Draper Brothers is the last operating knitting mill in Massachusetts formed by English framework knitters and descended in the family, who still manages it today. Traditional artisans brought hand frame knitting technology to mid-nineteenth-century towns such as Ipswich and Needham (see ND1), but no other New England knitting mills have such a continuous family history.
In 1851, brothers Thomas and James Draper, from Melbourne, Derbyshire, established a workshop in a gabled ell (now moved to the rear) of an old house Thomas purchased—the steeply hipped-roofed one-story Withington house (1762) at 1429 Washington Street. Here they began with three hand-and foot-powered framework knitting machines, making fancy goods for the Boston market. By 1855 James Draper was discouraged and wanted to go home, but he built his own warp-knitting machine and began production. In 1861 he formed a partnership with George Frederick Sumner and built a powered factory (on the site of the Canton Library). In 1869, the company absorbed the older firm of Thomas Draper's son Charles. The oldest extant buildings are two Civil War–era wooden structures at the southern end of the complex, originally with Italianate detailing, one encased in a new brick facade over which only its gable end can be seen. The Mansard woolen mill No. 3 (c. 1869–1870) nearly doubled the factory size. The partnership with Sumner dissolved at James Draper's death in 1875; his five sons incorporated the mill in 1889 as Draper Brothers Company. Expanded in 1896 to make papermakers' felt, the oldest parts of the Draper factory remain a knitting mill still in family hands.