Building the loom city: Rockville, Connecticut, 1821--1908

Date of Completion

January 1997


History, United States




Textile manufacturing played a significant role in the industrialization of Connecticut. It was the leading industry throughout the nineteenth century, and as late as 1920 it was still one of the state's most important industries. Yet despite its economic importance and the impact that it had on Connecticut's people, the subject has received little scholarly attention. Using surviving company records and local sources, this case study traces the rise and decline of the industry in Rockville, one of the state's largest wool textile manufacturing centers.^ Formerly a city within the town of Vernon, Rockville is one of those numerous "villes" which originated in the early nineteenth century when the textile industry came to many inland Connecticut towns with water power. Because these early factories were often located in rural and isolated areas, their development and growth created entirely new villages within settled towns. Such was the case in Vernon where a cluster of mills along the falls of the Hockanum River grew into a factory village by 1840, and into the incorporated City of Rockville in 1889.^ The study reviews the beginning of textile manufacturing in Connecticut and the semi-handicraft mills that gave rise to woolen manufacturing in Rockville. The early mills were initiated by Vernon farmers, used local sources of capital and rural labor, and produced a mixed wool and cotton cloth that replaced homespun. Conversion to all-wool cassimere in the 1840s assured the continued success of Rockville's factories. Immigration, beginning in the 1850s replaced the rural labor force. Five of Rockville's integrated woolen mills, consolidated in 1906 into the Hockanum Mills Company, attained spectacular success by specializing in high-quality worsted men's wear, a fabric that went unchallenged until the advent of synthetics in the late 1930s. The study examines the relationship of the factory community to the industry as it coped with the problems of rapid urban growth by incorporating under a city charter. When the woolen industry declined in the second quarter of the twentieth century, the factory city of Rockville disappeared. ^