For “Fun” (season 3, episode 7), Weekends with Yankee traveled to Shelton, Connecticut, to visit the first and only Wiffle Ball factory, to see how those magical little sphere balls are made. Here, Yankee associate editor Joe Bills rounds up six noteworthy New England factory tours.
The long history of innovation is never more apparent than when you’re standing where the work is being done. There are dozens of companies across New England that open their production facilities to visitors on a regular or semi-regular basis. While this list only scratches the surface, read on to learn about our favorite New England factory tours.
Step back in time for a taste of how soda used to be made. Sherman Avery began making bubbly water in this same red barn in 1904, delivering his wares by horse-drawn wagon. He soon became known for his cream soda, birch beer, root beer, and ginger ale. Today, Avery’s lineup has expanded considerably, but the small-batch techniques and traditional ingredients remain. Tours here are a hands-on affair, with visitors to the mixing room encouraged to create new flavors as syrup is measured into each hand-shaken bottle. You’ll even go home with some bottles of your own soda creation and a souvenir soda maker’s apron.
In 1884, British yarn spinner Uriah Jagger was hired by the Goodall-Sanford Mills in Sanford, Maine, so he moved to America with his wife and two sons. Twenty years later, those sons, Samuel and Fred Jagger, launched the company that still bears their name. In 1956 the company moved into a former Goodall-Sanford building in Springvale, where it’s been producing high-quality worsted spun yarn ever since. The focus of this fourth-generation family business remains much the same as in the beginning: transforming bales of fiber into dyed, heathered, and natural-colored yarns spun both from 100 percent wool as well as from natural and synthetic fiber blends. Tours are typically conducted on the fourth Wednesday of the month, and reservations are required.
When Henry Mason and Emmons Hamlin founded their company in Boston in 1854, they had a singular goal: to make the world’s finest musical instruments. Starting with their newly imagined “organ harmonium,” they moved on to cabinet organs before adding pianos to their lineup in 1881. With their attention to detail, fine materials, and low production numbers, Mason & Hamlin’s pianos soon had a reputation for being among the most expensive, and best, pianos in the world. Factory tours are conducted on Wednesdays but must be scheduled in advance. There is a $10 admission charge. After spending some time watching the Mason & Hamlin artisans work their magic, stop off at the sixth-floor showroom for a look at the completed product. You’ll never see a piano the same way again.
You don’t get to be one of the nation’s longest-running businesses unless you are excellent at what you do. In the case of Kenyon’s, that means grinding grain and corn into meal and flour. And they do it more or less the same way they’ve been doing it since 1696, with locally quarried granite millstones. Formerly powered by the Queen River on whose banks it sits, the mill was converted to electric power in the 1930s. The current building is also comparatively new — it’s been the base of operations only since 1886. Today, Kenyon’s is probably best known for its johnnycake meal, but the bread mixes, clam cake mixes, pancake mixes, and brown bread mixes draw raves as well. Although private tours can sometimes be arranged by calling in advance, your best bet is to watch for one of the tour weekends held each year.
Cheese making has been a tradition on Crowley Farm since 1824, but it was 1882 when Winfield Crowley formalized the operation by constructing the factory that’s still in use today. In making one of the first Vermont cheeses to be widely exported, Crowley planted many of the early seeds of the state’s great cheese reputation. Visitors to the factory will see cheese being made from the same recipes used by Winfield Crowley himself. Because making cheese by hand is an all-day process, the portion of the work you see will be dictated by the time of day of your visit. Tours should be scheduled in advance.
Originally founded as Mount Washington Glass Company in 1837, Pairpoint is America’s oldest glass company. It has long had a reputation for producing some of the finest glass to be found anywhere, and its wares are included in the collections of more than 30 museums. Casual visitors can watch through a window as glassblowers use traditional tools and techniques, but for a real treat, call in advance to arrange a walk through the manufacturing floor, where you can meet the craftspeople and feel the heat for yourself.