Friday, July 18, 2008

Bite-Sized Review: American Silk

American Silk, 1830-1930: Entrepreneurs and Artifacts
By Jacqueline Field
(Texas Tech University Press, 2007)
326 pages

At an age (66) when most people today are considering retirement, James Haskell built and managed a silk factory in Westbrook.

Haskell, a veteran cotton manufacturer who initially relocated from Massachusetts to Maine in 1858 to snatch the cotton mill owned by the Portland Manufacturing Company in an auction (and subsequently renamed it the Westbrook Manufacturing Company), launched the aptly-named Haskell Silk Company in 1874.

As Jacqueline Field notes in the second chapter of her wonderful six-chapter case study of the Haskell Silk Company in American Silk: 1830-1930, Haskell's impetus for starting the silk mill may have been varied, but largely unknown. He may have come across an industry publication that heralded silk as the next big textile. Or, Field speculates, he may have been inspired by a new challenge or an opportunity to leave a legacy for one of his sons.

Nevertheless, though Field is unable to pinpoint Haskell's motivations for starting the company, her thorough examination of raw documents, complemented by a deep know-how of the silk industry and clear writing, enables the reader of American Silk to understand how the Haskell Silk Company functioned from its modest beginnings to its ultimate demise.

Put simply, the book's eighty-page portion devoted to the Haskell Silk Co. is a must-read among Westbrook folk, especially those living in the ahistorically-named Riverfront Lofts.

- John C.L. Morgan

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