Saturday, September 26, 2009

rare executive ability

The board went, in fact, as far as New York City and hired Duryea Van Wagenen. Van Wagenen had been recommended to the board by mill owners at Danville, Virginia, despite the fact that he had had no experience with woolen mills. His chief qualifications were his "rare executive ability" and a reputation for "handling big affairs." Van Wagenen, it appears, had been connected with the National City Bank of New York. He also seems to have held an administrative post in at least one Southern textile mill. But these facts are not clear.
--Harry Poindexter


Tuesday, September 22, 2009

a strong executive officer

Pireus Row from Moore's Creek

The group discovered that "this condition of affairs has worked serious injury to the mill." They feared worse troubles would develop if the situation were not altered. Friction between Valentine and Marchant had existed from the first, the committee reported, and the trouble was caused by petty jealousy. The upshot of the investigation was the resignation of Valentine in November, 1917, although he was not censured in the report.

Shortly afterward, the board took two steps which finally brought in a strong executive officer and materially altered the nature of the management. First, the offices of president and general manager, so long held by Henry Marchant were separated. The presidency was shorn of all real power and the "entire charge of the affairs of the Mill and its employees" was placed in the hands of the general manager, subject of course to the desires of the board. Second, the company for the first time went outside its ranks to get its chief executive officer.--Harry Poindexter


Monday, September 21, 2009

the gauntlet was down

Courtesy of the Elizabeth Valentine Meade Collection

Personal antagonisms within the management continued until 1918 to add to the miseries of the mill. It was the old story of divided authority and a natural jockeying for position. Valentine, as president and general manager, was supposed to oversee general policy and carry out the directors' wishes. Hampton Merchant, however, continued to exercise complete control over manufacturing processes. Both, according to the bookkeeper, interfered in office work unnecessarily.

In the summer of 1910, the quarrel burst into the open when H. D. Jarman, the bookkeeper, complained to the board of alleged interference in his work by Valentine and Marchant. The president answered with a stinging rebuke and the gauntlet was down. Unable to overlook the matter any longer, the board appointed a committee to investigate.--Harry Poindexter


Sunday, September 20, 2009

uncertainties and problems

photo courtesy the Taylor Collection. Pantops background, 313 Steephill Street and Woolen Mills Road foreground

A glance at the rising volume of sales enjoyed by the Charlottesville Woolen Mills during the war years will not reveal the uncertainties and problems which hovered over the management. The company had disposed of $274,000 in manufactured cloth in 1914. Swelling steadily, sales brought in nearly $450,000 in 1917 and over $588,000 the next year. But rising costs ate heavily into this income. Profits in 1914 had totaled $53,000. In 1917, with sales nearly twice as great, the figure stood at only $39,000; and two more years passed before net earnings exceeded those of pre-war years. Nevertheless, comfortable dividends of twelve to fourteen percent were mailed annually to stockholders. These served to soothe the irritations of war-time restrictions.--Harry Poindexter


Thursday, September 17, 2009

government seizure

Advertisement in the 1943 VMI Bomb

Military schools, absorbing about two-thirds of the cloth produced, provided the basic prop upon which the mill rested. Only one crisis of sizeable proportions occurred during the war years regarding this market. That resulted from the government's seizure of the wool supply shortly after school contracts had been signed early in 1918. The sudden spurt in wool prices threatened for a time to wipe out profit margins. But in spite of this and the wage increases of that year, the company managed to fill its orders and earn a substantial profit.--Harry Poindexter


Wednesday, September 16, 2009

no order was forthcoming

When the United States went to war in 1917 the Charlottesville company attempted to shift at least part of its production to war contracts. Negotiations with the Navy Department were carried on in 1918 at Washington and New York, but no order was forthcoming. Despite its wide experience in uniform cloth making the mill was never able to secure a government contract for war work.
As a result, the plant was forced to stick to the manufacture of uniforms for schools, railroads, and municipal civil servants. Faced with unsettled business conditions , an unpredictable wool supply, and rising wages, the management felt that it would be content if it could retain its workers, keep the mill runnlng, and earn enough to pay expenses. Fortunately, supplies were somehow obtained to fill orders with reasonable promptness. Except for a few schools which delayed buying uniforms in the hope that the government would furnish them, the mill kept a firm hold on its market and added some new customers.--Harry Poindexter


Thursday, July 2, 2009


Equally as pressing as wage increases was the severe curtailment of production during 1918. Nine valuable days were lost during February and March as a result of the federal Fuel Administrator's order. But these were nothing when set against the effects of the influenza epidemic which swept through the eastern United States in the fall of 1918.

As Charlottesville fell under its deadly grip, schools were closed, large gatherings of people ceased, and many businesses were crippled by sickness. At the Woolen Mills, the disease "worked havoc": sometimes half the workers were ill. When the attack had subsided, it was found that the equivalent of twenty-three days had been lost. All told, the mill was in effect closed down for five and a half weeks during 1918. --Harry Poindexter


Wednesday, July 1, 2009

war bonuses

Wages also rose to new heights. Between 1914 and 1916, the company spent about $52,000 annually for "hand labor." Pay raises became necessary following the entry of the United States into the war. In May, 1917, the first wedge was opened when the board granted an increase of ten cents per day for each extra day worked to all employees who had reached "standard pay." In November, a ten percent raise was extended to all workers. During 1918, with three successive wage boosts totaling thirty percent, the cost of labor skyrocketed to $77,000?fifty-four percent higher than 1915. None of the raises had been formally requested by the employees. The management classified them as war bonuses and probably considered then temporary.--Harry Poindexter


Tuesday, June 30, 2009

wool costs were especially alarming

The Charlottesville Woolen Mills weathered the war years well, but not before experiencing some discomfort from these conditions and several peculiar to itself. The cost and supply of wool and dyes were constant worries. Wool costs were especially alarming. The company had paid out only $149,000 for that purpose in 1914. Two years later it spent $192,000; in 1918 raw wool cost the mill over $400,000.--Harry Poindexter


Monday, June 29, 2009

wartime restrictions

Amiss House, Woolen Mills Road

The result of these maneuvers was that the War Department "virtually annexed the business of fabricating the wool." Yet as late as the spring of 1918 only forty-five percent of American woolen mills were making cloth for war use. The remainder, after exhausting their private stocks, had to depend on uncertain allocations for civilian consumption.

Harassed mill owners could get some satisfaction from the brisk civilian demand for cloth and from the opening of South American markets previously supplied from Europe. But, despite the high price tags on consumer goods, profit margins fell before the onslaught of wool costs, wage increases, the scarcity of vital chemicals, and such wartime restrictions as the?by the Fuel Administrator in January, 1918.--Harry Poindexter

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Friday, June 26, 2009

wool prices climb

With the entry of the United States into the war in April, 1917, the problem of raw materials became grave for American mills. Speculative buying quickly caused raw wool prices to climb sixty-five percent. To curb inflationary rises, the government bought a large quantity of wool during the summer of 1917 which it threatened to dump on the market if prices went too high. In the fall, the government purchased 233 million pounds from England and shortly afterwards placed all wool imports under a licensing system.

The heaviest blow fell in April, 1918. Early in that month, the War Department ordered all woolen mills to hold their looms at the service of the government and blocked the flow of raw wool to civilian cloth makers except by special permits. A few days later the wool growers' association, faced with the threat of seizure, agreed to sell to the government all raw wool at prices current on July 1, 1917. Nevertheless, wool prices had jumped to double or treble their pre-war level, and fabrics rose in price nearly two hundred percent.--Harry Poindexter


Thursday, June 25, 2009

the spectre of a wool famine

With the outbreak of war in Europe in 1914 American woolen manufacturers suddenly faced "the spectre of a wool famine." Sixty-five percent of the industry's raw wool in normal times was imported, most of it coming through British channels from Australia and other British overseas possessions. Great Britain, however, quickly placed strict controls on this flow in 1914 and at times diverted all of it to her own use. At the same time, other war materials clogged up shipping facilities which had previously transported wool and dyes to American shores. Fluctuating high prices and uncertainty of supply, twin offspring of this sudden turn, brought many headaches to mill owners.-- Harry Poindexter

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Sunday, February 8, 2009

southern initiative and southern capital

Grover Maddex's house is for sale, 1613 Woolen Mills Road

In its own small way, the Charlottesville Woolen Mills helps to prove the fallacy of Mitchell's thesis. Ante-bellum in origin, it was revived in 1865 by Southern initiative and Southern capital. A period of notable prosperity preceded 1880 and the foundations had been already firmly laid. When the mill expanded suddenly in 1882 and absorbed Northern capital, it was purely the result of an accidental fire. Except for that event, the company would probably have waited many years to launch out on a program of expansion. Just as in 1865, destruction proved in the end to be an incentive for successful growth and innovations. --Harry Poindexter

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Wednesday, February 4, 2009

New South?

Mitchell's concepts have been attacked on two fronts. Avery Craven, for example, has shown that Southern industrial interest dated at least to the 1850's and was primarily a reaction to Northern anti-slavery crusades. On the other hand, C. Vann Woodward denies the validity of placing any rigid date on the growth of Southern industry and maintains that no revolution occurred. The expansion of business which characterized the New South made little change in its proportion of the nation's manufactured goods. In 1913 as in 1860 the South had a colonial economy, subservient to Northern investments and transportation and producing mainly items whose final value was due mostly to processes performed outside the South.--Harry Poindexter

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Monday, December 29, 2008

blessing in disguise

Riverview Cemetery

The fire of 1882 was a blessing in disguise. It enabled the company to install new, efficient machinery and to expand its facilities. The fire also opened the door to new sources of capital, and the mill received its share of the Northern money which flowed into the New South after Reconstruction and the revival of prosperity. But it is only by coincidence that the date of this development fits into old conceptions about the origins of the New South.

The nature and causes of Southern industrial growth after the War of Secession have been matters of dispute among historians. The traditional view, fostered by such apostles of the New South as journalist Henry Grady, was popularized by Broadus Mitchell. According to Mr. Mitchell, Southern industry prior to 1880 was practically in the Middle Ages. In that year a sudden industrial revolution seized the South. Northern funds, combining with a burst of sectional interest, brought the region within a few decades to an industrial Renaissance. --Harry Poindexter

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Sunday, December 7, 2008

a sense of duty

Lynchburg Coke and Staunton Coke c. 1900; Virginia Coke, November 16, 1915; Cordele, Georgia Coke, c. 1900, Blue Charlottesville Coke, patent November 16, 1915; Staunton Coke c. 1900; background, Burnett Cocaine bottle c. 1900-- bottles courtesy the Carr Collection

In their concern for adequate living quarters, encouragement of educational and religious activities, and insistence upon high moral standards, the woolen mill owners reflected a prevailing attitude of Southern businessmen in the New South. A sense of duty and responsibility in providing the proper environment for the molding of character was the underlying concept. It was well expressed by the president of the Coca-Cola Company of Atlanta, Georgia in 1911:

The supreme obligation of Southern patriotism in business endeavor is the duty of improving our best asset--the Southern people. The richest resource we have is our youth. In their veins runs the blood of the best American stock. They should have a fair chance to make the most and the best of themselves, and the first care of our successful men of business should be to see that they have that chance.

Unlike the welfare capitalism of the 1920 's, that exercised by the Charlottesville Woolen Mills was primarily interested in the moral fibre of the village community. Whether the workers were contented with it is impossible to say. The absence of labor disturbances seems to indicate that they were. --Harry Poindexter


Thursday, August 7, 2008


1809 Woolen Mills Road

It is extremely hard even to estimate wage rates at the Charlottesville Woolen Mills. The annual payroll increased rather steadily over the years--from $15,700 in 1883 to $37,500 in 1896 and $52,400 in 1913. In 1881 an average annual wage of only $270 prevailed. Eleven years later, this figure stood at $311 but declined to about $300 in 1906. However, such estimates show only a trend, they give no clue to hourly rates for different classes of workers. Since even the length of the work day and work week is unknown, one cannot judge the liberality or lack of it on the part of the management. It is clear, however, that wage increases were smaller in proportion to profits than were dividends of cash and stock.--Harry Poindexter


Tuesday, August 5, 2008

fifty families

Since these people were nearly all from nearby communities, the mill apparently avoided the worries of unstable foreign labor which comprised most of the workers in the woolen industry. In many instances the mill employed several members of a single family--a further stabilizing factor. In 1892 half of the 115 workers were women and, according to a local paper, their wages were "good." At that time, all the employees were obtained from only fifty families, which raised living standards more than annual wages might indicate.--Harry Poindexter

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Sunday, August 3, 2008


In order that "his high ideals, abounding faith, and honesty of purpose may live after him as an inspiration to future generations," Marchant's second wife, Fanny Bragg Marchant, bequeathed the bulk of his estate to the University of Virginia on her death in 1926. This gift provided for a loan fund for "deserving and needy students" and for two annual fellowships of $450 each to be given to students studying to be medical missionaries or preparing to enter the ministry. Bearing Marchant's name, these awards were fitting memorials to a man who contributed much to the "industrial, civic, educational and religious life" of Charlottesville. Will of Fanny Bragg Marchant in Comptroller's Office, University of Virginia.--Harry Poindexter

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In order that "his high ideals, abounding faith, and honesty of purpose may live after him as an inspiration to future generations," Marchant's second wife, Fanny Bragg Marchant, bequeathed the bulk of his estate to the University of Virginia on her death in 1926. This gift provided for a loan fund for "deserving and needy students" and for two annual fellowships of $450 each to be given to students studying to be medical missionaries or preparing to enter the ministry. Bearing Marchant's name, these awards were fitting memorials to a man who contributed much to the "industrial, civic, educational and religious life" of Charlottesville. Will of Fanny Bragg Marchant in Comptroller's Office, University of Virginia.--Harry Poindexter

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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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Sunday, June 22, 2008


Robert Poore & Ida Payne Valentine center, Bessie Valentine Walker (rt) Virginia Seymour Walker (on lap) Mrs Robert Valentine (lt) Elizabeth Valentine (Garnett-on lap). Courtesy of the Elizabeth Valentine Meade Collection

Valentine first appeared on the mill directory in 1890 and after the death of Hotopp he became vice-president. His wide business experience and twenty years on the company board made him a good choice for the presidency, but the board refused to give him the complete authority Marchant had enjoyed.

The year 1911 was stormy for the management because the board removed the general manager from Valentine's effective supervision. In this case two heads did not prove wiser than one and a prolonged period of bickering and lack of coordination followed. In 1912 the board tried unsuccessfully to remedy the situation, but at the outbreak of war there had been little improvement.--Harry Poindexter

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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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Wednesday, April 30, 2008

ninety employees

Ryalls House porch detail

Competition from worsteds and foreign cloth, fluctuating raw materials costs, style changes, and slowly rising wage rates, all combined to force the woolen industry "to do an increasing volume of business under conditions which make it constantly more difficult to prevent a decrease in the margin of profit." As a consequence, limited production of given styles and the need for low inventories made the small plant typical of the industry. Usually its annual production in the period from 1900 to 1909 varied between $115,000 and $180,000, and its employees numbered about ninety.--Harry Poindexter

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Tuesday, April 29, 2008

worsteds rise

Nathaniel Leake House

Woolen mills throughout the period either had to combat this new cloth or go to the expense of installing machinery for making it. The result was that from 1889 to 1909 the trend in wool manufacturing was downward while in worsteds it was upward. In 1889, about 200,000,000 yards of woolens and less than half that amount of worsteds rolled off the looms. Twenty years later, worsted production was nearly three times the volume of ordinary woolens.--Harry Poindexter

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Friday, April 18, 2008


1901 Woolen Mills Road

As if such problems were not enough, the woolen industry was confronted by a strong rival: worsted cloth. This material, although woolen, was smoother than ordinary woolen cloth. Made from a different type fibre, worsteds required machinery especially designed for their production. In 1860 this branch of the industry had hardly existed, but after the war consumer demand brought rapid expansion. By 1890 worsteds were close competitors of woolens. Ten years later, both in the value of product and the amount of wool consumed, worsted manufacturing surpassed the woolen branch of the industry.--Harry Poindexter

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Tuesday, April 15, 2008

vicious financing system

Hudson House, home of Woolen Mills transportation supervisor

These same buyers kept the cloth makers on the ropes by means of a vicious financing system. According to one spokesman, "the manufacturer, in most instances, actually begins his production for the year to come before he has received his money for the production of the previous year. The extension of credits is of course equivalent to a reduction in price, but it cannot be indicated in market quotations."--Harry Poindexter

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Saturday, April 12, 2008

supply of raw wool inflexible

1709 Woolen Mills Road

Aside from fluctuations in the national economy, woolen mills faced several internal problems. Since there was no wool exchange and with the supply of raw wool inflexible in the short-run, the industry continued to be harassed by wide variations in costs. Moreover, Americans were changing clothing styles with greater frequency. Originating abroad, these styles gave foreign cloths an advantage and production problems arose because of the unpredictable demands. To complicate matters, wholesalers and ready-to-wear clothing manufacturers refused to buy in large quantities. This transferred the risk of loss from style changes back to the mills.--Harry Poindexter

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