Author: Jennifer Boeri-Boyce, Hartford Memorial Middle School
Grade Level: 8
Length of lesson: Five 45-minute class period

Historical Context

  • Theme: Development of Modern America: The Industrial Revolution
  • Era: 1850s – 1860s


Students typically learn about the Industrial Revolution on a national level. Through this guided unit, students learn how their own hometown fit into this era. Census data, local maps, and other primary documents enable students to understand their town’s industrial growth and how it impacted daily life. This lesson uses:

  • Searchable census databases: e.g., (Subscription required)
  • Copies of a page of the census from the focus community nearest the students (obtainable from your local historical society/library/town office)
  • Copy of the Beers Atlas page (or other detailed historic map) from your town


  1. Students are given a region of town to focus their study.
  2. By viewing a map of Hartford, students (in small groups) choose a mill.
  3. Using the census, and conferring with the map, student groups identify people associated with their mill-both owners and workers.
  4. Student groups use primary sources to find out products made in their mill.
  5. Student groups answer the following questions and prepare to present their information to the class.
    1. What was made at your mill?
    2. Who owned it?
    3. Who worked there? (Range of ages? Gender?)
    4. Where did the workers live? How far did they travel to get to their job?
    5. Where were the workers born?
    6. Were the workers educated?
    7. What does this information tell you about Hartford?
  6. Each group presents to the class and data is collected for these categories.
  7. In a class discussion, students look at the collected data and think about what this information teaches us about our town. Together we brainstorm ideas.
    1. What types of industries were found in Hartford? Why did these industries exist in Hartford?
    2. What relationship did residents have with their neighboring mills?
    3. How did mills impact the population of Hartford?
    4. How might technology have changed Hartford, versus surrounding farm towns?
  8. Individually, students will then write an essay that describes Hartford and its people and industry in the 1850s and 1860s.


6.4 Historical Connections
6.6 Being a Historian
6.7 Geographical Knowledge
6.17 Impact of Economic Systems