Back to Introduction and Lesson at a Glance
Learning Through Places
Mill Town: Taftville in Norwich
Through this lesson plan, students will learn about industrialization and how it impacted immigration and settlement patterns.
Recommended Student Reading
Where I Live: Connecticut, chapter 7, pages 51 – 60
For more about Norwich, read “Uncas, the Mohegan Tribe and the Founding of Norwich” and “The Mohegans and the New Nation.”
Recommended Teacher Reading
See additional resources below. These will provide you with the background you need for this lesson.
Components of the Lesson Plan
- Connections to the state’s social studies frameworks
- Classroom discussion questions and additional resources. At the end of the lesson plan, your students should be able to engage in a discussion about mill towns (also known as company towns) and the need for waterpower for manufacturing in the 18th and 19th century.
- Lesson Plan – Mill Towns: Taftville
Begin with an in-class conversation about the towns and cities in our state that grew from manufacturing companies. Discuss how mills were built near rivers and streams (waterpower), and how communities were founded around factories (mills).
Here are some questions to help guide the discussion.
- What is a mill town? A. A town that grew up around a mill. Mill towns were often owned by a single company. That company would build, own, and manage housing, stores, schools, parks, libraries, social halls, banks and utilities. For more than 100 years, these industries thrived, and many communities were established by industrialists. How I that different from our town today? How might it affect you if your employer owned your house? Your school?
- How could you make things in a factory without electricity? In the 19thcentury before electricity was invented, manufacturers needed swift moving streams and rivers to generate the power to run the machinery that produced textiles or metal goods. They looked for sites that had rivers, creeks, or streams that could be dammed to create mill ponds. A mill pond was like a reservoir, it ensured that there was always enough water in reserve to create power. Raceways were built to channel the water to force it through large water wheels or turbines that turned the belts and pulleys that would run the machinery. Eastern Connecticut became associated with textile production. Wool, cotton, and silk yarn, thread, and fabric were produced in central/eastern Connecticut. Precision manufacturing of metal products, from guns to buttons, were produced in central/western Connecticut. To entice workers, mill owners provided employee housing, recreation halls, libraries, and company stores.
- If you were a manufacturer and wanted to start a brand-new town, where would the best place be to build it?
- Why would you choose that place? A. Scenery, weather, close to other things like stores, good land, water?
- What kind of buildings would you need? A. A factory, homes for the workers, stores for the workers to buy food and other things they needed, churches, schools? What other types of places would you need? A. Parks, sidewalks, streets.
- What kind of workers would you need? A. Many factories hired both children and adults. Sometimes whole families worked in the mills.
- What do you think would happen to that town if the factory closed? What might be able to use a large empty factory building? A. Many of these mill (factory) buildings became empty when manufacturing moved overseas where they could find cheaper labor. Mill buildings across the state are being adapted for new uses, including apartments, condominiums, artist studios, offices, yoga studios, and breweries.
Link to Student Materials
Next, show the students the For Students Lesson Taftville materials provided. Have them look closely and answer the questions provided in the classroom discussion. Some prompts are provided below.
Learning Through Places: Taftville in Norwich
What do you see in the photograph?
Where was this village built?
Why do you think it was built near the water?
Where is the largest building? What do you think it was built for?
Is it used for the same things it was built for?
This activity is adapted from the Inquiry Lesson Plan available elsewhere on WhereILiveCT.org (link below).
“Are children better prepared for adulthood by working or going to school?”
After the students have completed Inquiry Activity 2:
Based on the answers students generated in Inquiry Activity 2, they will form an ultimate conclusion to the inquiry by answering the question: “Would you want your child to learn ‘on the job’?” They submit their answer by filling in one of the two following prompts and putting their letter in the Bossperson’s mailbox. The teacher will tally the letters.
Please consider admittance of my child _______________ for employment at the Taftville Mill. It is my greatest hope that at Taftville my child will gain……
I am writing to request the immediate withdrawal of my child _________________ from the Taftville Mill. I had hoped s/he would have gained___________ but now I realize the truth. Unfortunately, my child has experienced nothing but: _____________________
Extension Classroom Activity
Have students compare and contrast life as a millworker with life in a rural town or a maritime village etc. (based on other lesson plans in this series) based on these criteria:
I want to meet people
I want to have fun
I want to work outdoors
I want to make money
I want a clean environment
I want to feel useful
and/or other criteria you choose to add
A few of these activities are adapted from 10 Ways to Get Kids Excited About Preservation by Emily Potter, National Trust for Historic Preservation, 2013.
- Explore Your Family History. Ask your parents where they grew up, went to school, or got married. Where did your family come from originally? Why did they move here? Look at old photographs for clues about where your family lived in the past.
- What types of jobs do your family members have? Make a list of all the jobs you discover in your family stories. Did any of them work in a mill or factory? What did they make in the factory? Does anyone in your family work in a factory now?
- Find out about factories in your town. Look at this infographic https://www.cbia.com/resources/economy/manufacturing/connecticut-manufacturing-economic-power/
- How many factory jobs does Connecticut have today?
- How many manufacturing companies are there?
- Use Google to find if there are factories in your town. Choose one. What does it make? What kind of building is it in? Does it look like Ponemah Mills? Is it in the center of town or in a separate area that has other industrial buildings? Are there houses for its workers nearby?
- Is there a mill building like Ponemah Mills in your town? What is it being used for now? Is it still a factory? Is it empty? Has it been recycled for a new use?
- What would you do with an empty mill building? What would you use it for? What would it look like? Make a poster and make a speech to your class. Pretend that your class is the city or town council for your town. See if you can convince them to approve your project.
Connections to the Social Studies Frameworks
Change, Continuity, and Context
HIST 3.4, 3.5. Supporting question:
- How did industries such as whaling, manufacturing, and technology create Connecticut’s history and contribute to America’s story?
Causation and Argumentation
HIST 3.11Supporting question:
- How have science, technology, and innovation affected the development of towns and cities in Connecticut (aerospace, insurance, manufacturing, etc.)?
Human Population: Spatial Patterns and Movement
GEO 3.7, 3.8, 3.9 Supporting questions:
- Who controls the use of land and resources?
- How are rivers and resources in Connecticut used to develop communities and economic systems?
- What attracts a person to a town or city today? How is that different from what may have attracted them there in 1800?
The illustrated children’s book Mill by David Macaulay (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1989) explains how New England mills were planned, constructed, and operated.
The Taftville/Ponemah Mill Historic District is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, National Park Service, U.S. Dept of the Interior.
Nomination, National Register of Historic Places, Bruce Clouette, Ph.D., listed 1978.
Library of Congress, photos from 1958, exterior and interior
To see photos of Ponemah mill converted to apartments, go to
For more information on mills and waterpower, see this primary source magazine article at https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Popular_Science_Monthly/Volume_52/April_1898/The_Electric_Transmission_of_Water_Power
This is a lesson plan about Ivoryton was created prior to the new state frameworks and is for older students but it provides some additional background information:
To find out more about mills, factories, and company towns across the state, go to https://cttrust.org/cttrust/page/making-places-historic-mills-of-connecticut
See the last section of this story for a short discussion about adapting Cheney Silk Mills in Manchester to apartments:
Source: John D. Nolan, History of Taftville, Connecticut