Links + Resources
Artists, shops, farms, teachers, woolen mills, galleries, museums and arts centers.
Watkins Mill House and Woolen MillWatkins Mill House and Woolen Mill
Watkins Mill History
When it was operating full time, Watkins Mill employed 40 workers – 25 men, 10 women and 5 children. Most of the men were highly proficient workers called operatives. The women were weavers and the children were often apprentices who were learning the mill industry. The Mill’s original workforce included immigrant English, Irish, French Canadian, German and Swedish employees, as well as individuals from the eastern United States. Because of the skill involved, mill workers were often well paid.
The process was quite detailed. After a sheep was sheared, the wool was matted together to resemble a thin rug, then rolled into bundles. About two-thirds of the material was then sorted by grade and scoured, washed by a willower, a machine that pulls the wool apart and removes dirt and natural oils. It could then be dyed and made into yarn or cloth. From there, the scoured, unscoured and dyed wool went to the picker room, where the sorts were divided and placed into uniform layers, then fed into the picker, which prepared the wool for carding by pulling it apart into small, fluffy bits.
Carding machines untangled individual fibers and reduced sheets of wool to a continuous strand. The material was then ready to be spun into yarn. After this, the yarn could be sold or continue within the manufacturing process to be woven into cloth, often with complex patterns.
A 60-horsepower slide-valve steam engine Powering the Mill’s looms and machines. The engine’s wood-fired boiler provided the 100 pounds of pressure needed to operate the Mill’s equipment at the correct speed. Mr. Watkins purchased the engine, which had been salvaged from a river steamboat, from St. Louis.
Although the milling process and its associated equipment and employees were expensive to maintain, the business was profitable. Because of transport costs during the 1850s and ‘60s, goods produced on the East Coast were not always readily available throughout America. As a result, by 1870 there were about 880 woolen mills located in the Midwest alone.