Initially constructed in 1873, the Boston Finishing Works is a well-preserved example of a late Victorian Period industrial complex operated by a succession of different firms who expanded the facility.
The site started as a twine factory, established by A. Loop and Company in 1873. Unfortunately, it opened during the Panic of 1873 and it was plagued with financial challenges and ultimately closed in 1883. There were other attempts to start other factories on the site but none took over the facility until Boston Finishing Works in 1892. After purchasing the Cable Mills site, they built several buildings and expanded the factory. Employee life at the Boston Finishing Works included a company baseball team as well as shirttail parades and bonfires. Employees of Boston Finishing Works and town residents took advantage of the millpond for recreation. In the summer, the pond was used for swimming and in the winter ice skating as well as a hockey like game called “skinny.”
While other cotton factories produced finely woven finished product, the Boston Finishing Works specialized in coarse cloth including shirtings, sheetings, canton flannels, corset jeans and sleeve linings. This specialization and the rise of southern cotton mills with cheaper labor costs in the early-twentieth century proved to be its downfall. As competition grew, other larger New England factories were better positioned to change to finer cloth or compete against cheap southern factory labor. The financial Panics of 1893 and 1896 dramatically affected the US economy. The Spanish American War in 1898 also slowed demand at the Boston Finishing Works, but business improved quickly afterward. Muddy water, flooding, and ice dams as well as machinery repair and maintenance were sporadic problems for the factory prompting it to shut down on several occasions. The factory continued operations until closing in 1906 with the machinery sold the following year.
In 1909 the site was purchased by John S. Boyd Manufacturing Company. Boyd was formerly superintendent of dyeing and bleaching at the Merrimack Manufacturing Company of Lowell. Boyd converted the factory to produce fine textiles in the form of corduroy and velvet creating the John S. Boyd Company Corduroy Mill. Boyd converted the facility to use electrical power negating the need for waterpower; however water from the millpond was used in the washing, bleaching, and production process as well as the other mechanical and heating equipment. Boyd had sprinklers installed, which proved beneficial as fires occurred during his occupancy of the factory.
Despite the conversion to finer products Boyd’s company had financial troubles starting in 1924, but he recapitalized as the Boyd Textile Corporation and continued production on a limited and sporadic scale based upon product orders before becoming insolvent and totally closing in 1930.
In 1936 the factory was purchased by the Cornish Wire Company of New York City, which produced radio and electrical wire as well as extension cords, cordsets for appliances, hand-held power tools, and small electrical products. The company had other manufacturing facilities in New Jersey that produced transistors and electrical parts, while the Williamstown facility would focus on wire and cable.
The Cornish Wire factory started with just four employees doing site preparation, but soon it became a major employer in Williamstown with 225 employees in 1943 and roughly 500 employees by the 1950s, rivaling Williams College as the town’s largest employer. The company provided products to transmission line suppliers and the US military during and after WWII as well as manufactured appliances and electronics.
With increasing demand for products, the company ran three shifts, operating around the clock. The company ultimately outgrew the factory and expanded into the Blackington Mill in neighboring North Adams in 1957.
Cornish Wire was bought by the General Cable Corporation (a nationwide firm based in Providence, RI) in 1960 and the factory remained one of the largest employers in town producing the same products until the 1970s when demand began to wane and employment roles shrank. In 1984, Carol Cable purchased the property continuing operations at a smaller scale ultimately ceasing manufacturing in 1996.