Our History

The History of Phoenix Park

From cotton manufacturing, to production of rope, to a modern business park


The religious community known as the Shirley Shakers laid the foundation for a cotton mill on the banks of the Catacunemaug. The brick building was to be 140 feet long, 50 feet wide, and 3 stories high, plus an attic which was to be filled with machinery, plus a water tower with bell tower bell.


They completed construction of the factory building. They later added three tenement buildings for families. These were each two stories high and had space for four families. There was also a three story high boarding house for single workers, and an office. The complex was rented to the Steam Mill Company of New Bedford who adopted the name of the Phoenix Cotton Manufacturing Company (The Diary of Samuel Rodman 1821).


Nearly 200 Shakers from Shirley and Harvard held an all day meeting to dedicate the building.


The Steam Mill company installed all the equipment and leased the building from the Shakers. The tail race that ran parallel to the Brook was dug and lined with elms all the way down to where it joined the Nashua River. Later in 1852 – The Shakers cooperated with other Shirley Village mill owners to build a dam and create a seven hundred acre reservoir, upstream on the Lunenburg-Shirley line.


The dam at Lake Shirley broke, destroying bridges, mills, and homes. The Shakers and other partners in the reservoir company were held liable and the Shakers went into debt so they sold the mill to the New Bedford Company.


The tax valuation showed that Phoenix Cotton Manufacturing owned 72 acres of land.


The town map showed that Phoenix Cotton Manufacturing owned buildings on Phoenix Street, the old Main Street, and the new Front Street. Some of these were storage facilities next to the train tracks. Others were housing for workers or for executives.


The tax and valuation listed the owner as Horatio Hathaway of New Beford.


The mill and associated property was bought by C.W. and J.E. Smith who owned the Fredonian Cotton Mill, a short distance upstream.

Meanwhile, in Boston...


James P. Tolman began making braided cord.


The trademark “Samson” was first put on solid braided rope being manufactured in a small factory in Fort Hill Square in Boston.


The trademark of Samson and the Lion was registered to illustrate the superior quality and characteristics of the product.

Back to Shirley


Chandler wrote his History of Shirley and mentioned the many immigrants from Ireland, Canada, Poland, Lithuania, and Russia who had moved into the area to work in the Shirley mills. By 1895 one fourth of Shirley’s population was foreign-born.


Samson Cordage Works was incorporated by James P. Tolman, its first President. The business moved its manufacturing to Shirley while keeping its offices in Boston. Herbert G. Pratt was the treasurer.


Samson bought Fredonian Mill — It may have been at this time that the Fredonian Mill building was used as a power plant for the main Samson factory.


Anniston Cordage Company of Alabama was acquired by Samson. Samson had the largest investment and the largest production in the cordage industry


Samson extended Chapel Street, laid out Tolman Ave. and Rodman Ave. and constructed duplexes to be rented to families of mill workers. They put steps into the hillside so workers could cross the dam and go up the hill to go home for lunch.


Icard Cordage MFG CO. of North Carolina was acquired by Samson.


Until World War II, the rope was made of cotton. Then they started using synthetics here. The cotton machinery was moved to the southern factories.


Two in One braid was invented.


The old tenements were knocked down to create parking spaces.


Ocean Systems of England and Scotland was added.


The name was changed to Samson Ocean Systems.


Ensearch Corporation of Texas acquired Samson Ocean Systems. It had six divisions serving the hardware trade and general industry.


The 100th year anniversary of the Samson trademark, the oldest trademark in continuous use in the United States, was celebrated with a parade and special programs.


The Shirley plant employed 80 hourly employees and about 45 others. Ensearch was sold to a management team headed by its President Stephen Swiackey. The decision was made to close the Shirley plant. The workers were offered the chance to move and work at the other factories in Anniston, Alabama or Ferndale Washington. For many years, Ted Norman served as caretaker for the old Ocean Systems buildings. Minimum maintenance was done during that time.

December 1998 to Current

18 Phoenix Park LLC “Phoenix Park” was formed and purchased the property. The buildings and property have undergone a multi-million dollar restoration. Today, Phoenix Park is the home to over 60 companies representing a wide range of traditional and new economy business sectors.