In the 1800's, much of the social, cultural and economic identity of industrial towns was influenced by the contributions made from manufacturing mills. The "Golden Age" as the time is termed, introduced these mills that represented American energy and technology and initiated the prosperous growth of present day cities. At the turn of the 20th century, the expansion of industry during the Industrial Revolution transformed the demand of hydro-powered mills to coal fired steam mills, which instigated the decline of the economy associated with these mills. As a result, mills became delinquent, underutilized and forgotten as symbols in the American heritage. When the function and purpose of the mills transformed, so did the evolution of the city that was economically dependent on milled industry. This thesis is an investigation into the role of the mill and introduces a Museum of Industry and Waterfront Redevelopment for the purpose of revitalizing Hollyhock Island, an important place in Norwich by commemorating its industrial past.
The site for this thesis is an island located in Norwich, CT formed by the Yantic River which was formerly occupied by the Falls Avenue Mill. The site's location is at the intersection between the historic district to the north and the commercial district to the south. These two sides, Downtown and Westside, represent the inequality that Norwich's economic stagnation endures. Evidence of this is illustrated in the historic downtown where buildings are becoming vacant and underutilized structures as the economic focus is diverted south to the commercial strip along West Main Street.
This thesis will introduce a Museum of Industry (an adaptive re-use and new construction project) and the redevelopment of Hollyhock Island encompassing Norwich's harbor and waterfront. The purpose of this thesis is to define the role of the island as an interface between the two districts and identify the prominent location as a 'place' for leisure activity. The challenge to this thesis will be in the connections it makes both physically to the site and culturally to the local economy and the tourism industry.
Norwich became the commercial and industrial center of Connecticut in the late 19th century. Of the two economic bases, industry pronounced its dominance with the creation of over a dozen mill complexes within the city. Due to the prominence of the mills, Norwich prospered into the early 20th century earning the title, "The Rose of New England" . Mills provided not only the financial structure for the city but a social and communal aspect as well. Much of the physical structure of Norwich evident today reflects this era. Congested housing and business areas along hillsides leading up from the river continue to form the basic structure of the Norwich community. Several mills have been adaptively re-used for other functions, others remain dormant and sadly others have been demolished, victims of the cities urban renewal. The rich heritage that these mills provided for Norwich deserve to be preserved in a museum of industry such as, Sturbridge Village, CT, the location for a farm museum and Mystic Seaport, CT, which emphasizes the states maritime history.
In 1992 the Planning Department of the City of Norwich commissioned a "Mill Enhancement Project" group (MEP) that would recognize the historic, economic and social values of the mills. A report was presented to the state historic commission detailing potential re-use possibilities as well as feasibility studies. Also included in the report was baseline data regarding structure and recommendations for the necessary zoning revisions, economic incentives and potential uses. The commission accepted the feasibility study and through the Certified Local Government Program , awarded the city a grant, matched by a grant from the city's community development office to prepare the first phases of a study.