10/17/2017

Belding Michigan

Belding Michigan

Richardson Mill, Belding Michigan

Belding Michigan is a fascinating outlier in the geography of the US textile industry. Belding is northeast of Grand Rapids. It was the site of a large complex of silk mills that were built from the 1880s to the early 1900s. It was the largest, western most, complex of silk mills that I know of. Textile mills, in general, are rare in the upper Midwest. The silk industry started leaving New England and the Mid-Atlantic in the late 1800s searching for cheaper more compliant labor. New mills were often built in the anthracite coal region of Eastern Pennsylvainia where mill owners exploited the labor of the wives and children of coal miners. Other mills were built in the South. The industrial economy of Central Michigan, at the time, was focused on logging and lumber related industry like paper and furniture. The Belding family settled Belding Michigan in 1858. The small town was renamed after them in 1871. The Belding Brothers moved back east and started manufacturing silk in Rockville Connecticut in 1866. They chose the family home of Belding as their location for expansion in 1886. They built four separate mills in Belding from 1886 to 1909. Three of those mills have been demolished. The surviving mill (above) is known as the Richardson Mill after Richardson who owned it from shortly after its construction to 1907 when it was repurchased by the Beldings. The mills the Beldings built looked like typical New England mills and as such are very out of place in Michigan. Silk production ceased at the mills in 1932. The largest silk mill was demolished by Electrolux (its most recent owner) with help from the city of Belding in 2013. In its place is a large park with soccer fields. It was a historic and architectural gem. There are fenced, empty fields where the other two demolished mills once stood. The surviving mill has been reused as an apartment building.

 

Belding Michigan

Basket Factory, Belding Michigan

Belding became a center of industry in the late 1800s. Many factories were located in Belding to take advantage of cheap power from the Flat River. Boxes, baskets and refrigeration equipment were among their products. The Belding Basket Works (1894?) above is the only surviving industrial structure from that period aside from the Richardson Mill that I was able to find. Belding hasn't grown significantly from its 1910 population of 4,119 but it hasn't shrunk either. It's unfortunate that so much of Belding's industrial heritage has been lost but it's nice that some at least has been preserved. There weren't any noticeable attempts to interpret it or accommodate visitors outside of the Belrockton Historical Museum which is housed in a former worker dorm. Part of the reason the larger mills were demolished is that the soils beneath the buildings had been contaminated. It's obviously a lot easier to deal with soil contamination without a massive complex of buildings sitting on the soil. These contamination and remediation issues frequently result in the destruction of historic structures.

 

Belding Michigan

Basket Factory, Belding Michigan

Belding Michigan

Basket Factory, Belding Michigan

Belding Michigan

Richardson Mill, Belding Michigan

Belding Michigan

Richardson Mill, Belding Michigan


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