The mill buildings lined Berkshire County from Great Barrington to North Adams.
The Rising Mill, Wyandotte Woolen Mills, the Greylock Mill in North Adams, A.H. Rice Silk Mill, and the Windsor Mill were among the textile, paper mills and manufacturing plants that helped build the United States into an industrial powerhouse.
And then the work conducted inside of these big structures vanished. The companies that operated them either moved down south, left the country, or ceased operations.
But the mill buildings themselves were sturdy, and many of them are still standing. Some have been converted into apartments. Entrepreneurs are also seeing other possibilities in them.
Take the Rising Mill in the Great Barrington village of Housatonic. Built in the 1870s, it employed as many as 300 workers, but 137 were laid off when Neenah Paper of Georgia purchased the mill in 2007. A year later, the Hazen Paper Co. of Holyoke bought the property for $2.5 million, and approximately 24 people work there now.
There's still life in this old building, and David Mills would like to take advantage of it. A native of Great Britain who runs an alternative waste management company that has an office in Dalton, Mills is interested in using part of the plant for his company's disposal system.
"It's in excellent condition," said Mills, who is president of Enviro-Resources, which recent ly opened another office in the Middle Eastern country of Qatar.
Mills is interested in turning the mill into a site that can be accessed by other British manufacturing companies, so he would like to either partner with the British government, or find a British university that could do a feasibility study on his proposal.
Everything is still in the talking stages.
"It's still moving forward," he said.
Hazen Paper currently uses only half of the mill, and Hazen Paper Co. President John Hazen said he has also talked with other developers interested in using the site for either commercial or residential purposes.
In North Adams, the Greylock Mill, built in 1804 as a cotton mill, was put up for sale last year by its current owners, the Cariddi family.
The Cariddis, who have run a wholesale toy and sporting goods distribution business for 70 years, purchased the mill on State Road in 1976.
"At one time, we had thousands of customers throughout New England," said Gailanne M. Cariddi. Fishing equipment, Mr. Potato Head toys and Barbie dolls were the company's big sellers.
But Cariddi said the family decided to close out the business after her father and company founder James Cariddi died in 2012.
A basket manufacturer and furniture store are also located in the former Greylock Mill, and remnants of the building's original purpose are still visible. One of them is the raceway, the place where energy was generated through a wheel from water located beneath the ground.
"I'm very hopeful that it will find its next highest, best use," Cariddi said.
The city of North Adams owns the former Windsor Mill, where it leases space to three businesses -- MRA Laboratories, Beck's Printing and Sauve Guitars.
North Adams Mayor Richard Alcombright has lived in the city his entire life, and refers to its mills as "the lifeblood of the community."
A former banker, Alcom bright would like the city to sell the Windsor Mills site.
"I'm one who doesn't like to see the public sector competing with the private sector," he said.
In Pittsfield, the 15 buildings that house the former Wyandotte Woolen Mills complex on Keeler Street are now occupied by small businesses like Bushey's Pool City and Lander Inc. The original building was constructed in 1812, and was the oldest woolen manufacturing mill in Western Massachusetts.
According to Pittsfield Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi, workers at the Wyandotte Mills produced military uniforms and other cloths, and also spun gold and silver for the Tiffany Company.
Now, Bushey's Pool City operates a showroom where the mills' executive offices once stood, owner Gary Bushey said. His family has operated its business out of the former mill since the 1960s. Its location doesn't get as much exposure as if the business was located in downtown Pittsfield, but Bushey said that's OK.
"[It] works good for me," he said.
Jennifer Lander's family-run company, Lander Inc., manufactures metal, including industrial air compressors and parts for armored trucks. The Landers moved to the former mill because there was a large amount of available space.
"We only had 3,000 square feet" before, she said. "Now we have 30,000 square feet."
To reach Nathan Mayberg:
or (413) 496-6243.