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Schwamb Mill

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1860–1864. 17 Mill Ln. at 29 Lowell St.
  • Schwamb Mill (Peter Vanderwarker or Antonina Smith)

One of the rarest survivals of nineteenth-century industrial development around Boston, this simple clap-boarded three-story factory represents thousands of similar utilitarian workshops and small factories built to make a wide range of products. This picture-frame manufactory began in 1864 when two German-born woodworkers, Charles Schwamb and John Frederick Bitzer, acquired the vernacular wooden structure built after an 1860 fire destroyed an older spice mill. Line shafting was installed to transmit power, first from an overshot waterwheel fed from a millpond, replaced by a water turbine in 1888, and then by steam power.

The mill is especially noted for its rare eccentric lathes, still in use, imported from Germany to the new factory, to turn complex oval black walnut picture frames so popular around the time of the Civil War. The Schwamb's company prospered for 107 years; additions and alterations to the mill and its ancillary structures reflect the family's growing business. Rooms for the cutting, sanding, and gilding of the frames remain and are reused for a variety of modern craft businesses, which support the nonprofit preservation trust that owns the mill; the building is open weekdays.

Writing Credits

Keith N. Morgan

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