PAST & PRESENT
Did you hear that? Listen very carefully… it’s an early fall morning in 1870 and we are standing on the 3rd floor of the new Gardiner Hall Jr. Company’s Packing and Shipping Building. Packers are pulling material from racks and methodically positioning spools of cotton thread in boxes to be shipped from the floor below. We can’t help but notice the morning sun streaming through the line of windows on the east side of the room casting defined geometric shapes on the wooden floor. As workers pass by, the harsh shadows are interrupted in a sequence resembling the frames of a silent movie. There appears to be a rhythm to the echo permeating this space. The movement of the men chases dust particles from the floor and the crisp cool fall breeze carries them floating upward through the sunlight. It’s like a choreographed symphony of syncopated light, sound, and movement.
What you are experiencing are the beginning sights and sounds of innovation: early creative outcomes driven by perseverance, non-traditional thought and action that will continue to evolve in this space, “The Packing House”, for 145 years to the present day.
From an initial investment of $430 and a workforce of six in 1860, Gardner Hall, Jr. built what was to be the first spooled thread production facility in the United States, valued at over $2,225,000 at the time of his death in 1915. Despite hardship and loss from fire and natural disasters, Hall’s perseverance, hard work, and entrepreneurial spirit drove the company’s culture and success for nearly a century.
The Gardiner Hall Jr. Company produced fine cotton threads that grew to national and international acclaim. The Hall Company played a significant role in the industrialization and development of the region, and in 1919 the Town of Willington adopted the spool design as its corporate seal. The impact and benevolence of the Company and the Hall family is present to this day through the local school, churches, and grants offered by the Hall Foundation.
Photographic evidence suggests the Packing and Shipping Building, part of what is now The Mill Works and home of The Packing House, represents the oldest original standing production facility from the Hall Thread Company. Documentation confirms that in 1906 Hall began providing free movies to his employees as a form of entertainment. Though records are not definitive, we believe The Packing House served as a first theatre for these early films.
Whether by plan of the original founders or by chance, the Packing and Shipping Building evolved as a central structure within the South Willington manufacturing complex, situated adjacent to the Company General Store and between the Winding/Spooling Operation and Dye & Bleach House. Before his death, Gardiner Hall, Jr. would see over 3,000,000 finished spools of thread leaving the doors of the Packing and Shipping Building each month.
The Gardiner Hall Jr. Company operated for nearly a century, from 1860 to 1954. Much of the Hall property was then purchased by the New England Development Company in 1955, subdivided and sold over time as smaller parcels of land and buildings. The original Packing and Shipping Building, Dye and Bleach House, and six other structures and property that now comprise The Mill Works, were purchased in 1962 by Tom and Irma Buccino.
With less than a thousand dollars to their name and a small family loan, they took a chance to follow their American dream. The Buccinos relocated their small tool and die company from Andover, CT to Willington, and situated their entire operation into the 3rd floor of the Packing and Shipping Building, now The Packing House.
Unfortunately, the vacant years that bridged the end of the Hall thread era and the beginning of the machine tool presence by Buccino had taken a toll on the physical plant and infrastructure. A failed heating system, leaking roofs, degrading water and fire protection system, and insufficient electrical distribution represented only a few of the initial facility challenges that Buccino had to address while trying to establish his business. These combined with a personal injury from an industrial accident on site made the early sixties seem quite bleak.
Similar to Hall, Buccino demonstrated an uncanny resilience and perseverance to overcome the obstacles that came his way. It was through hard work, determination, and innovation that the Buccinos were able to expand their small tool and die operation in The Packing House to a variety of high production manufacturing operations throughout The Mill Works facility. Products produced included dies, stampings, nameplates, plastic bags, and most notably beater shafts for Iona hand mixers, blade shafts for Waring blenders, and axels for the popular “Digger the Dog” toy produced by Hasbro.
During the late 1970’s the Buccinos sold their business, and the new owner relocated operations to Worcester, MA, leaving an empty facility behind. Through the 1980’s, an assortment of advanced manufacturing concerns and small businesses established occupancy here. It was in 1988 that “The Mill Works” name was born.
It has been well over a half century since the last spools of thread left the Packing and Shipping Building, and the Buccino family’s subsequent acquisition of this historic facility. Today, the legacy of innovation continues at The Mill Works where it serves as home to a community of small businesses, artisans, and entrepreneurs engaged in design, collaboration, and the creative process. A place where ideas become reality.
In 2014, The Mill Works facility was listed on the Connecticut State Register of Historic Places. The Packing House at The Mill Works is being reborn once again as an historic performance venue and event space - the culmination of a long standing dream. It will serve as a cultural stage and focal point where synergistic relationships may further evolve. Creative offerings limited only to imagination.
It’s now a winter afternoon in the present. You enter the original Packing and Shipping Building and climb the stairs to The Packing House. Your eyes tend to widen and gravitate to the wood planked gable ceiling and robust hand-hewed chestnut beams overhead. As your focus drifts down to the hardwood floor, your senses seem to become more acute, and you notice sounds to be very much alive - the reverberation similar to the acoustics of a raw unaltered music hall from the 19th century. If you close your eyes, and remain very still, you can begin to feel the warmth of the setting sun touching your face and hear the intermittent knocking of steam rushing through the fin-tubes. As your heart slows and senses acclimate, your mind’s eye can almost see the shadows of the packers moving past... and if you listen carefully… you may still hear the rhythm of the workers as they prepare their next shipment. This is a special place.