Filed Under Mills

Howland Mills

William D. Howland witnessed the decline of whaling and the rise of textiles in New Bedford, and he embodied the risks inherent in both enterprises. His grandfather, George Howland, made a fortune investing in whaling, and his father, Matthew, continued to profit from whaling until devastating losses during the Arctic disasters of 1871 and 1876 forced his children to seek their fortunes elsewhere. William chose New Bedford’s burgeoning textile industry, serving as a clerk at Wamsutta Mills, assisting with machinery and finances, and then at the Potomska Mills, helping to plan the company’s 1880 expansion.

In 1882, at the age of 29, Howland raised capital to organize the New Bedford Manufacturing Company and became its treasurer. The corporation built its textile mill just north of New Bedford’s business district, in the heart of the city’s fading whaling district and adjacent to the wharf named after his grandfather. “Willie is working away at the mill,” Matthew Howland wrote. “He is confident he can make it realize 15 to 25% profit per year.” With business booming, New Bedford Manufacturing added a second mill at the same location in 1886.

Despite his success, the majority of the stock—and the profits—went to Howland’s investors. So, in 1886, Howland and Morgan Rotch (whose grandfather was the whaling investor, Charles W. Morgan) organized the Howland Mills Corporation, and purchased a large tract of land in the South End near Clarke’s Point, a mostly rural area extending into the Atlantic Ocean. Built in 1888 and expanded a year later, Howland Mills was one of the first in the city equipped with “Edison wires”—electricity.

In 1893, the textile industry suffered a serious downturn as a result of the national economic panic. Overstretched by the rapid expansion of his businesses, and distraught by the state of his finances, Howland committed suicide in 1894. In 1899, Howland Mills and its assets were acquired by the New England Cotton Yarn company, and three years later passed to the newly-formed Gosnold Mills. Today, the former mill building is home to Howland Place, which provides space for offices and small business incubation.

Images

William D. Howland, 1874 William D. Howland graduated from Brown University in 1874. Source: Kingston Wm. Heath, "The Howland Mill Village: A Missing Chapter in Model Workers' Housing," Old Time New England, 1997, 67. Date: 1874
George Howland on the Deck of a Whale Ship. George Howland (left) and Thomas Nye stand on the deck of a whale ship with an unidentified man. Source:
“Capt. George Howland and Thomas Nye.” Accessed April 11, 2022. https://www.digitalcommonwealth.org/search/commonwealth:mk61t228s.
Sanborn Fire Insurance Map of New Bedford, 1888 (detail) Remnants of the fading whaling industry surround the New Bedford Manufacturing Corporation in this plate from the 1888 Sanborn Fire Insurance Map including his grandfather’s, George Howland, wharf, barrel makers, and a whale bone store. Source:
Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. 20540 USA. “Sanborn Fire Insurance Map from New Bedford, Bristol County, Massachusetts.” Image. Accessed May 9, 2022. https://www.loc.gov/item/sanborn03803_001/.
Date: 1888
William J. Rotch Cottage Alexander Jackson Downing designed this gothic revival cottage for William J. Rotch, the father of Howland’s business partner, Morgan Rotch, who inherited the house from his father. A. J. Downing included the cottage in his book The Architecture of Country Houses, one of the most important 19th century influences on American domestic architecture. Source:
Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. 20540 USA. “William J. Rotch House, 19 Irving Street (Moved from 103 Orchard Street), New Bedford, Bristol County, MA.” Image. Accessed March 17, 2022. https://www.loc.gov/item/ma0631/.
Overseers at Howland Mills, 1896 The overseers of Howland Mills pose outside one of the mill buildings in 1896. Source:
“Overseers in 1896, Howland Mills, New Bedford, MA.” Accessed April 11, 2022. https://www.digitalcommonwealth.org/search/commonwealth:g158bw91q.
Date: 1896
Mayor Morgan Roth with the Board of Aldermen Morgan Rotch served as mayor of New Bedford from 1885 to 1888. He is seated in the middle with the City’s Board of Aldermen. Rotch and William Howland built Howland Mills during his term as mayor. The wealth and influence of many of the men who profited from whaling was an asset to Howland in his business ventures. Source:
“Mayor Morgan Rotch Is Shown with the Board of Aldermen, New Bedford, MA.” Accessed March 9, 2022. https://www.digitalcommonwealth.org/search/commonwealth:g158bw13b.
Postcard view of Howland Mills This postcard shows Howland Mills after it was acquired by Gosnold Mills in 1902.

Location

651 Orchard Street, New Bedford, Ma

Metadata

Ron M. Potvin, “Howland Mills,” Rhode Tour, accessed December 2, 2022, https://rhodetour.org/items/show/145.