As our heroine, Shannon McCarthy, continues her journey out of New Haven, she finds herself at the base of East Rock near the Hamden town line. Perched on a cliff, peeking down on a factory village that lead the charge as America transformed into an industrialized nation, Shannon marvels at the site and sounds of Whitneyville.
The site of the original factory village where Eli Whitney harnessed the power of a waterfall to run one of America’s first manufacturing armories, has always been a point of fascination for me. When I was a kid, my brother and I would strain our necks from the back seat of my mother’s Nova, trying to get a peek at the dilapidated building tucked way back in the woods, next to the waterfall on the reservoir. One of us would inevitably cry out, “There’s where Eli Whitney invented the cotton gin,” as our eyes searched for some sign of the famous inventor, half expecting a ghost to pop out of the mist, or peek out of the run down building. And while the famous Yale alumni did patent his most noted invention, the cotton gin, in 1794, this site, was home to the armory that Whitney established in 1798. Building a small village for workers and utilizing a dam for power, Whitney set out to produce thousands of muskets for the US army. The factory helped usher in America’s industrial revolution as the mass production and use of interchangeable gun parts revolutionized arms production.
By the time Shannon McCarthy peeked down at the factory from the cliffs that overlook the reservoir at the factory site, Eli Whitney was long gone, having died of cancer in 1825, but the factory was still going strong having been reopened by a relative of Whitney’s in the early 1830s.
Today much of the site has been renovated. A covered bridge leads back to that mysterious lonesome building at the base of a rocky ridge and the mist from the waterfall bathes the picnic tables and picturesque area along the Mill River. The old armory buildings house the Eli Whitney Museum and Workshop, a kid-friendly museum which is a fabulous place for classes, field trips, and birthday parties as it celebrates the spirit of invention and innovation that Eli Whitney has come to represent.
As Shannon continues north on her search for her father, leaving the chugs and spurts of the noisy factory village behind her, she befriends a drunken preacher who is more than happy to give her a lift further north–into the land of the giants.