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Rossie Velvet Mill

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The Collections Research Center at Mystic SeaportWhen the McKinley Tariff of 1890 imposed a high duty on goods imported into the U.S., three German brothers named Rossie built a factory here to produce high-quality velvet. They opened the Rossie Velvet Company in 1898. Many German immigrants, including skilled velvet workers, moved to Mystic to work in the mill. They brought a German social and cultural flavor to this formerly Yankee shipbuilding and woolen-mill community. For decades, the Rossie Mill was Mystic’s largest employer.

The original 150-by-60-foot building is the northwest portion of the present structure, along Greenmanville Avenue (Route 27). Five additions between 1902 and 1932 enlarged the building to its present size of 153,000 square feet, or 3.5 acres.

At its peak, the mill employed more than 200 workers, operating 150 looms. The work was hard, noisy, and repetitive, but a skilled craftsman, such as a loom fixer, could earn respectable wages. According to a former employee, the Rossie Velvet Company was “a nice place to work.” Annual company outings and picnics suggest a community spirit within the mill.

The velvet mill remained in operation until 1958. By then, cheaper labor in the South made it hard for New England textile mills to compete. The machinery and fixtures were shipped to South Carolina to resume operation there. When the J. Rossie Velvet Company was dissolved in 1965, the building was leased to a number of enterprises before Mystic Seaport acquired it in 1973. As part of the Museum’s renovation of the mill, the huge steam boilers were removed. The saw-tooth roof, which was designed to shed north light on the working floor, leaked from the beginning. It has been replaced, although the building façade was saved in the effort to give this mill a new life as a modern research and collections storage facility for Mystic Seaport.

The Collections Research Center opened in 2001. Although it is not open for casual visitation, researchers and visitors who need information or access to specific parts of the collections are welcome to contact the appropriate office to schedule a visit.