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The Boltons of Bronxdale

One of the greatest industries along the Bronx River may have had its origin in a duel.

The Boltons were a prominent old family in Lancashire, England in the early 1800s, when the town of Bolton-le-Moors grew into a prime location for the textile industry, eventually hosting over a dozen bleaching and dying factories. Family legend has it that after James Bolton fought a duel over the attentions of a young lady, he fled to New York thinking he had fatally wounded his rival. Ever the sharp-eyed businessman, he soon saw an opportunity beconing here. America’s new cotton mills were turning out abundant textiles, but there were few who knew how to turn the newly-woven fabrics into finished cloth fit for fashionable clothing.

Even though word came that his opponent was alive and not pressing charges, James decided to remain in New York and set up his business here. After a brief visit home, he returned in 1818 and set about to search for a good location. He was drawn to Bronxdale where the waters of the “never failing” Bronx River could be depended upon to power his mills, as well as supply plentiful clean water for bleaching and dyeing operations. Together with two partners he organized the Bronx Bleaching and Manufacturing Company in 1823, built what we call the “Twin Dams” along today’s Mitusubshi River Walk by the Bronx Zoo, and set about turning “grey goods” from the mills of Massachusetts into crisply bleached cloth and smartly dyed fabrics. His nephew, confusingly also called James, came over in 1829 and set up his own factory on the west bank of the river turning out cotton tape.

The Bolton mills, locally known as “the Bleach,” remained in operation until 1889, when they moved to West Farms. Little trace remains of them today, nor of the grand stone house the Boltons built by the corner of Boston Road and Bronx Park East, but the family saved its cornerstone, eventually taking it to their new home in Connecticut.

Stephen Paul DeVillo

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The Bronx River Alliance is a coordinated voice for the river that works in partnership to protect, improve and restore the Bronx River corridor so that it can be a healthy ecological, recreational, resource for the communities through which it flows.

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