Plymouth Cordage Heritage District

Plymouth Cordage Heritage District

Designation Reasons

Prepared by Nora A. Reid, M.A

REASONS FOR DESIGNATION

Welland’s genesis as factory town occurred in 1898 when the Frost Wire Fence Company of Cleveland built a plant here, but the “boom years” really began with the decision of the Plymouth Cordage Company of Massachusetts to build a branch plant here in 1905. During the next five years twenty-two more factories followed, turning Welland into a major industrial town.

When the first labourers arrived from Plymouth, Massachusetts to start up the new Plymouth Cordage branch plant in Welland, their homes were ready for them. The company had purchased a roughly rectangular plot of land surrounding the new Plymouth Cordage plant, bounded by Lincoln Street, the Welland Canal, the Michigan Central Railway and the Canadian National Railway. When purchased, the land was occupied by three farmsteads, and the company maintained the three houses as residences in the initial years as well as one of the farms where they grew wheat and raised horses (later the site of First Street School). A large labour camp was moved in to build the Cordage houses and workers lived in tents on the site. By 1905, when the Plymouth employees arrived in Welland, the quadriplex homes along King Street and duplex homes on Plymouth Road were waiting for them. The duplex houses on First Street were erected about a year later. Some of the houses were boarding houses for single men. The Plymouth Road and First Street houses were reserved for foremen. The last Cordage houses built were the quadriplexes along Lincoln Street in 1918.

Wages at the Cordage were lower than at other industries but the benefits provided by the Company outweighed this. One of the greatest of these was the housing. The Company charged very cheap rent and provided all the services necessary for maintenance of the homes, having is own plumbers, electricians and painters who did repair work. The employees could buy coal and wood at a discount from the plant. The Cordage kept the roads plowed in the winter and even offered for the best kept lawns and flower beds and for vegetables and chickens raised (at that time most of the occupants of the Cordage homes had a chicken coop in the backyard).

Other benefits provided by the Company included generous pension benefits and from 1920 a Recreation Centre on Plymouth Road that offered kindergarten, sewing and wood shop for the children (the Company provided the materials and children could keep their completed projects) as well as bowling alleys, pool tables, lawn bowling, tennis, etc. Plymouth Cordage was the first company in Canada to have its own Industrial Nurse who went from house to house at regular intervals examining the children and looking after their family’s general health. All these benefits engendered great loyalty among Cordage employees and often two or three generations of the same family worked in the plant.

Although there were one or two Italian residents in Welland during the 19th century, there were none here during the first years of the twentieth century before Plymouth Cordage opened its branch plant in Welland. Cordage employees from Massachusetts who recruited to Welland to start up the new plant established the core of Welland’s present Italian community between 1905 and 1909. These were mainly northern Italians who had emigrated to the U.S. beginning about 1880 seeking work, and also second generations of these families who worked at the plant in Plymouth. To ease translation difficulties, the company made sure that one of the four original foremen when the plant opened here was Italian. Employees were also encouraged by the company to ask relatives or countrymen to come to Welland. All were guaranteed jobs as there was a severe shortage of plant workers during the initial years up to the beginning of World War I. Because of the numbers of   Italians who came to Welland to work at the Cordage plant, the Plymouth Cordage houses became the centre of the first ethnic Italian neighbourhood in Welland.1

The remaining Plymouth Cordage houses are an example of Welland’s first and only planned industrial community, a reminder of the Company whose location here in 1905 started Welland’s greatest period of industrial development, and the location of Welland’s first ethnic Italian community. As such they have distinct heritage significance for the City of Welland.

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