Nestled between the north and south branches of the Hoosic River, the Marshall Street complex that now houses MassMoCA has played a major role in the history of North Adams. As the country entered the tumultuous years of the U.S. Civil War, the budding, young industries in Berkshire County were bolstered by wartime production and government contracts. Shortly after the war began, Oliver, Harvey and John Arnold, founders of Arnold Print Works (APW) began building new factory space for their expanding cloth and printing activities at the Marshall street site. The price of cloth climbed during the war, and APW’s contract for the production of Union uniforms, fueled the expansion.
But in December 1871, fire ravaged Arnold Print Works (APW) and eight of its Marshall Street buildings burned to the ground. With little insurance or financial reserves, the future of APW was precarious. Assisted by financial backing from local businessmen, including future APW leader Albert C. Houghton, the firm began rebuilding almost immediately, and was producing again by January of 1874. Houghton effectively took over management of Arnold Print Works, and controlled it until his death in 1914. During his tenure, the print works survived bankruptcy and reorganization, and by 1905 was the single largest employer in North Adams. The Marshall Street site now included 25 of the 26 buildings in existence today, and had become one of the leading textile producers in the world.
Even given the success of APW’s prints and fabrics, the company’s financial health faltered again after the turn of the twentieth century. World War I government contracts went elsewhere and the market for high-end fabrics dwindled. The ensuing Depression drove cloth prices down further, and cheaper production from textile mills in the southern U.S. made it hard to compete with them. Soon after the U.S. entered World War II, Arnold Print Works closed its Marshall Street operations and condensed what was left of its activities in its Adams mills.