Image: An old stone mill, Clinton, NJ. It now is the home of the Hunterdon Art Museum. Originally a grist mill, the structure was rebuilt in 1836 after it suffered a fire. This is the type of building Josiah Norton would have repurposed for his mills and factory.
In my work in progress, A Balm in Gilead, a typhoid fever epidemic breaks out in one of the dormitories at the Norton woolen mill and uniform factory. This of course is a problem for industrialist Josiah Norton, who owns the mill and the factory. The more ill people take up room in his dormitories, the less space to house new workers.
Before we go on, here’s a little bit about the industrialists of the 1800s-early 1900s. They took the new innovations of their era (steam, rail, and others) and mass-produced clothing, pumped oil, dug coal, built railroads, expanded shipping, and went into real estate. The rise of the industrialists, also known as robber barons, occurred after the Civil War during the Second Industrial Revolution (from 1870 to 1914), but their roots lay in the First Industrial Revolution (from 1760 to around 1820-1840).
Next to the giants of the Gilded Age – Vanderbilt, Astor, Rockefeller, and Carnegie to name a few – Josiah Norton of the Saint Maggie series is small potatoes. The Gilded Age will not begin its reign for another six years. I like to think of Josiah as a harbinger of what is to come.
He owns several mills in Paterson (eastern New Jersey), one of the early mill towns in the state. But Josiah goes one step further and heads to western New Jersey to start a mill and uniform factory during the Civil War. He then purchases the property on which Maggie’s old boarding house once stood and constructs the town’s first, rather swanky hotel. A legend in his own mind, Josiah dreams of turning the sleepy burg of Blaineton into a metropolis with him at its center.
Our Mr. Norton is a rapacious and focused man, so much so that he has little in the way of empathy for his employees. He is officious, ostentatious, and doggone annoying. And he is a perfect foil for Eli Smith, the crusading editor of The Blaineton Register. In fact, Josiah starts butting heads with Eli nearly the minute the two meet, an event that occurs in Seeing the Elephant.
Now, in September of 1864, Josiah finds himself with the perplexing problem of what to do with workers who have developed typhoid fever. Naturally, he wants to shove them out of the way and put new workers into the dormitories so the production of woolen cloth and uniforms can continue with as little interruption as possible.
Josiah’s plans do not go down well with the town’s doctors, Fred Lightner and Lydia Frost (Maggie’s eldest daughter). So, the first way to annoy an industrialist is get in the way of his business.
In today’s installment, still a rough draft, Josiah puts his foot down, only to have the town’s doctors step on it.
Coming this weekend: How to Irritate an Industrialist, Step 2.
Janet R. Stafford
Janet Stafford, Squeaking Pips Founder