Thursday, January 31, 2008

Piling Pelion on Ossa

Property damage was extremely heavy but the company had been well insured--insured for everything except the loss of customers who would immediately look elsewhere for their fabrics.
To a local editor the fire was the final touch in an incredible series of misfortunes which had struck the community: "The failure of her banks and insurance company, and the destruction by fire of the Monticello Wine Company were terrible disasters, and the destruction of the Woolen Mills piles 'Pelion upon Ossa.'" The loss in purchasing power and investments would settle down like a bleak January rain to dampen any upsurge in the Albemarle business community. --Harry Poindexter

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Wednesday, January 30, 2008



The outlook was bright for the stockholders of the Charlottesville Woolen Mills as they strolled from their annual meeting on the afternoon of January 10, 1882. The troubles of the last ten years seemed over. The company which they had planted with care in 1868 had finally taken root, and they looked forward to harvesting the fruits of their labor. The depression of the seventies had ended; the last Federal troops had long since departed. And if such prophets of the New South as Henry Grady and Francis W. Dawson could be believed, the mill stood poised to march on into an era of unprecedented prosperity.
Before dawn the next day, this rosy picture was abruptly shattered. At about midnight, the dreaded call of "Fire!" rudely broke into the peaceful slumber of the small village near the mill. Flames licked at the third floor windows and quickly spread throughout the main building before they could be extinguished. All of the valuable machinery and a large part of partly processed cloth were consumed by the fire, leaving only the blackened hulk of the building to greet the morning sun.--Harry Poindexter


Tuesday, January 29, 2008

active local support

The period from 1865 to 1881 brought the Charlottesville Woolen Mills to maturity. This coming of age was achieved first in the adoption of an efficient corporate structure, later through the production of fabrics of sound quality, and finally in the successful quest for a wide-spread market. It seems clear that what accomplishments were attained can be laid in part to fortunate style changes which permitted the mill to use its labor to best advantage, and to active local support of the enterprise. But credit must also be given to the able leadership of Henry Clay Marchant, under whose direction the company in the decades ahead built up an admirable reputation for quality cloths and continued to expand in the more nourishing environment of a New South. To these developments we must now turn.--Harry Poindexter

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Thursday, January 24, 2008

Welfare Capitalism

pond frozen, January 21, 2007

It can readily be seen that the administration of the Charlottesville Woolen Mills appreciated the benefits to be derived from promoting the welfare of its employees. A mill community existed, but no attempt was made to exploit the situation by tight control over the affairs of the people. Rather, paternalism was the keynote. The complete absence of any signs of labor unrest indicates that a sound policy wisely administered was the result. In the next two decades the company promoted and supported educational and religious activities as well, bringing to fruition a program of welfare capitalism.--Harry Poindexter


Wednesday, January 23, 2008

home feeling

pond found, August 26, 2007

The administration was motivated in its housing program by both humanitarian and economic considerations. Upon finding evidences of crowding and unsatisfactory quarters, a committee of the stockholders revealed the mixture of these motives in a report dated February 12, 1881:
The property of a manufacturing Company must ultimately rest on the efficiency and fidelity of its labor. It must be impaired by whatever impairs the comfort and morale of its operatives. It must be promoted by whatever promotes their self respect [sic], elevates their character, and cultivates local attachments and the home feeling. Nor is it easy to estimate the precuniary [sic] advantages of such a liberal policy as shall strengthen our hold on the entire body of employees, and more particularly on those whose value is apt to bring tempting offers from abroad.

The committee felt that two tenements to house four families were needed, but for reasons of economy it suggested that only one be built. However, the stockholders ordered both to be constructed immediately.--Harry Poindexter


Tuesday, January 22, 2008

affordable housing, 1881

August 24, 2007, based on old photos, looking for the pond

Most discernible was the provision for inexpensive living quarters for laborers and their families. As we have noted previously, as early as 1850 there had been a start in that direction. Between 1869 and 1873 additions and improvements were made to these dwellings even though the company was begging for operating capital. Such additions continued through the decade. By 1881, besides houses for the president and plant manager, the mill owned seven tenement dwellings and rented one house, all for the use of employees at nominal cost. In the forty-four rooms thus provided lived seventeen white and two Negro families. Fifty-five of the sixty employees occupied company dwellings.--Harry Poindexter


Monday, January 21, 2008

the status of labor

Mabel Pritchett Marrs with unidentified children c. 1955. The fishpond has been filled in.

In judging these extremely low payments, however, correspondingly small salaries of the management must be considered. In 1876, for example, the treasurer received only $1,000, out of which he had to pay clerical help. During the Following year, Marchant's salary as president and superintendent was merely $1,750.
Writers have commented sufficiently on the low wage scales of Southern laborers and on their influence in attracting Northern capital. Likewise the lower living standards of the South are well known. But too often the wage scale overshadows other aspects of the status of labor which reflect more properly the attitude of employers toward their workers. For example, if one judges the condition of the employees of the Charlottesville Woolen Mills in the seventies solely on the basis of their modest pay, he will believe them exploited. In fairness, one must realize that the administration was forced to keep wages low simply because of competitive prices and reluctant capital. At the same time, one must also note the sincere interest that was actually shown for the welfare of the employees. --Harry Poindexter

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Sunday, January 20, 2008

fish pond

Woodie Pritchett and Louise Baltimore c. 1930, in the backyard of 1604 Woolen Mills Road. Louise met Woodie at their workplace, the Charlottesville Woolen Mills. They married, October 21, 1933.

This writer has been unable to find statistics to indicate prevailing wage scales at the mill. In 1881, however, it appears that sixty employees divided a sum of $16,138, which indicated an average wage of only $270. These figures covered a thirteen-month period and become even more strikingly low when one considers that an average conceals the wage scale which separated various classes of workers. Moreover, nearly two hundred persons were dependent on these wages for their livelihood. And in February, 1879, a "general reduction in values" forced a ten percent cut in wages and salaries which lasted for a year. --Harry Poindexter

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Saturday, January 19, 2008

labor force

Cutie Harlow, Athalia Shisler
In 1868, just prior to the organization of the mill as a stock company, Marchant?s labor force totaled nearly twenty. This figure can be compared with a national average of about twenty-eight employees per mill. By 1882 the Charlottesville Woolen Mills was using sixty workers, and had climbed considerably ahead of the national average which did not reach that figure until 1889. While the size of the Charlottesville company reflected the typical unit of production in the American wool manufacture, one must remember that the large New England mills often employed hundreds.--Harry Poindexter

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Friday, January 18, 2008

the laboring element, the heart of the village

Hezekiah Harlow, courtesy the Drumheller family

It is easy in studying the history of a business enterprise to become so involved with financial aspects that one neglects to examine the status of the laboring element. In the case of Southern textile mills such an omission is especially serious because of the almost feudal relationship existing between the mill worker and the company itself. The scarcity of information on this problem in our study is, therefore, unfortunate. After 1880 the picture is somewhat clearer, but for the period between 1865 and 1881 we must be content with only a casual glance. --Harry Poindexter

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Thursday, January 17, 2008

quality was the forte of the mill

Hezekiah Harlow, courtesy of the Drumheller family

Newspaper comments during the decade always emphasized the superior quality of Charlottesville Woolen Mills fabrics and the need to encourage home industries. Quality rather than a favorable price differential was evidently the forte of the mill. One must infer that in the better grades of cloth the company was unable to undersell Northern competitors who were being squeezed by a depressed internal economy even though adequate protection had been extended under the 1867 tariff. Indeed, in 1878 the directors considered turning to a cheaper rather than a finer grade of product. Three years later, however, the picture had altered. Equipment for a steam brush and rotary press was installed to improve the finished cloth at no extra labor cost. And plans were matured for extensive expansion. As we shall see later, this optimistic program was blocked by a second disastrous fire.--Harry Poindexter

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Tuesday, January 15, 2008

cost per yard

A hand written note on the back of the photograph identifies this as the bridge-span over the Rivanna River at the foot of Monticello (.42 miles east of the Mill, .47 miles north of the House). It's a safe assumption that this was a gathering celebrating the official opening of the span, there are over 100 people in attendance, men women and children. The Central Virginia rail line came to Charlottesville in 1850, but the photographic technology plus the presence of what look to be masonry piers from a previous structure argue for a later date for this photo, c. 1905. Please contact us if you can provide an exact

The cost of marketing was negligible. Advertising and commission fees consumed most of that expenditure. Advertising amounted to a very small sum, varying from $433 in 1875 to one-tenth that amount in 1881. Nor were commissions excessive. For example in 1880, when gross sales totaled $128,000, salesmen received only $6,400 or five percent of the income. During the following year this expense amounted to only $3,500, or about two percent of total sales.
The general cost structure can be roughly analyzed from scattered figures. Raw materials unquestionably dominated the picture; probably one-half the cost was to be found there. Next in importance, "hand labor" accounted for about twenty percent and salaries for another two percent. In 1873, before the crash, the expenses of actual manufacturing operations stood at twenty cents per yard. In the hope of cutting this figure by four cents, Marchant added two broad looms to the eleven narrow ones in use. By 1881, however, costs of manufacturing were varying between thirty and forty cents per yard, primarily because of producing a better grade of cloth.--Harry Poindexter

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Monday, January 14, 2008

Moses Kaufman used the cloth in his trade

Locally, the mill marketed its goods in a manner very different from that described above. A monopolistic policy of restricting sales to certain Charlottesville merchants continued throughout the decade. Patterson, now in partnership with another stockholder in the mill, John L. Cochran, handled the fabrics for local retail sales. Moses Kaufman, since 1872 a prosperous tailor and rapidly increasing his business activities, used the cloth in his trade. In the eighties, if not before, Kaufman became a large stockholder in the mill. Occasionally an outburst of indignation from some aggrieved merchant could be heard, but the short-sighted policy continued into the next decade. --Harry Poindexter


Saturday, January 12, 2008

two railroads

One interesting problem arose in shipping orders to some areas. Charlottesville, being located at the junction of two railroads, offered transportation facilities north and south, and east and west. The east-west route was served by General Willlam Mahone's Atlantic, Mississippi, and Ohio Railroad. About 1873 Mahone refused to come to terns with the Adams Express Company, and express service along the route was disrupted. When loud complaints went up in Richmond, the Charlottesville Woolen Mills joined the clamor as its east-west trade in Virginia began to dry up. "Today," a mill spokesman cried, "we ship a bale of woollens [sic] - to Bristol, which has to go via Danville, Charlotte, Atlanta, Chattanooga, and Knoxville to reach its destination." Some buyers even requested that orders be sent by freight because that method was faster than the circuitous express system. No doubt others preferred to make purchases from mills not located on such undependable transportation systems. The outcome of the problem is not known, but the episode is an interesting commentary on railroad abuses in that day. --Harry Poindexter

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Thursday, January 10, 2008

forty-four different destinations

Harry Poindexter

As a result, individual orders were small, and practically every yard which came off the looms had been earmarked for a buyer. A local editor leaves us a description of one day?s shipment. On August 28, 1877, as some 8,000 yards were processed for delivery, he jotted down the places to which the orders were being sent. Over forty-four different destinations appeared on the labels. While 8,000 yards were an unusually large amount for a single day, the number of purchasers was quite typical. In this fashion the mill disposed of an annual production of 70,000 to 113,000 yards.--Harry Poindexter


Wednesday, January 9, 2008

selling by sample on the road

Timberlake-Branham House, 1512 Woolen Mills Road

Traveling agents, ranging widely, provided contact with buyers outside the immediate environs of Charlottesville. The mill did not utilize during this period the services of commission houses which possessed both selling and credit facilities, although nationally the industry had adopted that method long before the War. In the eighties, woolen mills "learned the advantages of selling by sample on the road, and by their traveling salesmen solicited the custom of the whole country." The Charlottesville factory, having escaped the fetters of an exclusive selling agreement, was nearly a decade ahead of the industry in that respect. Its sales were made directly to the merchants, to tailors, and to a few military schools.--Harry Poindexter

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Monday, January 7, 2008

new markets

Live by the river, work at the Mill, rest on the hill. Mr. Nick Gianniny, weaving department foreman is buried in Riverview Cemetery, within sight of his home and workplace.

If diversity of product and improved quality were only undercurrents in the history of the Charlottesville mill during the seventies, in the woolen industry as a whole they proved the keynote. During the next decade, as we shall see later, the Charlottesville Woolen Mills embraced this movement and went even further. It began to specialize its production and to acquire a particular kind of market. When that was accomplished, the mill had completed the typical cycle of expansion in the American wool manufacture.

The company meanwhile did not wait long to strike out for a growing market. Expanding early into southeastern and southwestern Virginia, subsequent attempts were aimed first at the Southern market. By 1877 a firm grip had been secured in Virginia, Alabama, North and South Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky, and Georgia. Thereafter, a thrust was made into the North and within three years Pennsylvania, New York, Ohio, and Indiana could be counted among the areas covered by salesmen. --Harry Poindexter

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Thursday, January 3, 2008

twenty-six varieties

The Charlottesville Woolen Mills is mentioned several times in the letters of Booker T Washington. The Mill made the uniform cloth for students at the Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute in the 1880s. (Dunham)

At the time of the panic mostly plain cassimeres and kerseys comprised the output of the factory, but steps had been taken to add considerable variety. Heavy woolens, fancy cassimeres, flannels, and a heavy uniform cloth called "cadet gray" made their entrance into the mill's offerings. At a state fair in Richmond during the fall of 1874, the mill exhibited over twenty different kinds of prize-winning fabrics; yet these did not include their fall assortment! Three years later, the company displayed twenty-six varieties of cloth. Technical advance had enabled the mill to make summer and winter cassimeres of high quality and to extend the range of uniform cloths. By this date, also, these two groups of fabrics had achieved a considerable reputation "through-out the country" for quality, durability, and fastness of colors.--Harry Poindexter

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