The Lowell Area Historical Museum is offering a weekly feature to explore local history. The ABCs of Lowell History continues with a look at Woolen Mill, a Lowell business from the late 19th Century. To learn more about Lowell history, visit the museum website to explore its collection of local artifacts and records.
In the late 1800s, Woolen Mill was an important local business in a growing town. It used machinery and water power to turn raw fleece into yarn and cloth. Powered by water diverted from the Flat River, the Lowell Woolen Mill was able to use machines like a spinner, twister, skeiner and loom, that made it possible to wash, pick, card, spin, dye and weave wool in a fraction of the time it took to do it by hand.
The raw material needed was fleece. Many hundreds of sheep were raised by farmers in this area. One newspaper article reveals that farmers living near Pratt Lake drove their sheep to the lake to wash the wool before shearing them. Shearing was done once a year in the spring. The fleece could then be processed by hand at home or sold.
The Lowell Woolen Mill was built after the Civil War, in 1867 by C.A. Clark. He sold his entire interest the following year to Morris R. Blodgett, who did a large business. Blodgett advertised in 1871 that the woolen mill would scour your carpets for $1.00 each and also advertised highest prices paid for wool.
Following Blodgett as owner was W.W. Hatch. Mr. Hatch, being engaged in the flouring business, didn’t push the woolen industry, and sold it to the Clark Brothers, sons of the builder, in 1875.
The Clark brothers were experienced woolen mill men and gave the mill new life and energy. They brought to market high quality woolen cloths as good as could be found from any Michigan mills. The machinery was sufficient to fill a two story building and basement that was 30 by 120 feet. As time went by, Henry F. Clark purchased the interest of his brother, Charles E. and became the sole proprietor. Under the Clark brothers’ ownership they advertised all kinds of woolen goods such as cassimers, satinets, check flannels, dress flannels, both double and single width sheeting, and yarns in great varieties. They offered a sale with greatly reduced rates such as never offered before on pure wool goods. They boasted of selling twenty five percent cheaper than ever before and all bills under $10 received a five percent discount, and $10 and upwards received a ten percent discount.
The mill also bought furs as seen in an 1889 Lowell Journal advertisement proclaiming “highest market price paid for pelts and furs at the Lowell Woolen Mills.” Advertisements that year also included “We make heavy winter shirts and cut and make pants to order only $4.00 per pair.”
In 1899 the Woolen mill machinery was sold and moved to Alma for a mill there. The building was put up for sale soon after and in June of 1900 it was sold and the new owner brought a shirt factory here. It was expected to hire 65 workers.
In 1901 the city purchased the Lowell Woolen Mill property for a park and other purposes for the price of $1600.
Looking back in 1969, a newspaper reflected that only the older residents could remember that a woolen mill had once sat upon the city parking lot alongside the east Flat River. It was located just to the south of the Hooker/Forest Grain Mill east of the Flat River. A railroad spur was laid between the two businesses.