Sunday, March 7, 2010

Blair-Seay House

Blair-Seay House, built c 1890 by Edward Blair. Located in the Woolen Mills Village. For sale

Houses with square or irregular footprints, side-passage plans, front porches, and hipped or complex gabled roofs are the dominant dwelling type of single dwellings built in the 1885-1920 period. Roughly half of the houses built in these years are variations on this type. Some have irregular footprints created by recessed entrance bays. The house at 1709 East Market Street (DHR# 002-1260-0066), for example, is a two-bay, two-story, hipped-roof dwelling with a side-passage plan and an irregular footprint. A flat-roofed, full-width, one-story porch with brackets and lambs tongue chamfered posts shades a single 2/2 double-hung window in the west bay and the door in the recessed east bay. The two second-story bays each have a single 2/2 window. Built in 1889-96 by Archibald Blair, the building has been recently restored and brackets have been returned to the cornice underneath the overhanging eaves. The house at 1606 East Market Street (DHR# 002-1260-0045), built by Mill employees MC and Bettie Harlow in 1916-17, is an outstanding hipped-roof, brick example of this type with a recessed entrance bay. The brick is laid in Flemish bond with glazed headers on all elevations and features a gabled wing on the west that reads as an additional bay from the north-facing fašade.

Some of the early owners of the large lots subdivided the plots and sold parcels to family members. It was common in southern mill towns for people to move to join family members already working in the factories.lxix After purchasing lots 8 and 9 of the Farish land from Henry Bragg in 1889, Archibald Blair built 1709 East Market Street (DHR# 002- 1260-0066).lxx In 1896, he sold the westernmost portion of the lot to his brother, Edward, for $200 and Edward built 1707 East Market Street (DHR# 002-1260-0064) next door soon thereafter. With side-hall plans and hipped roofs, these frame houses are very similar.--Lydia Brandt


Sunday, February 7, 2010

February snow

Woolen Mills Chapel

City crews remove broken trees limbs from Woolen Mills Road

Virginia Power lineman in the park works to restore power.

City crews accomplish the temporary repair of a broken water line on Chesapeake


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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Sunday, April 12, 2009

president's house

courtesy of the Elizabeth Valentine Meade Collection

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Thursday, April 2, 2009

Woolen Mills Road Walking Tour

Pictured above, home of Woolen Mills carding supervisor, Warren S. Graves
Join Victoria Dunham and Bill Emory for a walking tour of the Woolen Mills, 12-1pm, Sunday April 5. Meet at the Woolen Mills Chapel, 1819 E Market Street.
Tour is part of "Preservation Week 2009"

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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, 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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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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Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Woolen Mills Office



Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Charlottesville Woolen Mill


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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Friday, April 11, 2008

the woolen machinery was idle

Harlow, Starkes, Gianniny Houses (Monticello in the background)

Perhaps there were grounds for this attitude toward the tariff. Recovery in the woolen industry began about 1897--the year the Dingley bill restored protection to the 1890 level--and lasted for a decade. Even the 1907 panic, weathered behind the tariff screen, was minor compared to the 1893 debacle. Effective protection remained virtually unchanged until the Simmons-Underwood tariff of 1913 drastically reduced rates. While its effect could only be guessed at because the outbreak of war cut off woolen imports, nevertheless, on the eve of the war one-fourth of the woolen machinery of the country was idle.--Harry Poindexter

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Wednesday, April 2, 2008

violent swings of the business cycle

C.E. Mallory House, for sale...

During the three decades after 1880 the American woolen industry experienced the violent swings of the business cycle which were more and more becoming a characteristic of the national economy. Since the tariffs of 1883 and 1890 generally raised rates on woolens and extended protection to a wider variety of goods, pre-1893 prosperity was laid partly to the tariff schedule.
In the finer grades of cloths and dress goods, however, importations continued in large amounts. But American mills held their own and enjoyed profitable seasons until 1893.--Harry Poindexter

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Friday, March 21, 2008

floated to the top

Blair-Amiss House gets a new coat of paint

Beginning in 1886, the woolen mill floated to the top of the same wave of prosperity. By 1889 the deficit disappeared and earnings rose constantly until the 1893 panic. The lowly $8,000 profit of 1887 was tripled in 1890, and two years later it just missed being five times as great. With the 1893 crash, profits dropped rapidly, but they still reached $19,000. Recovery was rapid, so that from 1896 to 1909, except for a slight decrease in 1900, net earnings hovered between $30,000 and $40,000. After a sudden upturn in 1910, the company moved into the war years with annual profits of over $55,000. --Harry Poindexter

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Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Alkem Scale Models

Model based on the 1882 Woolen Mill building by Alkem Scale Models

Old stockholders debated the wisdom of the move. Some argued that the value of the old stock would surely suffer. Others pointed out that only a four percent profit on the total capitalization of $250,000 was needed to pay the interest on the mortgage and the preferred stock. This, they said, could be easily done.
Meanwhile, the board accepted the joint proposal of Brennan and Company and the Peoples National Bank to handle the new issue on commission. Unfortunately, the source of this new capital cannot be determined. Since no significant changes in the board followed, despite the voting power of the preferred stock, it is very probable that most of the money came from the holders of common stock. --Harry Poindexter

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Friday, February 22, 2008


C.E. Mallory purchased two one-acre lots on the north side of Woolen Mills Road (East Market Street) in 1890 (ACDB 94 233). Tax records show that this house was built the next year. It faces east, toward the river and the Woolen Mills. Mallory lived on the other side of Woolen Mills Road, and this house was occupied by his father W.F. Mallory, who made coffins. After his father's death, Mallory sold the property to the Charlottesville Woolen Mills, Inc., in 1897 (ACDB 109-327). The house was enlarged and for fifty years was rented to Howard Tilman, a foreman at the Woolen Hills.-- City of Charlottesville

As the year progressed, the board frequently felt the pulse-beat of the ailing factory and found no sign of improvement. It was clear that some sort of nutrition had to be injected quickly, but what form should it take? Capital stock had already been expanded to $102,000, a mortgage of $48,500 hung like the sword of Damocles over the worried directors, and the company was straining under the burden of loans totaling $50,000. It was estimated that another $50,000 would permit operating at half capacity while $100,000 would place the plant in a condition to compete with other mills and at the same time take advantage of potential markets. In view of "the depressed state of the woolen business which, along with circumstances peculiar to this company, has diminished the market value of its stock," the board saw only one feasible solution: a new stock issue offering inducements and guarantees. --Harry Poindexter

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Thursday, February 14, 2008

fifty-inch turbine wheel

In January, 1883, the final touches were added, machinery was tested, and supplies were laid in for resuming production about February 1st. A brief examination of the new machinery provides a clue to the extent to which Northern equipment manufacturers secured an interest in the Charlottesville Woolen Mills. There were twenty-five Knowles looms, five sets of Furbush cards, and five Furbush mules. If it is assumed that these were paid for in stock, Furbush had invested about $25,000, Knowles about $12,500 and Harwood at least $1,500. To a large extent, the rest of the machinery was also paid for in stock. All of these firms were represented on the new directory, as were other Northerners whose investment was in the form of cash.

Powered by a fifty-inch turbine wheel, the machinery of the mill had a capacity now almost double that of the old plant. The company could produce from 500 to a 1000 yards of cloth daily, depending on its width.

The revival of the company in 1883 was joyfully heralded by the same editor who had mourned its destruction. The new mill, he asserted, "is largely due to the active and energetic efforts of H. C. Marchant, Esq., who has for so long been charged with the practical management of the affairs of the company. He has tided it over many rough places, and we trust that by the aid of his associates in the directory, he will be able to carry it on to a future of unprecedented prosperity." --Harry Poindexter

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Monday, February 11, 2008

George W. Spooner, architect

detail from photo by Holsinger

Construction began as soon as plans were laid. The four-story building which slowly rose under the watchful eye of George W. Spooner, a local architect, was indeed impressive. Nearly 120 feet long and a half again as wide, it sat on a massive base five feet thick. The brick super-structure, dotted liberally with large windows, was unadorned except for a tower that rose over the front wall and gave the building the appearance of a large school house. On the inside, a new type of fire-resistant construction was adopted. For additional safety, an automatic sprinkler system, supplied by a tank on the roof, fascinated visitors. If a fire broke out, heat would melt a sealing compound and release a spray of water. "In other words, the fire, if any should occur, is to put itself-out. Snug arrangement, that," a visitor happily noted.--Harry Poindexter

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Monday, December 17, 2007

1709 Woolen Mills Road

In 1920 this was the home of Emma Baltimore Amiss and her husband, mason Joe Amiss. Also in their house, 6 children. Twenty-one year old Lois was a weaver at the mill, nineteen year old Lillian was a spooler, seventeen year old Edna worked in a ten cent store. Frances (15), Emma (11) and Edward (9) were presumably enrolled in Woolen Mills School, 75 yards west on Woolen Mills Road.

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Monday, November 26, 2007

good captain

February 1888, W.H. "Lee" Scruggs purchased lot three from Blakey and Southall, trustees who were handling sales of Julia Farish's property, "the Farm". Woolen Mills residents and architects Hays and Ewing designed this residence which is located on the northeast corner of lot three.

The era closed with high hopes. Stockholders felt that their mill, with all its shortcomings, had shown profits comparable with the best organized woolen mills in the country. With justifiable pride, Marchant basked in the warmth of praise for his "safe and generally economical administration.? In a rough sea he had proved a good captain.--Harry Poindexter

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Monday, October 8, 2007

exigencies of war

Marchant family home, known as "Piraeus." Photo taken circa 1908, courtesy of the Marchant Family collection.
The house was built around 1840 and remains remarkably unchanged to this day. For many years, this was the largest house in Charlottesville.
In the photo, one can see the pair of lovely brick gutters that come from the house and traverse nearly the entire length of the front yard.
There is strong evidence that a tunnel runs under the gravel path shown between the gutters. The tunnel begins in the basement, under the front steps, and exits somewhere on the other side of the railroad tracks.
Inexplicably, in 1980, Albemarle County zoned this, and the other historic homes on the hilltop, Light Industrial. Since then, these properties have been under threat of demolition to make way for industrial development.
We'd welcome hearing from anyone interested in Piraeus, or who would like to join us in saving it from demolition. Victoria Dunham - Woolen Mills Road

Meanwhile, in the decade of the fifties, as Marchant strived to bolster the financial condition of the company, the nation had moved steadily to the brink of war, When the blow fell in 1861, the small corporation was swept along by the exigencies of the conflict. The Confederate government hastily commandeered or seized control over the multitude of small textile factories throughout the South and put them to work producing military cloths. The Charlottesville Manufacturing Company played its part in this phase of the Confederate war effort. By 1862, fifteen persons labored at spinning and weaving cotton and wool fibers into goods for soldiers' and laborers' wear. If an adequate wool supply had been available the mill might have experienced a boom similar to that in the northern wool factories. At least one other small wool factory sprang up nearby to meet the war-induced demand for cloth, making three such mills within a radius of some thirty miles. The Marchant factory alone had orders enough to give work to three times the number of people actually employed, but difficulties in transporting cotton and wool from the abundant supplies in Texas and the Lower South precluded undue expansion of the enterprise. The shortage of wool grew especially serious as the war progressed, and throughout the South private homes were frequently stripped of all available fabrics to meet the needs of the army. --Harry Poindexter

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Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Charlottesville Factory

right, Louise Hollaway (Baltimore), center W.F. Pritchett, background, the Woolen Mill and Monticello mountain
During the period from 1846 to 1850 when the Parishes, Jones, and Randolph owned the business operating at "Pireus," the company became known locally as the Charlottesville Factory. Apparently there was no important reason for the change; local customers probably resisted the more cumbersome title using the proprietors' names. Yet it is certain that during those few years, the factory, especially that portion devoted to the making of cotton and woolen cloth, reach a level of maturity for its day and section. By 1850, when Henry Jones bought out the other interests, the company was making a large variety of goods. Coarse or medium quality jeans and linseys for servants and slaves were made from wool. Cotton yarns, baggings, and pantaloon drillings added to the offerings of the mill, and both raw cotton and wool were carded for those who desired to spin and weave their own material. The buyer was required to pay a part of his bill in the form of raw wool and he could get cloth made to his own order from cotton or wool he brought to the plant. The mill thus extended a type of custom service wedded to a barter system which guaranteed to the customer the quality of raw materials used in making whatever he desired. However, this was not unique but rather conformity to the pattern of growth of early mills.--Harry Poindexter

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Friday, September 7, 2007

Farish, Jones and Company

The capitalization of the company consisted of the above listed real estate, tools, and water power and totaled $21,000. The partners bound themselves to advance money to the firm, whenever needed, at six percent interest. Questions involving extension of the business required the approval of all three, but any other matter could be settled by majority vote. Jones reserved the right to withdraw from the arrangement at any time, and in the event of not being able to reach satisfactory agreement with his associates for such withdrawal, he was empowered to offer, after ten months notice, his share of the firm at public auction on terms of at least one-third cash and the balance in twelve and twenty-four months. Either of the Farishes could likewise retire from participation, but for some reason had to wait only six months before seeking a public auction. Otherwise, the partnership would last for ten years from January 1, 1847.--Harry Poindexter

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Thursday, August 9, 2007

UVA c 1928

The collection of images I've been scanning the past three weeks had its origins with Bettie Frances Baltimore. Bettie was born in 1877, died 1971. She was a life long resident of Woolen Mills Road.
Any speculation regarding the nature of the frame construction in front of the Pavillion?

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