Tuesday, December 23, 2008
The Noble & Cooley Center for Historic Preservation
Dedicated to Celebrating Yankee Ingenuity
Tucked away in the foothills of the Berkshires is an intact factory with all the machinery necessary to manufacture toy and professional drums. SIA toured the factory during the 1988 Connecticut Valley Tour. The Southern New England Chapter visited the site for an in-depth inspection of the Company's manufacturing equipment in 2005.
In 1854 Noble & Cooley Company, located in Granville Massachusetts, began manufacturing drums. The area has a unique heritage in small-scale industry and in particular in producing vernacular solutions to technological problems. The local farmers, faced with diminishing returns in agriculture and shortages of labor, turned to mechanized manufacturing to survive.
Noble & Cooley is a surviving example of the manufacturing firms that were once plentiful in the remote valleys of New England. Silas Noble, a master mechanic, and James P. Cooley, an entrepreneur, started by making drums in Noble's farmhouse kitchen. The drums sold quickly and in 1856 they built their first factory. Business expanded during the Civil War when the Company produced drums for Northern regiments. During this period the factory expanded and the company switched over from waterpower to steam. By 1873 they were producing 100,000 drums a year. Around this time vernacular tooling, jigs and fixtures were introduced to cut labor costs and increase output. The Company developed proprietary technology in steam bending, decorating and assembly of drums.
At the turn of the 19 th century Noble & Cooley adapted the technology for manufacturing "tin" cans to making toy drums. A machine for printing up to eight colors sequentially was developed and built in the machine shop. Toy drums continued to sell and the company adapted to WWII materials restrictions by building paperboard drums. Mid-20 th century marketing strategies included licensing of Disney and Muppets characters to be printed on the drums to increase sales.
In recent years globalization and a changing market in children's playthings have eliminated the economic viability of large scale toy drum manufacturing. For the past 20 plus years the company has shifted focus to the manufacturing of very high quality professional snare drums and drumsets. The machinery and production space used to manufacture toy drums has been unused. The owners, descendants of the founders, believed that the Company was historically significant and should be preserved. They generously agreed to transfer ownership of some of the historic buildings and machinery to a non-profit organization with the objective of preserving the Company's history and manufacturing technology.
Local preservationists organized The Noble & Cooley Center for Historical Preservation (NCCHP), a 501 (c)3 non-profit corporation. The mission of the center is to preserve the regional history of manufacturing, agricultural pursuits, and rural crafts through acquisition and maintenance of significant historical buildings, machinery, historical collections and local artifacts. Initially, the focus will be on dynamic demonstrations of manufacturing toy drums. The corporation will also promote preservation and study of the acquired properties, collections, and artifacts and make them available to the public. The museum will be located within the historic buildings of Noble & Cooley Company on Water Street in Granville, Massachusetts.
The historical buildings will provide the space in which to build an educational facility to share the history of the region. The factory buildings retain much of the equipment that was used to manufacture toys from the 1850's through the 1950's. The museum will also preserve and demonstrate the progression of factory power sources from water to steam to electricity. The rural character of western Massachusetts will be represented in displays of farming and logging techniques of the 19 th century. The center will be a showcase of the "Yankee Ingenuity" that enabled the local area to prosper.
at December 23, 2008
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