Roadside History: The Belknap Mill - The Busiel MillJuly 14. 2017 10:42PM
New Hampshire historical marker number: 135.
Date established: 1980 in Laconia.
Location: On Beacon Street by Laconia City Hall and the two mill buildings.
What the sign says: "Constructed in 1823, the Belknap Mill is the oldest unaltered brick textile mill in the U.S. Once a hosiery mill, it houses an intact hydraulic power plant and a bell cast by George Holbrook, apprentice to Paul Revere. The Busiel Mill, built in 1853 as a hosiery mill, was later used for the manufacture of clocks, electronic relays and organs."
The back story: Built in 1823 and in operation by 1828, the Belknap Mill replaced a wooden mill owned by Caniel Avery and, even earlier, Stephen Perley. The wooden mill had burned in 1811, and the investors, who operated mills in Lowell, Mass., replaced the building with an industrial structure that was modern for its time. The Belknap Mill's design copied a mill built in 1813 in Waltham, Mass. The Waltham Mill was the first American mill to integrate the entire textile manufacturing process, from raw cotton to the finished cloth, under one roof. That mill is credited with launching the Industrial Revolution in America.
Like the Waltham Mill, the Belknap Mill is made of brick and post-and-beam construction. Wooden columns support the open floor plan. Exposed joists support the floors and ceilings. Multiple windows and a "double roof" provided natural light before the days of electricity. A waterwheel originally powered machines for weaving plain cloth. This building style became common in northern New England, but the Belknap Mill is the only remaining example.
The Belknap Mill, which was one of the first mills to convert from weaving to knitting during the Civil War, operated as a textile factory until 1969. In 1976, the mill was designated as the Official Meetinghouse of New Hampshire because of the building's architectural, geographical and historical significance. The four-story building now houses the only industrial knitting museum in the United States, an art gallery, concert hall and event facilities.
The J.W. Busiel Company, a hosiery manufacturer, was founded in 1846 by John W. Busiel, one of the pioneers in the hosiery industry in the United States. In 1853, a fire destroyed the wooden structure that housed the enterprise. Busiel purchased the land and water rights and built the Busiel Mill on the site.
From 1971 to 1973, the Busiel Mill building was restored, converted to office space and renamed One Mill Plaza. It underwent another major restoration in 2004.
The buildings were individually listed on the National Historic Register in 1971 as the Belknap-Sulloway Mill and the Busiel-Seeburg Mill.
Sources: State of New Hampshire; Belknap Mill; One Mill Plaza.