Sunday, September 30, 2007

24 cents & 3/4 pound of wool per yard

from the Baltimore-Pritchett collection, date and subjects unknown

Apparently Marchant continued to operate the grist mill and plaster mill while these arrangements were being negotiated. By August, 1854, he felt "that his prospects... [were] brightening for getting the Factory in successful operation again." He publicly promised that the would be ready for "the next Wool Season." Meanwhile, he returned to his previous dry goods and grocery business in town, and supplemented his income by serving as a collector of bad debts for Albemarle and adjoining counties. Not until the following April was the mill able to resume operations. By the middle of 1857, Marchant was offering to make white and colored jeans at twenty-two and twenty-four cents per yard respectively, provided three-fourths of a pound of clean wool were furnished for each yard of cloth desired. John C. Patterson, who now began a long and intimate association with the mill, sold locally the products of the mill.--Harry Poindexter

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Friday, September 28, 2007

nature and economic factors in league against him

tintype detail, subject unknown

Within this robust national economy, the Charlottesville Factory entered a hectic decade. John Marchant found the burden a difficult one to shoulder, even though he dropped his mercantile interests to devote his full time to the company's business. Almost immediately, he found nature as well as economic factors in league against him. In 1852, before Marchant secured a good grip on the business, heavy rains caused the dam to break and operations were suspended. Still faced with the necessity of raising money to pay for his purchase from Jones and needing capital to repair the dam and resume production, Marchant set about securing the money from responsible men in the county. A sum of $8,000 was deemed adequate for the emergency, but such a large amount could not be procured. Nevertheless, fifty-seven people subscribed to $5,075 in an agreement signed February 1, 1853, to enable Marchant "to put again in successful operation the Charlottesville Factory which for the present has been rendered inoperative by a series of providential misfortunes which could not have been foreseen or guarded against." A year passed before all the subscriptions, ranging from $25 to $200, were paid. Final papers were executed on March 15, 1854. Under the terms of agreement the debt, carrying six percent interest, had to be repaid in installments and was secured by a deed of trust on the factory and property.--Harry Poindexter


Thursday, September 27, 2007

the rise of the railroads was not an unmixed blessing

water from the Rivanna was impounded by the dam, shunted into the mill race, routed beneath the mill driving an underwater turbine which mechanically powered all mill machinery. The water was discharged into Moore's creek, pictured above.

During the decade of the 1850's, the national economy was in a period of expansion unequaled in its history. The countryside rang with the sounds of hammers driving down new railroad tracks; commerce, foreign and domestic, multiplied; and dents were made in the nation's natural resources. The panic of 1857 disrupted prosperity but only temporarily. Yet in the woolen industry the decade was one of relative backwardness. Wool production increased only from 70,000,000 to 86,000,000 pounds annually, in spite of a population growth of thirty-five percent. The number of mills in production declined in the face of unfavorable conditions. Those being a reduction in tariff duties on woolen imports in 1846 and inability to match foreign developments in wool-making machinery. For the multitude of small mills about the country, the rise of the railroads was not an unmixed blessing for they broadened the stream of goods coming either from the large eastern mills or from importations; this, in turn, served to frustrate and complicate the attempts of local establishments to expand.--Harry Poindexter

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Tuesday, September 25, 2007

surviving the forties

Woolen Mills dam and race, date unknown

No record exists of the amount paid by Marchant for the mill, but undoubtedly it was much less than the $90,000 at which it was valued only two years previously. Since Jones' share was sold at public auction and at a time disadvantageous to him, one cannot estimate the total cost from the sum he received. But whatever the price, the frequency with which ownership had changed hands since 1840 leads one to suspect that the Factory was having a difficult time surviving the forties.--Harry Poindexter

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Sunday, September 23, 2007

1850 advertisement, mill for sale

Advertisement of the auction in which John Marchant secured full control of the Charlottesville Factory affords one the rare opportunity of a glimpse at the pre-war mill. Though incomplete and designed to sell the property at the best price, this advertisement merits attention. The machinery included the items owned in 1850 plus a mule-jack. On the thirteen acres of land there were "buildings consist [ing] of the Cotton and Wool Factor--a Saw, Grist and Plaster Mil [sic] Store, House, dwelling and other houses, all in good repair." One can see here the early development of a typical semi-manorial mill village. Like most mills of the period the Charlottesville Factory was forced by its use of water power to locate its operations some distance from an established settlement. Apparently, like many other factories, the company provided houses nearby for its workers and operated a general store to meet most of the needs of the community.--Harry Poindexter

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Saturday, September 22, 2007

Henry Clay Marchant

Henry Clay Marchant

John Marchant exerted so powerful an influence on his son Henry that the latter became almost a carbon copy of his father. Born in Charlottesville in 1838, Henry Marchant developed into a robust man, as ambitious and forceful as his father. His square-cut face was framed between a heavy beard and an abundant shock of hair, while massive eyebrows added an air of dignity that was softened by wrinkles about his eyes. As a boy, Marchant attended local private schools, but his more practical education was given by his father. Instead of whiling away his time in boyish sports, Marchant was early put to work in his father's store and factory where he learned the fine points of merchandizing. In later life he credited his father with instilling in him the virtues of resourcefulness and hard work which characterized his personality.--Harry Poindexter

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Friday, September 21, 2007

John Adams Marchant

The family is an interesting example of Southern middle-class manufacturers. They were of French Huguenot descent, coming to America after the revocation of the Edict of Nantes. The first authentic lineal ancestor who can be identified was Zorobabel Marchant, the grandfather of John Adams Merchant. The latter's father had operated a boat line between Baltimore and Norfolk, and it was probably by this route that Marchant found his way to Charlottesville sometime prior to 1826. A stern man, full of energy, and a staunch Episcopalian, John Marchant became a dry goods merchant and later a manufacturer. He gained a reputation for integrity and enjoyed the confidence of the business community. Tempering ambition with piety, he labored diligently to carve a niche for himself in the commercial life of the town.--Harry Poindexter


Wednesday, September 19, 2007

John Adams Marchant

J.A. Marchant

The appearance of John A. Marchant marked a significant event in the history of the pre-war mill. For the first time in over a decade, perhaps longer, the enterprise was lodged under the direction of one man.
But more important, his purchase brought the mill into the hands of the Marchant family which for some sixty years would be the mainspring behind the growth and expansion of the business. From 1852 until 1864 John A. Marchant had an intimate connection with the Charlottesville Factory; after that date, his son, Henry Clay Marchant, took up the burden and during the next forty-five years welded the firm into a substantial and eminently successful business structure which endures to this day. The Marchants, therefore, bear closer examination.--Harry Poindexter


Sunday, September 16, 2007

whose ford?

What is nine feet wide, 160 feet long, made of a stone aggregate, and runs beneath the surface of the Rivanna?
A road?
But consider, before the breach of the Woolen Mills dam, this now visible slab was flooded, covered continuously by several feet of water.
Portland cement was patented in 1824. So assuming this is a Portland aggregate slab, when and why was it put in place? If it was built after 1870 it could be described as a ford. Is the slab a continuous pour? Was it built in place or in sections that were dragged into the river?

The location of the slab is marked on the Google Earth map above...

In this 1937 aerial view of the Woolen Mills the approximate location of slab is circled with green.

Memo to Vice-Mayor Hamilton: the Woolen Mills factory campus is outlined with purple in the lower right corner of this photo. Note the agrarian character of the residential Woolen Mills neighborhood bounded on the south by the railroad tracks and on the east and north by the Rivanna River.

Image kindness of the University of Virginia. Charlottesville & Albemarle Orthophotography. Retrieved 7/9/07, from the University of Virginia, Geospatial and Statistical Data Center:


Friday, September 14, 2007

the details are at times difficult to follow...

Changes in ownership continued through the antebellum period. The details are at times difficult to follow.

In October, 1850. Jones announced in a local paper that he had purchased the entire property of the Charlottesville Factory and was "proceeding to put it into operation in all its branches.? Farish and Randolph recommended him to the public as a first-rate mechanic. Before the end of the year, however, Jones was forced by debt to execute a deed or trust on one-third of the Factory and real-estate which he had originally bought. Barely a year later, on January 3, 1852, Jones informed the public that he was acting as agent for Isaiah Stout, who was renting the Factory, and would run the mill during the approaching wool season. The Factory was "ready to receive wool either to be carded into rolls or manufactured into Jeans, Linseys, etc." Yet, at that time neither Jones nor Stout was in any position to undertake extensive operations. As early as the previous November 8th, Jones' insolvency had forced his attorney to take steps to auction his equity in the property, which amounted to only a one-third interest. To confuse the matter, at the same time that this auction was announced, John Adams Marchant, a local merchant, declared that he would offer for sale the two-thirds interest he had acquired In the Factory from Farish and Randolph. At first set for December 2, 1851, the sale of Jones' share in the property was postponed until early in January, at which time Marchant not only withdrew his offer of sale but purchased Jones' portion for $4,250.35. Notice of this transaction appeared concurrently with the news that Stout had rented the property. But whatever the sequence of events, Marchant now owned the property and retained Jones to conduct the business for him.--Harry Poindexter

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Thursday, September 13, 2007

from carding to dyeing

John Baltimore, in the backyard.

In many respects, therefore, the Charlottesville Factory had up to 1850 followed closely what might be called the typical direction of growth for the American wool manufacture. Ownership had evolved from individual proprietorship to a series of partnerships operating under specific terms of agreement and responsibility. Production had expanded from merely the carding of the raw fiber and the fulling of home-woven fabrics to the additional weaving of low quality cloth and had begun to be concentrated in the manufacture of cotton and woolen goods. However primitive its equipment, the plant was now fully integrated with all machinery necessary to make cloth from carding the matted wool to dyeing the finished piece of goods. This was an important step forward. It is also noteworthy that expansion occurred during the period when internal improvements in transportation in the form of toll roads and canals had progressed considerably. Soon railroad connections would link the Charlottesville area with other regions, opening markets which the mill would exploit after the War. Until the post-war era, though, the principal customer and supplier continued to be the inhabitant living nearby, and goods sold by retail were handled by local merchants, some of whom were financially involved with the enterprise.--Harry Poindexter

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Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Charlottesville Factory

Mamie Baltimore in the backyard of her parents house, Woolen Mills Road.

While the other services of the Factory continued to supply part of the company's income, the manufacture of cloth had by 1850 reached proportions which justify calling it primarily a cotton and woolen mill. Expansion had raised the value of the establishment to an estimated $90.000. The annual production of cloth totaled 70,000 yards, from which a yearly return of $24,000 was realized. There were twenty-eight employees, among them only ten men. The monthly payroll amounted to only $270, which has lead one writer to suspect that some of the workers were slaves. Yet, it is possible that, in accordance with a customary practice, only a portion of the wages were paid in cash, the remainder being in the form of script to be exchanged in the company store. "A saw mill, grist mill, and a plaster mill, 552 spindles for making cotton yarn, a double carder, two dressers, and twelve looms" comprise the machinery of the Charlottesville Factory in 1850. Furthermore, the company now had a distinctive label to distinguish its cloth from that of two other mills operating in the vicinity of Charlottesville. Advertisements called attention to the "half-round label, the printing made with blue ink with the names of Farish, Jones and Randolph, or Henry W. Jones, Ag't, as all others that hail from Charlottesville are not of that Factory."--Harry Poindexter

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Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Charlottesville Factory

right, Louise Hollaway (Baltimore), center W.F. Pritchett, background, the Woolen Mill and Monticello mountain
During the period from 1846 to 1850 when the Parishes, Jones, and Randolph owned the business operating at "Pireus," the company became known locally as the Charlottesville Factory. Apparently there was no important reason for the change; local customers probably resisted the more cumbersome title using the proprietors' names. Yet it is certain that during those few years, the factory, especially that portion devoted to the making of cotton and woolen cloth, reach a level of maturity for its day and section. By 1850, when Henry Jones bought out the other interests, the company was making a large variety of goods. Coarse or medium quality jeans and linseys for servants and slaves were made from wool. Cotton yarns, baggings, and pantaloon drillings added to the offerings of the mill, and both raw cotton and wool were carded for those who desired to spin and weave their own material. The buyer was required to pay a part of his bill in the form of raw wool and he could get cloth made to his own order from cotton or wool he brought to the plant. The mill thus extended a type of custom service wedded to a barter system which guaranteed to the customer the quality of raw materials used in making whatever he desired. However, this was not unique but rather conformity to the pattern of growth of early mills.--Harry Poindexter

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Monday, September 10, 2007

corn mill, grist mill, plaster mill, textile mill = woolen mills

unknown 0013
Besides running a factory to make cotton and woolen cloth, the men offered a variety of services to the surrounding countryside. A blacksmith's shop, corn mill, grist mill, and plaster mill were supplemented by a store selling dry goods and woolen cloth--no doubt primarily the products of the firm. So broad were the purposes of the company that the articles of agreement permitted the firm to undertake any type of business that the three men might desire.
Jones became the superintendent and manager of the mills, shops, and all mechanical aspects of the enterprise at a salary of $600 per year plus free use of a house located on the property. Thomas Farish ran the dry goods store, purchased supplies, and acted as salesman for the company's products. In addition he served as treasurer, paying the debts incurred, making any needed financial arrangements, keeping the books in order, and handling the payroll. For his efforts, Farish received $680 a year and expenses for business trips, but any assistant he might him had to be paid out of his own pocket. William Farish took no part in the operations of the concern; evidently his ministerial duties forced him to limit his contribution to the capital. Before three years had passed, he was succeeded in the partnership by John T. Randolph and the name of the firm became Farish, Jones and Randolph.--Harry Poindexter

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Saturday, September 8, 2007

Lottie Hawley

Virginia and James Starkes daughter Lottie moved from the Woolen Mills to Arizona. She is pictured above, standing on the right running board, date on the license plate is 1917. Who, what, when, where, why, how? Lottie had dozens of relatives on "The Place". Why move West?

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Friday, September 7, 2007

Farish, Jones and Company

The capitalization of the company consisted of the above listed real estate, tools, and water power and totaled $21,000. The partners bound themselves to advance money to the firm, whenever needed, at six percent interest. Questions involving extension of the business required the approval of all three, but any other matter could be settled by majority vote. Jones reserved the right to withdraw from the arrangement at any time, and in the event of not being able to reach satisfactory agreement with his associates for such withdrawal, he was empowered to offer, after ten months notice, his share of the firm at public auction on terms of at least one-third cash and the balance in twelve and twenty-four months. Either of the Farishes could likewise retire from participation, but for some reason had to wait only six months before seeking a public auction. Otherwise, the partnership would last for ten years from January 1, 1847.--Harry Poindexter

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Thursday, September 6, 2007

Farish, Jones and Company

With these transactions, the factory at "Pireus" began to be separated from its position as an adjunct of the Meriwether farm. Determined efforts were initiated to turn it into a going concern. On May 15, 1847, one month after William Farish obtained half interest in the site, an unchartered company was formed to exploit the opportunities offered by the dam, water power, and machinery. This new group took the name Farish, Jones and Company. There were now three partners, the latest being Henry W. Jones whom we have met before. Jones secured one undivided third from the other two in all the property and water rights which had been involved in the bargain between the Farishes, except for one abutment of the toll bridge. A value of $14,000 was placed on this contribution to the partnership. For his share, Jones conveyed to each of the other two a one-third interest in the machinery at the factory at "Pireus" for the manufacture of cotton and wool, in the carpenters and machinists tools there, and in the blacksmith shop, brass foundry, and dye establishment attached to the mill. This equipment, by the way, had been owned previously by the partners Crewdson and Jones was valued at $7,000.--Harry Poindexter

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Wednesday, September 5, 2007

toll bridge

For $19,000 Farish received some 150 acres, including the "Pireus" tract, all "rent and other covenants accruing from James A. Crewdson and Henry W. Jones," Meriwether's interest in the dam across the Rivanna, and a toll bridge there which formed part of Virginia's expanding road network. Though no factory was mentioned in the transaction, it is clear from later deeds that Farish also acquired that property, except its machinery which did not belong to Meriwether. The value of the land outside the "Pireus" tract was apparently only a small part of the purchase price. Probably $18,000 of that money was required to buy the factory, dam, and toll bridge, because on April 20th of the following year, Parish sold for $9,000 one undivided half of the thirteen acre "Pireus" tract including all the buildings, improvements, water power, and other appliances attached to it, and one half of the toll bridge, dam, and a saw and plaster mill. The buyer on this occasion was Farish's father, William P. Farish, who had come to Albemarle County about 1820, acquired the reputation of being "an active man of affairs," and subsequently became a Baptist minister.--Harry Poindexter


Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Thomas L. Farish

In 1846 began a series of developments which by the end of the War had laid the basis of the mill of 1954. First was a succession of purchases that soon put the mill in the possession of those who were destined to add the impulse which made the post-war enterprise a success. Second, a gradual de-emphasis on all activity but cotton and wool processing eventually made that the major interest of the factory. This was hastened by the advent of war which suddenly extended to wool manufacturing a great importance in the Confederate economy as the need for uniforms and other woolen goods grew while isolation from northern manufacturing centers cut off the South's major source of supply. On October 22, 1846, William H. Meriwether and Thomas L. Parish completed negotiations for the sale of a large amount of property along the banks of the Rivanna and Moore's Creek belonging to Meriwether.--Harry Poindexter


Monday, September 3, 2007

early Meriwether mill and dam

Conceivably, the events of the period from 1820 to 1846 ran in this fashion: The Meriwether family had begun the carding of wool and cotton cloth sometime after the start of the War of 1812 which cut off America from British manufactures, a trend quite common in the United States. This small business, set up to supply only a local market but providing several types of service, was first located at Moore's Creek where a crude dam could be made to furnish the needed power. As the 1820's wore on and Charlottesville began an era of business activity, the enterprise showed signs of prosperity. With the Rivanna River so near, the Meriwethers in 1830 turned to that source, moving their machinery across the neck of land to the southern abutment of the Rivanna dam. There the enterprise was rented to others to operate until 1846 when the land, water rights, dam, and factory passed out of the hands of the Meriwether family. Such conjecture is fraught with difficulties. Only the barest outlines can be seen today. Yet, in view of the fact that the Meriwether family was running a crude textile factory and a saw mill in the vicinity of "Pireus" in 1820 and certainly on that site by 1840 and since the same property passed in 1846 to persons whose connection with the history of the present woolen mill can be proved satisfactorily, this surmise has extensive foundations.--Harry Poindexter


Sunday, September 2, 2007

Rivanna Navigation Company

It seems significant that William H. Meriwether, whose relationship to the above gentleman is not known, had an early interest in developing at "Pireus." On December 7, 1829, when the Rivanna Navigation Company was improving the Rivanna River in order to operate a line of canal boats and packets between Charlottesville and Richmond, Meriwether purchased from that organization the right to construct a dam across the River just above the mouth of Moores Creek. Within a few years, he was receiving rent from two partners, Robert S. Jones and James S. Crewdson, for a factory driven by water power and making various products. Included in the equipment were a saw mill and machinery for processing cotton and wool. By 1846, the partners were succeeded by two others, Henry W, Jones and James A. Crewdson. The subsequent connection of Henry W. Jones with the enterprise before 1860 is a further clue that the factory of 1829 was the predecessor of the present business.--Harry Poindexter


Saturday, September 1, 2007

one of the oldest in the south?

Just where the early history of the Charlottesville Woolen Mills begins is difficult to determine. It is indeed possible that it is one of the oldest wool manufacturing concerns in the South. As early as 1820, several individuals in Albemarle County had carding machines. A certain William D. Meriwether was operating a saw mill and three carding machines on Moore's Creek. One of these cards processed about 1000 pounds of cotton each year; the other two handled some 5000 pounds of wool. No doubt power was supplied by the Creek, but the exact site of Meriwether's small undertaking is not known. For that reason it cannot be definitely identified as the ancestor of the present mill.
Nevertheless, the probability that this mill of 1820 was the "original" Charlottesville Woolen Mills is increased when one considers facts ascertainable for a period only a little later. --Harry Poindexter