Industry in Preston
Industrial development in Preston has been limited in scope. Handcrafts were practiced at an early date, and water powered sawmills and gristmills were in use throughout the colonial period. The waterpower resources of Preston are restricted primarily to smaller streams. Large-scale industrial development occurred in Norwich rather than Preston. Industry did have an important role in the growth of both Poquetanuck and Hallville, however. Water powered gristmills and sawmills dotted the countryside of Preston in the 18th- and 19th-centuries. Iron making was an early industry centered at Poquetanuck. The first ironworks was established about 1707 by Samuel Whipple on Forge Brook (now either Cider Mill Brook or Joe Clark Brook), which forms the present boundary between Preston and Ledyard.
Another local industry which proved longer lasting was the manufacture of bricks. Naturally occurring deposits of clay along Brickyard Road were exploited fairly early in the 18th century. The Long Society schoolhouse was said to have been built of Preston brick before 1744. The demand for brick rose dramatically in the late 18th century. Norwich and New London both encouraged brick construction in their congested waterfront areas to reduce the risk of fire. By the 19th century, there were three brickyards on Brickyard Road: the Kimball yard, the Harris yard (later the Hewitt yard), and the Standish yard.
The major industrial base of 19th-century Preston was the woolen industry. The origins of the industry are to be found in the late 18th century. The Scholfield family from England set up a water-powered carding mill in Montville in 1793. Later, the family was instrumental in helping start other factories in Stonington, Waterford, and Jewett City. This new technology was soon introduced to Preston. Indeed, it is claimed that Isaiah Cook introduced the woolen industry from England in the late 18th century, providing cloth carded, spun, and reeled, then hand woven, to Washington's troops at Valley Forge.
Another activity which utilized local resources was the birch mill. This industry was inaugurated in the early years of the 20th century by Carl Reynolds, who set up operations in New London, Waterford, and Ledyard. Birch wood under two inches in diameter, either saplings or the tops of older trees, was chipped and then distilled to make birch oil. This product was used in aspirin, food flavoring, and perfume making.