Week 4: Denison Wood Planes Factory – Winthrop

Jul 15, 2021 | Event, News

This week’s challenge will take you to Winthrop to find a spot where the Denison Factory once was. It’s a great opportunity to stay and have a slice of pizza (hint hint). The G.W. Denison Factory was located on Route 80 in Winthrop and burned to the ground in 1910. Stop by this historic area and snap a photo of the Falls River. The new exhibit “From Wharf to Waterfall” at the Stone House has a large display of these wood planes with maps and photographs. Stop by to check it out. 

Winthrop was originally called Sayville and was later named after Governor John Winthrop Jr. (1606 to 1676). 

A small community of Baptists were the first to settle in this area and in 1744 built their church, which is still active today. One of the earliest sawmills established in the area was Bushnell’s Sawmill located nearest the source of the Deep River. 

John Denison arrived with his family from England in 1769 and his grandsons, Lester and John established their factory in 1832. The brothers entered into a lease agreement with Job Bulkley for $5.00 a year to erect and maintain a factory on the site near the head of the Deep River. The factories established by these two brothers had a significant impact on the Winthrop community, not only creating manufacturing jobs in an area not well suited to agriculture but making a product that every man needed in his toolbox. John and Lester manufactured joiner planes in a variety of shapes and sizes.

These wood planes were used for fitting, shaping, and finishing wood. Every carpenter in the 19th Century had to own several sizes of joining and smoothing planes as well as 30 or 40 moulding planes to perform a variety of tasks. Multipurpose planes were not produced until about 1870.  Planes were produced from a wide variety of woods. The Winthrop plane makers not only bought local timber but imported woods such as beechwood, boxwood, and rosewood from Africa, Asia, and South America. They also used Lignum-vitae an imported wood from the Caribbean and the northern coast of South America. The wood was chosen for its ability to lubricate itself and the fact that it will not swell when wet or moist. Ebony from western Africa was also used in these products. Materials were chosen for their particular qualities for specific uses, rather than for easy fabrication or a cheap price.          

John Denison was producing 1,750 planes annually with five employees. By 1860, the business had expanded to include eight employees producing 12,000 planes a year. 

Lester E. Denison, after leaving the partnership with his brother, established his home and mill on the main street in Winthrop at the head of the waters on the Falls River. He advertised the manufacture of ship bungs, wedges, and wood turnings. After Lester’s death in 1866, his shop was passed to his adopted son Gilbert W. Denison who began manufacturing wood planes under the name G.W. Denison & Co. In 1885, Gilbert Denison was manufacturing joiners, plows, and moulding planes of “superior quality.” The business had been family-run for 52 years. Unfortunately, his mill burned to the ground in 1910. The G.W. Denison Factory was located on Route 80 in Winthrop. In 2021, this area is behind the Grande Pizza Restaurant.  

Post your photos to Facebook and win a gift certificate from Grande Pizza. Also, stop by the Stone House to see the exhibit of wood planes made by these pioneers. 

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