POST # 29: STOCKINET MILL, MERROW.
In 1810, Joseph and William Perry of East Hartford purchased land along the Willimantic River to build a mill for the manufacture of gunpowder. It was completed in 1811 and gunpowder was manufactured there until a disastrous explosion in 1826. Afterwards Joseph Makens Merrow, also of East Harford, purchased the property and rebuilt the factory. The mill village that formed in this area now bears his family name. The new factory was destroyed in another explosion in 1830 and gunpowder manufacture then ceased.
In 1838 Joseph M. Merrow and his son, Joseph B., partnered as J. M. Merrow & Son and built a stockinet (knitting) mill on the former site of the gunpowder factory. Knit hosiery and undergarments were produced. During the Civil War the company received many government contracts for woolen socks and underwear for the Union army. In 1868 Joseph Millard Merrow invented a crochet machine for finishing off the edges of knitwear. It was the first overlock sewing machine. This would become the future focus of the business. The stockinet mill fell victim to fire in 1861, 1870 and again in 1886. It was not rebuilt after the final fire.
Following the 1886 fire, the business relocated to Norwich and then to Hartford. It abandoned the production of knitwear, concentrating instead on the manufacture of specialized sewing machines for finishing knitwear. It was renamed the Merrow Machine Company in 1893. The business expanded in the 20th century and its industrial sewing machines were marketed globally.
Today, Merrow is run by brothers Owen and Charlie Merrow, the great-grandnephews of Joseph M. Merrow. In 2004 the company relocated to Massachusetts, first to Wareham and then to Fall River, and was renamed The Merrow Sewing Machine Company. Falling sales and the Covid-19 outbreak forced the business to close in early 2020, but then a new opportunity opened. The company was soon reborn as Merrow Manufacturing to meet the pressing need for PPE. It has since become the largest manufacturer of USA-sourced PPE Medical Isolation Gowns – now producing about 150,000 per day. The company has certainly had a long and ever-evolving history – and it all began in Mansfield!
The Merrow Stockinet Mill in the1880s. It stood on the Mansfield side of the Willimantic River behind where the Valley View Mobile Home Park is located today.