20 Aug 2014
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Patch Instagram photo by schnaydermans

History Abounds at Southford Falls

Racing water powered area mills in years past.

If you haven't been there already, you need to take a trip to the beautiful Southford Falls State Park.

The summer and fall crowds have come and gone, yet there's still plenty to see at this local State Park.  Today, it is a relaxing mix of pond, forest and a rushing brook.  The sound of the water pouring over the rocks below the dam continues non-stop.  It speaks of a time when the plunging waters were the power for Oxford's early industrial history.

Oxford's industry boomed with the introduction of Merino sheep here by David Humphreys.  The fine wool from the sheep was ideal for making woolen cloth.  In 1805 Enos Candee built a fulling mill at the top of the falls.  Here Candee provided the cleaning of the raw wool in preparation for the local farmers to spin and weave their wool.

The waterpower was steady because this area is a major drop in elevation from the water's source at Lake Quassapaug.  The force of the water at that point could be used to harness 275 horsepower of rushing water for the mill.

Before long others started building mills in the area.  Daniel Abbot first set up a flour mill there.  By 1849, he took over Candee's old fulling mill.  There he made paper, drying it outdoors in the sun.  Later he built a large building with a loft for drying the paper.

During the Civil War era, the falls were the center of half a dozen industries.  R. B. Limburner and Brothers had a paper mill above the falls.  Hurd and Bartlett operated another paper mill below the falls.  In addition, the area supported an axe factory, a cutlery shop, a gristmill for grinding grain, and a sawmill.

The Limburner mill was sold to White-Wells Company for $15,000.  Just five years later in 1875, it was sold to F. A. Keeney for $24,000.  The mill burned in 1881. 

A new company, the Southford Paper Co., was formed.  The owners built a new brick building at a cost of $200,000, supplied with state-of-the-art machinery. The company could not meet its expenses and went bankrupt.  White-Wells regained ownership of the facility.

In 1901, the Diamond Match Company purchased the mill to manufacture paperboard, used in its matchboxes and matchbooks.  A workforce of 85 to 100 people operated the plant until 1923.

Six months later, production was stopped after a fire destroyed the facility.  Three large buildings were destroyed.  Though the water rushed through continually, no more mills were built.

Today, the park is used for passive recreation. It contains a reproduction of a bridge built by Theodore Burr.  This Torrington native patented the laminated arch bridge in 1804.  Dozens of them were built in the Northeast, and he got a royalty for each one.  One of his first arched bridges crossed the Hudson River at Waterford, N.Y.  It stood in use for more than a century.

The reproduction was built in 1972, with artist Eric Sloane as design consultant and retired DEP carpenter Ed Palmer as builder.

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