Sign for the mill and old stone arch bridge just off Rt 1 in Rowley

The town of Rowley was “set off” from Ipswich in 1639, just 5 years after the founding of Ipswich. In 1642, a bridge and a dam were built on the Mill River in Rowley. A fulling mill was built the following year by Thomas Nelson, who had been granted ten acres of land “for encouragement towards building the mill.”

Nelson died in 1648. In 1650 John Pearson made improvements and operated this mill as well as another one nearby in Byfield. John Pearson arrived in Ipswich in 1643 and is believed to be from Yorkshire, England. Within three months he had moved to Rowley. His original house lot was on Holme Street (now Center St.) just north of the original meeting house. It is thought that he moved on to Rowley because the Mill River in Rowley where he had permission to build a mill dam. He had brought with him from Yorkshire the machinery for the mill, which he set up on the Mill River near the grist mill that had been established by Philip Nelson two or three years before. The mill was a success and changed the way clot was made.

Although cloth was still spun at home, the finishing or fulling was done at the mill, creating a more refined product. This lessened the importation of cloth from England. Governor Winthrop commended Rowley for their quality of work. Two of Pearson’s ledgers for the years between 1672 and 1688 are preserved and show that 64,087 yards were processed during that period. The ledgers contain accounts with 618 individuals from throughout Essex County, suggesting a virtual monopoly of the fulling industry in the early years. Grist mills followed, and John Pearson has been called the “father of the milling industry” in America. Pearson also served as moderator of town meetings, selectman and assessor, and represented Rowley to the General Court in Boston. In 1687 he and several leaders of Ipswich were imprisoned for two weeks for resisting the edicts of Governor John Andros.

Old stone arch bridge in Rowley, seen from south side

The original 1642 wooden bridge was upstream from this mill. The Glen Mill stone arch bridge on this property (also known as the Jewell Mill Bridge) was built sometime between 1852 and 1870. Pre-1870 maps of Rowley do not show a bridge at the exact location. MassHighway has 1852 bridge blueprints for a proposed wooden bridge, but the first map to show this stone arch bridge is 1870. The arch of the bridge was built with commercially quarried granite split using the plug and feather method (commercial version). This splitting technology was developed between 1774 and 1790. The commercial version of the method was not developed until after 1803.

This was the first fulling mill in the American English colony. The making of cloth was an important industry in the early days and as late as the 1800’s, local wool was taken to the mills of Samuel and Joshua Dummer to be carded. Local families made cloth in their homes and brought it to the Pearson Mill to be fulled (shrunken and dressed). Because of this, Rowley is the birthplace of the American woolen industry. The English wanted to be the sole supplier of spun wool to the Colonies, and sanctions were imposed for buying Rowley wool.

Old Mill stone arch bridge from north side,  Rowley

Philadelphia’s triple-arch Frankford Avenue bridge over the Pennypack Creek was built in 1697 and thus takes the honor for oldest stone arch bridge. It was widened in 1893 and 1950. Ipswich has four stone arch bridges. The 1764 Choate Bridge is the oldest surviving double arch bridge in the country. It was expanded in 1838 and restored in 1989. Double arch bridges carry traffic on Green Street and County Street, and the impressive triple-arch Warner Bridge spans Mill Road, connecting to Hamilton.

Old mill house and water wheel

Samuel Dummer purchased and ran the mill in 1817. Next to this mill building is the Pearson-Dummer house built in 1714.

Pearson – Dummer house, next to the old Mill House in Rowley

In 2003 owner Cheryl Forster received an appropriation of $15,000 from the Town of Rowley to do renovations to the Water Wheel and conduct a structural assessment. The mill and bridge are on private property, but can be viewed from Rt. 1 or more easily from Mill Road, which comes off Glen Street near Rt. 1.