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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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, February 6, 2008

plans were laid

W.H. "Lee" Scruggs purchased his lot (current day 1804 Chesapeake Street) February 23, 1888. Albemarle County deed book 92, Page 106. He worked for the Woolen Mill in the spinning department.

Five days after the fire, the stockholders met to plot a course. An inventory with assets valued at minimum figures showed the company to be worth $112,000. With liabilities of only $53,000 each of the 1170 shares of stock would receive about sixty cents more than its par value in the event of liquidation. After a lengthy discussion, the owners gave a resounding vote in favor of launching out on an expanded building program. Plans were laid to construct a plant one-third larger than the old and with six sets of carding machines instead of three. The stock issue would be increased from $60,000 to $85,000, provided subscriptions were obtainable at par. --Harry Poindexter

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Thursday, January 31, 2008

Piling Pelion on Ossa

Property damage was extremely heavy but the company had been well insured--insured for everything except the loss of customers who would immediately look elsewhere for their fabrics.
To a local editor the fire was the final touch in an incredible series of misfortunes which had struck the community: "The failure of her banks and insurance company, and the destruction by fire of the Monticello Wine Company were terrible disasters, and the destruction of the Woolen Mills piles 'Pelion upon Ossa.'" The loss in purchasing power and investments would settle down like a bleak January rain to dampen any upsurge in the Albemarle business community. --Harry Poindexter

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Saturday, January 12, 2008

two railroads

One interesting problem arose in shipping orders to some areas. Charlottesville, being located at the junction of two railroads, offered transportation facilities north and south, and east and west. The east-west route was served by General Willlam Mahone's Atlantic, Mississippi, and Ohio Railroad. About 1873 Mahone refused to come to terns with the Adams Express Company, and express service along the route was disrupted. When loud complaints went up in Richmond, the Charlottesville Woolen Mills joined the clamor as its east-west trade in Virginia began to dry up. "Today," a mill spokesman cried, "we ship a bale of woollens [sic] - to Bristol, which has to go via Danville, Charlotte, Atlanta, Chattanooga, and Knoxville to reach its destination." Some buyers even requested that orders be sent by freight because that method was faster than the circuitous express system. No doubt others preferred to make purchases from mills not located on such undependable transportation systems. The outcome of the problem is not known, but the episode is an interesting commentary on railroad abuses in that day. --Harry Poindexter

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Monday, January 7, 2008

new markets

Live by the river, work at the Mill, rest on the hill. Mr. Nick Gianniny, weaving department foreman is buried in Riverview Cemetery, within sight of his home and workplace.

If diversity of product and improved quality were only undercurrents in the history of the Charlottesville mill during the seventies, in the woolen industry as a whole they proved the keynote. During the next decade, as we shall see later, the Charlottesville Woolen Mills embraced this movement and went even further. It began to specialize its production and to acquire a particular kind of market. When that was accomplished, the mill had completed the typical cycle of expansion in the American wool manufacture.

The company meanwhile did not wait long to strike out for a growing market. Expanding early into southeastern and southwestern Virginia, subsequent attempts were aimed first at the Southern market. By 1877 a firm grip had been secured in Virginia, Alabama, North and South Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky, and Georgia. Thereafter, a thrust was made into the North and within three years Pennsylvania, New York, Ohio, and Indiana could be counted among the areas covered by salesmen. --Harry Poindexter

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Sunday, December 2, 2007

the price of wool

The Riverview Cemetery Company was incorporated by a group of local businessmen on December 29, 1892 with a mission to establish a cemetery "near and convenient" to the City of Charlottesville. Marchant was a trustee and vice-president of the cemetery and took a leading role in its formation-Lara Day

In addition to an oscillating economy, the woolen industry had problems of its own. The prosperity which had enticed Marchant in 1865 was short-lived. In 1868 a combination of factors brought widespread depression. First the high price level broke with a fall in the price of gold. Then the federal government dumped large quantities of surplus cloths on the market. When prices failed to climb after the tariff of 1867 had extended protection to the industry, importers unloaded huge stocks of cloth purchased the year before in anticipation of a price rise. At the same time uncertainty was generated by wide fluctuations in the price of raw wool, an item which amounted to half the cost of manufacturing A low level existed from 1867 to 1871 when raw wool skyrocketed until it reached a peak in 1872 of seventy-five percent above the price of 1871. Just as suddenly the bottom dropped out in 1873 and a slow decline continued until 1880. In that year another sharp rise in wool temporarily shook the industry. The most severe impact, however, came from the 1873 crash.--Harry Poindexter

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Tuesday, November 13, 2007


At the turn of the century, Marchant had imported at least one worker from England, John Arundale. He had attended the Bradford Textile School in Yorkshire. According to notes of an interview with his daughter, Arundale designed the broadcloths that the mill sold to the United States Military Academy at West Point.--Andy Myers

For some time a problem existed in the inability of some stock owners to pay in full their subscriptions. While this proved annoying, it was not the fundamental ill. That lay in a ballast too light to permit the Company to ride smoothly in a stormy economy. Of the original $50,000 investment, some $30,500 went into buildings and machinery purchased from Marchant. Out of the balance the mill had to buy raw materials, finance and assume the costs of sales until cloth could be converted into cash. As a result, it was necessary to borrow large sums annually for operating expenses. The interest rate for such short term credit varied between ten and twelve percent during Reconstruction.--Harry Poindexter

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Monday, November 12, 2007

inadequate capital

The vast majority of Mill workers were born in central Virginia. The two exceptions on the 1920 payroll were Krickbaum and Drumheller

The years between 1868 and 1881 proved to be the most turbulent and critical in the history of the Charlottesville Woolen Mills. The company was operating on the fringe of a highly competitive market in an industry in which Southern woolen mills suffered distinct disadvantages. A flimsy financial structure which siphoned off profits to creditors nearly caused the boat to sink. To a great extent inadequate capital was unavoidable in the retarded economy of Reconstruction, but also it must be viewed as a weakness self-imposed. --Harry Poindexter

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Monday, October 29, 2007

free from shoddy

notch in the trees on the mountaintop, the site of Monticello. Poplar tree at mid distance is located in Clay Marchant's backyard. The mill worker housing visible in this photo built in the 1890's. Photo taken from Riverview cemetery.

Happily, Marchant hurried home to begin production, pausing in Baltimore to purchase some minor items on credit. A factory building forty-five feet square with a basement and two upper floors was quickly constructed, and as the machinery arrived it was installed in the new plant. Besides the old roll cards, Marchant now had a set of manufacturing cards, two hand jacks with 210 spindles each, nine narrow Crompton looms, a fulling mill, and other intermediate and finishing machinery. Before the fall of 1868 "a very superior line of goods of all grades up to a fine Doe Skin Cassimer (free from shoddy)" flowed from the mill. Patterson and Shreve, the exclusive selling agents, enthusiastically boasted that Marchant's fabrics were "not surpassed by any of the northern factories...." This cloth was offered to merchants at Baltimore prices. The livelihood of some fifty persons depended on how well it was received.--Harry Poindexter

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Wednesday, October 10, 2007

his left leg was shattered

Riverview Cemetery, H.C. Marchant purchased this family plot in December, 1894

It will be recalled that Henry Clay Marchant was among the original investors who formed the short-lived Charlottesville Manufacturing Company. Born on April 1, 1838, in Charlottesville where he grew up, he had been educated in local private schools. Marchant at seventeen left his father's factory and dry goods store, moved to Petersburg, and became clerk for a grocer. He remained there in the mercantile business until the outbreak of the war. In April, 1861, he enlisted in Company A, 12th Regiment, Virginia Volunteer Infantry, serving until June 25, 1862, when on the first day of the Seven Days Battle near Richmond his left leg was shattered by a minie ball. Disabled, Marchant used crutches for over a year after Appomattox. In 1863, he married Elizabeth R. Whitehead of Petersburg and began searching for a business opportunity. It was at that point that he purchased the enterprise with the destiny of which his own for half a century would be intimately intertwined.--Harry Poindexter

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