Standing in the southern end of the Cotton Hollow Preserve looms the hulking four-story ruins of a different time in the South Glastonbury ravine. Before the days of hiking, swimming and fishing, industry ruled the area as dozens of mills once harnessed the water to power themselves – the biggest of which was the cotton mill in the lower half of Cotton Hollow.
It was built in 1814 by the Hartford Manufacturing Company, who owned it until the mid-1800’s. From there, the mill changed hands frequently and by 1920, the era of industry within Cotton Hollow came to a close. At its height, the mill employed 350 people, many of which lived in the nearby housing on Cotton Hollow Road and the Cotton Hollow mill houses.
The mill was powered by two large dams, rising 25-feet and 40-feet, respectively. The smaller dam was built after so much water flowed over the top of the larger dam that they determined it a good idea to harness the extra water. The remains of both those dams can still be seen.
The stone cotton mill was one of two mills in the area, with the other being a brick mill across the stream. While it has mostly disappeared, some ruins can still been on the island across from the stone mill. According to “A Memorial History of Hartford County” by J. Hammond Trumbull (1884), the interior of the stone mill burned down was subsequently rebuilt.
Three stories of the facade of the mill still remain, although Mother Nature has taken its toll on the ruins over the years. It is an impressive architecture feat, as it was built directly into the side of the hill. According to town historian Brian Chiffer, raw materials were driven up to the fourth floor and as the cotton was moved down each level, it was refined more and more before the final product came out of the bottom floor.
At the bottom of the mill on the banks of Roaring Brook is an old cold cellar that can still be seen. The brick structure disappears into darkness and was used as a pre-electricity refrigerator.
Despite being well-protected by the Historical Society of Glastonbury, nature has taken a toll on the mill. It no longer stretches into the sky as high as it once did and the remains will only crumble more as time continues on. Cotton Hollow is the best example that no matter how well something is built, nature will always come out victorious.