THE BARKER MILL
[This article was originally published by the Stockbridge Library Museum and Archives in the July 2012 issue of Now and Then on page 2. It appears here with permission. © Stockbridge Library Museum and Archives]
On Nov. 24th, 1864 the Pittsfield Sun reported that “Messers Barker have recently purchased the mill privilege of A. E. Dickinson in Curtisville, and are about to erect a fine woolen mill, which will employ from 50 to 100 hands”. Around 1867-68 the new Mahkeenac Mill was erected for about $15,000 on the site of Dickinson’s mill which had burned in 1852. It was built of wood, fronted the road to Lenox (Interlaken Road/Route 183) and extended over the Marsh Brook which ran from Newton Pond (later known as the Cove). More power was needed so the sluiceway and dam on the south end of Newton Pond were built as part of the Barker Mill project. The channel course from the outlet of the lake was dug out using oxen. This higher ditch and bulkhead gave a 36 foot fall of water power. A paper written by E. E. Barker stated “This construction for water power caused overflow damages and the buying up of all water rights all around the lake and constituted the Barker Water Rights and water privilege”.
A water wheel located at the south end of the cellar ran the grinding machinery and a furnace was located at the north end of the cellar. Making woolen cloth turned out to be too expensive an enterprise; and the mill turned to other uses. As late as 1885 it was operated for a number of years by Otis Barker and his sons Frank and Ed as a saw mill and grist mill with a foundry attached. One section of the basement was used as the foundry and the other as a grist mill; while the upper stories used for wood working purposes. Iron posts and fencing, some of which still exist in the village today, were cast in the 1890’s at the foundry. They also made square boxes and grates for sluices, casts for lamp lighter planes and shares for plows.
B. F. Barker was a pattern maker and made most of the patterns used in the foundry work. He was also an inventor and invented a Wire Broom Protector, a Lamp Lighter Plane and a Corn Cracker to reduce ears of corn. He invented and patented a machine for separating splints from pulp, called a “splint-sifter”. He held a number of U.S. patents, including one for “Improvement in Machine for Molding Paper Pulp” (1875) for new and useful improvements relating to molding articles of papier-mâché (a copy of the patent is in the M&A). He was also involved in the building and/or planning of the 2 Stone Arch Bridges (one near the Barker Mill and one in Larrywaug).
Benjamin F. Barker served as selectman and was also highway surveyor for the town. The Curtis house, just north of the mill, and a couple of small cottages near the mill were owned by the Barker family. Ed Barker, son of B. F. Barker, helped his father in the mill and was Post Master. Emma and Tina Barker, daughters of B. F. Barker, carried the mail to and from Stockbridge. Otis Barker, brother of B. F. Barker, owned the hotel and brick store near the Barker mill (the post office was in the brick store). Otis also owned the tenement buildings below the store (some stone foundations are all that left of them today; see picture right showing, left rear to right, the mill, brick store and tenement bldgs.).
In 1870 the Pittsfield Sun reported that the manufacture of pulp was being done at the Barker Mill. One source stated that Albrecht Pagenstecher formed a co-partnership with Benjamin Barker of Barker Bros. in Pittsfield and that they would soon be making pulp in the large new factory at Curtisville which had been erected for a woolen mill. B. F. Barker invented and patented the Barker Wood Pulp Machines. The 2 brothers, Isaac and George W. Barker, formed a company with him. Machines were made in Curtisville and some were also used in the Smith Paper Company Mill in Lee. The business making pulp only ran for a few years.
The mill struggled economically, even after diversifying. In 1892 it was sold to Leonard F. Beckwith, an engineer from New York. Beckwith did extensive repair work on the mill and water works and had great plans for the mill and the village. B. F. Barker was Superintendent during this period, until 1893 when Beckwith was suddenly taken ill at the Chicago World’s Fair and died a year or two later, after which the mill was abandoned. The building was eventually demolished in 1927 leaving only a few foundation stones to show that it ever existed. (picture left shows mill with hotel in background and brick store far right)