Beyond “The Old Spec Shop “ - 1869-1882

First Factory, Main Works - 1873

Expanding business such as the newly incorporated American Optical faced the same problem in 1869 as today - finding an inexpensive yet reliable source of power for the machinery. The Old Spec Shop was powered by the Cohasse Brook, which tended to dry up frequently. When this happened, shop hands had to turn the wheel by hand to obtain the needed power. AO officials secured land nearer the more reliable source of power. The Quinebaug river and responsibility for the development of the new site was given to George W. Wells.

Mr. Cole apparently didn’t believe they would grow much more. Property was acquired on Mechanic Street and the new facility was built in 1872. It cost $35,000 and it was a tremendous risk on the future business. George W. Wells bore the responsibility and the criticism, but he knew he was right.

“That little plant, three stores with attic, wood construction, was located just south of the present main office entrance of AO Co. today. It provided 20,700 square feet of floor space.

“Beyond North St. there was a mill pond or dam developed by one Royal Smith, fed by the Quinebaug River. The river flowed on its present course, but the power which AO Co. used was generated by a canal leading from Smith’s pond diagonally across to the western side of Mechanic St. flowing parallel to the street and finally crossing over and discharging into the dam which now reflects the Lensdale cement buildings.

“In 1882 an ell in the center and wing on the north were added to the plant, further additions being made later.” (The Southbridge News, September 5, 1933).


NEXT WEEK: AO Facilities, Part 3: The Modern Era, 1900 and beyond.

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