When people visit the Old Schwamb Mill in Arlington, MA for the first time, they are often amazed when they step inside- it’s indeed a workplace from another century. The smell of decades of birch, bass wood, and black walnut, the sight of period tools resting on a polished workbench, and the gentle sound of belt-driven lathes immediately transport young and old to America’s industrial age.

Forty-five minute tours of the main building’s first and second floor are available by a museum staff member on Tuesdays and Saturdays. Some highlights: In the original office, you can view an 1898 roll top desk, a “hidden” closet door and a substantial 1905 safe. Visitors can also encounter a rare and remarkable sight: a very intact Civil War-era shop floor that contains multiple generations of tools and machines. Upstairs, you’ll see the glue room, admire examples of finished frames in the frame showroom, and enjoy a temporary art show or historical exhibit in our galleries.

Old Schwamb Mill has a unique history. Charles Schwamb emigrated from Germany in the 1840s, one of six Schwamb brothers who came to America between 1837 and 1857. The brothers brought wood working skills and the ability to adapt and thrive in towns dominated by the descendants of English settlers. After working for years with his brothers, Charles and his brother Frederick bought the mill in 1864 and commenced the manufacture of oval picture frames. The Charles Schwamb business sold picture frames and linear moulding to frame shops and galleries throughout the northeast, including in the cities of Boston and New York. For the next century this Mill, along with two other Schwamb manufacturing concerns, were major sites of commerce and employment in Arlington.

When fourth-generation owner Elmer Schwamb retired in 1969, Patricia Cunningham Fitzmaurice, a visionary local community activist/preservationist, saved the Mill from almost certain destruction. She raised both awareness of its historical value and the funds needed to secure the property. She brought together a group of remarkable, civic-minded citizens to form the Schwamb Mill Preservation Trust. Within six months, she and the Trust had founded the Old Schwamb Mill as an  industrial museum a decade before the Lowell National Historical Park, allowing generations of visitors to experience the small family-run factories that once covered nineteenth and twentieth-century New England.

Today, the Mill’s customers include museums, frame shops, and architectural and interior design firms as well as individuals looking for fine-crafted frames that will display family portraits, photos, artwork, or mirrors. The hand-turned frames are constructed from solid hardwoods such as black walnut, maple, cherry, mahogany and zebrawood.

The Old Schwamb Mill maintains a schedule of events that make visiting the Mill a regular occurrence for its many friends. In its second-floor gallery, the Mill offers various shows throughout the year by local painters, photographers, collagists, and sculptors, plus one show with a focus on the Mill’s own history. Frequent lectures, including an annual Frame Lecture, give visitors another chance to experience the Mill’s beautiful interior.

There is also a summer music series, as well as children’s programs including storytelling, crafts, music and a puppet show. Two signature events include the Mill’s annual outdoor Oktoberfest on the first Saturday in October, as well as a holiday craft fair in November.

The Old Schwamb Mill is located at 17 Mill Lane in Arlington, just off the bike path. Those who are interested can donate, and receive updates to find out about the latest happenings.

If you’re hungry, be sure to head over to The Roasted Granola for a cup of coffee and a treat. Or you can grab a slice of pizza at Andrina’s. You could also stop by for a drink or dinner at The Heights Pub or Jimmy’s Steer House.