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 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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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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Sunday, March 2, 2008

thoroughly honest goods

When the stockholders approved the board's recommendations on January 8, 1884, the company reluctantly took a step it had long avoided. A preferred stock issue with a guaranteed seven percent return was launched in an attempt to entice the needed $100,000. To make these shares more attractive certain concessions were included. Common stock could not earn more than seven percent, without a corresponding increase in dividends on the preferred stock. Until a surplus had accumulated large enough to retire the mortgage, all profits exceeding a seven percent dividend had to be placed in the surplus fund. No part of this reserve could be touched for dividends unless profits were too low to pay the preferred dividend.

With its usual paternal concern, the local press rallied behind efforts to sell the stock. One editor expected it to be "taken up in a hurry by the people of our own community. Everybody is interested in securing the highest possible degree of success for the Charlottesville Woolen Mills, which is so prominent a factor in the general prosperity." The new issue was pictured as a safe, sound investment in a mill having "a wide, well-established reputation for making a first-class, thoroughly honest goods, which will enable it to sell every yard it can make."--Harry Poindexter

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Sunday, February 17, 2008

So much for conjectural estimates

Union Chapel Sunday School Minutes, February 1899-Courtesy of Albemarle Charlottesville Historical Society

Viewed as a whole, the next thirty years were indeed an era of prosperity and expansion for the Charlottesville company, but for a time it seemed as if the storms of the seventies had suddenly returned to lash at its moorings. Strangely enough, the directors fell into the same financial trap which had ensnared the mill in 1868. Once more its capital was so locked up in buildings, machinery, and improvements that little remained for daily expenses. This condition began to grip the mill while the new building was going up. Additions, improvements, and remodeling amounting to $6,500 ran the early estimates of cost to some $73,000, and on this basis expenditures were planned. The directors were astounded in 1883 when the bill came to $97,000. "So much for conjectural estimates!!" one director commented dryly.--Harry Poindexter

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Sunday, November 11, 2007

day of rest

An interesting question arises. Why was Marchant not president of the company from the beginning? The main reason apparently was that he did not own controlling interest in the company. As in the case of his father previously, the price he paid for additional capital was loss of personal control. By prearrangement, the new company had bought out Marchant for $30,500 and assumed the debt owed to Furbush and Gage. Marchant reserved the right to buy 280 shares at par, but whether he did so is unclear. Apparently, the Flannagan interests at first united to secure control, but by 1875 B. C. Flannagan had sold his stock and left Charlottesville. It is not clear why Randolph became president in 1873, unless it was to give standing to the company. Meanwhile, Marchant?s excellent work as superintendent attracted great praise, and his own financial connections grew. That he secured ascendency in 1875 and retained it until his death was more a measure of his ability than of his financial power, for he never owned a controlling block of stock.--Harry Poindexter

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