Dorchester History Lesson: Baker Chocolate Factory
If you love chocolate, you might be interested to know that there was a time when it was produced right here in the Lower Mills area of ââDorchester! And this chocolate is the subject of this history lesson!
As you will recall from previous history lessons, Dorchester was its own town and European settlement began in the 1630s. Dorchester had something very special that contributed to its growth – the Neponset River. Especially the rapids which provided something super important – watermills! At first flour, paper and wool mills, but later CHOCOLATE!
Note: What exactly is a flour mill? Basically it is a mill where the beans are ground. The word “oatmeal” referred to grain for early American settlers.
Irish immigrant and local businessman John Hannon, assisted by Harvard graduate Dr James Baker, began importing cocoa beans and grinding them into chocolate in the 1760s; they called their company Hannon’s Best Chocolate. In 1779, John Hannon mysteriously disappeared on a cocoa bean buying trip to the West Indies, and his widow sold the entire business to Baker in 1780. Baker renamed the business The Baker Chocolate Company. Generations of the Baker family created the first chocolate industrial zone in the United States – the very first!
It’s hard to think of Dorchester without electricity, but in the 1700s there obviously wasn’t any. The rapids of the Neponset River fed the mills, but there was no refrigeration. Chocolate could only be made during the colder winter months, and the mills produced other products at different times of the year. But in 1869, a member of the Baker family built a mill with underground cold rooms that allowed them to continue making chocolate in summer! Year round chocolate at Lower Mills!
At the height of the business, they were producing 5 tons of chocolate PER DAY at Dot! Wow ! Baker’s main product was unsweetened chocolate, which you call baking chocolate. But they produced other sweet chocolates besides the hot cocoa mixes!
The Baker family sold the business to the Forbes Syndicate in 1896, and the Syndicate kept the Baker name and production in Dorchester. They even got bigger and by the 1960s Baker occupied over 14 acres in Lower Mills. But in the 1960s the company was owned by General Foods and they decided to shut down the factories in Dorchester and move the operation to Dover, DE. Unfortunately, by 1965 Baker had completely disappeared from Dorchester.
Baker’s chocolates still exist today. You can buy it pretty much anywhere, you can even order it from Target! Baker Chocolate Company is currently owned by the giant conglomerate of Kraft Heinz.
The 14 acres of Lower Mills stood empty for a long time, but eventually things were rearranged. Today you can even live in one of the old factories! A one bedroom begins about $ 2,500 per month! The mills and factories are even recognized by the National Register of Historic Places such as the Dorchester / Milton Lower Mills industrial complex. The neighborhood is full of restaurants, cafes and people! Lots of people who hopefully bake with Baker’s chocolate as a tribute to the Baker family!
Light this up!
The Walter Baker sign on an administration building in Lower Mills is being restored. According to the Dorchester Reporter, a crane removes the letters which will be carried away for 6 to 8 weeks to be restored and then reinstalled with the possibility of igniting!
This re-illumination project was funded by the Community Preservation Act and could be completed as early as this summer or fall.
Main Mage via Caught in Dot on Instagram
Image by Walter Baker via ArchitecturalTeam.com