When the mill was built, it was central to the community. In fact, it was the reason most communities were built. That seems to be a common theme with all of these readings. Railroads built small towns, although they sometimes didn't last, and roads and cars introduced the idea of suburban living. The mill was central to community development.
From the reading, I got the feeling that mills took precedent to anything else, and they caused some political issues. The reading stated that mill owners could build dams, even if that meant flooding someone else's land, and they could even win land easily with a lawsuit.
The mills were such a hit in the beginning because they were seen as totally natural, just a "harmonious extension of the original creation." But later, as the counter narrative suggests, there were some environmental issues.
What I found surprising with these two chapters was the amount of power the government once again gave to private corporations. I understood with railroads why the government was wary in placing restrictions due to their interstate nature. But the mills lacked this interstate nature, they were simply private corporations on the waterfront. I believe that the government was fixated on the ideals of progress and capitalism and therefore placed the well being of private corporations over the well being of their people.
I found the Mill Act of 1713 which allowed mill owners the right to build dams "regardless of the wishes of upstream riparian owners objecting to the flooding of and injury to their land, quite shocking. The book did state that the landowner had the right to receive damages but those damages were allocated by a local jury whom was likely to benefit from the mill. In addition, I also found that Massachusetts law which allowed Mills to overflow areas in order to take property surprising. But what I found more interesting was the justification. The law was declared just because even though mills were private they served a public purpose. And this made me wonder, are there any laws that give the same type of rights or protection to private corporations because they serve a public purpose?
Chapter 5 is all about the mill. I thought it was interesting that the mill was the village's social center and "The evidence overwhelmingly supports Kendall's claim that the mill was central to community development" (p. 93). I was also surprised at how many jobs the water mills provided, even more than the iron industry and manufacturers.
Chapter 6 goes onto reveal some of the counter narratives that came with the mill. Mills were critiqued and some of the first counter narratives rejected the construction of mills entirely. The working conditions at the mills sounded less than bearable. It's despairing to think that some of the conditions in the mill manufacturing towns still exist today. Chapter 6 ultimately goes onto say, "The new technology is no longer the means used to create the town; it is a disruptive force that upsets class relations, attracts immigrants, exploits workers, and disrupts community life" (p. 140). These chapters about the mill made me think of the chapter about the railroad and automobile. At first, everyone is crazy about them, but after a while, they begin to grow frustrated and only focus on the negative effects.
I thought it was interesting how the mill was described as the central point to a civilization. Wherever there was a mill, civilization grew around it as it powered everything. With railways and canals, towns were built along these in order to increase the access to transportation across the country. In addition, these also allowed people to travel to places in order to get goods that could not be provided in their original towns. With the mill, when one was built, people came to settle around it not for transportation but because it powered the entire community. This lead to the manufacturing of many goods and services all in one central location, allowing communities to expand not outward but within their own location. I also thought the water mill was really interesting. Not only did it increase production, but and as long as it was centralized around a canal or water source, the mill provided endless power for many types of manufacturing processes. The power was natural, and the water was returned to the source so the water levels were always normal. It's definitely an example of using the landscape as second creation, seeing something out of the land that can be used to make something else. The difference with the mill, however, was that it did not require people to carve into the land to create its power. The power came from water, naturally sourced from rain water or snow.
Although the creation of the mill seemed great, these stories of technologies seem to have common themes of risks associated in the end. When dams were built, many fish could no longer travel upstream and therefore limited the access to finishing for many people who thrive on their existence for food. This caused a lot of people to fight for fishing rights.
While reading Nye’s two chapters on the mill, one thing I found interesting was the mill’s dependence on nature. That is, while developments like the railroad, automobiles and roads for the most part destroyed nature, the mill actually needed natural features in order to succeed. Nye writes, “The natural landscape dictated the location of this second creation…” and that “Ultimately, it seemed, little or nothing was removed from or added to the natural order” (98).As said previously, this contrasts with developments like the railroad, which definitely removed something from the natural order.
I found that this quote speaks to the importance of the mill: “As late as 1859, the arrival of a ready-to-erect mill in Manhattan, Kansas, pulled by twenty oxen, was ‘a greater event to the citizens … than the arrival of the Union Pacific Railway eight years later’” (Nye 97). The fact that communities were built around mills underscores their centrality to American life. But as chapter 6 points out, there are at least two sides to any narrative. Even though the mills used natural water power, so many trees were destroyed in the name of production. Thus, any development will have advantages and disadvantages.
I was intrigued by the religious language that appeared once again in writing about the mills. We found this to be prevalent in some of our first readings from Nye in which he introduced his book on technologies, many of which having advanced with an idea of Manifest Destiny.
In the beginning of chapter 5, I was surprised that so many readers were careful to record the exact order of what was established first in the mill towns that were springing up everywhere. People were scandalized that the church and minister were the last to appear in such towns, as commerce took the most vital role within them. Nye cites peoples’ skepticism of the morality of the mills in the early nineteenth century, stating “The ‘dark Satanic mills’ of Britain remained undesirable, but an alternative vision of domestic production had not yet been articulated” (102). It seems a bit strong to use Satanic as a description of the mills.
However, later Nye talks about the mills as, again, a form of Second Creation, and says that they were seen as moral institutions alongside factories that instilled hard work and discipline into their workers. It seems that the prosperity that the mills produced perhaps influenced the way that citizens viewed them.
This counter-narrative of the mill reinforces the assumptions that were made within this second creation. That human intervention would simply make this 'underdeveloped' land more fruitful. While these assumptions of the good that human intervention could produce, the harm that this intervention inflicts on the environment is irreversible. Taking a look at these counter-narratives surrounding technology is a reminder of what can happen when assumptions are made around what is unknown. Within this second creation, it is surprising to me that despite the fact that those who were developing this land as they did had looked at how Europe was affected by the same systems that were being created here, and nothing changed. Development moved forward as if nothing negative had occurred before this creation. Why was it thought that something would be different this time around?
The mill seems like it was a primary part of the industrial economy. But with any technology, there were those for it and those against it. Nye notes that good and bad opinions of the mill arose simultaneously rather than one coming before the other. It was interesting in chapter 5 that the mill was made out to be the catalyst for developing towns and settlements, which makes a lot of sense. A mill is almost necessary in order for an area to accommodate any larger number of people. It came before anything else in the community and it “preceded the church.” Conversely, in chapter 6, Nye states, “the town briefly existed” due to the mill. Once it used up all the trees and resources in an area, the owner would pick up and move somewhere else, leaving the town to die. This reminded me of how the trains did the exact same thing to the towns and settlements that sprouted up briefly during westward expansion. Sometimes mills created large permanent cities, while other times they just polluted the landscape and destroyed towns. Not to mention the complaint of exploited workers. However, this was not held exclusively to the mill industry. Worker exploitation was happening across the board and was pretty common during this time, especially because there was still slavery.
It was interesting to reflect upon the effect of the mill on modern society within these two books. For, as is well known, Minneapolis was a mill city, with incredible economic power granted by their presence here (and as the author pointed out, a rise of community with them).
I found the idea of the reversal of the original settler intentions that came about with the implementation of the mills, where the church would come last instead of coming first. I think that we can see the mill as a sort of gateway into modern America, where business and profit take precedence over spirituality is a very common way of living. Though they were connected to the nature at hand, one could see the idea of the mill as one of progression or progressivism, where a new community would rise up and expand. This can be corroborated through the mills appearance in England, where they were often prevented from being built by those who do not want a change of the status quo. More than the train or the car, the mill was America's first real look into the future.
The readings in Nye's book provided an interesting story about the narrative of the mill in early America. Like the train the Mill caused huge population growth in the area's that they sprung up, which caused many effects on the landscape. Like the train, mills also caused large scale deforestation, as well as, provided terrible working conditions for their laborers. The mill also was one of the first entities that caused the public to become class conscious, but this may not have been a bad thing, as it led to the creation of unions and caused strikes to happen. These two things alone have greatly shaped the working conditions we benefit from today, and have allowed us the luxury of the weekend, and many other everyday things that are taken for granted.
The mill, as has been a reoccurring theme so far, was a technology that brought people together. It was something that was stationed somewhere and allowed growth to form around it. I found it interesting when Nye pointed out that the Church usually became the last thing to arrive as opposed to what it had once been, which was the centerpiece of the community.
When places were devoid of resources, the mill would be finished and the town often ended up dying, much as if the railroad were no longer present there. The matter of town creation was also much different with the mills, as they had to be along a source of power that the railroad did not. This made the landscape more important than when a railroad was constructed.
This page contains a single entry by Capper Nichols published on February 20, 2013 7:40 AM.
"Industrial Tourism and the National Parks" - Edward Abbey; "The Car and the Road" - Alexander Wilson was the previous entry in this blog.
Mill City Museum is the next entry in this blog.
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