On June 23, 1911—a summer day so magnificent it seems as if God himself has smiled on the town—Fall River, Massachusetts, is reveling in its success. The Cotton Centennial is in full swing as Joseph Bartlett takes his place among the local elite in the parade grandstand. The meticulously planned carnival has brought the thriving textile town to an unprecedented halt; rich and poor alike crowd the streets, welcoming President Taft to America's "Spindle City."
Yet as he perches in the grandstand nursing a nagging toothache, Joseph Bartlett straddles the divide between Yankee mill owners and the union bosses who fight them. Bartlett, a renegade owner, fears the town cannot long survive against the union-free South. He frets over the ever-present threat of strikes and factory fires, knowing his own fortune was changed by the drop of a kerosene lantern. When the Cleveland Mill burned, good men died, and immigrant's son Joseph Bartlett gained a life of privilege he never wanted.
Now Joseph is one of the most influential men in a prosperous town. High above the rabble, as he stands among politicians and society ladies, his wife is dying, his sons are lost in the crowd facing pivotal decisions of their own, and the differences between the haves and have-nots are stretched to the breaking point.
Spindle City delves deep into the lives, loves, and fortunes of real and imagined mill owners, anarchists, and immigrants, from the Highlands mansions to the tenements of the Cogsworth slum, chronicling a mill town's—and a generation's—last days of glory.