Ludlow Manufacturing Co. and dam
Early Image of Ludlow
A Brief History of Ludlow, Massachusetts
Introduction. Also called “Stony Hill,” Ludlow is a 28 square mile suburban industrial town located on the Chicopee River. The origin of the name is unkown. One possibility is that the town was named for Roger Ludlow, a prominent New England citizen who was called from England to become assistant to the Governor of Massachusetts in 1630. Another possibility is that the town was named after Ludlow, England. First settled by colonists in 1750, Ludlow began as an agricultural village and developed into an industrial town with many sawmills and grist mills along the Chicopee River, Broad Brook, Higher Brook, and Stony Brook. The town is most noted for its factory mills and production of jute yarns, twine, and webbing. Ludlow Company, which formed in 1868, helped shape the town by providing housing, a library, schools, and playgrounds

Contact Period (1500-1620). Prior to the colonial period, the Ludlow area was probably used by natives during the spring and summer months as a fishing and agricultural area. The area’s best agricultural land is situated along the Chicopee River and the town’s western lowlands, and fishing would have occurred in the Chicopee River and its tributaries, as well as Ludlow’s ponds. Movement between this area and the heavily populated Connecticut River Valley was facilitated by the Chicopee River and nearby Bay Path.

Colonial Period (1675-1775). Colonial settlement from Springfield was delayed by limited agricultural potential and the barrier of the Chicopee River. During the Colonial Period, transportation routes began to develop in this area, called the Stony Hill district. In 1750, Ludlow was established as the northeast precinct of Springfield, Massachusetts. In 1774, with 200-300 residents, mostly former Springfield residents, Ludlow was incorporated as a separate town. In the same year, the First Congregational district was formed, and most residents were Congregationalist. The economic base of Ludlow during the Colonial Period was mainly agriculture. Local mill operations were limited, but some possible pre-1775 mills were located in Stony Brook, Higher Brook, and the Chicopee River. A possible pre-1775 ironworks was located on the Chicopee River.

Federalist Period (1775-1830). In 1783, a meeting house was built in Ludlow Center, and a radial road pattern developed. The population grew slowly during this time, and there were a total of 730 residents in 1810. A mill dam was constructed in the 1780s, and as a result of the establishment of the Jencks cotton mill in 1812, the population grew to 1,246 by 1820, where it stabilized. The resulting mill village, Jencksville, was expanded during the War of 1812 with the location of textile factories at the Chicopee Falls. By 1832, the Jencks cotton mills, now incorporated as the Springifield Manufacturing  Company, employed over 250 men and women producing cotton goods valued at $105,642. Throughout this period, Ludlow remained predominantly agricultural, though Jencksville developed into a small manufacturing center on the Chicopee River. Principal agricultural crops included corn and rye in 1800, and four sawmills were recorded in 1794. Small manufacturing activities in this period included a small chair factory and a glass works, both in the north part of town.

Early Industrial Period (1830-1870). For the first part of this period, the Springfield Manufacturing Company continued to prosper, and in 1840, the U.S. government contracted with the company to forge gun barrels. In 1841, continued industrial development prompted relocation of civic activities to the Jencksville mill village. Secondary village centers also emerged along the east-west highway at Scott Corner and Ludlow City. However, after the failure of the Springfield Manufacturing Company in 1848, the population declined slightly. The mills then went through a succession of owners, including George Deane, a pioneer manufacturer of jute seamless bagging. Other small mills in this period included woolen and lumber mills, and there was some minor home production of boots, shoes, and palm-leaf hats. By the mid-1850s, foreign born residents numbered 5% of the total town population. Two-thirds of these residents were Irish, and a small number were from Scotland. In 1865, 175 farms were recorded.

Late Industrial Period (1870-1915). During the Late Industrial Period, the Ludlow Manufacturing Company was formed (1868), and new mills were erected in the 1880s and 1890s as production increased. Secondary regional railroads were located along the Chicopee River, connecting to the Jencksville mill village and the Ludlow Manufacturing Company. Large-scale expansion of Ludlow Manufacturing Company created a tenement district around the central mills, with modest suburban expansion along the East Street Trolley line. In addition, completion of the Springfield Reservoir in 1875 flooded farmland along Cherry Valley in the northeast section. Meanwhile, successive waves of cheap labor came to Ludlow during the 1800s, and the population rose quickly. Irish and French Canadians were followed in the 1890s by Austrian Poles. By 1905, over 45 percent of the population were foreign born. Over a third of these were Poles, and nearly a third were French Canadians. Between 1905 and 1925, the population rose at a rate well over 200 persons per year.

By the end of the period, Ludlow Manufacturing Associates had become one of the largest jute manufacturing plants in the world. To supply future needs, the company built the Red Bridge Generating Station in 1901, and Mill Number 8 was also completed in the same year. Very little other manufacturing activitiy took place at this time, though saw, shingle and planing mills continued to operate into the 1920s and 1930s. Outside of Jencksville, dairy and poultry faming was a leading occupation. Meanwhile, almost all the institutional buildings of the period were built at the present town center, the earliest of these being Hubbard Library, followed by several schools and churches. Several two and three story brick commercial blocks were also constructed, most notably the Post Office block in 1901. Ludlow Manufacturing Associates played a vital role in the development of the present town center, and virtually all of the company’s later buildings remain, including the brick towered factory complex, the municipal civic center, and related company housing.

Early Modern Period (1915-1940). In the early part of this period, Ludlow Manufacturing Associates continued to dominate Ludlow’s economy, and by 1915, more than half the dwelling units in Ludlow were owned by the company. During the company’s peak business years, the 1920s, its workforce numbered more than 4,000 employees. In the 1920s, poultry farming also became a major business for the town. The population continued to grow quickly until it came to an abrupt halt due to the federal immigration restrictions of the 1920s. In 1930, the trolley route was abandoned and the nearby Chicopee River bridges were being rebuilt. Between 1930 and 1945, Ludlow Manufacturing Associates declined in importance. During the Depression years, the company began to demolish unused mill buildings and sell off nearly all the company housing. By the mid 1940s, Ludlow Manufactoring Associate’s worforce had shrunk to 1,200 and Ludlow’s population was declining by about 50 people per year, reaching a low point of 8,065 in 1945. Meanwhile, the town experienced modest suburban expansion, and location of the Westover Air Force Base in Chicopee created demand for housing during the Second World War, with a commercial focus on Scott Corner. The area was increasingly used for Springfield metropolitan expansion, especially due to the location of the Springfield Reservoir in the northeast highlands, as well as the development of an aqueduct system across the Chicipee River.

Present. Today, the majority of Ludlow's 21,000 residents (2000 Census) are of Portuguese, French, and Polish descent. The Portuguese have had a significant impact on the community, especially with their annual carnival hosted at the Our Lady of Fatima parish. Meanwhile, the original town center has retained its authentic historical character, while access to the Massachusetts Turnpike and Westover Air Force Base have contributed to suburban residential and commercial development. Ludlow is now largely a bedroom community that faces increasing residential, commercial, and industrial development pressures. As a result of these pressures, the town is struggling to preserve the past while at the same time envisioning and shaping future development. Key challenges the town now faces include:

• Pursuing economic and residential development in a sustainable manner, • Managing traffic generated by new development projects,
• Upgrading aging infrastructure,
• Preserving and promoting agriculture,
• Addressing water quality and stormwater management issues, and
• Providing additional public transportation, downtown parking, athletic fields, schools, and affordable and elderly housing.

At the same time, Ludlow has many assets upon which to build a visionary plan for the future. These include a tremendous amount of open recreation land, as well as a 100-acre town forest that offers an opportunity for forestry management and greater public access. Along the Chicopee River, there is a state operated boat ramp, and there are many riverfront opportunities, including recreational kayaking and canoeing. The town has a strong base for tourism, including a zoo, several popular local fairs, and a well-known semi-professional soccer team, the Pioneers. In addition, the reservoir wildlife area attracts over 20,000 visitors per year, and many residents from neighboring towns drive through Ludlow on their way home or to work. Ludlow possesses a wide range of arts, cultural, historic, and agricultural assets, including the Rutabega art store, a new craft store, an active Arts Council, a theater group, a scenic highway (Route 21), Randall’s Farm, and the Grange.