Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Elisabeth D. Lasch-Quinn
History of Technology, Local History, Organized Labor, Paper Making, Photography, Small town New England
After the Civil War, new technologies and business structures transformed the American economy and society. One area that has received much attention in the antebellum period but much less after the Civil War, is small town New England. In the late 1860s, the introduction of wood pulp paper technology transformed formerly small market and manufacturing communities into centers of heavy industry. This dissertation is a study of this transformation. It focuses on three communities: Bellows Falls, Vermont, Franklin, New Hampshire, and Turners Falls, Massachusetts.
This study examines four broad areas: the historical background of the towns, and townspeople's awareness of their place in local history; the changing technology of woodpulp paper production and the growth of industry in the towns; the daily life of the towns when they were at their most prosperous; and finally the long period of decline of the communities after consolidation of the mills into the International Paper Company in 1898.
My chief interest is in how people experienced the world around them--their senses of place. If the Gilded Age and Progressive eras were periods in which American society became increasingly centralized, this study examines that centralization from the periphery rather than the center. Townspeople were keen observers and participants, and their engagement made the communities vibrant places. Thus, local history was not simply an antiquarian diversion, but was essential to the construction of a sense of place. Similarly, the appreciation of the sublime helped give meaning to shared experiences. An important way townspeople viewed their communities was with view photography--stereographs in the nineteenth century and real photo postcards in the twentieth.
The paper towns were at their peak when their mills were independent. The economic crisis of the 1890s had a dramatic impact on the towns. Business leaders sought to foster local development, and workers sought to protect their interests by organizing labor unions. Indeed, after 1900, the dominant story of the towns becomes one of organized labor. The final crisis for the towns was in the 1920s, as developers to develop hydroelectric power, and a bitter strike closed the mills.
Deacon, David William, "Paper Towns: Sense of Place in Industrial, Small-Town New England, 1869-1927" (2012). History - Dissertations. Paper 98.