Love History? Have a Look at the Region’s Revitalized Mill Buildings

Once a booming manufacturing area powered by plentiful rivers and resilient hard-working residents, the Monadnock Region’s long-silent mill buildings are experiencing a new boom in recent years. Turning a visionary eye toward the future, communities are seeking to attract both locals and tourists alike by reimagining these blank-canvas spaces.

If you’re an avid history buff, enjoying a scenic drive around the region will lead you on a self-guided tour of these revitalized city and town landmarks. Starting in the City of Keene, the Faulkner and Colony Mill was once the heart of West Street with its massive chimneys, built in the mid-1700s for the production of cloth.

Old photo of Faulkner and Colony Mill from West Street, with railroad tracks and no cars

Faulkner & Colony Mill from West Street, circa 1900-1920

It was shuttered in 1953 with a downturn in the market but purchased in the 1980s for development of the Colony Mill Marketplace. It then became the multi-storied home to quaint shops, eateries, and even a children’s museum in later years. Sold again in the early 2000s, it gradually saw the outflux of many of its shop owners when its popularity dwindled.

Smokestack on the Colony Mill against deep blue sky - taken March 2021

Colony Mill

Statewide developer Brady Sullivan took ownership in 2014, converting the mill building into high-end apartments, with its outer buildings home to a bank and casino. The longtime anchor business on the first floor remains a popular brew-pub where visitors can enjoy a bite and a pint, perhaps meandering across the street to Ashuelot River Park for a walk along the wooded trail or a rest beside the noteworthy dam where Great Blue Herons are known to fish.

Colony Mill Keene - brick building with blue sky, shown with Elm City Brewery on the left

Back of Colony Mill, with Elm City Brewing Company at left

Travel further downtown, along Keene’s Beaver Brook, and you’ll find Beaver Mills, a brick mill complex dating back to 1871 when it constructed wood products, such as pails. It was once the largest mill in the city and has been converted over the years to house medical and dental offices, a Montessori preschool and elderly housing. One of the buildings remains home to Whitney Brothers, a nationally recognized manufacturer of children’s furniture, carrying on the mill’s wood-laced legacy.

Heading south on Route 10 from Keene to Swanzey’s west village, you’ll find another of the region’s largest former mill complexes, Homestead Woolen Mills, on the Ashuelot River, a producer of textiles dating back to 1900. It was shut down in 1985 and utilized by other small manufacturers until its sale in 2015 when plans for new uses were made but never realized.

In 2019, it was sold again and has since become home to The Fieldhouse at Homestead Mills, a large indoor athletic facility that opened in 2020 and is used for basketball, soccer, and baseball training and play. The mill’s newest owner continues to explore additional uses that could include a restaurant or brewery overlooking the river and housing.

Homestead Mill with Ashuelot River and Thompson Covered Bridge visible

Homestead Mill, with Ashuelot River and Thompson Covered Bridge visible

It’s a short stroll across the Ashuelot River via the Thompson Covered Bridge, circa 1832, for a relaxing picnic in the riverside gazebo. Or visit to ogle the newly renovated Whitcomb Hall, a landmark dating back to 1916 and once called the “crown jewel of Main Street.” Its construction was primarily funded by George E. Whitcomb.

In the northwestern corner of the region, Harrisville is a not-to-be-missed mill town known for both its picturesque beauty and artistic residents, many of whom are dedicated to the preservation of its mill roots. With a sawmill, gristmill and textile mill all dating back to the 1700s, Harrisville’s bodies of water abound and were also home to Cheshire Mills, a producer of textiles since the 1800s until its closure in 1970.

Harrisville as shown with reflections of the mill buildings in the lake (1969)

Historic Harrisville 1969

Soon after, retailer Harrisville Designs was created to carry on the Harrisville traditions steeped in yarn and cloth. Nonprofit Historic Harrisville also took shape, furthering efforts to preserve history and build a future, renovating the mill buildings into business spaces and artist studios.

Brick buildings in Harrisville

Historic Harrisville today

Historic Harrisville also runs the Harrisville General Store, open since 1838. The local hub serves up a delicious menu of breakfast, lunch, and takeout meals, as well as being a purveyor of groceries. Grab a sandwich or munchies to nosh on while you visit Sunset Beach on Harrisville Pond or the Harrisville Railroad Depot near Skatutakee Lake.

Further west, one of Peterborough’s renovated mill buildings includes luxury condos at Noone Falls, circa 1875. And Union Mill, which is situated on the Nubanusit River and dates back to 1835, is now home to upscale residences, artist studios, and a grocery store. Browse downtown Peterborough’s many appealing shops and dine along the waterfront, sip a craft beer at the local brewery in the former Grand Army of the Republic Hall with its outdoor artillery display, or simply sit for a spell in adjacent Putnam Park.

Along the Souhegan River, Greenville is another of the region’s most visitable mill towns. There, the former Prescott Grain Mill, located on Route 45 since the 1880s, is now home to the Antiques And Collectibles Mall of New England, LLC. It’s one of southern New Hampshire’s largest group antique shops, specializing in a broad range of antiques and collectibles with a planned reopening date in early April 2021.

Antiques and Collectibles Mall of New Hampshire - large dark red building

Antiques and Collectibles Mall of New Hampshire

At High Falls on the river, the Columbian Manufacturing Company dated back to 1826, making textiles. These restored mill buildings have been converted into business spaces, storage, and elderly housing.

And the list doesn’t stop there. Jaffrey, Milford, Wilton, New Ipswich and Troy—all are home to former bustling mills, some already renovated into housing, office, or retail space, some still waiting for their moment to shine again. Those interested in learning more about the legacy of mills in the Monadnock Region can visit the Historical Society of Cheshire County in Keene or the Monadnock Center for History and Culture in Peterborough where history awaits.

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