Friday, May 30, 2008

down to the river

Woolies, 1909

At their June 2nd meeting, Charlottesville City Council will vote on a resolution to consider restoring the Timberlake-Branham Farm's "protected property" designation.
A move in that direction would be a win-win land use decision. The continued recognition of this special Woolen Mills place will positively affect the property owner, the Woolen Mills Village, and the larger Central Virginia community for generations to come.
For details of how to help, please read this flyer.
Walk with the Woolies!

"the fightin' sheep"

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Thursday, May 22, 2008

Robert P. Valentine

Robert Poore Valentine courtesy of the Elizabeth Valentine Meade Collection

After Marchant's death his responsibilities were divided. A son, Hampton S. Merchant, who had entered the company about five years before became superintendent of the manufacturing operations. Robert P. Valentine, the vice-president, was moved up to head the company.

Born and reared in Charlottesville, Valentine was fifty-eight when Marchant died. His father, a local merchant and, banker, had been ruined by the War of Secession. In the early seventies, Valentine broke into business with a successful coal company and then spread out into a variety of activities. Full of restless energy, daring and able, he became a "public spirited citizen" and a dynamic business leader. In the middle seventies he pulled a local paper out of financial troubles. Ten years later he was a prime mover behind a new street railway company and an electric light company. In the late eighties he helped form a land improvement company which he headed and into which he attracted leading men in the community. In 1902, with Marchant and others, he resurrected a bankrupted knitting mill and put it into profitable operation. By 1914 he was also involved in real estate and stock broking.--Harry Poindexter

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Wednesday, May 21, 2008


courtesy of the Elizabeth Valentine Meade Collection

In the years after 1882 Marchant continued his firm control over the multitude of operations at the mill. His associates willingly permitted him to carry the burden of the company on his shoulders. At the same time, he expanded his business and social activities. As public school trustee, vestryman, member of the county pension board, president of a local knitting mill, vice-president of the Peoples National Bank, and head of the Woolen Mills, Marchant influenced a wide range of community affairs. But above all he could be most proud of the success and reputation of his own particular creation, the Charlottesville Woolen Mills.--Harry Poindexter


Monday, May 19, 2008

local investors

photo by Holsinger, courtesy of the Elizabeth Valentine Meade Collection. Robert Poore Valentine (lt), Henry Clay Marchant (rt)

While the new sources of capital drained profits from the community, it can be seen that the old local group of investors continued to hold the reins. An examination of the company records shows that John L. Cochran, Eugene Davis, William Hotopp, Louis T. Hanckel, Judge White, Moses Kaufman, John C. Patterson, and Robert Poore Valentine were most active among this group. Cochran, a judge, was secretary-treasurer for many years. In 1894 Hanckel succeeded him and served until his death in 1914. Hotopp, "the quiet, earnest worker," followed Furbush as vice-president but he died only two years later.

Time gradually wore away the old membership. "The impetuous, hearty" Kaufman died in 1898, while the aged Patterson retired in 1906. Seven years later White passed away. By the eve of the World War, the men who had founded the mill and steered it over its stormy years were gone. The greatest loss of all came with the death of Henry Marchant on October 10, 1910.--Harry Poindexter


Sunday, May 18, 2008


editorial note... How I wish that there was an analytic, non-celebratory History of Charlottesville. Who might take this on? The University? I'd like to read critical history, ongoing analysis/argument about the Central Virginia region. The post-bellum period, who picked up the pieces? Why? Below, Poindexter mentions the Brennan brothers. Investors? Opportunists?

Another manufacturer who like Knowles was willing to invest in the company but had no time to devote to directing its operations was George S. Harwood. He had come in 1859 from his native England to Massachusetts where he founded the firm of Harwood & Quincy to make woolen machinery. The company soon became a leader in the industry and in 1887, following the retirement of Quincy, its name was changed to George S. Harwood & Company. Harwood died on a trip to Rome in 1894, but his passing meant little to the Charlottesville mill because he had seldom taken an interest in its management.

Lesser figures from the North who put money in the mill were the Brennan brothers. In the early seventies B. H. and Frederick H. Brennan had come from western New York to Charlottesville where they opened a private bank and set up residence. Frederick represented the company on the woolen mill directory until 1884 when the bank failed. Until that time he was the only Northern investor besides Furbush who actively participated in the management of the mill.--Harry Poindexter

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Saturday, May 17, 2008


Worsted loom, image courtesy of the University of Arizona

The Philadelphian was probably the son of Merrill E. Furbush who from 1849 to 1859 in partnership with George Crompton manufactured the latter's famous looms. Just before the outbreak of the War of Secession the two had dissolved their arrangement, Crompton reserving sales rights in New England and New York, Furbush having control over the rest of the country. It was the highly-advanced Crompton loom as well as other machinery that the mill purchased from C. A. Furbush in 1882.

A second prominent Northern investor was Francis Bangs Knowles. Born in Massachusetts in 1823 he had joined with his brother, Lucius, in 1862 in manufacturing looms at Worcester under the firm name of L. J. Knowles & Bro. Francis was in charge of finances and business management; he appeared, therefore, on the Charlottesville directory as the representative of his company. After his brother's death in 1884, he reorganized the business into the Knowles Loom Works, of which he was president. before he died in 1890, Knowles was also a bank director and had extensive interests in a railroad and a land company in Florida. A deeply religious man, he amassed a fortune, much of which he gave away in the form of philanthropy as befitted his motto: "the world shall be better for my having lived in it." Knowles, a man of wide interests, remained a director of the Charlottesville mill only a short time, however.--Harry Poindexter

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Thursday, May 15, 2008

New names

Jean, Brenda and Annie Baltimore, 1707 Woolen Mills Road

The arrival of Northern investors was the only major change in the management of the mill before 1910. As noted above, these men entered the company by accepting stock in payment for machinery. Such a move was not unusual or new. Many Southern industries, especially cotton mills, found this an excellent way to entice southward some of the Northern capitalists who were at that moment eagerly seeking opportunities for investment.

New names now appeared on the Woolen Mills directory. Among them was an old friend, C. A. Furbish. He purchased large holdings of common and preferred stock and until 1896 assumed the role of adviser to Marchant. Furbush became the first vice-president of the company, a new office, bringing no compensation, which was created in 1883 to ease some of the responsibilities of the president.--Harry Poindexter

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Wednesday, May 14, 2008


According to oral history, Thomas Jefferson Baltimore, born September 13, 1911, was the first Woolen Mills Road child to arrive in the world in hospital rather than home. Obstetrics bill from 1949 underlines continuing escalation in the cost of medical treatment

For many years, however, a firm located in New York and Boston served the mill as agent for New York, New England, and the Pacific coast. By 1906 the company's largest markets were in New York. Philadelphia, San Francisco, Columbus, Chicago, Cincinnati, and Kalamazoo. It appears that sales were made directly to organizations which then contracted for tailoring of the cloth. The company records are vague on this point.
Entirely clear, though, were the healthy profits that these sales brought. By 1914 the company had enjoyed over twenty years of almost uninterrupted success--Harry Poindexter

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Tuesday, May 13, 2008

traveling salesmen

the youngster in the photo is possibly Roy Jackson Baltimore

To insure continued high quality the mill performed every operation in its own plant under rigid controls. Its efforts were well rewarded. By 1909 sales had gone well over $300,000 and hovered at that peak until war broke in 1914.
For a time after 1882 the company attempted to sell its output through commission houses rather than by traveling salesmen. Furbush from his vantage point in Philadelphia looked around for satisfactory terms and an agent was dispatched to Philadelphia and New York. The houses which entered into agreements proved unreliable and the experiment failed. Thereafter, the mill returned to the use of salesmen, a practice which most mills were also adopting.--Harry Poindexter

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Monday, May 12, 2008

never lose sight of Charlottesville

C.B. Holloway with his nephews, Charles and Jimmie, 1943

Uniform fabrics monopolized the company's output until about 1948. Military schools took up much of the output. As early as 1892 every important military institution in the South and, with few exceptions, all major ones in states south and west of New York used Charlottesville cloth. The same was true of many municipal police and fire departments, several railroads and the Pullman Company. "In fact," the mill boasted in 1933, "one could travel by train from one end of the Nation to the other and never lose sight of Charlottesville."--Harry Poindexter

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Thursday, May 8, 2008

West Point

Nellie Melton, George Marion at the end of Woolen Mills Road, this area referred to as "under the hill" by residents of the Woolen Mills Village

The United States government was a large purchaser from 1884 on. Large amounts went to disabled soldiers' homes. From 1899 until at least the middle 1930's, the cadets of West Point were clothed in Charlottesville fabrics. Beginning in the late eighties, the mill succeeded in surplanting foreign mills as the manufacturer of fine doeskins used in the pants and trimmings for the highest ranking army officers. This was accomplished only after six months of experimentation and was quite impressive since no American mill was able to make such fabrics. Thereafter, on several occasions, other mills underbid the Charlottesville company and won this contract, but in every case the contractor gave up his efforts and bought the material from Marchant's firm.--Poindexter

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Wednesday, May 7, 2008

uniforms for the letter carriers

Marion House

Beginning in 1887, the mill won in competition with all the mills in the country a large contract to supply 1000 uniforms for the letter carriers of Philadelphia. Two years later, a postoffice circular calling for bids on these uniforms set as the standard cloth certain meltons and doeskins made by the Charlottesville Woolen Mills. This specification was not, of course, designed to give the company a monopoly of that contract but such was the result since no other mill could reproduce the high quality of the cloth.--Harry Poindexter

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Tuesday, May 6, 2008

gold medals for uniform cloth

Drayman's House, VADHR 002-1260-0080

The problems of the Charlottesville Woolen Mills, then, were twofold: to gain a reputation for high quality; to create a market.
The mill quickly earned a national acclaim for the quality of its cloth. Fine kerseys, Venetian overcoatings, doeskins, and meltons of dark-blue, sky-blue, and cadet-gray were the chief products of its looms. Military uniforms were its speciality. Before the fire, the mill produced a limited quantity of these fabrics, but afterward they were improved greatly in quality and reputation. Furthermore, the company designed original fabrics and created a market for then. Perhaps it means little to find a local paper extolling them "as among the finest made in this country," having "few peers and no superiors." But the truth of these statements is proved by other sources. At the Chicago and St. Louis Expositions the mill won the only gold medals awarded for uniform cloths. The Chicago Fair Commissioners in 1892 chose a Charlottesville fabric for the standard to be used in uniforming the 1500 guards at the Exposition.--Harry Poindexter

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Monday, May 5, 2008

uniform cloth

Damage to Harlow's wall is done by vehicles large and small

In the years between the War of Secession and the first World War, Americans voiced a preference for light weight clothing more in line with new modes of heating, transportation, and styles. It was this change which sealed the fate of primitive rural mills.

In plotting their course after 1882, the directors of the Charlottesville mill determined to continue making heavy fabrics, but production was shifted from cloth for men's suitings to material for uniforms of various types. Whether this decision was farsighted or whether later events made it seem so, cannot be known. However, its effect was obvious. Uniform styles changed slowly and once a market was established a mill of that type could estimate its output much more shrewdly than one making apparel fabrics. Since close similarity in subsequent orders of uniform cloth was of prime importance to an institution, competition was lessened once a mill had won a contract. furthermore, foreign cloths were practically excluded because of the requirements of uniformity.--Harry Poindexter

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Sunday, May 4, 2008

cause for survival

Union Chapel Sunday School minutes

The Charlottesville Woolen Mills not only escaped the fate of many of its Southern counterparts but managed to avoid the extremes of prosperity and depression which frequently rocked the industry in the North. Before 1882 the company had developed in a pattern typical of the American wool manufacture, but after that date its history bore little relation to the apparel-producing mills which dominated the industry. Foreign competition, changes in styles, and the appearance of worsteds did not create the disturbances that worried many manufacturers. Only in one respect did the mill follow a major pattern after 1882. That was in its almost complete specialization of product. It was this event which moved the company to a lightly populated fringe of the industry and made it relatively immune from the diseases afflicting woolen mills after 1893. Perhaps, too, it was the major cause for its survival in an unfavorable location. --Harry Poindexter

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Saturday, May 3, 2008

Rubber v stone

Damaged resource. Cel Harlow's stone wall shows damage secondary to commercial traffic short cutting through this residential neighborhood.

It will be noted that the Central Atlantic region held its own. New England's increasing percentage came from two factors: the rise of new mills there and the decline of the small inefficient western and southern mills whose income was mainly based on custom carding and local sales. By 1914 the South possessed only sixty of the 1000-odd mills in the nation; Massachusetts alone had nearly one hundred. In 1919 New England mills employed sixty percent of all woolen workers.--Harry Poindexter

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Thursday, May 1, 2008

Woolen Mills Village

Union Chapel and millhouses foreground, Mill and Monticello, background

Shrinking profit margins put a premium on plant location. With raw material and product markets primarily oriented at Boston, the industry shoved a strong tendency to concentrate in New England. The following table showing the changing distribution of the woolen industry by sections is significant:

--Harry Poindexter

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