Thursday, April 9, 2009

A Connecticut Invitation

The Hartford Carpet Company
by Curtis L. Holmes

A significant waterfall is formed where the Farmington River cuts through a gorge in the mountains and makes its turn east to join the Connecticut River at the town of Windsor, Connecticut. In early years this location was simply called "the falls" and later called Griswald Village. By the 1830s this land came to be called by its present name, Tariffville.

At this site was the energy potential to power a large manufacturing facility. One of the early groups to recognize the importance of this waterpower was the carpet weavers. In the 1820s the New England Carpet Company erected a factory at the falls and began production of carpets. Shortly after, the Tariffville Manufacturing Company took over its operation and expanded its production by adding several more buildings along the river. A 1,000-foot canal was constructed which conducted water to the mills. This provided the power to drive the machinery. By this time the mill was called the Hartford Carpet Company and it retained this name for many years. At first only carpets were produced. Later, with additional facilities, coarse woolen clothing was woven.

The Hartford Carpet Company [pictured here circa 1910] became one of the largest in the country, employing over 300 workers. It turned out over 300,000 yards of fine, super fine, three-ply and Venetian carpeting. Hearthrugs and Brussel carpets were later added to the product line. Another 150 workers produced 600,000 yards of tweed and jeans. At this time the mills were at their peak production.

The town of Tariffville had about 1,000 inhabitants. The whole Simsbury, Connecticut area had a total population of only 2,221. The skilled work force necessary to support this operation was not readily available in this area. Immigrants from many countries were invited to come to Connecticut to work in the mills. Many of these people came from Ireland.

Of special importance to us were the families of Robert and Delilah Holmes who came from the parish of Killygordon in the county of Donegal and Thomas McIlroy who came from Ballymoney in the county of Antrim. Both families immigrated to America in the early 1830s.

James McIlroy, the first of the family to arrive in Tariffville, changed the name McIlroy to McRoy. Legend says that there were two James McIlroys in the Simsbury area and straws were drawn to see who kept his original name. Apparently our family lost. I do not know how many family members originally worked in the mills, but apparently the only two to remain in the carpet business for an extended period of time were Robert Holmes Sr. and his son James. Robert worked as a carpetman his entire life in Connecticut. At the age of 77 he still called himself a carpetman. James Holmes worked in this trade until the late 1850s when he purchased a small farm in East Granby, Connecticut. He remained a farmer the rest of his life.

There have been several stories handed down concerning these mills. One such story relates to how Tariffville got its name. Apparently the woolen carpet mills were constantly pressuring Congress to impose import duties on woolen goods to protect the domestic markets. This became such a nuisance to Congress that these men were called "the men from Tariffville".

As the prosperity of the mills grew and the number of employees increased, many markets for other products also flourished. One such market was for farm produce. Farmers would fill their wagons with potatoes, corn and other vegetables and fruit and drive to the carpet mills where they would sell them to workers on their way home from the factory.

Unfortunately times change and Tariffville's prosperous identity with carpet production came to an end with a disastrous fire on June 10, 1867. Many of the factory buildings were destroyed along with a portion of the town. [Read more about the fire at,-ct-carpet-fire,-jun-1867.] The Hartford Carpet Company promptly sold its Tariffville property to the Connecticut Screw Company which erected buildings and brought in new machinery. However, this company failed before it could recover the large expenditure of money it spent equipping the plant.

In 1881 the property was purchased by the Auer Silk Company with a capital investment of $200,000. The company planned to manufacture dress goods, tapestries, upholstery products, curtains, etc. The name was then changed to the Hartford Silk Company. The dam across the Farmington River was rebuilt, new buildings erected and a sizable amount of modern machinery purchased. Hundreds of employees were hired to work in the plant. Just when the company achieved a prosperous position and the future looked promising, the superintendent of the company absconded with the company's funds and fled to Canada. Later another company tried to mke silk thread but it also failed.

The town of Tariffville went the way of the mills and dwindled in size until the town of Simsbury exceeded it in population. Members of the Holmes and McRoy families became farmers. Some left the area and made their homes as far away as Almont, Michigan.

[Curtis is descended from Robert & Delilah Holmes through James Holmes & Mary McRoy>Robert James Holmes & Martha Camp>George Hiram Holmes & Amy May Colvin>and Frederick Colvin Holmes & Katherine Lane Spinney.]