Special Collections and University Archives, W.E.B. Du Bois Library, University of Massachusetts Amherst
George H. Gilbert Co. Records
In 1841, George H. Gilbert and Charles A. Stevens formed a partnership to manufacture broadcloth and cloakings in Ware, Massachusetts. The partners acquired a mill building on the Ware River and expanded in 1846-1847 erecting several new factory buildings and a number of tenements to house the growing population of workers.
The partnership, known as Gilbert and Stevens, dissolved in 1851, with each of the partners taking one of the business products. The newly formed George H. Gilbert Company continued the making of high-grade woolen flannels, for which it developed a national reputation. The company exhibited goods at the London Crystal Palace Exhibition in 1851 and at the Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia in 1876 among others. The firm, however, remained a family business. In 1850, Lewis N. Gilbert joined his uncle's firm, establishing himself as a prominent Ware resident and eventually a member of the State Senate in 1877-1878. J.H. Gilbert, the son of George, joined the company in the 1870's. He eventually rose to be president of the company and stayed until the company closed in 1930. In addition, J.H. Grenville Gilbert helped found the Young Men's Library Association of Ware, and was also president of the Ware Savings Bank.
In 1860, the Gilbert Co. expanded into neighboring Worcester County, acquiring a mill and building tenements in what came to be known as Gilbertville in the Southwest corner of Hardwick. By the turn of the century, the Gilbert Company employed more than 1,000 people in its two factory complexes.
From the beginning, the Gilbert Company operated under the family (or Slater) system common to rural textile mills. Entire families were recruited for mill employment and kin networks continued to serve as an informal method of labor recruitment into the twentieth century, even as the ethnicity of the workforce shifted from Irish to French-Canadian (1870) to Polish (1900's).
The company began to experience financial problems in the 1920's, a full five years before the Great Depression. Woolen manufacturers in the region began to slowly lose business to Southern competitors. A series of wage reductions and three-day schedules for employees could not revive the company as the continued slump of the wholesale woolen market finally caused the company to close its Ware plant in 1929. Shortly thereafter, the company closed its Gilbertville complex, bringing to an end almost 90 years of continuous operation.
The George H. Gilbert Company records were originally acquired by the Connecticut Valley Historical Museum in Springfield, Massachusetts from the custody of the Smith Council of Industrial Studies. In 1984, the records were transferred to the Springfield Public Library from which they were sent to the University of Massachusetts in 1986.
Hardwick was among the five Western Massachusetts towns abolished in 1938 to allow the Swift River Valley to be flooded, thereby creating the Quabbin Reservoir to provide Boston with water.