Filed Under Mills

Nashawena Mills Weave Shed

“We went back with what we thought was a 10% cut. Once we got inside it was 20%, and in some crafts it was more than that. A weaver who was paid piece work would look at his pay and realize the size of the cut. When he went to complain the boss would tell him, ‘Look, be quiet. If you don’t want it, move. The next guy will take it.’ There was nothing we could do.” –Pete Fauteaux, card room worker

On the morning of April 16, 1928, outside of the largest weave shed in the world, workers were ready to do something. Talk of a citywide strike by textile workers had been building for weeks. Inside Nashawena Mills, the machines ran as loudly as usual, but with only five cars in the parking lot, the workers knew it was just the bosses trying to put on a brave face. Outside, a shout went up, and Nashawena’s workforce walked away from the gates along with mill workers all over the city. The devastating strike of 1928 had begun.

Nashawena Mills began production in 1910, occupying a four-story spinning mill and an enormous single-story weave shed of more than 260,000 square feet, containing 6,100 looms.  Built near the end of a 30-year boom in mill construction in New Bedford, the Nashawena weave shed utilized an innovation developed in the city. Previously, spinning and weaving were housed together in multistory mill buildings. However, beginning in the 1890s most newly constructed mills employed a single-story weave shed with a distinctive sawtooth roof pattern with angled windows to admit more light. The increased lighting allowed for better quality control of the finished product and improved ventilation, and with better working conditions came greater efficiency and production.

In 1928, an average textile worker in New Bedford made $1,037 annually, about half of the federal government’s estimate for health and “decency,” despite workers’ claims of record profits by mill owners. Initially, public opinion supported the workers, but as the strike dragged on through the summer, the economic impact became more widespread, and public opinion shifted. Newspapers began to associate trade unionists with the “red menace,” and mayor Charles S. Ashley called in the National Guard to assist police in breaking up worker demonstrations. Facing poverty and eviction, mill workers accepted a 5% wage cut negotiated by union leaders and mill representatives.

The strike of 1928 was over, but the Great Depression followed a year later. Falling demand for New Bedford’s quality cloths, an aging industrial infrastructure, and lower labor costs in the South led most mill owners to abandon the city.

Today, the Nashawena weave shed is the chief manufacturing location for the Joseph Abboud company, maker of suits and coats for men and boys. The company employs 500 workers at its various locations, at an average hourly wage of between $14 and $27.

Images

Young Workers Head Home for Lunch Young workers head home for lunch on January 9, 1912. Nashawena’s weave shed is on the left, and Nonquit Mill on the right. Source:
Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. 20540 USA. “[Young Workers Adolescence and Younger in Manomet, Nonquitt and Nashawena Mills. Going to Dinner and Back to Wrk. Noon. January 9, 1912. Richard K. Conant, Witness.] Location: [New Bedford, Massachusetts].” Image. Accessed March 17, 2022. https://www.loc.gov/resource/nclc.02508/.
Creator: Lewis Hine Date: 1912
Atlas of the City of New Bedford, 1911 (detail) The neighborhood surrounding Nashawena Mills was mostly undeveloped in 1911, but soon would be filled by three-decker tenements. Source:
“Search Results from Map, Available Online, 1911, Atlas of the City of New Bedford, Massachusetts : Based on Plans in the Office of the City Engineer. (G3764nm.GLA-00098/).” Map. Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. 20540 USA. Accessed April 26, 2022. https://www.loc.gov/maps/?dates=1911&fa=segmentof:g3764nm.gla00098/&sb=shelf-id&st=gallery.
Date: 1911
Postcard View of Nashawena Mills Nashawena Mills rises in the background of this postcard image looking from Shaw Street across to Central Avenue with an undeveloped block in between. Numbers 16 and 20 Central Avenue are visible, along with the tip of the gable roof of 45 Conduit Street. Date: Ca. 1910
Raymond Bradshaw poses with Nashawena Mills in the Background 14 year-old Raymond Bradshaw poses for photographer Lewis Hine in 1912 at the corner of Belleville Road and Hope Street with Nashawena Mill in the background. Hine noted that Bradshaw had “tubercular tendencies”. Source:
Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. 20540 USA. “Many of the Smallest Ones Said, ‘Working in These Mills.’ Especially #1 Raymond Bradshaw, 88 Engerira St. Works in Manomet Mill; Lives with Grandmother, Works in #2 Card Department. Said, ‘I’m Goin’ on 14, Will Be 15 next September.’ He Appears to Be [i.e., Have] Tubercular Tendencies and His Sister Much More so. Fred Arnold, 478 N. Front St., (Smallest Boy in #6 Mill). Lives with Step-Father in Comfortable Circumstances. Been Working in Weave Room in Nashawena Mill, 1 Year. Location: New Bedford, Massachusetts.” Image. Accessed April 12, 2022. https://www.loc.gov/item/2018676993/.
Creator: Lewis Hine Date: 1912
Arthur Lenk at his desk at Nashawena Mills Arthur Lenk works at his desk at Nashawena Mills. He came from Germany in 1913 and attended the New Bedford Textile School to learn textile design. Source:
“Arthur Lenk Working at Nashawena Mills, New Bedford.” Accessed April 12, 2022. https://openarchives.umb.edu/digital/collection/p15774coll6/id/2368.
Date: Ca. 1940
Aerial View of Nashawena Mills The distinctive saw tooth pattern of the roof of the weave shed is clearly visible in this aerial view of Nashawena Mills and the surrounding neighborhood. Source:
“Overhead View of Nashawena Mills.” Accessed April 12, 2022. https://www.digitalcommonwealth.org/search/commonwealth:8s45qr45g.
Date: Ca. 1930
Nashawena Mills Engine Room The scale of the Nashawena engine room provides a sense of the size of the original coal-fired steam engines before they were replaced by the electric engines in this photograph. Source:
Google Arts & Culture. “Night View of Engine Room, Nashawena Mill, 750-Watt Mazda Type C Installation - General Electric Company.” Accessed April 12, 2022. https://artsandculture.google.com/asset/night-view-of-engine-room-nashawena-mill-750-watt-mazda-type-c-installation-general-electric-company/AAEvXIK2N01xFQ.
Date: Ca. 1925

Location

611 – 687 Belleville Avenue, New Bedford, Ma

Metadata

Parrott, Charles A. “The Weave Sheds of New Bedford and Their Place in American Industrial Architecture.” Industrial Archaeology 40, no. 1 & 2 (2014): 137–54.
Ron M. Potvin, “Nashawena Mills Weave Shed,” Rhode Tour, accessed October 3, 2022, https://rhodetour.org/items/show/142.