New Hampshire Missing Places: Bleachery

When textiles were King (or Queen depending on your view) in New Hampshire, the Bleachery served an important function–to whiten or clean fabric, and other materials which needed lightening.  Back in the day when men wore straw hats and women wore ‘leghorns,’ there were milliners and others who offered a bleaching service.

Advertisement from 1852 Manchester (NH) City Director for a bonnet and hat bleachery service (i.e. B.F. Collins’).

The buggy whip has, perhaps mistakenly, become a symbol of something that has become hopelessly outmoded.  It represents the “no-longer-necessary tool, the has-been product, the guy who missed the boat.” For the most part the “Bleachery” can join the ranks of less needed products or services, although a few of both of these previous examples actually do exist in the United States.

The mills that thrived in Manchester, New Hampshire, and other locations in the state and in New England produced unbleached fabric which had a darker or less uniform color than most customers preferred.  So after production, the fabric often would be sent to a Bleachery or Dye Works building where it could be bleached to a better white preferred or be dyed in either one color or in a pattern, through a multiple-step process.  As the cloth mills closed due to competition and cheaper imports, and as people wore fewer hats (and with the advent of dry cleaning), the bleachery businesses faded away.

The 1850s seems to be the infancy of these large-scale services.  Capt. James Varnum of Goffstown NH had a bleachery on the Island [probably where Manchester’s Island Mill was located in the Merrimack River] about 1850, which was burned.

Harriet Beecher Stowe (the author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin) also wrote a little-known book called “The Pearl of Orr’s Island,” in 1862 which includes mention of a rainstorm that caused streaks in her bonnet that might not be able to be removed even with bleaching.  And coincidentally, Harriet Beecher Stowe herself has a connection to New Hampshire.  Her son, Henry Ellis Stowe, drowned on 7 Jul 1857 in the Connecticut River at Hanover, NH while he was a student at Dartmouth College.


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