The James Hunter Machine Company, one of North Adams’ most famous and successful companies, specialized in iron-working and machinery for use with textiles. The factory was originally situated at the intersection of Main Street and Route 8.
The story of the company begins with its founder, James Hunter. He was born in Galashiels, Scotland on June 8, 1806. Following his education in the manufacturing business, Hunter emigrated, working with and for a number of manufacturing companies in the eastern United States, before eventually settling in North Adams.
After working for years in print and cotton works, in 1847 he bought the old furnace property on Main Street, on the banks of the Hoosic River, founding what would come to be known as the James Hunter Machine Company. The company began by making machinery castings, but quickly expanded to the manufacturing of stoves and other metal products. In 1866 a new brick foundry was also built.
With a variety of partners and name changes, the firm expanded; later adding the production of power transmissions that were used in other mills in the North Adams area. Building on this experience, the company began to produce textile machines of its own, the first of these being a cloth washer. These endeavors propelled the company to new heights of success, with further expansion of the business and its grounds. By the end of the nineteenth century, the company had almost doubled in size.
The company continued to see great success even after the death of its founder James Hunter Sr. in 1891. For example, in 1902 a new iron foundry was built on a recently-acquired property on Ashland Street. The company would be passed down through five more generations of Hunters, enjoying great success throughout the twentieth century, including producing key manufacturing goods during both world wars and having its goods utilized in production plants all over the world. Specialties included the friction clutch pulley and cut-off coupling, invented and patented by James E. Hunter, son of the company's founder.
Labor unrest and international competition led to a decline in the company’s fortunes beginning in the mid-twentieth century. For example, the foundry closed in 1962. Also in the early 1960s, the James Hunter Machine Company became a division of the Crompton & Knowles Corporation. In 1968, the company moved to a new building on South Church Street, with the old site becoming the home of a new city hall for North Adams, as part of North Adams' urban renewal of downtown in this period.
The James Hunter Machine Co.'s final days came in the early 1980s, as the company increasingly came under fire in a variety of legal disputes. The James Hunter Machine Company of North Adams effectively closed its operation on South Church Street in 1983. That building now operates as Morrison Berkshire, Inc.