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Early Winsted tool makers

Part 1

 

Scythes were one of the first products manufactured in Winsted. The earliest versions were handmade in a smith’s shop, using a sledge and hammer. The first establishment for making scythes using water power originated in Massachusetts and the third in Winsted. The process was greatly improved over the years by the invention of new machinery, most of which also originated in Winsted. Scythe shops enjoyed their greatest production in the decade following the Civil War. 

Jenkins & Boyd Scythe

In 1792, Benjamin Jenkins and his brother-in-law, James Boyd, established a forge in Winsted on the Still River. At that time, there were only two other trip hammer shops in the country, theirs being the only one in Connecticut. Jenkins had learned scythe making in Massachusetts, on the first trip hammer grindstone in the country. It was also in that state that he married Boyd’s sister, Elizabeth, while working at their uncle’s scythe shop. 

When James Boyd became of age, he and Benjamin Jenkins moved to Connecticut, and Jenkins began a small scythe-making forge in Torringford, a section of Torrington. Around that time, Boyd wed Mary Munro, and in 1795 the two families built a tenement in Winsted where they all lived. The same year, Jenkins and Boyd entered into a partnership with Thomas Spencer Jr. and erected the town’s first iron forge on a portion of the land David Austin had previously owned in West Winsted. 

The scythe making business continued to prosper, and in 1802 the partners built another factory on the lake stream. Soon after, however, Jenkins and Boyd decided to go their separate ways. Jenkins retained the Winsted plants and Boyd took the West Winsted property. Boyd eventually built a house on Munro Place, naming the street after his wife, and he resided there for over 50 years. Benjamin Jenkins sold his North Main Street shop to Erastus Burr, who then sold it to Thomas R. Bull in 1810. Years later, Bull was killed when he fell into the gears of his grinding works. 

After selling his Still River property, Benjamin Jenkins built the Winsted Tavern and took up his residence there. The tavern stood where the Northwestern Connecticut Community College is now located. Jenkins went on to build another scythe shop on Rowley Street. In 1818, he disposed of all his Winsted property and moved to Pennsylvania, where he started yet another scythe shop. He died at the age of eighty-seven. The old Jenkins and Boyd buildings were removed in 1833. 

In 1823, at the site of the Hawley Feed Mill, James Boyd and his son, James M. Boyd, began manufacturing saw mill cranks, mill spindles, and heavy forgings. In 1830 they added coach axles and mill screws to their product line. In 1851, after the death of his father, James M. Boyd built a machine shop on the site of the old shop, and, in 1853, he erected a foundry. The Clifton Mill Company eventually bought the plant, in 1857, and for a time they manufactured monkey wrenches. After that time, the plant was idle for quite a while. The Winsted Herald was printed there for about 20 years and other concerns later occupied the site. 

Beardsley Scythe Company

Around 1824, Solomon and Martin Rockwell bought Merrit Bull’s scythe making factory. The company was eventually managed by Theodore Hinsdale, Solomon’s son-in-law, and then Elliot Beardsley. The scythe shop was quite profitable, and it also made a variety of knives that were used to cut grain, bush, grass, weeds, corn, and hay. 

Beardsley Scythe’s 100-foot-long wood and stone grinding shop was located on the lake stream, opposite Rockwell Street, and it was powered by water and steam. By 1888, when the demand for scythes diminished, the factory was compelled to close. The business was purchased by the Winsted Metalliform Company, in 1893, and the old building was eventually torn down. 

Elliot Beardsley was born in Monroe, Conn., and moved from South Britain to Winsted in 1840. After the death of Theodore Hinsdale, Beardsley became the sole owner of the scythe shop and managed it very skillfully. It was said that he was “reticent and deliberate by nature and habit” and that he minded his own business but kept an eye on everything going on around him. He was influential in public affairs and few men in town were more respected than him. Beardsley was a deacon of the Second Congregational Church, a director and president of Winsted Bank, a town representative, a senator in the State Legislature, and owner of the Beardsley Hotel, considered one of the best hotels in the state at that time. The Civil War opened near the end of his life, and he was persistent in his efforts to aid the Union cause. He died in 1871, leaving his widow, Delia Rockwell Beardsley, who established the Beardsley Library, in Winsted, in his memory. 

 

Taken from: “Brains, Money & Pluck: Profiles of Early Industries” by Verna Gilson, genealogy and local history research assistant, Beardsley & Memorial Library, Winsted.