Johnson Millpond and Milldam

Neptune Mill

Neptune Twine Mill Courtesy of East Haddam Historical Society

At the height of the Industrial Revolution in America, 12 mills dotted the countryside of Moodus.

Harnessing power from the abundant water sources of the Moodus and Salmon rivers, the little hamlet became the center of twine production in Connecticut. The twine was primarily used for fishnets, and was sold on both coasts and the Great Lakes.

In 1832, the Neptune Mill was constructed beside a dam just North of the Salmon River Cove.  The Card Company, as it was then known also made stocking yarn and carpet warp. New cord wrapping machines filled these mills and twine was produced on a massive scale.

Over the years, the Neptune Mill expanded until it reached its 100x100 ft dimensions. Three stories tall, it was a massive edifice, architecturally reseembling a church with its steeple and bell that would call workers into the factory each morning.

In 1862, Emory Johnson built the Triton Mill at the Northern end of the Millpond; tenements and worker housing soon cropped up in the ensuing years, and Johnsonville was born.

 

Triton Mill View, Mid-Twentieth Century

Expanded Neptune Mill, Mid-20th Century Photographer Unknown

In 1965, Raymond Schmitt purchased the Neptune Mill from the Johnson family.  By that time most of the other mills were destroyed by fire or abandoned.  The Neptune Mill was one of the oldest twine mills in continuous operation in the country at the time. Yet the golden age of twine was long gone.

A self-made millionaire, Schmitt made his fortune in the aviation business. AGC Incorporated, founded by Schmitt in 1951, made gaskets for helicopters, planes and commerical aerospace firms.  Interested in history, Schmitt no doubt saw some of himself in the Johnsons, and was determined to preserve the Johnsons' example Yankee ingenuity that inspired him in his own pursuits.

The Neptune Mill was to become the center of Historic Johnsonville Villlage, where the Schmitts would house their collection and occaisonally open it to the public.  As the Schmitts had other streams of revenue, Johnsonville was never a full time enterprise

Dog Statues, Mill Memorial Fountain, Sawmill

Neptune Memorial fountain on former mill site with sawmill in the distance, 1970s Photo by Wilson Brownell

In 1972, just two years after Johnsonville had the first candle-lit vigil in the Gilead Chapel, the Neptune Mill was struck by lightning and burned to the ground.  Wood frame construction and flammable machinery had plagued many of the other mills in the area with a similar fate.

This was a mighty blow to the Schmitts. Their expensive hobby was now a smoking ruin, and the actual historical thrust of Johnsonville was in jeopardy; how could they have a historic mill town without a mill?

Yet they persevered, and continued to populate the area with restored structures from New England.  A sawmill from Hadlyme was introduced, continuing the emphasis of industry in 19th century America. The sawmill was one of two that operated in the state of Connecticut.

The Canadian, from Freedomland Book

Rear of the Canadian, seen at Freedomland, 1960s. Photo Courtesy of Arcadia Publishing

Nostalgic for the bygone modes of transit of the 19th century, Schmitt brought a steamboat to Johnsonville in 1966.  The Canadian, a sternwheeler, was enjoyed by thousands at the shortlived Freedomland amusement park in New York City.  Ray Schmitt bought it at auction and had it towed up the Connecticut River and then carried by truck to Moodus, where it would sit in the Johnson Millpond for more than thirty years. 

The boat, like most of the Schmitt collection, was sold at auction in 1999 after Raymond's death.

Milldam Falls

Milldam and falls, 1970s Photo by Wilson Brownell

Johnson Millpond, 2011

Johnson Millpond, June 2011. A Blue Heron is prominently perched on the pedestrian bridge. Photo by Luke Boyd

Along Johnsonville Road
Johnson Millpond and Milldam