Sunday, February 7, 2016

Ghost Gun Factories




Due to some unfortunate accident, the original post was deleted, I have reprinted here.

 


This post is not about factories that produce "Ghost Guns", but rather a story of "ghost factories". Buildings that once produced the "Arsenal of Democracy" that are now sitting abandoned, destroyed or just plain gone with the wind.
America's history is all about technological advances. As times and technology changes, the needs of the gun maker may no longer fit with an aging factory.

Colt's Patent Firearms Company
Perhaps the most famous of all the firearms factories was the Colt Hartford Plant, but before getting to Hartford we have to tell you about Colt's 1st manufacturing concern in Paterson New Jersey. Built along the river bank, just downstream from the Paterson Great Falls, the Patent Arms Company opened its doors in 1836.


 It is interesting to note, that this 1st enterprise was not owned by Samuel Colt, he owned a single $1000 share in the company. He was the 1st employee and salesman though and due to his notoriety the company and the Colt name became synonymous.
The company closed its doors in 1842, unable to make enough profit. One of the investors stayed on until 1847 before turning the factory over to other interests.
The ruins of the factory can still be seen





 Here it is from above (Google Earth image), click on the picture for a larger version



Colt assumed his pistol days were over, but thanks to another Samuel, his business and name continued on. In the mid 1840's Col. Samuel Hamilton Walker was able to provide Colt with a military contract order for 1000 pistols made to Col. Walkers' specifications. The guns were made by Eli Whitney Jr in Hamden, Connecticut. The contract was fulfilled in 1847 with only 1100 pistols being produced.
Eli Whitney Jr. built those Colt Walkers in a factory built by his father (the famous Cotton Gin inventor).




Here is a painting from the early 1800s showing what was then called "Whitneyville". The painting is by a man named William Munson (the name of the street the Winchester plant is on).



The Whitney factory still stands and is now a museum dedicated to preserving the contribution made by the Whitneys to the industrialization of America. 

The museum can be found at 915 Whitney Ave in Hamden, Connecticut.


Samuel Colt took the profits (and momentum) from the Walker pistol contract and started his 2nd enterprise: The Colt's Patent Firearms Co. by purchasing 260 acres in Hartford, Connecticut along the banks of the Connecticut river.
Draining some marsh land and building a dike to keep the river at bay, the original building was built in 1855. 



Colt also built a mansion for his wife called "Armsmear" on the hill overlooking the plant.

Samuel Colt died in 1862 (one year into the Civil War), but his company continued on. In 1864, the building suffered a major fire, but was quickly rebuilt and production resumed.





Colt's employees outside the Hartford plant in 1876, the train tracks were eventually replaced by Interstate 91.



Colt's firearms were produced in this facility from 1864 until 1994, when the company abandoned the building and moved to west Hartford.
Some of the buildings have been demolished, but efforts to save the historic site have so far been moderately successful.



In this Google Earth image you can see the plant (thin white roof, with the blue dot in the middle), the grounds (now called "Coltsville") and the Armsmear mansion (to the extreme right, surrounded by trees)

For a few years the gun maker known as United States Fire Arms (U.S.F.A.) rented space in the old Colt Armory and built high quality Colt Single Action Army copies, the company changed gears a few years ago and now make cheap .22 pistols based on the Ruger 10/22.
They are the last manufacturer to make guns in Hartford.


Billings & Spencer
Another 19th Century Hartford gun maker was Billings & Spencer, maker of the Spencer repeating rifle. The building was built shortly after Billings and Spencer incorporated in 1869. This painting was done in 1898



Here is a picture of the factory in 1910



And as it sits today




The old factory has been converted to a mixed use building, it still resides at the corner of Lawrence & Russ Streets, just off Capitol Ave.

Sharps Rifle Company Hartford was also the original home to the Sharps Rifle Company, they were built in this factory that was later turned over to Christian Sharp's other endeavor: The Weed Bicycle Company, which later changed its name to Pope Manufacturing. The site was just a few hundred yards from the Colt plant.


The site of the old factory(s) is now a park




The Sharps Rifle Company relocated to Bridgeport, CT in 1876, before finally closing its doors in 1881.


The plant was then sold to the Columbia Gramaphone Company (we know them now as Columbia Records). Columbia closed the plant in 1964. It sat at 1473 Barnum Ave. Bridgeport, CT. A different building now sits on the site, this is what it looks like today



Robbins & Lawrence
Up the Connecticut River (& I-91 corridor) in the town of Windsor, Vermont there resides perhaps the oldest of gun factories.
Built around 1846 the factory sits on a creek that feeds into the Connecticut River. Robbins & Lawrence made the idea of the interchangeable part (as did Eli Whitney and others) a common practice, pushing the new United States to the forefront of industrial technology.





The factory was built upon receiving a government contract for 10,000 muskets for $10.90 each. They also built many of their own tools and machines, some of these inventions launched new companies (some of which are still in business today).
The factory still exists in Windsor and is now a museum (The American Precision Museum) and is on the National Register of Historic Places.




The museum can be found at 196 Main Street Windsor, VT.


Harrington & Richardson H&R formed in Worcester, Massachusetts in 1871, the original building they occupied is probably long gone. The address of 18 Manchester Street is a residential neighborhood now, maybe it was then and their shop was a home garage?

in 1877 they moved to one of these brick buildings on Hermon Street (also in Worcester). The address of 31 Hermon street no longer exists or perhaps it was a second entrance to 26 Hermon or 33 Hermon?




Buoyed by their success H&R moved production to Park Ave in 1894 and built a large facility that eventually took up most of the block.






Located on the corner of Park Ave and Chandler Street, the plant grew, eventually taking up the whole block before being abandoned and demolished in 1986.


The only remains are some concrete foundations behind the Walgreens Drugstore and the donut shop (Google Earth Image). The company was purchased in the year 2000 by Marlin Firearms (who was subsequently purchased by Remington/Freedom Group).

The company went under in 1986 and after the "paperwork" from the bankrupcy was completed a new company formed in 1991 called H&R 1871 Inc. They resumed production in a factory at 60 Industrial Rowe in Gardner, MA (the street was named after the Rowe family who were the new owners of H&R). The facility is now a brick manufacturing plant



Forehand & Wadsworth
Another Worcester company, Forehand & Wadsworth, had at least one factory in town, starting in 1871, before going out of business in 1902, selling out to Hopkins & Allen.







Iver Johnson Arms & Cycle Works
Norwegian born gunsmith Iver Johnson immigrated to the United States in 1863. He built a factory in Fitchburg, Massachusetts to build guns and bicycles, two different yet emerging industries.



Here is what it looked like in 2013


This Google Earth image shows the old factory still standing on River Street in Fitchburg, MA next to the Dairy Queen



Hopkins & Allen
Founded in Norwich, Connecticut in 1868, Hopkins and Allen built a factory on the corner of Willow & Chestnut Street in the heart of downtown Norwich.
The factory burned to the ground in the early morning hours of February 4th, 1900.






A new 80,000 square foot Hopkins & Allen factory was built on the same site and rededicated in March of 1901. The  four-story building cost approximately $55,000 (1901 dollars). After a couple of bankruptcies the company was taken over by Marlin-Rockwell in 1914 and the factory was used to produce Marlin & military rifles during both wars
Here is what the Hopkins & Allen factory building looks like today.




and from Google Earth (in top, right corner of the picture)

Bacon Arms Co.
Just a few blocks up the street you can find the factory building that once housed Bacon Arms Co.
Thomas Bacon opened his factory in 1850 and build shotguns and pistols here until going backrupt in 1888. In 1892 his machinery and designs were purchased by The Crescent Firearms Co. and moved across town. His company went by several names over the years as he worked with different companies and investors.
Here is the old Bacon Arms plant on the corner of Pond and Franklin Streets








This last picture shows the location of several former firearms manufacturers....you may notice the name Smith & Wesson in the lower left, this was before they became the Volcanic Repeating Arms Co in 1855, later becoming Winchester and moving to New Haven.



The buildings on the Hollyhock Island that once housed Smith & Wesson/Volcanic Repeating Arms, Manhattan Arms Co and Crescent Firearms Co. are long gone.


This plot of land is where the Smith & Wesson and Winchester companies were born. On the east end of Hollyhock Island, it is now a marina

Where the Crescent Arms plant once stood is now the transportation center for the city of Norwich (at the corner of Falls Ave. and W. Main Street, on the left side of the picture). Crescent Arms closed their doors in 1931, the Transportation Center was completed in 2012.
The building on the right was built in the 1870s as an apartment complex (perhaps some of the Crescent workers roomed there?)


Winchester
New Haven Connecticut was the home of the Winchester Rifle. The company that made them went by several names over the years, but most people simply call the company "Winchester".
in 1856, shortly before Oliver Winchester purchased the remaining interest in the Volcanic Rifle Co. from Horace Smith and Daniel B. Wesson (Smith & Wesson), the enterprise moved production from Norwich to a new facility in New Haven. For 140 years craftsmen built America's favorite rifles and shotguns here. The plant closed in 2006 with production of the few remaining Winchester products moved to other plants owned by the new owner Fabrique National.
Here is the plant in 1876, the front entrance is in the lower left corner.
The facility sits on the corner of Science Park (aka Winchester Ave) and Munson Street. Just a few blocks from the Yale University Campus.





The front entrance, date appears to be circa 1920/1921 (note the poster advertising Woman Suffrage Parades)





Here is the front entrance after the plant closed in 2006


From the Munson Street side, entrance is barely visible on the left

After being empty for 9 years, there is some revitalization going on. Some of the buildings are being renovated into living/working lofts and the whole district is being rezoned for mixed use. Here is what it looks like today

These pictures are from Robyn Lison Photography, they show what the old factory looked like before demolition/revitalization occurred

These look like the magazine/barrel bands for Winchester model 1200/1300 shotguns

I imagine these were the tanks for bluing the rifles and shotguns....I have some guns that spent time in these tanks

Here is what the planners hope for the old plant:


Not far from Winchester's manufacturing plant (just 10 or 12 blocks away) was their lever action rifle competitor: Marlin.

The two competitors operated just hundreds of feet away from each other from 1882 to 1969:



Marlin Firearms Co.
John M. Marlin opened his production facility in 1882, in New Haven, Connecticut. This was just 12 years after starting his business. The facility grew in size to take up several city blocks (bordered by Willow Street, Nicoll Street and Mitchell Drive)
This is a photo of the plant just after WWII






Here is what it looks like today

and from Google Earth



Marlin moved production in 1969 to a state of the art facility in North Haven (a few miles to the north) along Interstate 91. The new plant was just a few blocks from where O.F. Mossberg & Sons had moved to a few years prior.

The 26 acre site was home to Marlin for 39 years. Marlin was purchased by the Freedom Group (owners of Remington) in 2007. Soon after Marlin production was moved to other Remington plants and the building was put up for sale.
The building was purchased by Sentry Commercial in 2014



O.F. Mossberg & Sons
After working at several New England gun companies (Iver Johnson, Stevens & Marlin) Oscar F Mossberg founded his own company in New Haven in 1919. I found an address of 303 Greene Street from this 1937 Mossberg Advertisement



303 Greene Street is now a park called Wooster Square


In the 1940's Mossberg needed more room and purchased this abandoned building that once housed a natural gas tank for the public utility. This building became the company's administrative offices. They called it the "Roundhouse". It was located on St. John's Avenue in New Haven.


I found several addresses for this building on St. John's Street (one block north of Greene Street), none of which exist anymore. The numbering system was revamped, possibly due to the Interstate 91 being built in the late 1950's early 1960's...the Interstate might also been what claimed the Roundhouse as it was torn down after Mossberg moved out.
 Here is Mossberg's Sales Staff posing for a picture circa 1948.



In the early 1960's Mossberg moved up the I-91 corridor to North Haven (7 Grasso Ave. North Haven, CT). Marlin followed them a few years later.


Remington - UMC

Remington built this manufacturing plant in Bridgeport, Connecticut in 1915/1916.

The plant has a floor area of about 1,500,000 square feet. With all original buildings some references quote over 2,000,000 square feet. It consisted of thirteen interconnected buildings, each five stories high. The restaurant seated 800 people. The guard force numbered 300. It was said to be the largest manufacturing plant in the world at the time.

Located at 812 Barnum Ave, it was used by Remington for a number of years.

In 1920 the complex was sold to General Electric, this may have been due (at least in part) to Remington losing the contract to build M1895 Nagant Rifles for the Imperial Russian Army (the contract was given to Westinghouse-New England, who also suffered when the Russian's failed to pay what was owed).




After some fires, the buildings have slowly been removed






By August of 2012, everything was gone but the smashed bits of brick

down the street at 889 Barnum Ave, the Remington/Union Metallic Cartridge munitions plant

This is the shot tower


Again in the 70's


...and shortly before its destruction


 A Google Earth image of the site as it looks today


Starr Arms Company
The Starr family had been in the weapons business for two generations before Ebenezer Townsend Starr came along. His revolvers were well known for being durable and unique for being double action (long before Colt or S&W had created DA guns). Their revolvers and carbines served in the Civil War and contracts for both of them were executed by the Union Army and some states. The guns were produced in Yonkers New York from the late 1850's to the late 1860's (perhaps another company that couldn't survive without military contracts?).
The factory occupied the section of Vark Ave between South Broadway and Riverdale Ave.
I could not find a picture of the old factory which closed sometime around 1868. Here is an old picture of the inside of the factory I found online at the National Archives


I did find this map from 1868, which shows the property belonging to a J.P. Disbrow. My internet searches did not provide any info on a J.P. Disbrow.


In the 1880s, the property was purchased the Sisters of Charity of New York and Saint Joseph's Hospital was erected on the site. The hospital is still there, but no trace exists of the old arms factory


Auto-Ordnance Corporation
Originally founded in 1916, the goal was to provide WWI soldiers with a "trench broom" to effectively clear trenches of enemy combatants.
Unfortunately John Taliaferro Thompson's creation would not be ready for prime time before the war ended in November of 1918. I was not sure where his factory was located until I came across this advertisement with the actual street address of 1437 Railroad Ave. in Bridgeport



This is the Google Earth image of the address
Assuming the address is correct and Google Earth has not misdirected us, the location is now a vacant lot.


In the 1950's the remaining interest, parts, dies and machinery was purchased by Numrich Arms Company (aka Gun Parts Inc.) who continued to produce the Tommy Gun until the rights were purchased by Kahr Arms in 1999

Ithaca Gun Company
The W.H. Baker Company was founded in 1880 in Syracuse, New York. In 1883, they moved the company to the town of Ithaca and renamed the company after its new home: The Ithaca Gun Company.
The factory was built on a hill (later renamed Gun Hill) next to Fall Creek Water Falls.

 Ithaca guns were made here until the late 1970's when the company fell on hard times and changed hands a number of times. The guns are now built in Ohio.






The factory was condemned in 2006 and torn down

 

All that remains today is the parking lot and the smoke stack (Google Earth image). You can find it on Lake Street, just before you get to the falls.


Springfield Armory
For 174 years, Springfield Armory produced the weapons required to equip our military troops for war.
Situated on the Connecticut River, near supply lines but out of range of enemy warships, Springfield was selected as the site of the arsenal for the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War.
In 1794, President George Washington upgraded the Springfield plant to an armory charged with producing flintlock muskets. (rather than rely on privately owned guns as we did in the Revolutionary War)




The facility still exists as a National Historic Site, managed by the National Park System. The campus hosts an arms museum (the largest collection of shoulder arms outside Britain), as well as a college.

The Armory's production ended in 1968, turning to private contracts to fill the needs of the US Military.


Savage Arms
In 1897, Arthur Savage built this plant in Utica New York and built Savage and Fox guns here until 1946, the building was used for other things (including a mall), but now stands abandoned.






The building still stands

The building is on Bleecker Street in Utica, New York

J. Stevens Arms Co.
Joshua Stevens opened his production facility on a 15 acre lot in Chicopee Falls, Massachusetts in 1864. In 1920 J. Stevens Arms merged with the Savage Arms Co. and both names were used on the models produced at both factories. Eventually production was moved to the J. Stevens Arms plant.
During the Great War (1915-1918), the plant was turned over to the Westinghouse Corporation and used, under contract, to manufacture 1891 Mosin-Nagant Rifles for the Russian Army.
The facility was closed in 1960.




The J. Stevens Arms plant still survives, it sits where Grove, Church and Oaks streets meet in Chicopee Falls, MA...along the banks of the Connecticut River.

 Google Earth image, showing the size of the factory


Cranston Arms Company
The Johnson M1941 rifles were assembled in a portion of the Universal Windings building in the Auburn neighborhood of Cranston, Rhode Island The original building was built for the Atlantic Rubber Shoe Company, then used to build Maxwell automobiles just after the turn of the century. In 1914 Universal Windings moved into the building and in 1941 Melvin Johnson's Cranston Arms Co. used a portion of the building to assemble the Johnson M1941 Rifle
In late 1949 The Cranston Arms Company, due to lack of war contracts, was going bankrupt. Winchester purchased the company and even hired Melvin to work on special projects.

The building is now home to the Scott Brass Co. and still stands near the corner of 5th Ave. and Elmwood Ave. (1627 Elmwood Ave Cranston, RI 02919


Google Earth image
High Standard
Another large New England Arms maker was High Standard Manufacturing of Hamden, Connecticut.
The company opened its doors in 1926 and manufactured high quality, value priced guns in Hamden until 1968.

The factory buildings burned in a fire in 1999. The fire truck in the image below is parked at the main entrance (about where the word "great" is in the drawing above)


The factory used to sit at 1817 Dixwell Ave., a Home Depot now occupies the location, this is not far from the New Haven plants of Winchester, Marlin, Eli Whitney and Mossberg.

This picture shows the Home Depot from the sidewalk along Dixwell Ave. The old main entrance to the plant would have been just past the end of the black fence.


A Google Earth image showing the footprint of the Home Depot



Stoeger
Stoeger Arms opened its doors in 1924 and was the importer for a number of foreign arms makers. They also produced some pistols in America from their South Hackensack, New Jersey facility.



 Stoeger is also famous for printing firearms and hunting books including The Shooter's Bible

I am not sure when they began operations in South Hackensack, but the building is still there at 55 Ruta Court (just across Route 46 from the Teterboro Airport). Stoeger has since been purchased by Benelli Arms and is part of the Beretta Family of companies.



 Thompson/Center Arms
Thompson/ Center began life as the K.W. Thompson Tool Company. While searching for a new product to manufacture, they came across Warren Center who had designed a single shot, break open pistol.
In 1965 Warren Center joined K.W. Thompson to create the Thompson/Center Arms Co.
On January 4th, 2007, Smith & Wesson Holding Corporation purchased Thompson/Center Arms. On December 8th, 2010 S&W announced the Rochester, New Hampshire factory would be closed down and production moved to S&W's Springfield, MA plant.
Here is a picture of the plant before closing

By January of 2013, the buildings began to be demolished. Nothing remains today, just an empty lot.


Sturm, Ruger & Co.
This red building was the first factory for Sturm, Ruger & Company. It sits at 55 Station Street in Southport, next to the rail road tracks, just down the road from Ruger's headquarters. in early 1959 Ruger moved to the Lacey Place facility.

Here is what it looks like today, it was completely rebuilt a few years back.
Google Earth image


This last one is Sturm, Ruger & Company's 1 Lacey Place Southport Connecticut factory, while it is still occupied by the company as its primary headquarters, guns are no longer produced there. During the Summer of 1991, the remaining production was moved to the Newport, NH and Prescott, AZ facilities.

 The back side of the facility
The facility sits at 1 Lacey Place, Southport CT, right off Post Road.


One final picture, this one shows the proximity of some of the gun makers of New England (past & present)....including:

Remington - Ilion, NY
Savage - Utica, NY
Ithaca - Ithaca, NY 
Starr - Yonkers, NY
Henry Rifle Co. - Bayonne, NJ
Colt - Paterson, ,NJ
Colt - Hartford, CT
U.S.F.A. - Hartford, CT
Sharps - Hartford, CT
Billings & Spencer - Hartford, CT
Remington - Bridgeport, CT
Sharps - Bridgeport, CT
Winchester - New Haven, CT
Marlin - New Haven, CT
Marlin - North Haven, CT
Mossberg, New Haven, CT
Mossberg - North Haven, CT
Ruger - Southport, CT
Eli Whitney - Hamden, CT
High Standard - Hamden, CT
Meridian Arms, Meridian CT
Hopkins & Allen - Norwich, CT 
Charter Arms - Shelton, CT
Stag Arms - New Britain, CT
Connecticut Shotgun Mfg Co. - New Britain, CT
Robbins & Lawrence - Windsor, VT
Harrington & Richardson - Worcester, MA
Forehand & Wadsworth - Worcester, MA
Iver Johnson - Fitchburg, MA
Springfield Armory - Springfield, MA
Smith & Wesson - Springfield, MA
J. Stevens Arms - Chicopee Falls, MA 
Cranston Arms - Cranston, RI

This is a small sampling of the current and former gun makers in the New England area, click on the map for a larger version



Sources
The History Girl
The Forgotten Founders
Wikipedia
Smith & Wesson
Winchester Lofts
Hartford Business
Marlin Firearms: A History of the guns and the Company That Made Them by William S. Brophy 
CTPOST
skyscraper
machinegunboards
National Park System
US Army Ordnance
Oneida County History
24hour campfire
City of Chicopee
Hamden Fire Retirees
Google Earth
The Cabe 
Woodhaven Historic
Eli Whitney Museum
Hartford Landmarks 
Vermont Historical Society 
Connecticut Historical Society 
Johnson Automatics 
cardcow 
OF Mossberg & Sons Inc Facebook 
Vintage Machinery 
American Precision Museum 
Lisone Photography 
bobski at firearms talk




Here are the original comments:



8 comments:

  1. Thanks so much for compiling this information. As a gun-guy and history buff, I love the history of gun-making. And, no place in the country has that history like New England. My son went to school in Worcester, MA and I've been to the site of the Harrington and Richardson plant. Sad to see that the elegant old factory was razed to become a Walgreens. On our very first visit to Worcester, we stopped at Springfield Armory to tour the site.

    This weekend I was up in Providence, RI visiting my in-laws and i was thinking about the history of the old factories. I read some time ago that the Johnson Rife and LMG were made in Cranston, RI. If you want to add more information to your listing, here's a site with history and a pic of the old Cranston, RI factory: http://www.johnsonautomatics.com/History.htm
    Reply
  2. Thanks Joe! I followed up on your lead regarding the Johnson Rifles and have updated the blog.
    Reply
  3. Excellent. Thank you.
    Reply
  4. Outstanding for the valuable information. Information is knowledge, and knowledge is power. Power to make good decisions. With Power comes the responsibility to provide correct information. Forever grateful.

    True Blue and Diamond Hard
    Reply
  5. Very cool stuff, I am 35 years old and from Kansas born and raised. I love America and am Damn pissed about what is happening here. But my wife reminds me when I go on my rants to " Not worry about anything and Pray for everything" Thank you for the history
    Reply
  6. Excellent presentation.

    These pictures sadden me...not sure if it's because it is illustrative of the slow death that has set into the firearms industry or because it portends the nation's future...probably both.
    Reply
  7. The main building for the Providence Tool Company still stands.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rhode_Island_Tool_Company_building

    https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/6/65/Providence_Tool_Co.jpg
    Reply
  8. Pedersen Custom Guns was a division of O.F. Mossberg and attached to them at the 7 Grasso Ave location in North Haven, Ct. I was one of their gunsmiths. Circa 1973-1975.


1 comment:

  1. Awesome. Thanks for gathering and presenting all this fascinating info. Did you note how many of the arms makers also had cycling manufacturing. I wonder if it was because of similar manufacturing tools/experience or because the industries grew about the same time or just a coincidence.

    ReplyDelete