The root of Deep River’s economy can be traced back appropriately to the Connecticut River. Ferry service across the River to Lyme began in 1723. The Town Landing at the foot of Kirtland Street became the most significant shipping port on the lower Connecticut River and a focal point of community activity. The largest and most significant shipyard at the time was the Dennison Shipyard at the present location Essex Steam Train/River Cruise Docking facility.
Deep River’s original settlers were farmers but the rocky character of Town, particularly in the eastern part, allowed quarrying to be more profitable. The mining of stone began around 1812 and as many as eight quarries operated in different parts of the hills. At its peak 100 men were employed. The stone was shipped to New York, Philadelphia, and as far away as New Orleans for use in bridge and gutter construction. Granite is still mined from Fountain Hill Cemetery and the Haynes Quarry.
The Town also bustled with activity as African ivory was brought into port. While Essex served as the center of the shipping industry, Deep River became the most important shipping port. The Pratt, Read & Co. together with Comstock, Cheney & Co. in nearby Ivoryton represented 95% of the ivory manufactured in the United States during this time. The companies first began producing combs, taking advantage of Deacon Phineas Pratt’s invention for cutting combs. The companies soon expanded into other toiletries, toothpicks, buttons and even billiard balls. Eventually, after both companies turned to the manufacture of pianos and organs, they merged. In July 1881, a disastrous fire destroyed virtually the entire complex and it seemed doubtful the company would be able to rebuild. Recognizing the gravity of the situation, the Town of Deep River unanimously voted to grant Pratt, Read & Company a 5 year tax abatement provided the company remain in town. Nine months later, they were back in business. Through the foresight of the Town, Deep River’s entire economy was stabilized by this action. After nearly 100 years of productivity, which included the manufacture of gliders during World War II, the Pratt Read complex on North Main Street stood idle. It took almost 40 years for rebirth to ensue but the red brick factory is now condominiums, The Piano Works. Up through the 19th century, other industries linked to ivory production and piano and organ manufacturing prospered, including:
- Denison’s Stop Knob Factory (organ knobs)
- Roger’s Factory (bone and ivory)
- Box Factory
- Jennings Auger Bits
- A. J. Smith Manufacturing
- William & Marion Wood Turning/Saw Mill
- Hefflon Carriage Company
- Doane Machine Shop
- New Era Printing Company
- Deep River Lumber
- E. E. Nettleton (lumber)
- Connecticut Valley Orchard Company
- Barnick & Beckwith General Store
According to historic accounts, Deep River’s Grand List in 1883 was $566,952.00.