Charlottesville Woolen Mills Chronology

1740’s- The Three Notched Road. or Three Chopt Road, is opened from the Valley of Virginia to Williamsburg. The road crosses the Rivanna River somewhere between the site of the present dam at the Woolen Mills and the site where the railroad and Interstate 64 cross the river. It crosses Moore’s Creek at Secretary’s Ford, which is in the vicinity of the mill, probably at the foot of the bluff that separates the Creek valley from the river valley. The route between Charlottesville and the river is uncertain. Early it may have gone through the Carlton area to follow the most gentle slope. By 1800 it seems to have followed the Market Street route. (Nathaniel Mason Pawlett, THE ROUTE OF THE THREE NOTCHED ROAD. Virginia Highway Research Council, January, 1976. )

1768-1826- Jefferson’s maps of Monticello suggest a connection between the road system at Monticello and Secretary’s Ford; he began work on Monticello in 1768 and would have used the route to reach his family’s farms north of the river--Shadwell, Edgehill, Lego, and Pantops. He might also have used it for access to the Three Notched Road to Washington, Williamsburg or Richmond. (Thomas Jefferson’s papers, Library of Congress, University of Virginia Library, Massachusetts Historical Society.)

1760’s-1800’s- Land owners along creeks and rivers were seeking rights to construct dams and mills-- usually saw mills and grist mills. After Oliver Evans patented an automated grist mill design in 1791, many were licensed and built. Jefferson’s own mill was down the river near the Shadwell farm. The head of his millrace was a little downstream from the present highway and rail crossings. (Jefferson’s papers.)

1765- Thomas Jefferson placed a bill before the House of Burgesses to permit clearing of the Rivanna for batteau navigation from Milton to the James River. (Thomas Jefferson, Autobiography, see also Notes On The State of Virginia.)

1811- Expanded navigation on the Rivanna, reaching up to Charlottesville and beyond, to Rio Mills, embroiled Jefferson in controversy over riparian rights on the river, rights then owned by the Rivanna Navigation Company. (Jefferson’s papers)

1819- Charlottesville, the site for the new University of Virginia, had its port on the Rivanna near the confluence of Moore’s Creek and the Rivanna. (Highly probable, based on the later use of names, Athens and Pireus.)

1820- William D.Meriwether was operating a saw mill and three carding machines on Moore’s Creek. (This location was outside the jurisdiction of the Rivanna Canal Company.) One of these cards processed about 1000 pounds of cotton each year and the other two handled some 5000 pounds of wool. The mill was powered by water but its exact location is unknown.

1829, December 7- William H. Meriwether, relation to William D. unknown, purchased from the Rivanna Canal Company the right to build a dam across the Rivanna River just above the mouth of Moore’s Creek. (Poindexter speculates that. the original mill may have been on Moore’s Creek where a crude dam may have been built to provide water power.)

1830’s- Robert S. Jones and James S. Crewdson paid rent to Wm. H. Meriwether for a water driven factory which included a saw mill and machinery for processing cotton and wool. (Poindexter speculates that Meriwether had established this mill at the south end of the dam.)

1820’s-1830’s- Charlottesville began to call itself “the Athens of the South” and its port was duly dubbed Pireus. The name of the port was attached to land at the meeting of the creek and the river.

1846, October 22- William H. Meriwether sold to Thomas H. Parish some 150 acres including the Pireus tract, and “all rent and other covenants accruing from James A. Crewdson and Henry W. Jones, Meriwether’s interest in the dam across the Rivanna and a toll bridge there.

1847, April 20- Thomas H. Farish sold to his father, William P. Farish, the 13 acre tract Pireus including all the buildings improvements, and other appliances attached to it and one half of the toll bridge, dam and a saw and plaster mill.

1847, May 15- Farish formed an unchartered company, Farish, Jones and Co. (with Henry W. Jones). The new company consolidated the Pireus holdings --land owned by Farish, the toll bridge, and the machinery for manufacture of cotton and wool, carpenters and machinists’ tools, blacksmith’s shop, brass foundry, and dye establishment attached to the mill. The capital value was listed at $21,000.

1847-1850- Farish, Jones, and Co. ran a factory to make cotton and woolen cloth, plus local services including a blacksmith’s shop, corn mill, grist mill, and plaster mill, and a store selling dry goods and woolen cloth. Jones became the superintendent of the mills, shops and mechanical aspect of the enterprise at a salary of $600 per year, plus free use of a house on the property. Thomas Farish, treasurer and salesman for the company, ran the dry goods store, and purchased supplies.

1849- John T. Randolph bought one third of the interest in the operations, and the firm name became, Farish, Jones and Randolph.

1850- Henry Jones became the sole owner when he bought out the interest of his partners: the company was making a large variety of goods-- coarse or medium quality wool jeans and linseys for servants and slaves, cotton yarns, baggings, and pantaloon drillings. Raw cotton was carded for those who desired to spin and weave their own material. The buyer paid part of his bill in the form of raw wool. Value of the investments, $90,000, largely textiles. Annual production 70,000 yards of cloth, producing $24,000 return. Equipment included saw mill, grist mill and a plaster mill, 552 spindles for making cotton yarn, a double carder, two dressers, and 12 looms.

1850- Virginia Centra1 Railroad line was opened to Richmond, running within a few yards of the mill.

1852- Orange and Alexandria Railroad was completed, opening rail connections to the north.

1852, January- John A Marchant purchased the property, machinery, and business, becoming sole owner. On the 13 acres of land were buildings consisting of the cotton and wool factory, a saw, grist and plaster mill, store house, dwelling, and other houses, “all in good repair.” The setting was like that of a developing “typical semi-manorial mill village.

1860, February 4- The company was reorganized as the Charlottesville Manufacturing Company, with John A. Marchant, his son. Henry Clay Marchant, John Wood, H. L. Anderson, T. J. Wertenbaker, and John C. Patterson operating a joint stock company.

1861- Confederate government commandeered or seized control over the mill to spin and weave cotton and wool fibers into goods for soldiers’ and laborers’ wear.

1864- Reorganization of the company had made John Marchant the sole owner again, and he sold the business, land and machinery to Henry C. Marchant.

1865, March- The mill was burned by Union troops, possibly by accident as burning coals were being taken from the mill- furnace to burn the railroad bridge. The commander of the troops apologized to Mrs. Merchant, calling the loss an accident, and the Marchant family appears to have accepted the explanation.

1865- Immediately after the end of the war, Marchant attempted to find financing for rebuilding of the mill. He found help in the financial community of Charlottesville and credit in the northern cities of Philadelphia and Baltimore for purchase of machinery. With these resources he built a new factory building, 45 feet square, with a basement and two upper stories. Within three years he was producing.

1868, December 18- Charlottesville Woolen Mills chartered “for the manufacture, purchase and sale of woolen, cotton, silk and other fabrics ...” By now the mill was located on the Moore’s Creek side of the bluff, with a race carrying water from the Rivanna dam.

1868- The official beginning of the Charlottesville Woolen Mills as a corporation that attracted the attention of the entire financial community of the area. Among prominent leaders of the mill, was Thomas Jefferson Randolph, President of the company from 1873 until his death in 1875.

1870’s- Transition from coarse fabrics-- satinets, kerseys, jeans, and broadcloths-- were replaced by heavy woolens, fancy cassimeres, flannels, and a heavy uniform cloth called “cadet gray.” By 1870, the mill was showing 26 varieties of cloth at trade exhibits, including several prize winners.

1881- The company owned homes for the President and plant manager of the mill, plus seven tenement buildings and ‘ rented one house for nominal renting by employees.

1881, February 12- A Company report showed the combination of humanitarian and economic motivations regarding the condition of workers:

“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, elevates their character, and cultivates local attachments and the home feeling. Nor is it easy to estimate the pecuniary 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.”

1882, January 10- Fire destroyed the mill, machinery, and inventory.

1882- Rebuilding was undertaken to double capacity of the mill, erecting a building one third larger than the one destroyed by fire. Six sets of carding machines would be used in place of the original three. Northern machinery companies took stock in payment for machines. The new mill was 120 feet long, nearly half again as wide, four stories high, with a tower that gave the building “the look of a school house.” Fire-resistant construction with an automatic sprinkler system. Construction was supervised by George W. Spooner, local architect. The machinery was powered by a 50- inch diameter turbine wheel.

1882- Decision by management to concentrate on making uniform cloth. After 1884, the United States government was a major purchaser-- for postal and military uniforms. So, too, were police departments of large cities, and military schools, and railroads.

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.

1887- A visitor wondered when the community would seek incorporation as a town. (This was the time when Charlottesville was receiving its charter.)

1886- A religious movement led by zealous Methodists created a stir among the people in the mill community. Evangelists claimed that of the less than 200 people in the village, 50 were “saved.” The movement spread to Charlottesville to become the city’s “greatest religious revival of all.”

1887- Employees approached Marchant for money to help build a chapel. The mill gave $150 and bought a plot of land. Construction started in July, and by Christmas a Gothic style church, 20 feet by 40 feet had been erected. A Christmas program was held in the new building. (Poindexter, p. 125; program of the service, from the family of James Anderson Gianniny and Nellie Arundale).

1888, May- The new chapel was consecrated. (Program) A non- denominational Sunday School was held every Sunday afternoon in the new chapel. Preachers from Charlottesville were invited to hold services in the chapel on special occasions.

1880’s-1890’s- Under Marchant’s lead, the company took responsibility for the morals of the community. They screened prospective employees to assure that each was a person “of good character,” and anyone expecting a supervisory position had to exhibit exemplary character as well as the work skil1.s and leadership abilities.

1892- The work force, numbering about 70 at the time of the fire in 1882, had grown to 115. Half of the employees were women.

1900- The mill installed its own hydro-electric generator. It would be replaced in 1908 with an “oil engine,” (diesel?)

1902- The Company purchased property (at the present-day 1701 East Market Street for a school house.

1906- The work force had grown to 150, double the number at the time of the fire in 1882.

1908- The Company contributed funds to help expand the chapel by adding a wing for additional Sunday School space. (Related unanswered question: was the bell tower added at that time?)

1910, October 10- Henry Marchant died. Hampton S. Marchant, a son became superintendent of the manufacturing operations, and Robert P. Valentine became President of the Company. 1914-1918- World War- I brought curtailment of wool imports from England and Australia. Price controls and mandatory wage increases led to unstable conditions in the industry. However, the mill weathered the difficult times better than many others.

1917, November- Following years of strife between Valentine and Hampton Marchant, leading to a corporate investigation, Valentine resigned as president.

1918- To settle disputes and stabilize management, the company employed Duryea Van Wagenen, a New York banker, to be chief executive officer and general manager. In 1920, he was also elected President.

1919- February- The mill, responding to worker demands, agreed to shut down on Saturday afternoons.

1922- In response to worker requests, the mill initiated one-week paid vacations for all employees.

1924- The mill constructed a boiler house, purchase modern machinery, and altered old production facilities.

1927- A new weaving room was built.

1929- Depression cut markets and led to half-time work schedule by August, 1931, and in 1932 to a shut-down of the mill from May to October.

1933- New equipment was purchased to replace the obsolete machinery.

1935, January- Van Wagenen resigned from the mill after a stormy period that involved conflict with his board, and public outrage over the personal behavior of his son, Edward. Harman Anderson Dinwiddie succeeded Van Wagenen.

1937- Orders were so brisk that the mill was working overtime.

1948- Harman Dinwiddie died. John H. Robinson became General Manager. Charles H. Dickinson was named Superintendent.

1951- The woolen mill enjoyed the most prosperous year in its history. In the same year it abandoned its policy of making only uniform cloth and began to manufacture “a large line of civilian flannel cloth.

1959- Charlottesville Woolen Mills was bought by Kent Manufacturing Company, of Philadelphia. Charles H. Dickinson became General Manager.

1962- Kent Manufacturing Company dissolved the Charlottesville Woolen Mills. The plant was closed, assets were distributed to its owners, and the machinery was removed to other Kent factories.

Compiled by 0. Allan Gianniny, Jr. for the Woolen Mills Neighborhood Association’s Humble House and Garden Tour.

Drawn primarily from a Masters Thesis by Harry Edward Poindexter, Department of History, University of Virginia under direction of Edward Younger and Thomas P. Abernathy, 1955. Thesis 2077, University of Virginia Library.

This is the document from which Poindexter’s article in the Magazine of Albemarle County History was taken.