Great Falls Bleachery & Dye Works
Somersworth, NH ~1823
During the early 1800s, settlers moved north from Dover, New Hampshire, up the Salmon Falls River in search of water power and land. They built gristmills and sawmills along the river as they went.
In 1823 the Great Falls Manufacturing Company purchased their first mill (which included a gristmill, land, and water power) for $5,000. Their business eventually grew to include three mills that spun thread and wove fabric. A three and four-story brick and wood bleachery, as well as other buildings, were added soon after.
After unbleached fabric was made at their mills, it would usually then go to the Bleachery and Dye Works building where it could be bleached to the white preferred by customers, or dyed in either one color or in a pattern, through a multiple-step process.
As was the case with many other rural towns across New England, the Industrial Revolution was changing the character of Somersworth. The town grew in size and increased the breadth of its economy as industries moved to the area and brought with them financial companies and service-related businesses.
The Great Depression greatly impacted the city, and over the course of the years, many of the mills were closed or shifted to other uses, such as shoe manufacturing. The Bleachery and Dye Works building, however, survived, serving until very recently in the same capacity.
In November of 2003, the bleachery was devastated by a tremendous fire. In a collaborative effort by 23 fire departments from New Hampshire and Maine, firefighters were able to prevent the fire from consuming the entire structure. Currently, the complex is being renovated and timbers from the damaged structures are being salvaged. The new plan will allow these wonderful old buildings to see a new life, in service for a new generation.
All photos of the Great Falls mill during and after the fire provided by Mark Oullette.