Old Schwamb Mill

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Old Schwamb Mill

The oldest continuously-operating mill site in the United States, the Old Schwamb Mill is a rare survivor of New England’s manufacturing past. It continues to function as a working mill creating hand-turned wooden oval frames today, using much of the same equipment that the Schwamb brothers used since 1864.

In 1864, the present Mill building became what it is today: a manufactory dedicated to the production of the highest-quality oval and circular frames for displaying pictures, mirrors, and family keepsakes. It was in that year that the Mill was purchased by brothers Charles and Frederick Schwamb, who were immigrant woodworkers from Germany. In that year, the Schwambs, along with John Frederick Bitzer, a fellow German-born millwright, converted the Mill into a state-of-the-art woodworking shop.

In the post-Civil War years, when photography became universally popular, family portraits in oval frames produced at the Mill soon graced the homes of hundreds of thousands of American mansions, homes, and farmhouses. A particular favorite was an oval portrait frame of rich black walnut with a delicate gold-leaf liner.

With the new power sources being used came new machines capable of mass producing miles of straight frame mouldings as well as oval and circular frames using woods including cherry, birch, walnut, maple, and the exotic mahogany from the West Indies. For all gold-leafed frames, the Schwamb Mill crafted the base frame out of basswood originating in North American forests, which were kiln-dried in their own dryhouse, which still sits on the Mill complex.

For 105 years, the Schwamb’s business prospered. Through the first 70 years of the 1900s, Schwamb frames and mouldings were sold to galleries and art museums throughout the U.S. and Canada as well as to framers, artists, and photographers The Schwamb name always stood for the highest quality.

Today, Schwamb frames and mouldings still may be seen in many art museums in the United States, as well as in the collections of the White House, Buckingham Palace, and Iolani Palace in Honolulu, and in the collection of Queen Sylvia of Sweden.