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642 Hilliard Street Manchester, CT 06042

HISTORY

The Hilliard Mills complex, a nationally listed historical site, is located at 640 & 642 Hilliard Street in Manchester, Connecticut west of Adams Street.  The earliest mention of the site is from 1672, when John Allen was granted land near his sawmill by the General Court of the Colony of Connecticut.  Located on a "neck of land" between the Bigelow Brook and Sawmill (Hockanum) River, Allen's sawmill is the first verified business venture located within the current boundaries of Manchester.  Records indicate that the early American Industrialist Aaron Buckland already had a woolen mill in operation at the site ca 1780, making it the oldest woolen factory in the country.  During the period when Mr. Buckland owned the mill, the wool for the suit that President George Washington wore to his inauguration and also material for blankets for solders in the War of 1812 came from this factory. In 1824 Aaron Buckland sold the mill to Tracy and Williams.  In 1828, Tracy and Williams then conveyed the property to Sidney Pitkin, who took on Elisha Edgarton Hilliard as an apprentice there. 

 

In 1832, Mr. Hilliard became one-quarter owner and by 1842 became sole-owner of the mill. In 1849, E. E. Hilliard sold one quarter interests to Ralph E. Spencer and the business was known as Hilliard and Spencer.  By 1871, the factory was again solely owned by Mr. Hilliard and named the E. E. Hilliard Company.  During Mr. Hilliard's tenure, the company made blankets and clothing for the Union Army in the Civil War.   After the death of E. E. Hilliard in 1881, his son took over the family business built the structure known today as Building #2 in 1895.  The company acquired the rights to a brick lined pond in 1901, the former Peter Adams site and built a long raceway that extended through Building #4 for both power and washing requirements.  The mill was further expanded in 1925 by the addition of Building #1 to accommodate the upturn in business.

 

The Great Depression took its toll on the business and by 1940, the mills were silent.  The site was then sold to Mr. Aaron Krock, who leased them to the United Aircraft Corporation for the war effort.

 

In 1949, the entire site was purchased by the Bezzini Brothers for their company Old Colony Furniture.  At the company's height, they were one of the largest furniture manufacturers on the east coast and supplied to retailers like Macys, G. Fox and Co. and Saks Fifth Avenue.  Famous for its top notch upholstery work, Old Colony had a long and successful career and the name is still well known to this day.

 

In 2006 the Bezzini Brother's sold the remaining three buildings to Hilliard Mills LLC.  In 2009 Hilliard Mills LLC acquired the last remaining mill buildings to the east, reuniting the site for the first time since 1980.  The Hilliard Mills team recognizes the important historic and architectural significance of the site. When it closed in 1940, the Hilliard Company was the oldest family-owned, continuously operated factory in the U.S [4].