Friday, December 28, 2007

style changes

"Mr. Nick" Gianniny, with his wife Daisy Estelle, c. 1958, R.N. Gianniny was foreman of the Charlottesville Woolen Mills weaving department from 1919 to 1942.

During the 1870's, a rising standard of living brought style changes which pushed satinets, kerseys, jeans, and broadcloths into the background. In their place fine cassimeres, cashmeres, meltons, and other smooth-finished cloths surged forward In importance with flannels ranking second. Marchant and his associates endeavored to meet this trend while retaining a foothold in the manufacture of coarser materials.--Harry Poindexter

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Saturday, December 22, 2007

a period of transition

1600 Woolen Mills Road, "Mr. Nick" Gianniny's house

We have already noted that small pre-war textile mills outside New England generally marketed a coarse grade of cloth for home consumption and processed wool for home weaving under a primitive barter system. This pattern was for a short period continued after 1869 by the Charlottesville Woolen Mills. Soon, however, satinets, kerseys, flannels, and smooth doeskin cassimeres flowed from the factory. But except for the appearance of fine cassimeres, these fabrics were typical products of mills oriented toward a rural economy. Actually, the seventies proved to be a period of transition, with the Charlottesville plant swinging slowly into the manufacture of finer cloths and a widely diversified output.
--Harry Poindexter

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Wednesday, December 19, 2007

opening wedges for a far-flung market

courtesy the Baltimore-Pritchett collection

Occasionally, too, interest centered about the need for a local factory to make clothing from the fabrics of the mill. An organization known as the Charlottesville Board of Trade considered it in 1874, and T. J. Randolph was especially interested in the plan. But nothing came of it although the idea was still bandied about in 1881.
A particularly important reason for the company's early successes, therefore, was the limited area from which it drew its capital, some of its raw materials, and its labor. A further factor was the continued manufacture of cloth using coarse wool which not only put the labor and machinery of the mill to best use but reduced the pressures of competition.
With its production founded primarily on coarse and medium grade fabrics during the seventies, the company began the manufacture of increasingly finer cloths which in subsequent decades came to dominate production. For the present they served as opening wedges for a far-flung market. --Harry Poindexter

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Monday, December 17, 2007

1709 Woolen Mills Road

In 1920 this was the home of Emma Baltimore Amiss and her husband, mason Joe Amiss. Also in their house, 6 children. Twenty-one year old Lois was a weaver at the mill, nineteen year old Lillian was a spooler, seventeen year old Edna worked in a ten cent store. Frances (15), Emma (11) and Edward (9) were presumably enrolled in Woolen Mills School, 75 yards west on Woolen Mills Road.

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Saturday, December 15, 2007

the golden fleece

from the 1915 Illio

Annual Report of the Commissioner and the Board of Agriculture and Immigration
By Dept. of Agriculture and Immigration, Virginia

CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA., November 2, 1891
H. L. Lyman, Esq

DEAR SIR--In compliance with my recent promise to give you such data as I could, in furtherance of your desire to increase the interest of our farmers in sheep-raising, I herewith hand an itemized list of purchases made by us in Harrison county, Ohio, in the months of July and August of this year, and I may add that our buyer starts for the same section this week, expecting to invest $8,000 to $10,000.

Our total purchases of wool for the year 1890 were a little in excess of $110,000. After first of January next I can give you the figures for 1891 if desired.

It would seem to be most fortunate for the farmers of Virginia, and especially for those in close proximity to our mills, to have a woolen manufacturing plant located in their midst, which offers a home market for the staple, where they can sell direct to the manufacturer, and without the intervention of middle men. Our purchases of Virginia wools, however, are necessarily limited, by reason of the fact that we must buy the raw material of such quality as is adapted to making the kind of goods our trade demands, which is largely three-quarter to full-blood Merino. Just here I am aware that I antagonize a well-grounded idea that by reason of our close proximity to the large mutton-consuming markets of the seaboard the profit of sheep-raising is strongly in favor of the longer wool breeds, and it is difficult to argue against well settled prejudices, but they should always yield to reason and facts.

In those sections of our country, and I may say of the world, where sheep-raising has been most profitable, careful investigation will show that the Merino predominates. No State excels our own in climatic and other advantages for profitably growing " the golden fleece," the cur dog being practically its only enemy. To combat this enemy successfully, we must either have a dog tax thoroughly enforced, which for the eastern portion of the State seems to be in the remote future, or flocks must be of sufficient size to justify the employment of a regular shepherd. No breed will stand herding in large flocks without falling a prey to disease except the Merinos.

The prejudice to which I have referred as existing against this breed dates back, I think, to a long ago period, and a visit to Washington and other counties in Southwestern Pennsylvania and Harrison, Carroll, Belmont and other counties of Southeastern Ohio would be a revelation to those entertaining these prejudices, both as to their value for mutton and wool. By judicious breeding and culling the standard of the full-blooded Merino has been wonderfully improved both as to size of the animal and its desirability for table mutton, as well as length of staple and weight of fleece, until it now rivals the Shropshires and their most worthy progenitors, the Southdowns, while for an all-around, general-purpose sheep, either in large or small flocks, no breed is so highly prized in the localities referred to as the " Delaine " family, which is the outcome of a careful cross of the Merinos upon the long-wool breeds upon the principle of the survival of the fittest.

The "Delaines" vary according to the care in culling and tastes of the breeder, from one-half to three-fourths Merino, having the characteristics of reasonably early maturing mutton, of beautifully marbled flesh, fine size and a fleece of fine, strong, long-stapled wool, so thickly studded on the pelt as to yield easily an average of eight to twelve pounds of the most desirable and highest priced wool on the market.

If our farmers could be induced to try this Merino cross and exercise the necessary care in culling their flocks, I have no doubt they would be found to be quite as desirable for mutton as the breeds now most popular, and our mills would offer them a home market for all the wool they could grow.

Most truly yours,


(the above courtesy of Google Books)

(Cinder Stanton speaks about Jefferson's sheep)


Wednesday, December 12, 2007

a Sunday remembered

We were down one Sunday, and Lloyd Harlow and I think John Drumheller, the other boy, three of us, they were just building the powerhouse down here, devastated now of course. They've taken off twenty five or thirty foot of the chimney now for safety reasons.
At this time it was new, just been built, hadn't been put in use. The bottom of it had big iron doors that you opened to clean out the soot in the chimney. There was a steel ladder going up the inside of the stack. It was perfectly new, clean as a whistle, and so we climbed up inside of the chimney, it was about 100-125 feet high, pretty high for the diameter of it. When you got on top, it was very scary looking really.
Lloyd got scared and wouldn't come down. We couldn't entice him to come down. It was Sunday afternoon, he was supposed to be in church, all three of us were supposed to be in Church, in Sunday School rather. So, we had to come down and go get his daddy, and his daddy came down there and after a time he climbed up the chimney and got Lloyd down, I was surprised, he was scared to death himself.--Roy Jackson Baltimore


Thursday, December 6, 2007

achievements of the community

Pictured above, railroad bridge crossing Moores Creek from the shoulder of Pireus to the base of Monticello.

The spirited interest of Albemarle County people arose primarily from the consideration that the mill was one of the few local means of bringing money into the area. Not only in Charlottesville but in surrounding cities this fact was appreciated. Public support found ready expression in newspapers of the day. The mill stood forth as a symbol of a new industrialism. Again and again its success was heralded as proof' of the advantages offered by Charlottesville for factories of all sorts. In a vital sense, the mill belonged to the people; its achievements became the achievements of the community.--Harry Poindexter

We are currently labeling 1059 4x6" prints for delivery to the Virginia Department of Historic Resources. While the County of Albemarle and the City of Charlottesville have been somewhat slow to recognize the value of the historic resources extant in the Woolen Mills village, the State has been extremely supportive as we pursue recognition for this community of workers who contributed mightily to the Commonwealth for one-hundred years.

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Tuesday, December 4, 2007


kitchen for "Piraeus" (the Marchant House)

The textile mills were caught in the process of filling autumn and winter orders. A large amount of short-term notes which had been received in payment for goods was defaulted. Mills became hard pressed for cash, many being forced to close down, others driven into bankruptcy. Following the immediate shock, stagnation gripped the industry and lasted until 1880.

How, one may ask, did the embattled Charlottesville mill succeed so well while powerful textile interests like the Sprague mills in New England with assets of $20,000,000 fell victim to the panic? First, it should noted that the lack of a preferred stock issue precluded a constant drain on resources. Common stock dividends could be and often were withheld. Furthermore, its wool purchases were much smaller than those of large mills and frequently were obtained from local farmers at prices which probably fluctuated less radically than the world market. In addition, the panic and depression of the 1870's caused a shift in demand to the coarser, cheaper goods made by the Charlottesville Woolen Mills during that era. Other factors could be mentioned--for example, the lower costs of labor in the South--but one especially deserves notice. That was the intense sense of sectional pride with which local inhabitants regarded the Mill. --Harry Poindexter

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Sunday, December 2, 2007

the price of wool

The Riverview Cemetery Company was incorporated by a group of local businessmen on December 29, 1892 with a mission to establish a cemetery "near and convenient" to the City of Charlottesville. Marchant was a trustee and vice-president of the cemetery and took a leading role in its formation-Lara Day

In addition to an oscillating economy, the woolen industry had problems of its own. The prosperity which had enticed Marchant in 1865 was short-lived. In 1868 a combination of factors brought widespread depression. First the high price level broke with a fall in the price of gold. Then the federal government dumped large quantities of surplus cloths on the market. When prices failed to climb after the tariff of 1867 had extended protection to the industry, importers unloaded huge stocks of cloth purchased the year before in anticipation of a price rise. At the same time uncertainty was generated by wide fluctuations in the price of raw wool, an item which amounted to half the cost of manufacturing A low level existed from 1867 to 1871 when raw wool skyrocketed until it reached a peak in 1872 of seventy-five percent above the price of 1871. Just as suddenly the bottom dropped out in 1873 and a slow decline continued until 1880. In that year another sharp rise in wool temporarily shook the industry. The most severe impact, however, came from the 1873 crash.--Harry Poindexter

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