Dexter Ballou was born in 1787 in Cumberland, Rhode Island. He is the older brother to another important Woonsocket manufacturer - George C. Ballou. The Ballou family entered the textile business while it was still dominated by amateurs. Oliver Ballou, Dexter and George's father, began spinning in 1814 in a small mill in Ashton, Rhode Island. He began with 5 carding machines, all built by Dexter, and 3 spinning frames with 84 spindles each. In 1817, Oliver and Dexter moved their business to the Woonsocket Falls Village, an area in Woonsocket now known as Market Square.
Dexter and his father operated mills in the Market Square area of Woonsocket until 1827 when his father retired. At that time, the business was sold ¾ to Dexter and ¼ to his brother Hosea. Dexter bought out Hosea in 1828 and the company was renamed Dexter Ballou and Company. Hosea operated mills in Blackstone and on Main Street in Woonsocket.
In 1829, tragedy struck Dexter Ballou when his mill in Market Square was completely destroyed by fire. Undaunted, Dexter resumed operations in a brick mill on Main Street originally built by his brother Hosea. In 1835, fire struck again, this time destroying several buildings adjacent to Dexter's brick mill. Dexter took advantage of the vacant space and erected a stone mill, eventually connecting it to his earlier brick mill. This mill, built in the Greek Revival style with a wooden stair tower, still stands on Main Street. In 1982, it was also converted to apartments as part of the Hanora Lippitt Manor complex.
In 1841, Ballou purchased the Social Mill estate and erected a fine stone mill to replace their old wooden buildings. Dexter ran the Social Mill, his mills on Main Street and the Woonsocket Falls Bank until his death in 1849. He was one of the early pioneers of textile manufacturing in Woonsocket.
Thanks to the Woonsocket Call for featuring my presentation on Dexter and George Ballou at the Museum of Work & Culture on February 4, 2007.
This site utilizes information from:
For Woonsocket residents, these books are available at the Woonsocket-Harris Public Library.
- The Ballous in America written by Adin Ballou and printed by E. L. Freeman & Sons, Providence, RI in 1888.
- Woonsocket - Highlights of History 1800-1976 written by Alton Pickering Thomas, MD and published by the Woonsocket Opera House Society in 1973.
- Statewide Historic Preservation Report for Woonsocket, Rhode Island published by the Rhode Island Historic Preservation Commission in September, 1976.
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