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The Knowlton Hat Factory, whose main building seen above is now known as the Milhaus Apartments, was at one time the largest straw hat manufacturer in the world. William Knowlton founded and built up the company in the mid 1850s and beyond, though he started off in life from a very poor family. Knowlton was well-loved in his time because he treated his workers fairly and decently. His paternal generosity to Upton led to the creation of housing for his workers, and the First Unitarian Church in 1874 to lure the Society into West Upton.
A Walking Tour of West Upton
Starting at 99 Main Street, West Upton was one of three houses whose identical black shutters led to the name " piano row" as the Gothic Revival homes lined up like piano keys. These three homes, 99, 101 and 103 Main Street were clapboard - built in 1872 on 1.23 acres for Knowlton Hat Factory workers. Driveway widths separated the three homes, which are two family homes today.
Walking to 105 Main Street, built in 1877 as a dwelling and a school became known as the "Mulliken Home" after Mrs. Helen Mulliken who ran the school in the late 1870s - 1880s. In 1899, it was purchased by the Knowlton family in 1899 to be donated to the Unitarian Society for their minister for housing. Prior to this, the ministers had to find their own housing.
110 Main Street is a duplex home built by William Knowlton to house managers from his factory. This Victorian Queen Anne style house is set back some from the street although there are similar houses on both sides with the one-story porch and the dormer window at each end jutting out from the roof.
The attractive Federal style "Eli Warren House", located at 112 Main Street, was originally built by Warren in 1826 but was purchased by William Knowlton upon Warren's death. It housed management from the Hat Factory and it has a lovely columned porch in front.
William Knowlton's only daughter lived in the Victorian Second Empire style home found at 122 Main Street after her father built it in 1889 to bestow to Eli Batchelor, Knowlton's son-in-law. It is on a small lot with the former Unitarian Church right next door.
The Victorian Gothic building at the corner of Main and Maple Streets, formerly several Churches starting with the Unitarian Universalist Society, was built by William Knowlton in 1874. He donated it to the Unitarian Society and had an enlarged pipe organ built in. The wonderful building recently housed the Faith Fellowship Church, then a home and is currently on the market.
Eli Warren built the Greek Revival brick home at 124 Main Street, West Upton in 1828 after which his son-in-law Daniel Batchelor took ownership upon Warren' s death. In 1885, William Knowlton purchased the home, presumably for more mill housing.
A sad story is attached to the home at 128 Main Street which was built on a cellar built in the 1830s. This Victorian home, located on .83 acres of land was apparently moved by William Knowlton. As the new house was being built and readied for brother George Knowlton who was taking over managing the Hat Factory, George was killed in a plane crash in 1928 at the former Grafton Airport (now a LL baseball field).
The Taft and Spaulding House at 132 Main Street, built in 1861 as a clapboard duplex, was the first duplex William Knowlton built for his managers and families. Presumably, Taft and Spaulding were the first occupant families, though no history has been found on them.
The Lodge 1919
The Lodge, seen at 135 Main Street was a rooming house built in 1911 to house young Canadian women coming to work at the Hat Factory. It also was a stay-over spot for those traveling to the Hat Factory for business. This Colonial Revival style building is beautifully resplendent with a great dining room and reading areas. Although originally a J shaped building, it was transformed into a U shaped building before 1949 with an addition.
138 Main Street, known as the Sewell Bowker House) was built in 1849 in the Greek Revival style on a quarter acre. William Knowlton owned the house but used it for his managers, one of whom was William Teachout. Knowlton's brother Clifford was also a frequent summer visitor at this house.
The 143 Main Street home built in 1874 was originally a mansion home with the mansard roof and tower. George W. Knowlton inhabited this house until his death when inherited by his son. However, a fire ruined the tower in 1957 and the tower was never replaced.
The Metcalf Comstock House at 142 Main Street was bought by William Knowlton in 1872 from Comstock. When the Knowlton Hat Factory was bought out by Merrimac Hat Corporation in the 1940s, this house went with the sale. It was sold by the less successful Merrimac Hat Company in 1950 to a private owner.
144 Main Street was more Hat Factory management housing built by Knowlton in 1907 as a symmetrical duplex. Jospeh Crimmins, a foreman of the trimming department, was head of one of the families living there. This also was sold to Merrimac Hat who then sold it to a private owner.
145 Main Street, now a nursing home, was built in 1866 by George William Knowlton who died in 1925. This attractive home was built in the Second Empire style with Queen Anne additions with lovely grounds and stone walls.
149 Main Street, now a business building, was originally erected as a stable in 1889 by George Knowlton for $2300. A Hat Factory forman, Leonard Rand, purchased the stable in 1950 to change it into a house for a few decades before becoming a business.
The Stephen Taft House, built in 1844 at 152 Main Street by Stephen Taft, was inherited by his son Velorous in 1846 upon his father's death. The house was then sold to Daniel Netwon but eventually became the propertyof George Knowlton in 1875.
The 1904 Queen Anne style house at 156 Main Street was built in 1904 by William Knowlton's descendants. Identical double houses were constructed for factory workers and purchased along with the Hat Factory sale to Merrimac Hat Corp as tenement properties. In 1925, this house was sold to individuals with half going to Leonard and Jennie Rand and the other half purchased by Frank Ogden.
The 1909 Queen Anne Vernacular shingle house at 158 Main Street is built on 1/4 acre of land. Nahum Bates and his wife, Clara Gamble lived there until 1943 when Clara died. A one story porch was constructed over the recessed fron entrance.
The 1895 Victorian Queen Anne, seen at 160 Main Street was owned by Knowlton until Daisy French purchased the home in 1942 and lived there until her death in 1977. A smallporch was erected on the left side of the house at the assymetrical entrance.
Hartford Avenue South:
Hartford Avenue, which bisects Main Street, has three nearby,significant properties, starting with the Greek Revival Amos Batchelor clapboard house at 1 Hartford Avenue South built in 1846. After Amos Batchelor's death, his daughter Francis jennie lived there until her death whereupon cousin Eli Warren Batchelor and wife Charlotte Knowlton inherited the home. Upon Charlotte's death in 1923, nephew George Knowlton inherited the property who gave the house as a gift to the Fitch family. George died five years later at Grafton Airport in a plane crash.
The home at 2 Hartford Ave South, was originally built as a store in 1875 by H.A. Cobbett. Ed O'Connell ran a shoe store there after Cobbett's death although once again, George Knowlton owned the building. In 1929, after George's death, the property was sold to Helen Beaman who ran a dry goods store. It is now a shingle style home.
4 Hartford Avenue South was built in 1890 by the Batchelor-Knowlton family. They owned this Victorian style clapboard house until it was sold in 1928 to Edward D. Smith, a foreman in the Knowlton factory. It is set on a corner lot with a good sized front yard.
21 Hartford Avenue South is part of the Perham-Warren Tavern, known as the World's Largest Tavern before it was divided up into seven homes moved around in West Upton. In 1885, Knowlton dismantled the Tavern and a substantial section was moved to this location for housing.
Another section of the Perham-Warren Tavern was moved to 24 Hartford Ave South. According to Knowlton's documents, this is located in Cluster Village, which was provided for housing quickly to support his growing workforce.
26 Hartford Ave South is also part of the Tavern and is now located in what was known as Cluster Village, according to Knowlton's assessment records. As you can see, all of these sections are substantial properties in their own right.
Other sections of the dismantled Perham-Warren Tavern can be found at: 3 Centennial Court, 5 Centennial Court and the original Old Tavern House moved to 12 Maple Avenue. These are all substantial buildings so the original Tavern must truly have been the World's Largest Tavern.
Lastly, 15 Farm Street was built in 1849 by Willard Emerson. After his death, Mr. Knowlton purchased the home and it stayed in the Knowlton estate until it was sold to a private owner in 1946.
Thanks to the Upton Historical Commission and especially Barbara Burke for this information that was compiled by Thomas Gorman of Eagle Troop 132 in February 1994