The long vanished gristmill on Miller's Lane
As the population of colonial Shawomet grew, some small but important industries were developed that played a key role in providing the necessities and conveniences of everyday life.
One essential feature of the community was a mill for grinding dried corn into corn meal. The gristmill was located in North Somerset during the 1700's, a time when wheat was unavailable and corn bread was a staple of everyone's diet. The miller in Shawomet required a license, and, because he held a monopoly on a vital service, the prices he could charge for his services were fixed by law. A lingering memory of
still lives on in familiar street names: Whetstone Hill and Miller's Lane, known long ago as Jonny Cake Lane.
Iron was another commodity in great demand by local people in all walks of life. The farmer's wooden hoes and spades were iron tipped; housewives cooked with iron utensils; blacksmiths hammered out iron nails, anchors, and hinges along with the tools that built ships and farms alike. The Taunton Iron Works flourished to the extent that iron was used as currency; both taxes and schoolteachers in Taunton were paid with iron bars.
But there is evidence that the famous Taunton Iron Works did not supply all of our local needs. A deed dated January 29th, 1725, shows that on that date, "Jacob Hathaway of Freetown and Isaac Chace, Shawomet yeoman" bought half interest in an already established forge and "Iron Works." The site, according to the deed, was located on three acres of land along both sides of Lee's River. In addition to the forgotten Shawomet Iron Works, the humming Lee's River neighborhood was the location of Samuel Lee's shipyard and a thriving town landing. The new landing provided farmers from south Somerset with the means to ship an ever increasing volume of products down river to the bay and beyond.
Shawomet even had a small shoemaking industry that met the need for good footwear. There were at least two independent shoemakers in the community, and a leather tannery was located at an early date on Bark Street in Swansea. Colonial farmers, sailors, and tradesmen wore cowhide boots, and quality materials were assured by an 18th-century form of consumer protection. Every March, the town appointed a Sealer of Leather, and all shoemakers were forbidden to use any skins did not meet the Sealer's standards. Again, names of places tend to linger. According to an old tradition, Bark Street derived its name from the practice of dumping the bark used in the tanning process into the street.