Bleachery brought boom, but burned out

Nov 30, 2011

Most drivers heading west on Cranberry Highway from East Wareham, passing The Fan Club and the Wareham Lodge of Elks, have no idea they're driving past the site of a unique part of Wareham's history: the New Bedford and Agawam Finishing Company, also known as the Bleachery.

"I don't think people have idea how huge it was," said Lynda Ames, a local historian.

The New Bedford and Agawam Finishing Company was known as the Bleachery because the company dyed and bleached raw textiles coming from the Page Mill in New Bedford. John W. Knowles, who worked for the Page Mill, came to town and worked as president of the company.

The finishing company was located there because of the close proximity to the Agawam Pond and the Agawam River Run for the water source.

Ames, whose mother and grandmother worked at the bleachery, said the business brought a "boom" to the area, with just about everybody in East Wareham working there. The Bleachery also brought workers from West Wareham, who took the train or trolley to work every day.

"Unfortunately, it didn't last long," Ames said. The Bleachery lost workers during World War I and was never able to regain the momentum it had in its heyday.

The exact date the Bleachery shut down is unclear, but in September 1931 newspapers reported a rumor that the building would become a cannery for cranberries and herring, which did not come to pass.

Ames recalls making forts on the old Bleachery property with her neighbors when she was a kid in the 1950s.

Though the Bleachery is long gone, its impact can still be seen in Wareham today. For instance, Knowles Avenue beside the East Wareham Elementary is named after New Bedford and Agawam Finishing Works president Knowles.

Ames said Knowles Avenue was once lined with the houses where the Bleachery supervisors lived with their families. According to Ames, the homes were Sears Catalog Homes, which were ready-to-assemble kits with all the materials needed to build a house sold through mail-order by Sears, Roebuck, and Company.

What have you heard about the New Bedford and Agawam Finishing Company? Did any of your family members work there? Tell us in the comments!