Factory History (1848-1921)
Go to History of College Involvement (1921-1999)

History of the Henry Wood's Sons Company Paint Factory

This late nineteenth century "Maker of Fine Colors" was located on the western edge of the present Wellesley College Campus and encompassed approximately six acres. The site of the former factory, presently fenced, is bounded by Route 135 on the north, Paintshop Pond on the west, Lake Waban on the south, and the remainder of the College Campus to the east. Although the company was founded in 1837, it operated at this site near Lake Waban from around 1848 to some time after 1912. The College purchased the property in 1932 and razed the buildings a short time later. In the 1932 aerial view shown below, Paintshop Pond can be seen at the far right
 

Early newspaper articles described the Wood's Paint Works as an impressive sight as the entrance from Central Street Paint led to a large house for the Foreman of the Works with a second rooming house for out-of-town workers.

The long drive led both to the home of Mr. Wood and to the factory; the most impressive construction on the site was a free-standing smokestack shown both in the 1932 aerial view and in the 1911 letterhead at the top of this page. This stack, pouring smoke into the skies, represents the surrounding "industrialized" Wellesley in the background of the 1903 Schweinfurth architectural rendering of the plan for Hazard Quadrangle

Paint is a suspension of a finely ground pigment, the coloring material, in a liquid medium such as oil or water. The pre-mixed paint of today was unknown until the late nineteenth century. House painters of this era purchased the components separately and prepared the paint on site by grinding the pigments with the oil suspending medium. Throughout its operation, the Henry Wood's Sons and Company produced only the pigment component of paint; at one time, it made six tons daily.

One might speculate that the company's bankruptcy in 1921 was caused by their inability to compete successfully with manufacturers of ready-to-use paint such as Sherwin Williams. In its heyday, the factory was best known for its green pigments. In fact, the company logo, at right, includes "Marseilles Green" to describe its products. The green pigments, ranging from olive green to bright blue green, were made by mixing different proportions of yellow or orange pigments, produced on the site, with blue Prussian blue, Fe4[Fe(CN)6]3, brought to the company via a railway spur running across the Wellesley College campus as shown below this section of an 1894 USGS topographical quadrangle of Framingham, Natick, and Wellesley College.

Click on the map above to view the area where the railway spur ran.
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Our knowledge of the pigments produced comes from the history of data pigment production in the nineteenth century and residues found in test pit excavations as well as a few surviving company records. Archaeological excavations done under the direction of Professor Philip Kohl in the 1970's, (Rebecca Wetzel paper, #A59 in Library history list) of identified the yellow and orange colors found in waste piles as lead chromate, PbCro4, and basic lead chromate, PbCro4.Pb (OH)2, respectively. They also found evidence of Prussian blue at the site. An 1888 map of the factory shows yellow, green, and red shops clues to the pigment produced in each (Sanborn Map, 1888, p. 12 from the College Archives.) The portion of this map shown here contains the red and yellow shops as well as the brook (labeled "Trail Race" providing the running water needed for pigment manufacture), the railroad spur track, and Paintshop Pond (at the bottom).

A red pigment of the time, lead red, was generally prepared by oxidation of metallic lead. Lead chromate, commonly called chrome yellow, was made by mixing a solution of colorless lead acetate or lead nitrate, with ones of sodium dichromate (yellow) and sodium sulfate (colorless). The shade of the resultant solid precipitate varied depending on the proportions of lead chromate (school bus yellow) and lead sulfate (white). The lead and chromium contaminants found at the site today result from common nineteenth century practice of washing the pigment precipitates with a natural water source and disposing of the wastes on site.

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Sources and Further Readings:

  1. Report of Phase II Assessment of the former Henry Wood's Sons and Company Paint Factory Site, Wellesley College, Wellesley MA, November, 1987, GHR Engineering Associates, Inc., 109 Rhode Island Road, Lakeville, MA 02347. Reference #B2 in Library.
  2. Memo from Wilma Slaight to Barry Monahan outlining important dates concerning the Paint Mill, November 6, 1987, Reference #A64 in Library.
  3. "Wellesley History: Henry Woods was a Maker of Fine Colours" from The Wellesley Townsman, 1991 (February 21), p. 34. Reference #A72 in Library.
  4. Rebecca Wenzel paper on the analysis of materials from the Henry Wood's Sons and Company, 1976, #A59 in the Library Reference list.