Sunday, June 21, 2009

6/21/09 Fitton's Mill Tour/Mill Tragedy

Fitton Mill Tour
On June 20, CHS was a co-sponsor of a tour of the Fitton Mill. Charity Baker, consulting archaeologist, provided a map which helped to identify where the Mill once stood, as well the cellar holes of tenement houses, office and the boarding house. Where the hydro turbine once operated now sits a very old car, washed down from the flood of 1927.

Kristen Underwood, consulting geologist, had pictures and maps showing how the Black River jumped its banks to bypass the Cavendish Gorge during the great flood of November 1927, resulting in catastrophic damages in Cavendish village. Historic photographs depicted a 600-foot wide, quarter-mile long channel carved 150 feet deep to bedrock. Photographs of the Mill, as well as of the Cavendish flood, can be seen on-line at

Spring Mill, also called Fitton’s Mill, started operation in 1867. Located on the Black River near the Cavendish Gorge, it was the largest mill in the area, employing farmers and their families, along with immigrants from from England, Ireland and Norway. The Mill complex included tenement houses as well as a boarding house.

A short lived operation, the mill burned in 1875 and when two other Fitton buildings burned later, it was suspected that the mill owner, Robert Fitton, had committed arson to collect the insurance. According to the New York Times, Oct. 23, 1875, “The failure of Robert Fitton, woolen manufacturer, proprietor of the Spring Mills at Cavendish, Vt., is occasioning no little excitement in the wool trade of this city. His Boston indebtedness is quite large, the result mainly of purchases of wool in this market. The total liabilities are about $140,000.”

Besides the suspicion of arson, Robert Fitton faced other lawsuits and eventually convicted on more than one charge was imprisioned in Woodstock in 1880.

To see pictures of the Mill and scenes from the 1927 flood go to

Appalling Tragedy at Cavendish, VT.
June 11, 1868, From The Daily Index, Dr. J. M. Pleasants, City Editor.

The Bellows Falls Times, of Friday, contains tube following details of the Fearful death of two young women by drowning, at Cavendisb, Vt. on Monday evening last, the general particulars regarding which sad event we have already published.

Mrs. Albina Knight, wife of Horatio Knight, and Miss Ellen M. Gary, both Operatives in James' Fitton's woolen mill, proposed the exploit of crossing the mill pond in a boat, the water being high, and the current strong, from so large a flow over the dam. Being ready to start, they urged other friends to ride with them, who not only refused, but earnestly urged them not to make the attempt. They did not, however, share in the fears of their friends, and pushed off their boat, waving their handkerchiefs in salutation, and bidding "good bye" to those on shore.

Then followed one of the most painful and thrilling scenes which ever occurred in Vermont. They had got but a short distance when it was perceived that the current was carrying them down, but they did not appear to notice it. Nearer and nearer they approached the dam, till Miss Gary rose and jumped out of the boat. The strong current immediately carried her over. Mrs. Knight remained in the boat, and just before it made the fatal plunge seemed to faint and fall back as it went over, carrying her to a watery grave with her friend, or possibly she may have thrown herself into the bottom of the oath with possible hope that in that condition she might escape. Both were seen once several rods below the dam, the current carrying them very rapidly down into the rocky Gorge known as Cavendish Falls. The feeling of those who witnessed the scene, who were utterly powerless to render assistance, cannot be described.


  1. I am a distant relative of James Fitton and Mary Watson great grandfather was George Sykes who married Sarah Fitton of Northfield, VT but I believe James an Mary are buried in Cavendish, Vt. Is this the same family? I thought I read where my grandfather had worked at the mill before returning to Connecticut. Any info is appreciated. Penelope Lake

  2. The Fittons are buried in the Proctorsville Cemetery in Proctorsville, a village in the township of Cavendish. If you have additional questions, please e-mail me at