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History of the Bristol Works! Site

Historical Photo

Like so many small Vermont villages that grew out of the harnessed power of a nearby river, Bristol has had a vibrant manufacturing history. Since the early 1800’s, manufacturing sites were located on the banks of the New Haven River, often supplying power to sawmills and a variety of specialty wood manufacturing companies. For decades, these companies were the largest employers in the area, with workers making everything from pillboxes to caskets, furniture, and other wood novelties.

During the rest of the 19th century, many different businesses came and went along the New Haven River, each of them designed to take advantage of the lumber that was in plentiful supply for use in the manufacture of products that were in high demand during that period.

By 1897, the area had seen a gristmill, and factories dedicated to the manufacture of carding, sleighs, wagons, farm machinery, beekeepers’ supplies, butter tubs, wooden boxes, and cabinets for Victrolas (for those of you too young to remember, Victrolas preceded record players).

Old Box Casket Manufacturing
The Bristol Works! Site is Born

When A.L. Cain leased a plot of land at the corner of Pine and Maple in 1897, he began to manufacture “wood novelties,” only to see his plant burn to the ground in 1903.  Nine years later, another company on the site, The New Haven Mills Manufacturing Company, also burned. From 1912 until well into the 1940’s, various types of wooden products were manufactured at the site, employing scores of local residents. The Drake and Smith Company closed in 1946 due to the economic recession after World War II.

The years following this closure saw the plant reconfigured and named The Vermont Box Company, which began small-scale manufacture of pine furniture. In 1956, the owner, Mr. L. Stearns Gay, changed the name to Drake, Smith, and Company, Inc. and by 1957, employed 75 people making furniture that was distributed to over 500 outlets around the country.

Furniture Manufacturing

The entrepreneurial spirit continued to help the company grow, and in October of 1969, Richard Mullin, a shareholder and Vice President, merged the company with the Emerson Manufacturing Company of Suncock, New Hampshire. This move insured continued success of the company, and its buildings filled the entire block between Maple Street and Munsill Avenue. Locally, it owned and operated The Mill Store in downtown Bristol.

By 1975, over 150 people were employed by Drake, Smith, and Co., and Tony Haight, who had been President of Emerson, dissolved Emerson and helped Drake, Smith move their product focus from pine to oak furniture, in response to changing markets.

This worked well until 1982, when workers were notified that Drake, Smith had declared bankruptcy. Within 3 weeks, Andrew Johnson assumed ownership of Drake, Smith, but this only lasted two years, when it closed for the fourth and final time. 132 workers lost their jobs, owing to a slowed housing market, a drop in demand for pine and oak furniture, competition from mass produced cheap furniture, and a national recession.

Copied with Permission of Gerald Heffernan

Modern History of Bristol Works! Site

In 1984, a local partnership, Vermont Industrial Parks, bought the buildings and the land for $230,000. At or about the same time, David Winer and the Vermont Toy Works of Mendon, VT, purchased the northeast corner of the property, including what is now called the East Warehouse. Shortly thereafter, Winer built the 8,000 square foot addition, now called the East Warehouse II. Tthe property was purchased in its entirety by Vermont Industrial Parks.

For a time in the late 80’s, the 10,000 sq ft building at the south end of the property housed two companies, Bristol Fitness and the Endicot Contract Manufacturing company. ECM as it was called, manufactured circuit boards and other electronic components.

When Vermont toy works business was declining, a gift manufacturing and distributing company known as Ancient Graffiti moved in and manufactured slate fountains, among other things, for the home. Ancient Graffiti moved to Middlebury before the turn of the decade.

It wasn’t until 1991 that a natural skin care company, Autumn Harp, moved from a small building on Bristol’s Rockydale Road, into one of the larger mill buildings on the Vermont Industrial Parks campus. The building on the corner of Munsill Ave. and Pine St. housed the offices, production and warehousing that would launch the company into an extended expansion over the next two decades. Eventually, Autumn Harp grew into all of the previously existing buildings and built another 13,000 sq. ft. of new manufacturing space.

In 2001, Autumn Harp was sold to a Shelburne businessman, Dave Logan, who further grew the company to over 200 employees, the largest single employer in the long history of Bristol manufacturing. Logan and his brother, John, continued to operate the company at the site, still leasing it from Vermont Industrial Parks, until the summer of 2009, when they outgrew the campus and moved the company to a newly designed facility in Essex, Vermont.

In December of 2010, the Bristol Works! LLC, partnership bought the 5.5-acre property with 55,000 sq. ft. of buildings from Vermont Industrial Parks for $1,000,000 and began to repurpose the site for a mixed use of light manufacturing, housing, health, wellness, and recreation.

History of Manufacturing in Bristol, Vermont

To read more about the history of manufactuing in Bristol, click below:

Bristol Manufacturing History

Copied with Permission of the Bristol Historical Society