Tag Archives: Book Reviews

The Saco-Lowell Shops: Textile Machinery Building in New England 1813-1949

A genea-friend (thank you, Judy :)) found this book among those donated to our local library and asked if I’d be interested in reading it. She knew that my grandmother had worked in in the Passaic, New Jersey mills in the early 1900s. I immediately said yes because I knew very little about the growth of the U.S. fabric mills in the 1800s.

George Sweet Gibb (1916-1989) earned his SB (B.S.?) degree in 1938 from Tufts University.

He went on to Harvard Business School and wrote several books relating to singular aspects of American history. The author’s title page of the book further states the he is “Formerly Instructor in Business History, Graduate School of Business Administration, Harvard University, At present Senior Associate in Research Business History Foundation, Inc.”

The Saco-Lowell Shops: Textile Machinery Building In New England 1813-1949, published by Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1950 is a detailed history of the arrival of the  Industrial Revolution to New England.

It probably doesn’t need to be said that this is a scholarly work and, being so, it isn’t a quick read. It’s also an astounding 835 pages long!

The content is divided into three parts:

Part I, The Formative years, 1813-1853
1. Origins of the Tree Parent Companies, 1813-1825
2. Operating as a Cotton-Mill Department: Waltham, 1814-1825
3. The Shop That Built a City – Proprietors of the Locks and Canals on Merrimack River – Lowell, Massachusetts, 1823-1845
4. Birth of Two Industries at Saco and Biddeford, 1825-1850
5. Otis Pettee and the End of the Formative Period

Part II, The Adventurous Middle Years
6. Specialization in an Expanding Market: The Lowell Machine Shop, 1845-1879
7. The Great years of the “Big Shop”: The Lowell Machine Shop, 1880-1897
8. The Years of Decline: The Lowell Machine Shop, 1897-1905
9. State Street Take a hand: The Lowell Machine Shop, 1905-1912
10. Renaissance of the Newton Shop, 1853-1897
11, Resurgence and Decline of the Biddeford Shop, 1850-1897
12. Combined Operations: The Saco and Pettee Machine Shops, 1897-1912

Part III, The Saco-Lowell shops, 1912-1948
13. The Herrick Era, 1912-1926
14. The Hard Climb Back, 1926-1941
15. War, Postwar, and Retrospect

Notes and References

The chapter titles provide an outline of the growth the textile industry from its slow beginnings trying to copy English success to its decline and end after the end of World War II.

I have to admit I skimmed over parts of Chapters 1 and 2, as they covered the earliest history of the men who developed and improved the machinery that was vital to the textile industry.

Chapter 3 introduced the transformation of the village of East Chelmsford into the industrial town of Lowell, Masssachusetts. In the ten years between 1825-1835, Lowell’s population increased by 500% from 2,500 to 15,000! Also in that time, the textile industry divided into two separate entities – one that made machines necessary to produce cloth and another that actually made the woolen and cotton fabric.

Gibb continues on to detail the parallel growth of machine manufacturing and cotton mills which happened in Saco and Biddeford, Maine.

As expected, the book closes with the decline and death of the industry in the United States at the end of World War II.

Besides the fact that my Nana (and many of her cousins and friends) worked in the worsted mills in Passaic, New Jersey in the early 1900s, I can remember the last years of those mills when they became outlets for fabric, dresses and coats.

Nana would have me walk with her down Parker Avenue, past my elementary school to a maze of closed up industrial shops with a few outlet stores dotting the city blocks.

I also remember visiting several cloth outlets in Maine to find the perfect fabric for a new outfit for me to sew! I’m sure those places were what was left of the once booming American textile industry.

If the America textile machinery and mill companies were to have a family tree, their earliest ancestor would be the Saco-Lowell Shops. I’ve learned an astounding amount of information from this book and would highly recommend it to anyone who has deep ties to this industry.

A quick look on Abe Books shows it available for $25.00. Amazon has copies in the $40-65 price range, which is a bit steep unless you really, really want to learn more about the subject.  My genea-buddy picked it up for me for just $1.00, which is way more than worth the cost!

WorldCat shows it in a number of university libraries, which might be the best option if you happen to live near one of them.



Over the Moon When I Find Gems of Books About Specific Localities

Do you ever search for books related to places where your family settled, hoping to glean new clues about their lives? Many researchers seem to only look for online trees, laden with untold numbers of errors, and lack the desire to do any original research of their own.

Kudos to those of you who spend time searching for clues and then diligently verifying sources before adding new ancestors to your tree.

However, I believe that most who actually do original research might overlook non-traditional or less common websites during the hunt. Among my favorite finds are books written about very specific locales – towns, villages or very complete tomes about cities. Learning about life in the time period in which my family lived there, as well as life before and much later than their arrival, provides a way to flesh out lives to more than an existence of names on paper.

Thanks to the multitude of search engines and website at our disposal today, it is possible to find rarer works that might have terrific information in them.

We all know the biggie, Google, but I often use several other websites. HathiTrust and WorldCat have extensive catalogs of titles. Amazon is great for seeking out book titles even if you aren’t planning to purchase.

There is one other website that I love. AbeBooks is a bookseller that I discovered when I was looking for less expensive textbooks for my son’s college classes.

Here’s another hint – if you are looking to buy a book, check AbeBooks along with Amazon. I have found more than one book listed for sale at an outrageous price, like hundreds of dollars, on Amazon. I checked AbeBooks and found a copy in good condition for $30.

Here are two examples of wonderful books I’ve found using “Miramichi” as my search term:

I have Loyalist ancestors who settled first on the Gaspé in Chaleur Bay, Quebec, and on the Miramichi River in New Brunswick, Canada. I found two gems, one about the history of each place.

Treasure Trove in the Gaspé and the Baie des Chaleurs by Margaret Grant Macwhirter, a classic reprint that I found for $4.00, that taught me much about the early history of the region. My family was there in 1783 and 1784 and perhaps stayed a few more years before relocating to the Miramichi River area in Northumberland County, New Brunswick, Canada.

Chapters include:

Part I – Gaspé
Part II – The Baie des Chaleurs: Bonaventure
Part III – The Baie des Chaleurs: Restigouche
Part IV – The Baie des Chaleurs: Gloucester
Part V – Treasure by Sea and Land
Part VI – Pioneer Days on the Gaspé Coast
Part VII – Driving the Mail
Part VIII – the Indian Remnant
Part IX – Treasure Seeking in Gaspé

Biographical details are found in:

Appendix I
Appendix II

There is also a two page list of illustrations.

I now know much more than I did about the Gaspé area of Quebec.

I have to admit I already knew about this second book, but had I not, my search for “Miramichi” brought it up.

Bill MacKinnon has written a terrifically detailed book about the Loyalist settlers in Ludlow and Blissfield. My Astles lived in Ludlow, which even today only has about 1,500 residents.


Map A
Map B
Preface to This Edition
One – In the Beginning
Two – The Founders
Three – All in the Family
Four – Go West, Young Man

Six  appendices conclude the book.

My Astle family is part of the early Miramichi history and they are included in Over the Portage. Plus, talk about figuring out our ancestors’ FAN (friends, associates, neighbors) – since the Astles were among the original Loyalist settlers, this book is a complete accounting of their FAN club. 🙂 I couldn’t ask for more.

Nowadays, I find that someone somewhere has published a book about almost every nook and cranny where my ancestors lived. I hope I’ve convinced you that there is much value in taking some time to search out locality books.

If you’ve come across gems that tie into your own family research, please leave a comment and share.



Family Tree Historical Atlas of Germany by James Beidler: Book Review

I have been waiting for several months for this book to be published and it finally arrived!

The Family Tree Historical Atlas of Germany
James M. Beidler

James Beidler, who is a well known genealogy speaker – on the topic of Germany and German ancestry, of course – has published a new book.

First, what it is NOT. It is not a gazetteer, nor is it a historical directory of German villages.

What it is is a nicely annotated history of the land that we call Germany today, accompanied by a huge number of historical maps. Given that the political boundaries have changed through the centuries, this book encompasses a lot of history.

Table of Contents

Part One – The Era of Germanic Tribes
Part Two – The Middle Ages
Part Three – From the Thirty Years War to Napoleon
Part Four – Nineteenth Century Germany
Part Five – Regional and State Maps
Part Six – Twentieth-Century Germany
Part Seven – Modern-Day Religious and Demographic Maps
Part Eight – Other German-Speaking Lands

There is also a German glossary, a list of map sources and a village index. However, the village index is not an every-name index and, in fact, the two ancestral villages in my husband’s family tree are not found there.

The book actually begins with a 7-page introduction to German History Highlights, followed by the eight parts listed in the above Table of Contents.

Each Part opens with one page of historical information, followed by a number of historical maps, which provide visuals to the area described in the text. Part One has nine maps, but Part Two has 21!

While it is fabulous that one volume provides so many map views of Germany through the ages, the author himself warns that some of the historical maps will require a good magnifying glass. I have to add that strong light will also be necessary!

Given that many of us with German roots may be looking at primarily 18th and 19th century families, readers will likely make the most use of Parts Four through Seven and Part Eight, which covers other German-speaking areas, such as Switzerland and the people known as German Russians.

Part Eight on other German-speaking areas includes historical information about the Austrian-Hungarian Empire.

My personal favorite chapter, though, is Part Seven, which includes modern-day Catholic provinces and regional Protestant churches.

For those who would like a digital copy of these historical maps, the Map Sources section provides links to many of the maps not in private collections.

This atlas is a massive 239 pages of German history from long before it was Germany up to 2019.

The Family Tree Historical Atlas of Germany is available on that well-known online site in both Kindle and hard copy versions. The price for Prime members is $22.48. The Kindle version is about a dollar less.

Compiling this number of historical maps into one handy reference book is a job well done by James Beidler and this book was well worth waiting for. Every researcher with German roots should have this book in their personal library.