Wednesday, July 30, 2008

workforce size

Only by chance can one find out how large the laboring class of the mill was during these years. There had been about seventy employed at the time of the fire, but larger facilities required more hands after 1882. By the early nineties the number had swelled to 115. In 1906 the force of 150 employees was double that of 1882. These figures indicate that the Charlottesville mill was considerably larger than most American woolen mills, but very small if compared to many in New England.--Harry Poindexter

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Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Aunt Louise

Jean, Louise and Brenda Baltimore courtesy of the Baltimore-Pritchett Collection

Life was not so dull as these attitudes might suggest. Newspaper items tell of occasional band concerts and annual Christmas parties in the new chapel. Now and then on a warm, pleasant evening, employees and their families got together for outdoor suppers of oysters, creams, cakes, nuts, fruits, lemonades, etc. Such events brightened considerably the end of a long working day.--Harry Poindexter

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Monday, July 28, 2008

marriage of morality and business

detail, Union Chapel, 1930

Naturally any person hoping for a supervisory job needed "exemplary character" as well as ability. "The management," a visiting reporter penned in 1892, "recognize [sic] the responsibility of his position in being placed over a large number of employees, many of whom are quite young, and in the formation of whose character the head of the department is largely instrumental, and they make it a necessary qualification...that he be a man of strict sobriety and good morals." The influence of men like Marchant and Knowles is quite evident in this marriage of morality and business.

Results were encouraging. After twenty years as Commonwealth's Attorney, Micajah Woods in 1892 could recall no case in which a mill worker was a defendant. In fact, "he knew of no community more conservative, sober and moral."--Harry Poindexter

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Saturday, July 26, 2008

persons of good character

Rea Hudson, 1930, Courtesy of the Baltimore-Pritchett Collection

These expenditures, never very large, reflected the sincere interest of the mill owners in the well-being of their laborers. It was as if the directors considered the company primarily responsible for the workers' conduct and attitudes. Led by Marchant, the management undertook to screen out all undesirables. The background of any prospective employee of either sex was closely examined and "only persons of good character" were hired.--Harry Poindexter

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Saturday, July 19, 2008

a place to worship

At the mill, employees were seized by the desire for a place to worship. They enlisted the aid of Marchant and sought money for a chapel. The company, despite a deficit of $6,500 in its assets, donated $150 and bought a plot of land for the site. In July work started, and by Christmas a Gothic style church twenty feet by forty stood as one tangible result of the spring revival.

Subsequently, the company spent additional sums on the structure and purchased property in 1902 for a school house.--Harry Poindexter

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Friday, July 18, 2008

a religious movement

In 1886 a religious movement led by zealous Methodists created a stir among the people around the mill. A small building serving as a school house and religious center was constructed, probably with the aid of the company. Early in the following year an extraordinary revival swept through the community. Evangelists claimed that fifty souls were "saved" out of less than two hundred persons in the village. Fanned to white heat in the following spring by a new burst of activity, the movement spread to the town proper and Charlottesville was soon in the throes of its "greatest religious revival."--Harry Poindexter

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Thursday, July 17, 2008


Nathaniel Leake with his daughter, grandson and great grand-daughter- Courtesy the Scruggs Collection

The long shadow of passing years clouds the view of the daily laborer at the Charlottesville Woolen Mills. Yet, through the dimness one can occasionally glimpse the outlines of a paternalism fostered by the company to encourage and maintain a high level of welfare and morals among its employees. One gets the impression that the apathy, ignorance, and abject poverty of Southern cotton mill villages did not exist among these workers.

One of the first concerns of the stockholders after the 1882 fire was to make ?provision for retaining or helping the employees.? New dwellings for them were part of the building program which began that year. More benevolent in nature and less directly associated with profits, however, was the aid extended to the workers for improving the moral and educational fibre of the mill community.--Harry Poindexter

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Friday, July 11, 2008


In May and June of 2008 we received considerable correspondence regarding the re-enactment of the Timberlake-Branham Farm's 1993 historic overlay.

June 2, 2008

Dear Council, Planning Commission and B.A.R. members,

I am writing as a former Virginian, and as a former UVa student. I have been following the various reports of the Woolen Mills neighborhood controversy in your city with interest. I am reminded on one central fact that I discovered of being involved in community issues over the years in Berkeley and Jefferson Counties of West Virginia, Loudoun County Virginia, and now Nantucket, Massachusetts: Watch out for the staff.

In the past, well meaning citizens gathered together, debated and spoke to a common cause of quality of life in the community, and sometimes reached a consensus and were successful in causing the passage of laws, designations, and sometimes the creation of commissions and authorities to insure that certain protections be established and maintained as insurance to maintain the quality of life in their communities. These protections were typically developed and created over many years, sometimes decades. The protections were designed to stand for the future, in order to insure a future for our children in an environment that would be similar in important ways for our children to enjoy as we have. We expect these protections to stand, once they are in the form of law and policy.

We think that we have done our jobs as citizens, by coming together and making these agreements, sometimes at the expense of our personal property rights, in the interest of the greater good. Usually these sacrifices are made under the name of historic preservation, environmental preservation, and community preservation. We citizens charge our elected bodies with the authority to enforce and maintain these policies, which have been approved by the majority of the community.

These elected bodies hire staff to administer the polices of the community preservation activity. Staff of these boards and arms of government are almost never elected. Staff are professionals, often from outside the community, supposedly experts in their fields, hired to administer and carry out the day to day activities of the various boards empowered to protect the community. Staff of land use boards and commissions find themselves in daily contact, and working with, proponents and applicants of change within these districts. Often it is applicants and their agents, attorneys, and other hired professionals who pay the fees that support the staff payroll. Very often it is a proponent driven process - driven by the proponent and the enabled by application fees.

It has been my experience, that over time staff can subvert the wishes of the original intent of the legislation that was meant to protect the community. The staff are constantly being bombarded by project proponents and their attorneys, and they begin to sound like lawyers themselves, speaking about the intent of how this or that is illegal, or they increasingly narrow the scope of what can be voted on, impacted, and commented on by their respective Boards. More and more they tend to constrict their Boards, to lead them toward ever narrowing options, and decreasing choices. More and more it seems as though the lawyers are running everything - increasingly things get more and more complex, and increasingly the original intent of the law or created safeguard becomes more and more distant.

It is almost as though that with staff, a siege mentality sets in to their organizations, and the citizens who show up at meetings for public comment become the enemy. The citizens, who originally acquiesced in agreeing to these community restraints, are now ridiculed, belittled and attacked for showing up subsequently and asking what happened to those commonly agreed upon community protections? The developer, the agent of change, the proponent, is seen as the victim, the ones whose property rights are attacked. Its those whiney neighbors again, how dare they complain? It even gets to the point where often the developer sues, and the city joins in suing the citizens for speaking up.

Communities disappear in this process. Neighborhoods disappear as citizens are intimidated at the prospect of losing everything for speaking up. Attorneys create murk, and drain the opposition of resources. The community eventually gets a deal, often a development in direct opposition to the intent of the community preservation act that was supposed to prevent such a thing, Quality of life declines, community character changes forever.

We live in a time when many communities are in decline as a result of the mortgage debacle. We live in a time when cities are trying to hold neighborhoods together, trying to build coalitions to preserve neighborhoods in the face of disinvestment. Yesterday's development deal is becoming today's disaster as whole neighborhoods empty out of families, and vacant houses become a draw for crime and vagrants.

The Woolen Mill District is a cohesive neighborhood, struggling for recognition. It has proved itself to be vital and cohesive in this issue. Rather than looking the other way and allowing one of their few protections to be lost due to a clerical error, support these people in preserving their neighborhood in your city, by upholding agreements that you and your predecessors have already made.

At this time of national disillusionment and fear, while millions lose their homes, and cities are left to grapple with vacant and neglected properties, you should celebrate the strength of the Woolen Mill neighborhood, support the neighborhood stability by honoring promises made in the past, and by insuring that those same promises be kept for the future.


Moncure Taylor

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Wednesday, July 2, 2008


In May and June of 2008 we received considerable correspondence regarding the re-enactment of the Timberlake-Branham Farm's 1993 historic overlay.

May 28, 2008

Dear Members of the City Council, the Planning Commission, and the B.A.R.,

With all due respect, I am writing on behalf of the citizens of Charlottesville to request your attention to the preservation of the Woolen Mills neighborhood.

I am a former resident of Charlottesville who unfortunately had to relocate because of his work. I look forward to retiring there someday.

What appeals to me the most is that Charlottesville has, so far, successfully retained its links to the past while carefully navigating the path to the future.

I regularly follow what is going on in the communities I love by reading newspapers and commentary online. In the past year or two, I have become very interested in the activities around the Woolen Mills neighborhood. Of course, I have friends there and have visited many times, so I am familiar with the issues and the neighborhood in question. I am not one who protests change for the sake of being a reactionary, but occasionally I choose to get involved when I see what appears to be a ?crack in the dam?.

On the surface, the fissure seems a small one, but even small cracks become bigger ones, and that is what concerns me.

As we know, there are two issues involved here. One is about diminishing the integrity of the Timberlake-Branham Farm and the other is about how this happened. In respect to the latter, an error was made which can be easily corrected, no doubt. Only an inattentive or unconcerned person would let the mistake remain.

The long-term issue is this: places of historical importance need protection. The property of interest and the entire neighborhood stand as an example of one of the great things about America - that working families can build a beautiful, family-friendly neighborhood that can last as an enduring testament to an industrious and sociable community. It says that this community spirit is important and can be maintained by subsequent generations who, with the promise that the neighborhood will last, will be the real stewards and caretakers who protect and nourish it for the generations that follow. Woolen Mills is blessed with that rare combination of people who grew up there and newer residents who chose it as a home because of what it is. Inevitably, there are many who care about it enough to want to preserve its special character.

So on June 2nd, please seal up the crack in the dam. Return the Timberlake-Branham property to its rightful protected status. Listen to what the residents have to say, and stand up for the rich history of your town. That history is Charlottesville?s greatest asset. Curiously, it can be the best path to the future.


James L. Orr
The Museum of Modern Art, New York

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