Saturday, March 29, 2008

new source of energy

The effective use of electricity had already been demonstrated locally when in 1894 the city street railway line adopted it. As these cars rattled about the town, the woolen mills directory pondered the possibilities of the dynamo for their own use. In 1899 the mill began receiving supplemental power from the local electric light company and in the following year installed its own dynamo to "add very materially to the capacity of the mills."
At the same time, embedded in a series of proposed amendments to the company's charter was a provision giving the mill the right to dispose of any portion of its power by contract, lease, or sale. This clause anticipated the prospect of developing on nearby property an electric power plant connected to a dam on the Rivanna. Several experts were called in but when they estimated the cost to be about $100,000 the plan was shelved. In 1909, however, when contract negotiations with the electric light company broke down, an "oil engine" was purchased to provide light and power.
With electricity gradually assuming more and more of the burden, the mill approached the war years still utilizing water power but gradually adopting the new source of energy. --Harry Poindexter

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Friday, March 28, 2008

early user of electricity

photo courtesy the Pritchett collection, subject unknown

In the decade following the 1893 panic, hydroelectric power was first developed in this country for factory use. American woolen mills slowly adopted the new source of energy, but at the turn of the century only a small portion of their machinery was operated by electricity. Even as late as 1905 the amount was insignificant. The following table, based on the percentage of horsepower consumption in the woolen industry will indicate the trend.

The Charlottesville Woolen Mills became one of the early users of electricity. It had been necessary in 1889 to add another waterwheel and in 1902 steps were taken to increase not only machinery but the waterpower as well. Waterpower, hampered by floods, droughts, and obstructions, had long been a drawback to uninterrupted work, but no adequate substitute existed. During a dry spell in 1895, Marchant investigated the use of an electric motor for supplemental power but found the cost too great.--Harry Poindexter

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Thursday, March 27, 2008

road not taken

Bettie Baltimore, courtesy of the Drumheller Collection

In the seventies the Charlottesville mill had continually made improvements and additions to its property in bad times as well as good. The period under study witnessed a continuation of this policy in two directions. One was toward expanded facilities in the face of fast-growing sales; the other was a search for more and better power devices.

The building program extended throughout the years from 1883 to 1917. None of the structures was large or expensive. Mostly they were small detached units scattered about the main building. A few were new dwellings for employees. Nevertheless, by 1887 a visitor, marvelling at the activity, jestingly expressed wonder that the area did not "ask for articles of incorporation in the near future, and set up the town business for herself." Unfortunately, with manufacturing costs low and with a steadily growing market for its goods, the mill did not systematically plan its new structures for the efficient movement of production from one department to the next. After the first World War, when keen business competition necessitated a more economical organization, a whole new program had to be launched.--Harry Poindexter

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Wednesday, March 26, 2008

no funded debt

Monticello viewshed (Jefferson's house on the ridgeline)

As early as the fall of 1893, the board of directors were looking for profitable investments in which to use the rapidly accumulating surplus. By the end of the year, $30,000 had gone into municipal and state bonds. This type of investment increased during the following years, and in addition money was lent to several individuals. An investment committee was created in 1894 which began the gradual purchase of mortgage bonds and preferred stock. Both of these had been a constant source of worry for the board. Therefore, at various tines, preferred stock and mortgage bonds were cancelled and destroyed after purchase. By 1904 the company could boast that it had no funded debt.--Harry Poindexter

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Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Returns on common stock

Monticello view-shed being reworked by C.W. Hurt Contractors, L.L.C. (Thomas Jefferson's home is located on the distant ridge line, right hand side of photo beneath the bare poplar limbs)

Returns on common stock reflected this trend after the early heavy losses were made up. From 1890 to 1895 a seven percent common stock dividend was distributed. Thereafter until 1914 earnings on both types of stock varied between twelve and sixteen percent, and in addition the surplus was twice capitalized into common stock.
Another index of the company's health is the scattered information on the growing value of its stock. As early as 1893 preferred stock sold at an eight percent premium; in two years this had doubled. At the end of another decade the premium reached fifty percent: the stock which had sold for fifty dollars in 1884 now brought seventy-five dollars at a public sale and eighty dollars in a private transaction. By 1913, some of the stock of the company had exchanged hands at $110 a share.--Harry Poindexter

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Friday, March 21, 2008

floated to the top

Blair-Amiss House gets a new coat of paint

Beginning in 1886, the woolen mill floated to the top of the same wave of prosperity. By 1889 the deficit disappeared and earnings rose constantly until the 1893 panic. The lowly $8,000 profit of 1887 was tripled in 1890, and two years later it just missed being five times as great. With the 1893 crash, profits dropped rapidly, but they still reached $19,000. Recovery was rapid, so that from 1896 to 1909, except for a slight decrease in 1900, net earnings hovered between $30,000 and $40,000. After a sudden upturn in 1910, the company moved into the war years with annual profits of over $55,000. --Harry Poindexter

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Wednesday, March 19, 2008


Present day view from Riverview Cemetery looking southeast 3.25 miles to the radio towers atop Carter's Mountain

While the company struggled to get back on its feet, a wave of prosperity swept over the country and seeped into the South. Cotton mills grew by leaps and hounds. Southern mineral, tobacco, and lumber interests continually reaped the fruits of reconciliation. In the North and West, the nation flexed its muscles sending railroad spurs to crisscross the land and entering an era of unprecedented business expansion and consolidation.

Even in Charlottesville the general prosperity rippled through the business world. In the decade of the eighties the town doubled its population to nearly 6,000, while personal property values jumped from $300,000 to nearly $600,000. Few new businesses appeared but the established ones benefitted from the general flourish of activity.--Harry Poindexter

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Wednesday, March 12, 2008

drought and high water

Woolen Mills baseball team, courtesy of the Baltimore-Marion collection.

Moving from the crippled conditions of 1883 to vigorous health in 1914 was not an easy matter. Nor did recovery come immediately on the heels of the new injection of capital. Until 1886 the mill ended each year so deeply in red ink that a $30,000 deficit accumulated. In part this was brought about by a general depression in the woolen industry, and in part it was the result of' an inefficient general superintendent who had been hired to relieve Marchant of that responsibility. Furthermore, first a drought and then high water, ever recurring plagues, struck the hapless mill. In spite of a rigid retrenchment program, no common stock dividend was available during those critical years. The benefits which Henry Grady saw in an industrialized South were late in reaching the Charlottesville Woolen Mills.--Harry Poindexter

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Monday, March 10, 2008


House on the left ( 1604 Woolen Mills Road. 002-1260-0030 ) built by Virginia (41 y.o.) and James Starkes (55 y.o.) in 1890.
Brick house on right residence of Cel and Bettie Harlow. John Baltimore, mason, Bettie Baltimore Harlow's brother, laid the brick.
The Starkes acquired their 4 acre lot the first day of summer, June 21, 1886, for five-hundred dollars (Albemarle County DB 92 Page 65). To the north the Starkes lot had 310 feet of frontage on Woolen Mills Road. It was bounded on the south by the C&O railroad tracks, to the east by a paper street, 2nd road (modern-day Franklin Street) and to the west by James Timberlake (002-1260-0037, 1512 Woolen Mills Road)
Following the death of the Starkes, their property became involved in a chancery suit between their children and was sold at auction June 20, 1903 to James Timberlake, wet-finishing foreman at the Woolen Mill. (Albemarle County Chancery orders 1903, Book 21, Page 42, Albemarle County DB 127 Page 250)
In January of 1916, Timberlake divided and sold Virginia Starkes land. The western portion of the land he sold to R.N. Gianniny (1600 Woolen Mills Road, 002-1260-0041, Albemarle County DB 161 PG 406 J.E.Timberlake to R.N. Gianniny 1/24/1916 $500). Gianniny was a weaving second hand who had grown up in the mill village. In 1919, at the age of 48, Gianniny was promoted to the position of supervisor of the Woolen Mills weaving department. Gianniny was Virginia Starkes first cousin (?? have to tie this down)
Gianniny subdivided his lot and sold the western portion to Woolen Mills transportation supervisor, J.E. Hudson (DB 162 PG184 R.N. Gianniny to J.E. Hudson 2/19/1916 $250, 1516 Woolen Mills Road, 002-1260-0040)
Timberlake sold the eastern portion of the Starkes lot to Marcellus and Bettie Harlow, 1606 Woolen Mills Road. (Albemarle County DB 160 PG 406, 002-1260-0045).
Marcellus "Cel" Harlow's wife, Bettie (nee Baltimore), had a sister in-law desperate to move back to her natal home. The Harlow's subdivided their lot.
The day after Christmas, 1916, Mamie Starkes Baltimore spent 1500 dollars and regained the house she lost thirteen years previously. (Albemarle County DB164 PG153 12/26/1916, M.C & Bettie Harlow to Mary Starkes Baltimore $1500).

Within a year, the company's stock and mortgage liabilities settled down to a total capitalization of about $101,000 in common stock, $56,000 in preferred stock, and $52,000 in mortgage bonds. Except for the gradual retirement of the mortgage, which was accomplished by 1903, these figures remained relatively constant until 1896. In that year the accumulated surplus was distributed to common stock owners pro rata in the form of $50,000 worth of new common stock. Capitalization was then set at $200,000. This in turn grew to $300,000 in 1902 when the surplus was once again capitalized in the form of capital stock. No further changes occurred before the outbreak of war in 1914, but the surplus had grown again to nearly $60,000 by that date.--Harry Poindexter

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Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Alkem Scale Models

Model based on the 1882 Woolen Mill building by Alkem Scale Models

Old stockholders debated the wisdom of the move. Some argued that the value of the old stock would surely suffer. Others pointed out that only a four percent profit on the total capitalization of $250,000 was needed to pay the interest on the mortgage and the preferred stock. This, they said, could be easily done.
Meanwhile, the board accepted the joint proposal of Brennan and Company and the Peoples National Bank to handle the new issue on commission. Unfortunately, the source of this new capital cannot be determined. Since no significant changes in the board followed, despite the voting power of the preferred stock, it is very probable that most of the money came from the holders of common stock. --Harry Poindexter

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Monday, March 3, 2008


Within a year, the company?s stock and mortgage liabilities settled down to a total capitalization of about $101,000 in common stock, $56,000 in preferred stock, and $52,000 in mortgage bonds. Except for the gradual retirement of the mortgage, which was accomplished by 1903, these figures remained relatively constant until 1896. In that year the accumulated surplus was distributed to common stock owners pro rata in the form of $50,000 worth of new common stock. Capitalization was then set at $200,000. This in turn grew to $300,000 in 1902 when the surplus was once again capitalized in the form of capital stock. No further changes occurred before the outbreak of war in 1914, but the surplus had grown again to nearly $60,000 by that date.--Harry Poindexter

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Sunday, March 2, 2008

thoroughly honest goods

When the stockholders approved the board's recommendations on January 8, 1884, the company reluctantly took a step it had long avoided. A preferred stock issue with a guaranteed seven percent return was launched in an attempt to entice the needed $100,000. To make these shares more attractive certain concessions were included. Common stock could not earn more than seven percent, without a corresponding increase in dividends on the preferred stock. Until a surplus had accumulated large enough to retire the mortgage, all profits exceeding a seven percent dividend had to be placed in the surplus fund. No part of this reserve could be touched for dividends unless profits were too low to pay the preferred dividend.

With its usual paternal concern, the local press rallied behind efforts to sell the stock. One editor expected it to be "taken up in a hurry by the people of our own community. Everybody is interested in securing the highest possible degree of success for the Charlottesville Woolen Mills, which is so prominent a factor in the general prosperity." The new issue was pictured as a safe, sound investment in a mill having "a wide, well-established reputation for making a first-class, thoroughly honest goods, which will enable it to sell every yard it can make."--Harry Poindexter

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