Biography of Lucius Briggs
Lucius Briggs was born in Coventry, R. I., December 21st, 1825. He is the son of Wanton and Mary Tift Briggs, of Coventry, R. I. Wanton Briggs was the son of Jonathan Briggs, also of Coventry, who served in the revolutionary army from the beginning to the end of the war, taking part in many important, hard fought battles, and received an honorable discharge signed by General Washington himself. Mary Tift Briggs was the daughter of Solomon Tift, of Groton, Conn. He served the cause of his country during the revolutionary period on the ocean. He was taken prisoner and confined for months in the hulk known as the old Jersey prison ship, in New York harbor. The horrors endured by the prisoners is a matter of history.
Wanton Briggs was a farmer of Coventry, having a family of seven sons and three daughters. Cotton manufactories were then springing up all over New England, and particularly in Rhode Island, and he decided to leave his farm and locate in a factory village. He selected the village owned by the late Governor Harris in Coventry, and there he remained many years, bringing up his children to habits of industry, and a knowledge of the business three of them have so successfully followed. The subject of this sketch took his place in the mill as soon as his age permitted, and with only intervals to attend the village school, and one year in Smithville Seminary, of Smithville, R. I., followed the factory bell until nineteen years old, becoming proficient in all the branches of cotton manufacturing. He then took two years apprenticeship in building cotton machinery, followed by two years of repairing machinery in Governor Harris’ mill. The gold fever was now taking many young men to California, and Mr. Briggs and his brother, Wanton, Jr., decided to try their fortunes there. They sailed from Warren, R. I., in the ship ” Hopewell,” January 28th, 1849, and reached San Francisco August 9th. They spent two years in mining, teaming and trade, when Lucius decided to return, while his brother remained some years longer. Soon after his return, Mr. Briggs, in accordance with a previous engagement, married Harriet Taylor Atwood, of Warwick, R. I. Four children were born to them, two sons and two daughters. A boy and a girl died in infancy, leaving Charles W. Briggs, now in business in New York, and Evelyn Clara Cranska, wife of Floyd Cranska, a successful manufacturer of fine combed yarns, of Moosup, Conn. Soon after his return from California and marriage, Mr. Briggs went to Masonville, Thompson, Conn., to repair the machinery in the lower or wooden mill belonging to the Masonville Company. The machinery had become considerably worn, and the engagement of Mr. Briggs was expected to be temporary, only long enough to put it in order. But he liked the place, and at the solicitation of his employers, he remained, and in the following spring took charge of all repairs in the company’s three mills. So well pleased were the Masonville Company with Mr. Briggs’ services that a year later he was made superintendent of the mills, and local agent of all the company’s business and interests in the village. At this time William Mason of Thompson, owned a majority interest in the Masonville Company, and the late Hon. William Grosvenor of Providence, R. I., who married a niece of Mr. Mason, was agent, but with no direct interest in the company. In less than a year after Mr. Briggs became superintendent Doctor Grosvenor bought the entire interest of Mr. Mason, except one-sixteenth, which was purchased by Mr. Briggs. Doctor Grosvenor and his sons soon after bought all remaining interests except the sixteenth of Mr. Briggs.
These purchases marked an era in the history of the Masonville Company, and of the individuals interested. The property now consisted of three small mills, with less than 8,000 spindles and 189 looms. Everything about the mills, except the machinery in the two upper ones, was old fashioned and out of date. The water wheels were of wood and placed under the mills. The canals leading water to the wheels were narrow and insufficient. The races taking it away were shallow, losing a good percentage of the power of the water in getting to and from the wheels. But the situation for manufacturing was favorable, and while the time for such small mills and such equipments was rapidly passing away, the new owners of Ma-sonville bought more with reference to the future and what they could make of the property than for the present and what it then was. Quietly but rapidly, as prudence permitted, the property began to be modernized. Dams were rebuilt, canals and waterways were widened and deepened. The wood water wheels gave place to those of iron and bronze, placed outside of the mills. The two upper mills were built together, making one mill of 11,000 spindles, in place of two of 5,000. Later the wood mill at the lower fall was moved and changed to tenements, and a nice brick structure with 20,000 spindles of the very best patterns took the place of the 2,700 worn out ones, and the wood mill. This brought the 8,000 spindles and three mills to 31,000 spindles and two mills, and completed for the present the programme as far as that village was concerned. The village next above, called Fisherville, had a mill of 5,000 spindles and a large fall of water, less than half of which was developed. In 1864 Mr. Grosvenor and Mr. Briggs purchased the property and set about plans for its utmost development. .Further water rights were secured, and the pond enlarged from about 10 acres to 84, and the fall of water increased from 11 feet to 261. Immense embankments were raised for long distances, and at the approaches of the wheel pits the water was carried above grade, held in by high and heavy retaining walls.
An immense factory was built of brick, of splendid architectural designs, capable of holding easily 60,000 spindles and ample preparation. This mill was put in operation in 1872, bringing the number of spindles owned and operated by the company to about 96,000. In the meantime, and while these great changes were in progress, the names of “Fisherville” and “Masonville” had given place to “Grosvenor Dale” for the whole valley, including an unoccupied privilege between Masonville and Mechanicsville, and the young sons of Doctor Grosvenor, William and James, had completed collegiate courses and become partners in the company, and occupied important positions, William as an assistant to his father, and James as agent for the sale of the company’s products in New York.
The above seems more the history of a company than the individual, but it is impossible to write the history of one without the other. From the day of the new ownership to the close of his connection with the property in 1883, Mr. Briggs had full charge of manufacturing and building, and was the author of all plans and projects for developments and enlargements, and purchased all machinery and material of every kind, made all contracts for building, including mills, warehouses, and several hundred tenements for help employed in the mills. Doctor Grosvenor, while not a practical manufacturer, was one of the best business men ever raised in New England. With a judgment that almost never erred, with an enterprise that was tempered with caution, but which never hesitated or turned back from the greatest undertakings when his judgment had once approved them, his great means and resources made almost any undertaking possible. Mr. Briggs, from the moment he took the management of the mills, gave his -whole time and abilities to the conducting of the business and the development of the property. Year after year of intense and close application gradually impaired his health, and soon after the completion of the large mill at North Grosvenor Dale this became so marked that his physician ordered him abroad, and December 15th, 1875, with his daughter Evelyn for a companion, he sailed from New York for Liverpool, and spent six months in travel in England, France, Italy, and the East, visiting Alexandria, Cairo, and other points in Egypt, Constantinople and minor cities in Turkey, the Ionian Islands, Athens and the various interesting localities i n Greece. He returned in the following summer, much improved in health.
In 1883 it seemed necessary for the company to organize as a corporation. While agreeing fully as to the propriety of the change, Mr. Briggs did not wish to join the corporation, and an amicable arrangement was made by which he transferred his interest to Mr. Grosvenor. He is now (1889) half owner and manager of the Glasgo Yarn Mills, of Glasgo, Conn., a stockholder and director in the Norwich Bleach & Dye Works, an owner and director in the Glasgo Thread Company, of Worcester, Mass. He is also a large holder of the stock of the Ponemah Mills, near Norwich, Conn., one of the largest and finest plants for manufacturing fine cotton goods in America, if not in the world. For some years before leaving Grosvenor Dale Mr. Briggs was president of the flourishing Savings Bank of Thompson. In politics he has always been a republican. He has occupied seats in the house of representatives and the senate of Connecticut. During Mr. Briggs’ absence in Europe, his son, C. W. Briggs, occupied his place as superintendent of the mills at Grosvenor Dale and North Grosvenor Dale, with credit to himself and the satisfaction of the company. Mrs. Briggs died in 1886.