The community of Rockfall in Middlefield was formed as a mill village, with houses and boarding houses set up around a factory that employed the people who lived there.
The mill that was at the heart of the village still remains, yet out of view of regular passersby. Set down on the Coginchaug River, behind the houses on the south side of Main Street (Route 157), the old mill is now the home of Dick Boynton (If you missed Part One of this story, click
The original dam is believed to have been built as early as 1740, although the first recorded use of the dam and site was by Jehoshaphat Stowe, in 1798, when he built a mill for cutting nails, supposedly the first of its kind in the United States.
The mill was taken over in 1812 for manufacturing wire and, after 1816, was used for carding wool.
After being empty for a few years, the old mill was torn down in 1845 and a new mill and dam was erected for manufacturing pistols. The principals in this factory were Henry and Nelson Aston, John North, Peter Ashton, and Sylvester Bailey, who secured contracts from the U. S. government for weapons. The company, using the mill, is credited with being the first company to mass produce guns with interchangeable parts.
From 1852 to 1879, Ira Johnson manufactured pistols here, until the factory burned to the ground on September 21, 1879.
Two years later, in 1881, Otis Smith built the 100 ft. long by 30 ft. wide portion of the current three-story brick building on the site. Otis Smith was born in Massachusetts to a Scottish immigrant father in 1836. Prior to 1880, he worked with Ira Johnson making pistols. After purchasing the mill, Smith patented his own designs for pistols and other hardware products, including planes (see photo). Otis Smith's company, referred to as the U.S. Revolver Company and The Otis Smith Manufacturing Company at different times, made the world famous Smith Revolver that is considered one of the guns that “won the west.”
Otis Smith, like many manufacturers of the early nineteenth century, built his grand home on the highest lot in the neighborhood and provided workers' tenement housing below him. It is interesting to note that Smith elected to live in the heart of his mill village at a time when most manufacturers were building their stately homes far from their factory buildings. His house and those of his workers still stand today opposite the driveway to the mill.
By 1900, Otis Smith and his firm focused mostly on producing hardware products at the mill. He is listed as retired in 1920, living in the big house with his daughter, grandchildren, and a nurse for his failing health. He passed away before 1930.
The mill was used for a variety of small industries after Smith ceased operations. A photo of the mill taken in 1947 shows that the race for water power still ran under the building at that time, but was covered over by 1970. Around that time, the factory was used for a small antique store called Early Attic, and was purchased in 1974 by Chester Fudge of Middletown for his own machine shop.
By the time Dick Boynton bought it in 1994, the factory was falling down around itself, with windows missing and parts of the roof exposing the interior to the elements. Boynton invested four years and plenty of expense to not only convert the mill to his residence, but to save the building from disappearing all together. We all owe him a debt of gratitude for saving this important local landmark.