Cowell Cement Plant Is Gone, But Smokestack Remains
The Cowell Cement Plant, world’s largest, was founded in 1908 by Henry Cowell, who later gave it to his son, Samuel. Workers in the plant were for the most part required to live in the nearby village of Cowell – and to buy their groceries and other necessities from the company store, at outrageously high prices, with the amounts of their purchases deducted from their paychecks.
The plant made the Cowell family rich, but it was a nuisance to nearby Concord farmers because it spewed white caustic dust into the air, which settled on their crops. The plant management refused to abate the dust. The farmers sued and lost. Finally, in 1933, a young lawyer named John Garaventa took the farmers’ case. After a 53 day trial the judge ordered the cement company to put dust collectors on each of its eight vent chimneys and Garaventa became a public hero – the Ralph Nader of his day.
The cement plant continued in business until 1947, when the workers went on strike and the management decided to close the plant rather than meet the employees’ terms.
The old plant and the nearby village became an artist’s colony, with many craft shops and a wallpaper factory. The old Cowell hospital became a childcare center. There was a huge tree with a deluxe tree house out in back. Later this building had a picture frame shop in front and a newspaper office in back, leased by the author of this book, who remembers pleasant moments of relaxation sitting in the tree house.
The cement plant and the village were torn down in the early 1970s to make way for a new housing subdivision, now part of Concord. The smokestack and the village firehouse were kept as landmarks. John Garaventa became Concord’s first municipal judge, serving in the 1950s and `60s.
Cowell Historical Society