The Beaver Cotton Mill was first established in 1832 through a partnership between Major Lorenzo Rice and George Bly. The mill was situated on the meeting point between the Hoosac River and the Hudson Brook, where there was a massive beaver dam. This is where the men ultimately got the name for the business, Beaver Cotton Mill. The site was purchased from Silas Shipee with 26 acres and water power for $500, in hopes of producing print goods and fabrics for the public. In 1833, they built a three stories high stone mill. They also partnered with Adams city officials (North Adams did not separate until 1878) to construct an access road.
The mill was soon fully functioning and grew at a rapid pace, even having their own store built within the mill for the workers. In 1850, however, the mill was consumed by fire. Although everything was lost, just one year later the mill was restructured into a four story stone mill and the owners hoped be able to come back quickly from its losses. In 1862 the mill was purchased by Sylvander Johnson, while S.W. Brayton became the new manager of the mill.
In 1870 a massive fire consumed the whole building once again, but it was rebuilt even larger and stronger than before. After only thirteen years, the mill was purchased in 1875. The mill was now owned by Gallup and Houghton, with 230 looms, and 175 employees, which was much larger than it was previously. The mill remained running for the rest of the 1800s, growing larger and larger every year.
After Houghton took a leadership role in the Arnold Print Works (APW), the Beaver Mill became part of the larger operation. After APW went into receivership in 1907, the Beaver Mill was sold, with production ceasing from 1910 until 1916. In 1916, after more than $350,000 worth of renovations, including a new roof, the mill reopened. Fully electrified, production centered on treads for the growing automobile industry. Sprague Specialties (later to be known as Sprague Electric) took ownership of the mill in 1930, which was the beginning of Sprague's later emergence as the city's largest employer.
The growing demand for capacitors meant that Sprague needed to expand from its initial home in Quincy, Massachusetts. After decades of great success in North Adams after World War II, Sprague’s difficulties brought changes to the mill. In 1978, Sprague Electric sold the Beaver Cotton Mill for a whopping $1 to the Hoosuck Community Resources Corp, after a dispute to close the struggling mill and in order to save the buildings from being demolished.
In the 1980s, the mill was used by a variety of producers for items such as tents, sleeping bags, and curtains. In 1990, the Beaver Mill was converted by artist and entrepreneur Eric Rudd to the Contemporary Artists Center. That initial investment has now grown into a successful combination of artist spaces and small businesses, bringing a vibrant contemporary feel to one of the oldest buildings in North Adams.
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