Most local history buffs are aware that we had a plush mill in Ferry Village, but may not know many details about it. The site, which is now home to RiverPlace Apartments off of Mussey Street, was long home to a factory complex. Most people referred to that complex as the former “bicycle factory” where the John P. Lovell Arms Company manufactured their popular Lovell Diamond bicycles.

We’ll look a little more into the Lovell Arms factory next week, but let’s take a look this week at the plush mill that was the first business to occupy that site.

The original Portland Plush Mill building, in 1893, was 226 feet long and 83 feet wide. The brick building had a stone foundation to ensure that the finished plush product wasn’t affected by vibrations. South Portland Historical Society image

The idea for the creation of a plush mill goes back to the McKinley Tariff Act of 1890. After that act was passed, it resulted in a significant increase in duties on imports, and there was a corresponding increase in the cost of imported plush used in the manufacture of upholstered furniture, car seats, and other products.

Enter Portland businessman Isaac C. Atkinson, president of the large department store Atkinson House Furnishing Company on Middle Street in Portland. The department store sold a wide variety of furniture, including upholstered furniture covered in silk seal plush, a faux-fur fabric. Atkinson knew Walter Ackroyd who ran a plush mill in Bradford, England, that made silk seal plush. Knowing that Ackroyd would have the skills needed to operate a plush mill here, Atkinson embarked on a grand plan to:  1.) line up investors to raise capital; 2.) build a large factory building in the Portland area; and 3.) purchase the mill machinery from the Bradford mill and move it to the factory building here to create a plush-manufacturing industry.

The area that he identified for the mill was the point of land known as “Mussey Farm Point” in Cape Elizabeth (South Portland). On Nov. 25, 1891, he purchased much of what had been known as the “Mussey Farm” from Margaret Sweat (daughter of John Mussey) and her husband L.D.M. Sweat. The land on which the mill would be built was to the west of what is now Mussey Street and, at that time, was just a large, boggy, open area.

Atkinson then let it be known that, if the capital could be raised, he would donate 80,000 square feet of this land (almost 2 acres) to the new mill company, along with 6,000 yards of stone needed to construct the foundation for the mill, along with wharf privileges. He attended numerous private and public meetings to raise awareness of the plan and to inspire local people to invest in the mill and in the concept of local manufacturing.


Isaac C. Atkinson South Portland Historical Society image

On March 5, 1892, the company was formally organized as the Portland Plush Mill Company, with $200,000 in capital, divided into 2,000 shares. The first officers elected included: former Maine governor Frederick Robie, president (Robie was Maine’s 39th governor, in office from Jan. 3, 1883, to Jan. 5, 1887); Charles A. Tilton, founder of C.A. Tilton & Co. hardware of Ferry Village, was elected as the company’s treasurer and clerk; and Isaac Atkinson was elected as one of the company’s directors.

The work of constructing the facility began immediately. In late March, a pile driver arrived to begin work on the wharf. The piling for the wharf would come from woods in Cape Elizabeth. The logs would be delivered to the old shipyard in Knightville where they would be shaped, finished and floated across Mill Cove to the new wharf site.

Isaac Atkinson did exactly as he had promised – on April 13, 1892, he transferred 80,000 square feet of his land to the Portland Plush Mill Company (he would transfer more adjacent land to the company in August of that year, as well). Also in April, 1892, the company awarded the contract for construction of the foundation of the mill to J.H. Flannagan of Portland. The contract for brickwork was awarded to James Cunningham in May. Spencer Rogers of Portland was awarded the contract for the building in May.

By September, 1892, construction of the factory building was nearing completion. The boiler and smoke stack, which had been fabricated by the Portland Company, were towed across the Fore River to the mill. Walter Ackroyd, now officially employed as the general manager of Portland Plush Mill, was overseas with former Gov. Robie, where they lined up the purchase of the manufacturing equipment from the B. Wright & Co. plush mill in Bradford, England. That mill had shut down due to the Tariff Act. The equipment started arriving in South Portland in October and installation began. In November and steam was turned on for the first time in the mill.

According to an article in the Portland Daily Press on Jan. 30, 1893, “The plush mill turned out its first piece of plush last week and since then two looms have been in constant operation. It is expected all of the 26 looms will be at work this week.”

On Feb. 2, 1893, the plush mill held a celebration that was reported in the Portland Daily Press on the following day: “Yesterday, in a splendid mill, within sounds of the humming of looms, under the glare of electric lights manufactured by a Portland firm, and in the radiance of the expansive smiles of scores of Portland’s business men, Mr. Atkinson told how the series of school house lectures had borne fruit. As he spoke, plush was being manufactured within 50 feet of where he stood, and the delighted men, matrons and maids of Cape Elizabeth were feasting their eyes upon the process.”


The machinery in the building allowed for the production of both seal plush or car plush, so there was certainly no problem with the facilities. Rather it was a problem with insufficient financing that spelled the end for the company so soon after it had started. Even at the opening celebration, Atkinson pointed out to attendees that they still needed to raise another $25,000 in working capital. The treasurer, Charles Tilton, commented on the skill of Walter Ackroyd and other workers, but that “a little assistance in the way of working capital” was needed.

Unfortunately, after having invested in the construction of the factory building, and the purchase and installation of the machinery, little was left to fund the purchase of raw materials and the labor expenses needed to turn out finished product. Even though they had plenty of orders in hand, the company was unable to make ends meet. Facing insolvency in April, 1893, the company made an assignment for the benefit of creditors and former Gov. Robie was named as the assignee. An attempt to auction the company off later in the year was unsuccessful as they were unable to receive the minimum bid. The factory was left vacant.

We’ll continue the story of the plush mill factory next week, when we look at how the patent of a motor bicycle by a Portland inventor led to the large John P. Lovell Arms Company coming to South Portland.

Note: South Portland Historical Society offers a free Online Museum with over 15,000 images available for viewing with a keyword search, and we are adding new content regularly. You can find it at and, if you appreciate what we do, feel free to make a donation by using the donation button on the home page. If you have photographs or other information to share about South Portland’s past, we would love to hear from you. South Portland Historical Society can be reached at 207-767-7299, by email at, or by mail at 55 Bug Light Park, South Portland, ME 04106.

Kathryn Onos DiPhilippo is executive director of the South Portland Historical Society. She can be reached at

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