Cos Cob Fire Department Circa 1923
Cos Cob VFD Fiftieth Anniversary 1972 Booklet
Debbie Orrico, our Library Business Manager, asked me a while ago if I had any information on the Woolen Mill fire in North Mianus. Her father, Peter, remembered the great fire that destroyed the complex. I researched it, and came up with the following story.
The original factory was the Rippowam Woolen Manufacturing Company built in 1895 on the property off Valley Road, which is the site of the water filtration plant today. The company manufactured carriage robes and horse blankets. It was replaced by the Mianus Manufacturing Company in 1899. The factory was called The Mianus Woolen Mill.
This company began manufacturing automobile robes, fur robe linings, and velour gloves. Imitation fur linings were made for infant's, children's and women's items. At one point, the factory manufactured steamer rugs. The factory complex covered 60,000 square feet. It was composed of a dye house, spinning room, card room, weaving room and a structure called the Ticker House. Horse hair was woven into thread which was dyed and spun onto spools. These, in turn, filled bobbins which were used to weave on looms.
Workers had to be at least sixteen and hold working papers. Unlike some other manufacturing companies, there was no factory housing provided to the workers. Instead, they had to live in boarding houses in the area. Over time there was a wagon,a bus, then a company truck to transport workers from the Cos Cob area to North Mianus. People could take the trolley along the Boston Post Road to go to town for supplies. Many workers had gardens to supplement their food. Since the factory had no cafeteria, workers had to bring their own lunches. They grew carrots, tomatoes, apples and raised pigs and chickens. Some bought groceries, kerosene and cold cuts from local stores. Ambitious businessmen sold meats, vegetables, fruit, paper goods, linens, and umbrellas from wagons and boats on the upper Mianus River. One man even went around sharpening scissors and knives!
Like many factories in New England, the Woolen Mill depended on a water wheel for power. The factory also pumped water to the houses, which had storage tanks, using automatic electric water pumps, from spring-fed wells, . Eventually there were so many houses that more water was needed than could be supplied. This resulted in the creation of the Water Company.
During World War I, the factory ran 2 shifts. The fabric it produced was in demand by the military for clothing items. By 1911, the complex covered 60,000 square feet. As time went along, the demand for blankets and robes declined. The automobile replaced horses, and cars were now enclosed. Manufacturing ceased in 1926 when the Southern Connecticut Real Estate company took over the factory. Greenwich Trust had foreclosed the mortgage. The Greenwich Gas and Water Company leased the site as a storage area for its meters.
On January 8, 1926, a fire broke out that caused $10,000 damage. Several empty cans , which could have held an accelerant, were found in the road near the factory. Arson was suspected. The fire started at 1:15 am on a Sunday morning. The blaze was discovered by a night watchman. The fire had started in 3 rooms. dense, balck smoke permeated the structure. Fortunately, a sprinkler system retarded the fire. There was extensive water damage to the machinery, and several packing cases of wool ready for shipping were damaged.
On April 28, 1938, another, more extensive fire broke out. It destroyed four out of six buildings. Two structures did not burn because they were cement structure. The fire was discovered by two witnesses, who said the fire started raging in two different places on the third floor of a four story building. (Neighbors thought they heard explosions when the fire began.) The two witnesses ran around the neighborhood to find a phone since not every house had one at that time of the fire. There were two employees of the H.G. Davenport Company working on the first floor of the building at the time. They knew nothing about the fire until they heard falling timbers from floor supports and beams above their heads! The men ran outside to find the entire structure ablaze. They ran to a nearby store to report the fire, but it was closed. Then they ran house to house until they found a phone. The Cos Cob Fire Department was the first unit to respond. The Amogerone, Sound Beach, East Port Chester, Stamford and Turn of River Fire units also sent trucks.
North Mianus Woolen Mill Fire 1938
Cos Cob VFD Fiftieth Anniversary 1972 Booklet
Approximately 5,700 feet of fire hose was laid to fight the fire. Two hose lines blew and pump trucks from Amogerone and Sound Beach got stuck and had to be pulled out by the Greenwich Highway Department. Power lines across the street were in danger of failing since the telephone poles they were on burst into flames from the heat. The paint on nearby houses also blistered. Twenty of the eighty firefighters called to fight the blaze had to be treated for burns. A crew from Sound Beach barely missed getting hit by a collapsing front wall, which was on fire. Flames leaped from the factories 150-foot chimney to a nearby hemlock thicket, which burned. Although a stucco/cement building and a cement block structure did not burn, some of their wooden window casings did!
Approximately 5,000 people drove to the scene. The dark, black smoke could be seen for miles. This traffic hindered firefighters, so they had to set up one-way traffic. The fire which broke out at about 2:30 pm was under control by 5 pm. Damage to the buildings was estimated at $75,000. The Gas and Water Company lost $10,000 worth of meters.
I should mention 2 notable rescues. A man from Darien - an employee of the Fairfield Towel Supply Company - jumped in the river to save 2 puppies, who had fallen in to escape the fire. Another man rescued a horse that was grazing and tied to the burning building.
On March 11, 1953, the remaining building was razed to make way for a modern water filter plant and pumping station. There is nothing left of this vital manufacturing company which provided jobs for so many residents. All that is left are memories.
SOURCES: Greenwich Press
Greenwich News & Graphic
North Mianus Woolen Mill; Rusovic, A; Oral History Project, 1975.
The History of the Town of Greenwich, Mead, S.; 1913.