Street.
Mill Housing, 201 High Street, c. 1830 is one of four houses in the district stylistically identifiable as Greek Revival. The two-story, side-by-side duplex exhibits several characteristic features, including the mirrored side-hall plans with central entry doors, and the presence of 1 ½-story rear ells, wide gable rakes and fully closed pediments, and small stove chimneys, although modern vinyl siding has concealed wide corner and frieze boards. Although restrained, these stylistic elements indicate this house may have been occupied by a mill manager or supervisor.
Another example can be seen just down the street at 197 High Street. Its paired chimneys, half-story knee wall, and slightly widened side, rake and frieze boards are all identifiable elements of the form. In comparison to the house at 201 High Street, the more restrained stylistic elements of 197 High Street indicate this building was probably occupied by lower-level mill employees.
Several 19th century buildings in Eagleville can be most appropriately classified as Victorian Eclectic: buildings that incorporate characteristics of several contemporary styles, like the Merrick House, at 1650 Main Street. This c. 1875 property – a two-story, front gabled house with a three-bay wide side-hall plan – is Greek Revival in form, but features elements associated with the Italianate style, such as the angle bay window, semi-circular arched gable window, and molded caps over the door and window openings.
The most architecturally elaborate building in Eagleville can be found at 1727 Main Street, situated at the top of a small hill overlooking the mill below. This is the Stillman F. Morse House, built in 1882 in the High Gothic Revival style for mill agent and partial owner Stillman Morse. As was typical in mill villages and factory towns of the 19th and early 20th centuries, the most ornate expressions of style were reserved for the houses of mill owners, agents, and other higher-ranking mill employees, and the Morse House is no exception. The 1 ½-story property’s steep gable roof with decorative barge boards, narrow paired windows with bracketed, pointed-arch window hoods, square angled window bays topped by heavy bracketed cornices and steeply gabled wall dormers with decorative eaves exemplify several well preserved elements of the Gothic Revival style.
Fire was a constant threat to mills and other centers of industry in the 19th century, and in 1892, fire destroyed much of the Jefferson Manufacturing Company in the neighboring mill village of Jeffersonville. In the course of rebuilding the mill owner, Martin V.B. Jefferson, purchased the entire Holden Mills complex in Eagleville, and began operating under the name Eagle Lake Woolen Company.
To accommodate the expanded workforce following the expansion of the Jefferson Mills operation into Eagleville, new housing was constructed along Main Street, and the Rivers Skating Rink (22-24 Princeton Street), a roller skating rink constructed in 1891 – one of the very few buildings in Eagleville devoted solely to recreation purposes – was converted into a multi-family tenement.
Six residential structures constructed in Eagleville during the last third of the 19th reflect the contemporary popularity of the Queen Anne style. One example can be seen at 1756 Main Street, a c. 1900 two-story hip-roofed dwelling with a two-story projecting front bay, narrow two-story porch recessed under the main roof in the rear of the property, hipped-roof dormer, and Queen Anne style stained glass window.
Eagleville continued to thrive through the early 20th century, with the additions and upgrades to the mill complex in the prosperous years following World War I. However, the economic and social upheaval that accompanied the beginning of the 1930s brought about a permanent change in Eagleville’s fortunes.
The 1930s marked the beginning of a permanent decline of the New England textile industry, and Eagleville was not spared. The Great Depression caused a drastic reduction in product demand and price, and in 1934 the mill workers unionized in an effort to stabilize their wages. Meanwhile, the newer, more efficient, non-unionized Southern mills were edging Northern mills out of the market, and in 1939, the company stockholders voted to sell the company and its assets. Between 1940 and 1941, all of the company’s holdings: 27 dwellings, barns, a club house, six parcels of land, machinery and equipment – were either sold or auctioned off – the first time any of the housing associated with the mill had been sold to private buyers.
The village of Eagleville remains largely unchanged from its days as a functioning mill village. Since the closing of the mill, only two properties have been constructed within the district: a Cape Cod style dwelling in 1940s, and the Jefferson Service Station, (1594 Main Street), an unaltered example of the pre-fabricated service stations that were produced by major oil companies between 1931 and 1950.
The Eagleville Historic District is a well-preserved example of the once-common Massachusetts textile mill village, and an excellent representation of the industrial history of New England.