Wednesday, October 31, 2007

directed by Virginians

The Charlottesville Woolen Mills was conceived, financed, and directed primarily by Virginians. In fact, the individuals underwriting the enterprise were mainly those whose activity in Charlottesville commerce and merchandizing antedated the war and whose prominence in financial circles continued to grow in the years following. Of the four men named with Marchant in the charter as organizers of the company, three were definitely local people. One of these was Shreve. A second, B. C. Flannagan, had extensive business connections in the vicinity and during the war had also run a cotton and woolen mill near Charlottesville. W. W. Flannagan had similar commercial interests. The fourth, J. W. Payne, cannot be identified. Of the other six men on the first board of directors, five were members of prominent Albemarle families.
--Harry Poindexter

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Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Marchant's vision

By his own dogged determination Henry Clay Marchant had chiseled a niche in Charlottesville for a new wool manufacture. Oriented primarily toward a local market, it produced the type of cloth in which Northern competition was least severe. But Marchant's vision was broader; an expanding market and a larger plant were the goals of the young, dynamic Marchant. Once again he approached Charlottesville friends for help. This time he presented an impressive accomplishment, demonstrating not only the feasibility of a woolen mill but his own financial acumen as well. And this time he met with a ready response. The result was a new company organized under the charter of December, 1868.
The granting of this charter inaugurated a new era. The woolen mill, finally freed from the limitations imposed by the resources of a single owner, was rapidly molded into the corporation which exists to this day.--Harry Poindexter

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Monday, October 29, 2007

free from shoddy

notch in the trees on the mountaintop, the site of Monticello. Poplar tree at mid distance is located in Clay Marchant's backyard. The mill worker housing visible in this photo built in the 1890's. Photo taken from Riverview cemetery.

Happily, Marchant hurried home to begin production, pausing in Baltimore to purchase some minor items on credit. A factory building forty-five feet square with a basement and two upper floors was quickly constructed, and as the machinery arrived it was installed in the new plant. Besides the old roll cards, Marchant now had a set of manufacturing cards, two hand jacks with 210 spindles each, nine narrow Crompton looms, a fulling mill, and other intermediate and finishing machinery. Before the fall of 1868 "a very superior line of goods of all grades up to a fine Doe Skin Cassimer (free from shoddy)" flowed from the mill. Patterson and Shreve, the exclusive selling agents, enthusiastically boasted that Marchant's fabrics were "not surpassed by any of the northern factories...." This cloth was offered to merchants at Baltimore prices. The livelihood of some fifty persons depended on how well it was received.--Harry Poindexter

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Sunday, October 28, 2007

no such prejudice

subject unknown, from the Baltimore-Pritchett collection

In Philadelphia, Patterson took Marchant to the textile machinery firm of Furbush and Gage. D. T. Gage, an Englishman who wanted no truck with rebels, scorned Marchant's efforts to purchase equipment. But the other partner, C. A. Furbush, a Quaker who had no such prejudices, agreed to provide for $5,950 the machinery needed for a one-set mill. Two six percent bonds maturing in two and three years solved Marchant's embarrassing need for money. In addition, Marchant received a letter of introduction to the Knowles loom manufacturers and some practical advice. Being aware of the superior ability of New England woolen mills in weaving fancy and shoddy cloth, Furbush cautioned Marchant to produce coarse and medium grade cloths designed for the local market. Fortunately, Marchant heeded this suggestion in the critical years ahead. He also found in the Philadelphian a life-long friend. Later, Furbush became an important stockholder in the Charlottesville Woolen Mills.--Harry Poindexter


Saturday, October 27, 2007

making his bid

Marcellus and Bettie Baltimore Harlow's house, 1602 Woolen Mills Road

Prospects for reviving the Charlottesville mill were improved by the depleted stock of woolen cloth in the South. For a time, at least, an intrepid manufacturer like Marchant could find a ready market for fabrics in his immediate locality. Already "footloose men, ready to embark in new and speculative enterprises" had begun "the speedy restoration of several little textile mills and iron works destroyed during the hostilities...." Into their ranks stepped Marchant, making his bid for a place in a revamped economy.

By August, 1865, he had acquired one set of wool cards and had begun the primitive carding of raw wool for local farmers. At the same time he cast his line into the local financial pool hoping to attract money to purchase machinery for a fully integrated textile mill. Merchant naturally first dangled his bait before the merchants and investors in the neighborhood who had at times shown definite interest in the woolen mill. Especially, he sought the aid of his old friend John C. Patterson and the latter's partner, D. T. Shreve. Both were now dry goods merchants with extensive financial contacts in the North. But Merchant was unsuccessful in attracting the cautious and depleted capital of Charlottesville business men. Undaunted, he packed his bags and headed north with Patterson in the fall of 1867 to fish in other waters.
--Harry Poindexter

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Friday, October 26, 2007

he plotted his course

eastern end of the Woolen Mills village, Monticello in the background

Marchant's decision to rebuild the textile mill was undoubtedly influenced by the impressive prosperity of the Northern wool manufacture. Under the nourishment of war-induced demands Northern woolen factories were becoming lusty and aggressive. In 1859 there had been 1,260 mills in that region having an annual production of $61,800,000. By 1869, the number of establishments swelled to 2,891 with a yearly output worth more than twice the previous figure. Additional machinery was rushed into place and a longer working day appeared. In part this boom was due to the prospects for a new protective tariff. Basically the activity was unsound, and after 1867 a three-year depression crippled many a vigorous firm. But in 1865 expansion was the keynote which Marchant observed and under its influence he plotted his course.--Harry Poindexter

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Wednesday, October 24, 2007

from the ruins

Before the new company can be examined, one must recount briefly the immediate postwar history of the mill. From the smoldering ruins confronting Henry Marchant during the damp and dreary days of March, 1865, to the birth of the stock company on that cold December day stretched three years of determined exertion on the part of Marchant. Quickly clearing away the debris, his first impulse was to make only the modest outlay needed to rebuild the grist mill. But germinating in his mind was the hope of returning to the processing of wool and the manufacture of wool and cotton fabrics. As this seed took root one fact became visible. The fire of 1865 had left one beneficial effect; it had purged the mill forever of the encumbrances of the once necessary subsidiary activities tied to the water power of the dam. --Harry Poindexter

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Tuesday, October 23, 2007

new creation

A NEW START: 1865-1881

On December 18, 1868, Judge E. R. Watson of the Circuit Court of Albemarle County, Virginia, granted a charter incorporating the Charlottesville Woolen Mills as a stock company for "the manufacture, purchase and sale of woolen, cotton, silk and other fabrics." Sired by the union of the Merchant factory with banking and commercial interests of the community, the new creation took its place as one of the earliest and most enduring products of an industrial-minded South.
The times and the environment were hardly propitious for survival. With its basic economic props recently washed away by the tides of war and with its social structure under heavy and vicious attack, the South offered little nourishment for the infant company. In fact, it narrowly escaped falling victim to the high mortality rate of Southern woolen mills for a dozen years, the battle was often seriously in doubt. Like the germs of some fatal disease, a deficient circulating medium, insufficient capital, and the disruptive whims of weather produced crisis after crisis which sapped the strength of the struggling firm. Yet, under the able administration of Henry Clay Marchant and his associates the company successfully responded to treatment. By 1881 it had achieved such vigor that it could suffer a second disastrous fire and yet rebound with renewed strength.
--Harry Poindexter

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Monday, October 22, 2007

in ruins

Whatever the motivation, the action left the Charlottesville Factory in ruins. Attempts of local businessmen to manufacture successfully a low grade of cotton and woolen cloth for home consumption seemed dead as the Confederacy. But the impulse to renew the struggle still existed. Like the South, whose textile industry it typified in the ante-bellum era, the Charlottesville Factory would slowly rise again and reach new heights in the years ahead. The story of that development and the influences behind it lie in the next chapter.
--Harry Poindexter

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Friday, October 19, 2007

the Federal troops extended protestations

1864. Left to right: Wesley Merritt, David McM.Gregg, Sheridan, Henry E. Davies (standing), James H.

Can the burning of the Charlottesville Factory be taken as evidence of systematic Union destruction during the war? At least one other woolen mill in the region suffered a similar fate. An eminent authority has claimed that "Northern raiders destroyed every manufacturing establishment in southern territory that they were able to reach," and notes that many cotton and woolen mills fell victims to Union invaders. Yet, strangely, the Marchant family has never viewed the mill's burning with resentment. To Marchant's wife the Federal troops extended protestations that the fire resulted from an accident. Not only did she accept their apologies but for several years after the war, she and her husband maintained occasional friendly communication with the officer in charge of the operation! As a result, there seems to be no grounds for viewing the destruction of the mill as part of a planned program of economic warfare.
--Harry Poindexter

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Wednesday, October 17, 2007

a mass of flames

photo from the Emory collection

Practically over the roof of the factory extended an iron bridge on the Virginia Central line to Richmond. In order to warp the rails and burn the ties, coals still red-hot from recent use were carried by the soldiers from the mill furnace to the bridge. When a few pieces fell upon a greasy floor the factory quickly became a mass of flames. In this undramatic and unintentional fashion the mill became a casualty of the war. Henry Marchant did not witness the disaster. As the Union force entered Charlottesville, he had hobbled off to the hills on the southeast, driving his livestock ahead to save them from hungry enemy soldiers. From Carter's Mountain he watched smoke rising above the town and in the vicinity of "Pireus" without knowing what was burning. Not until after Sheridan continued south on March 6 did Marchant return home to discover the grave financial and sentimental loss he had suffered. His family and home were untouched, but his chief means of livelihood was gone.--Harry Poindexter

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Tuesday, October 16, 2007

thorough and systematic destruction

Portrait of Maj. Gen. (as of Apr. 15, 1865) George A. Custer, Officer of the Federal Army. American Memory collections, Library of Congress.

Late in the afternoon of March 3 the first Union troops, under command of General George A, Custer, arrived in town. Wet weather, creating transportation difficulties, forced Sheridan to order a two-day halt while several large bodies of soldiers completed a thorough and systematic destruction of the [two] railroads. The depot was burned, miles of track made impassable, and several vital railroad bridges destroyed. In accomplishing the last objective Federal forces also demolished the Marchant mill.
--Harry Poindexter

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Monday, October 15, 2007

The news froze our blood

Marchant's spiritual resources were soon tested. Less than a year after he bought out his father, the end of the war brought defeat to the South and disaster to the Charlottesville Factory. By the last days of 1864 the spectre of final conquest was settling in on the Confederacy. Union forces ranged widely over the heart of a crippled South, and rumors of impending ruin swept through the town of Charlottesville during the early days of 1865. But they fell on incredulous ears until the beginning of March when it was learned that Federal troops under General Philip Sheridan, having defeated General Early, were advancing from Waynesboro, only a day's ride to the west. "The news froze our blood..." recalled an inhabitant. "We had heard of Sheridan-of his ruthless plundering--burning of dwelling houses and all the fiendish acts which characterized his raids in the Valley of Virginia. We dreaded his approach." These fears, as it turned out, were justified. "My orders," General Sheridan later wrote, "were to destroy the Virginia Central Railroad, the James River Canal, capture Lynchburg if practicable, and then join Major General Sherman in North Carolina, or return to Winchester." In overall strategy, this meant tightening the trap on Lee at Richmond; to the people of Charlottesville it meant destruction of property, humiliation, and final defeat. --Harry Poindexter

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Friday, October 12, 2007

"strive to excel"--HCM

Charlottesville Woolen Mills manufactured cloth for the 1893 "worlds fair" guards' jackets. Digitized by Google

Henry Marchant was a representative of the curious union of business and religion which sees God's hand in every commercial success or failure. "He conscientiously believes," wrote a contemporary in 1906, "that whatever success he has achieved is due to the guidance of an overruling Providence, and that it is his solemn duty to point others to the divine Pilot." Recommending the Bible to "all who wish to find the true way and the true life," Marchant offered special advice to young men: "Work, work, strive to excel. If an employe [sic], strive to faithfully and conscientiously discharge whatever duties you undertake, and make your services indispensable to your employer; and, above all, ask God's guidance and help, that you may live a sober, unselfish, righteous, and useful life." Marchant paid more than lip-service to his religious beliefs. He became an active Episcopal layman, and toward his own employees he maintained a spirit of benevolent paternalism and genuine interest in their physical and moral well-being.
--Harry Poindexter

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Wednesday, October 10, 2007

his left leg was shattered

Riverview Cemetery, H.C. Marchant purchased this family plot in December, 1894

It will be recalled that Henry Clay Marchant was among the original investors who formed the short-lived Charlottesville Manufacturing Company. Born on April 1, 1838, in Charlottesville where he grew up, he had been educated in local private schools. Marchant at seventeen left his father's factory and dry goods store, moved to Petersburg, and became clerk for a grocer. He remained there in the mercantile business until the outbreak of the war. In April, 1861, he enlisted in Company A, 12th Regiment, Virginia Volunteer Infantry, serving until June 25, 1862, when on the first day of the Seven Days Battle near Richmond his left leg was shattered by a minie ball. Disabled, Marchant used crutches for over a year after Appomattox. In 1863, he married Elizabeth R. Whitehead of Petersburg and began searching for a business opportunity. It was at that point that he purchased the enterprise with the destiny of which his own for half a century would be intimately intertwined.--Harry Poindexter

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Tuesday, October 9, 2007

depreciation of Confederate currency

Elva Haggard Preddy, 1607 Woolen Mills Road

The company's business was further hindered by financial deficiencies. Payment of stock subscriptions failed to keep pace with the requirements of the firm, and in January, 1862, the board of directors attempted to enforce collection by ordering payment of overdue stock accounts immediately. Difficulties were compounded by the continuing depreciation of Confederate currency. The government tried ineffectively to correct this latter development. After two previous attempts to deflate the circulating medium, an act of February 17, 1864, called for the exchange of certain classes of Treasury notes for interest-bearing bonds. Such fluctuations made the conduct of business quite complicated. The Charlottesville Manufacturing Company was the therefore forced to adjust its accounts by discounts of as much as one-third. These complications were apparently too much for Marchant's associates. In 1864 the mill went through another reorganization. Heretofore, changes in ownership had been in a direction indicating that the Charlottesville mill was following the stages of maturation quite typical of the industry as a whole. Under the impact of the war, however, this trend was reversed; ownership reverted to individual control for a period of some four years. The company during the period of incorporation had probably never sold more than 320 shares of stock, making a total capitalization of only $16,000. At some point during the war, John Marchant recovered nearly complete control of the business by purchasing all but fourteen shares. He was prevented from acquiring all shares because the owners were serving in the Confederate forces. The corporation then became practically a single-owner concern. Finally, on June 20, 1864, Marchant sold the mill, machinery, and real estate to his son, Henry Clay Marchant, for $17,000. The legality of this transaction seems open to question since the outstanding shares had not yet been retired; but John Marchant pledged himself to purchase and deliver them as soon as practicable.
--Harry Poindexter

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Monday, October 8, 2007

exigencies of war

Marchant family home, known as "Piraeus." Photo taken circa 1908, courtesy of the Marchant Family collection.
The house was built around 1840 and remains remarkably unchanged to this day. For many years, this was the largest house in Charlottesville.
In the photo, one can see the pair of lovely brick gutters that come from the house and traverse nearly the entire length of the front yard.
There is strong evidence that a tunnel runs under the gravel path shown between the gutters. The tunnel begins in the basement, under the front steps, and exits somewhere on the other side of the railroad tracks.
Inexplicably, in 1980, Albemarle County zoned this, and the other historic homes on the hilltop, Light Industrial. Since then, these properties have been under threat of demolition to make way for industrial development.
We'd welcome hearing from anyone interested in Piraeus, or who would like to join us in saving it from demolition. Victoria Dunham - Woolen Mills Road

Meanwhile, in the decade of the fifties, as Marchant strived to bolster the financial condition of the company, the nation had moved steadily to the brink of war, When the blow fell in 1861, the small corporation was swept along by the exigencies of the conflict. The Confederate government hastily commandeered or seized control over the multitude of small textile factories throughout the South and put them to work producing military cloths. The Charlottesville Manufacturing Company played its part in this phase of the Confederate war effort. By 1862, fifteen persons labored at spinning and weaving cotton and wool fibers into goods for soldiers' and laborers' wear. If an adequate wool supply had been available the mill might have experienced a boom similar to that in the northern wool factories. At least one other small wool factory sprang up nearby to meet the war-induced demand for cloth, making three such mills within a radius of some thirty miles. The Marchant factory alone had orders enough to give work to three times the number of people actually employed, but difficulties in transporting cotton and wool from the abundant supplies in Texas and the Lower South precluded undue expansion of the enterprise. The shortage of wool grew especially serious as the war progressed, and throughout the South private homes were frequently stripped of all available fabrics to meet the needs of the army. --Harry Poindexter

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Sunday, October 7, 2007

a spirit of confidence

from the Baltimore-Pritchett collection, Mamie Starkes, c. 1892

If Marchant believed that his major difficulties could be solved by a new infusion of capital, there were others equally sanguine who were willing to risk their money in the Factory. Marchant and his son, Henry, joined with John Wood, M. L. Anderson, T. J. Wertenbaker, and John C. Patterson to form the Charlottesville Manufacturing Company. Chartered as a joint-stock company by an act of the Virginia General Assembly passed on February 4, 1860, the new organization was authorized to acquire capital of not less than $12,000 nor more than $100,000 by selling stock at fifty dollars a share. The company received permission to own as much as 500 acres of land and "such personal property as they may deem necessary and proper for carrying on the manufacture of cotton, wool, flour, corn meal and tobacco,? the grinding of plaster? and the sawing of lumber. On March 20, books were opened in Charlottesville at the counting room of Patterson. Within a month the firm was organized with George Carr serving as president and John Marchant, who deeded his property to the company, acting as general agent. From Baltimore an experienced man was procured to supervise the manufacturing operations, Jones having disappeared from view during the preceding years. From the existing advertisements of the new concern it appears that the processing of wool into rolls for home weaving and the manufacture of cotton and wool into jeans and linseys had become the principal interest of the mill. Custom service was stressed and and the traditional barter type exchange of raw wool for finished cloth continued. Whatever the proportion of its income the mill secured from its subsidiary operations, the accent on a more specialized product typified a maturing textile firm. The mere formation of the company was in itself evidence of a spirit of confidence--a spirit which outlasted great misfortune to blossom forth after the war with renewed energy.--Harry Poindexter

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Saturday, October 6, 2007

cotton v wool

Gladys Gatlin, 96 y.o. today, worked at the mill 30+ years.

While extant newspapers of Charlottesville do not prove that such an impulse helped account for support of the Charlottesville factory, as was the case after the war, there must have been some degree of this sectional patriotism at work. By 1860 two factories were in the production of cotton and woolen cloth. Together capitalized at $34,600 and employing twenty men and twenty-two women, the two mills had only about ten percent of their investment and one-third of their work force involved in the manufacture of woolen cloth. The remainder was used in cotton cloth production. Similarly, of a total annual output of' $61,750 in cloth, merely one-sixth was in woolens. Labor costs in making these woolens amounted to $2,088 yearly as compared to $3,912 in cotton cloth production.--Harry Poindexter

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Friday, October 5, 2007

prejudices against industry weakened

On the positive side of the ledger far-reaching changes were being wrought in the Southern mind and economy which augured well for the woolen mill. Through-out the South, reaction to Northern abolition attacks and a growing sectional consciousness gave intensity to an increasing desire for economic independence from the North. Southern newspapers in the fifties sounded the call for Southern manufactures, for the "clattering of the busy looms," for the building of cotton and woolen mills and a wide range of business activities. Old prejudices against industry weakened in the face of a movement which brought to the South an increase of 143 percent in woolen manufacture, 65 percent in the production of men's clothing, and 90 percent in the making of boots and shoes. --Harry Poindexter

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Thursday, October 4, 2007

other factors delayed expansion of the mill

from the Baltimore-Pritchett collection

Besides the influx of these cloths other factors delayed expansion of the mill. Virginia's population remained relatively stationary, increasing only twelve percent during the 1850's while the national rate was three times as great. In Albemarle County the 20,000 inhabitants of 1820 had slowly climbed to 23,000 in 1840 and to 25,800 in 1850. The next ten years added only 825 to that total. In addition, the panic of 1857 affected Marchant's fortunes adversely. However, it is significant that confronted with all these developments, he made no attempt to dispose of the property or to divert production from the manufacture of cotton and woolen cloth.--Harry Poindexter

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Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Virginia Central Railroad

from the Marion collection

In 1850 the Richmond connection was constructed by the Virginia Central Railroad, the tracks passing only a few yards from the mill. By 1852 the Orange and Alexandria Railroad was serving Charlottesville. In opening a greater market potential, the two roads also brought Albemarle County within the radius of mills looking for national markets. Yet, the pressure from this competition is easy to over-rate. The Charlottesville Factory produced cloth primarily for lower class consumption rather than for the groups which bought fancy Northern goods.--Harry Poindexter

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Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Baltimore Branch Clothing House

from the Baltimore-Pritchett collection

In the absence of any record showing the extent of the business of the company for the fifties, it is impossible to estimate its financial condition. The decade saw a steady stream of clothing goods appear from the North, especially Baltimore, which undoubtedly exerted considerable pressure on the local wool manufacture. Several stores sold these clothes during the period, one of them styling itself the "Baltimore Branch Clothing House in Charlottesville, Virginia". Railway connections between Charlottesville and Alexandria to the north and with Richmond on the east were factors in providing this competition for the Charlottesville Factory. --Harry Poindexter

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Monday, October 1, 2007

mortgaged once again

from the Baltimore-Pritchett collection

Successful functioning of the enterprise must have been hampered by its owner's unstable finances. In the early part of 1858, not long after the panic of the Previous year, Marchant was forced to mortgage once again the Factory and property at Pireus to secure a debt.

At that time his storehouse at the factory site stocked a variety of goods which indicated that, at least temporarily, events had pushed the textile business into the background. Hats, caps, ready-made clothing, hardware, cutlery, earthenware, china, shoes, and boots comprised the inventory. This, too, was mortgaged.--Harry Poindexter

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