About Phoenix Mill Lane

Pictured above: The Phoenix Mill (1829-1922) which stood on the site of the present-day building, Seventy Main Street.

Phoenix Mill Lane is Peterborough's connection to the:

- town's industrial heritage (Peterson Courtyard and Phoenix Mill Green)

Between Upper Main Street and the Nubanusit was the location of the largest factory, the Phoenix Mill (demolished 1922). The building extended south from Main Street like the Guernsey Office Building at 70 Main does now. The mill yard was west of Grove Street, where the historical society and post office are now. The tail-race, locally known as “Little Jordan,” was an open canal along the south side of the Town House, under Grove Street and through the present parking lots at Depot Street. The canal passed under industrial buildings (demolished 1920s) and was an open channel with the railroad trestle over it where it emptied into the Contoocook. The lower end was filled-in in the early 1900s when the railroad yard was reconfigured. The upper end of the canal was filled in the 1940s. The dam that powered the Phoenix Mill remains on the Nubanusit at the rear of the 70 Main Street parking lot...

In 1828, the newly built section of the Phoenix Cotton Factory burned down. True to its name, the company rebuilt the following year (site of 70 Main) and Peterborough’s growth as a mill town continued. The older northern half of the building was replaced in 1831. After that time, the factory contained 3,880 spindles and 78 looms, making 575,000 yards of “shirtings” and “sheetings” per year (Morison 1839). The Smith family’s role in local industry came to an end after the 1828 fire however. Samuel Smith was ruined financially because he had invested heavily and his insurance had lapsed. Smith’s village properties were divided up and sold at auction. He remained in town, turning his attention to historical research. Samuel G. Smith stayed on as superintendent for two years, then moved to factories in Baltimore and then South Berwick. He died on a return visit to Peterborough in 1842, a few months after his father.

SOURCE: Driemeyer, Laura; Laprey, Kari; Monroe, Lynn; and Hill, Teresa. New Hampshire Division of Historical Resources, Area Form, Peterborough Downtown Historic District, June 2010, pages 5, 10

Cotton Factories

In 1828, the newly built section of the Phoenix Cotton Factory burned down. True to its name, the company rebuilt the following year (site of 70 Main) and Peterborough’s growth as a mill town continued. The older northern half of the building was replaced in 1831. After that time, the factory contained 3,880 spindles and 78 looms, making 575,000 yards of “shirtings” and “sheetings” per year (Morison 1839). The Smith family’s role in local industry came to an end after the 1828 fire however. Samuel Smith was ruined financially because he had invested heavily and his insurance had lapsed. Smith’s village properties were divided up and sold at auction. He remained in town, turning his attention to historical research. Samuel G. Smith stayed on as superintendent for two years, then moved to factories in Baltimore and then South Berwick. He died on a return visit to Peterborough in 1842, a few months after his father. Albert Smith had clerked for his father during the 1820s, but after the fire decided to study medicine. Dr. Albert Smith returned to town in 1838 and had a home (28-30) and office (26½) on Concord Street.

The Phoenix Dam on the Nubanusit had a headrace from above the dam, across where the former AGCC parking area is now, and through the factory (site of 70 Main). The Phoenix Company owned much of the downtown area. The mill yard extended to Grove Street about where the Historical Society is now. On Phoenix Lane worker housing included two boardinghouses, a duplex and two single-family houses. Lots were sold off along upper Grove Street over the years. The Phoenix Company also owned the land east of Grove, with early worker houses (gone) on School Street. The tailrace, an open canal, passed directly south of where the Town House (site of 1 Grove) would be erected, and under Grove Street through the present parking lot, to the Contoocook south of the grist mill (site of 2 Main). The agents of the Phoenix mill were John H. Steele, then Jonas Livingston. In 1839, the cotton factory produced 1,725,000 yards of cloth a year (Morison 1839:34).

Factories Demolished

Nearby, the old Phoenix Mill fell vacant early in 1916. Robert Bass contacted the owners about selling the property, realizing its future use would affect the adjacent public buildings about to be built. He organized a group of eighteen year-round and summer residents into the Old Phoenix Mill Associates, and funds were pledged to meet the $12,000 purchase price. The group included B.F.W. Russell, George and Adele Adams, and Mrs. Mary L. Schofield among others. All had an interest in community beautification. They included officers of the Men’s Club, Progressive (Women’s) Club, Peterborough Historical Society, Golf Club, Peterborough Savings Bank and Cooperative Bank, Mother’s Club, Garden Club and Board of Trade. Phoenix Mill land was donated to the Town to be part of the Town House lot and land was exchanged with the Historical Society. The Old Phoenix Mill Associates sought to redevelop the factory property, balancing the local need for manufacturing jobs with their own aesthetic tastes about what the town center should look like. In 1918, brick additions to the mill along Main Street were demolished, followed by most of the outbuildings. The group heard proposals from manufacturers for the mill’s reuse, including the Noone family of South Peterborough. However, they preferred to offer the building to the Town in 1921 for use as a new High School. The offer was not accepted by the voters, even though Mrs. Schofield offered to build a community center and gymnasium as well. Within a year or two the Phoenix Mill was demolished and the site remained undeveloped for nearly thirty years (Roper 2001).