Saturday, August 23, 2008

Lot 4, Woolen Mills Road

photo courtesy of Schultz-Covert Collection

This photo was found recently in the house at 1809 Woolen Mills Road, located on lot 4 of the 1887 subdivision of land north of Woolen Mills Road (Albemarle County DB 88 Page 260). In 1920, according to the US Census, 1809 was inhabited by Athalia Spencer, her husband John and sons William and John.
A "J Shisler" is listed on the Woolen Mills payroll during the decade of the 20's. But in the year 1920 the census taker records John (53 y.o.) and John junior (19 y.o.) as railroad bridge carpenters.

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Tuesday, January 15, 2008

cost per yard

A hand written note on the back of the photograph identifies this as the bridge-span over the Rivanna River at the foot of Monticello (.42 miles east of the Mill, .47 miles north of the House). It's a safe assumption that this was a gathering celebrating the official opening of the span, there are over 100 people in attendance, men women and children. The Central Virginia rail line came to Charlottesville in 1850, but the photographic technology plus the presence of what look to be masonry piers from a previous structure argue for a later date for this photo, c. 1905. Please contact us if you can provide an exact

The cost of marketing was negligible. Advertising and commission fees consumed most of that expenditure. Advertising amounted to a very small sum, varying from $433 in 1875 to one-tenth that amount in 1881. Nor were commissions excessive. For example in 1880, when gross sales totaled $128,000, salesmen received only $6,400 or five percent of the income. During the following year this expense amounted to only $3,500, or about two percent of total sales.
The general cost structure can be roughly analyzed from scattered figures. Raw materials unquestionably dominated the picture; probably one-half the cost was to be found there. Next in importance, "hand labor" accounted for about twenty percent and salaries for another two percent. In 1873, before the crash, the expenses of actual manufacturing operations stood at twenty cents per yard. In the hope of cutting this figure by four cents, Marchant added two broad looms to the eleven narrow ones in use. By 1881, however, costs of manufacturing were varying between thirty and forty cents per yard, primarily because of producing a better grade of cloth.--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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Thursday, December 6, 2007

achievements of the community

Pictured above, railroad bridge crossing Moores Creek from the shoulder of Pireus to the base of Monticello.

The spirited interest of Albemarle County people arose primarily from the consideration that the mill was one of the few local means of bringing money into the area. Not only in Charlottesville but in surrounding cities this fact was appreciated. Public support found ready expression in newspapers of the day. The mill stood forth as a symbol of a new industrialism. Again and again its success was heralded as proof' of the advantages offered by Charlottesville for factories of all sorts. In a vital sense, the mill belonged to the people; its achievements became the achievements of the community.--Harry Poindexter

We are currently labeling 1059 4x6" prints for delivery to the Virginia Department of Historic Resources. While the County of Albemarle and the City of Charlottesville have been somewhat slow to recognize the value of the historic resources extant in the Woolen Mills village, the State has been extremely supportive as we pursue recognition for this community of workers who contributed mightily to the Commonwealth for one-hundred years.

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Sunday, November 18, 2007

entail great suffering upon our help

As early as 1850 mill management had tried to provide decent housing for its employees. By 1880 it rented out three houses and seven tenement dwellings. Henry Marchant lived in one of the houses, and plant manager John Tyler and his family occupied another. Fifty-five out of 60 workers lived in the remainder.--Andy Myers

Marchant echoed the sentiments of Randolph and detailed the problems recently faced. He recalled a break in the dam race in January, 1873, which halted operations for a month when spring orders were being filled. At the same time "considerable loss" resulted when a sudden drop in wool prices caught the mill with a large stock of raw materials. Then, just as these setbacks were being overcome, the panic of 1873 threatened to sweep all gains away. That year proved to be "the most unprofitable that the woolen manufacturing interest of' the country has had to do battle with." As Northern mills closed right and left, the board of directors seriously debated a suspension of operations. Many factors played a part in their decision to maintain production, according to Marchant:

To shut down our gates would result in serious injury to machinery from rust and other causes; entail great suffering upon our help, and probably necessitate their seeking employment elsewhere, scatter the trade secured after years of toil, and injure our credit beyond hope of recovery. Yet to run when individuals and corporations controlling millions were stopping, seemed almost out of the question. With an indebtedness of $30,000 maturing at an early date, nothing seemed left us but to make the effort, by selling for close profits, and realize, as far as possible, from capital then invested in wool and woolens. This decided on, our prices were reduced to so near an approximate to cost as would ensure sale to a good class of trade, and every exertion [was] made to effect this object at the earliest possible moment.
--Harry Poindexter

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Monday, October 22, 2007

in ruins

Whatever the motivation, the action left the Charlottesville Factory in ruins. Attempts of local businessmen to manufacture successfully a low grade of cotton and woolen cloth for home consumption seemed dead as the Confederacy. But the impulse to renew the struggle still existed. Like the South, whose textile industry it typified in the ante-bellum era, the Charlottesville Factory would slowly rise again and reach new heights in the years ahead. The story of that development and the influences behind it lie in the next chapter.
--Harry Poindexter

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Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Virginia Central Railroad

from the Marion collection

In 1850 the Richmond connection was constructed by the Virginia Central Railroad, the tracks passing only a few yards from the mill. By 1852 the Orange and Alexandria Railroad was serving Charlottesville. In opening a greater market potential, the two roads also brought Albemarle County within the radius of mills looking for national markets. Yet, the pressure from this competition is easy to over-rate. The Charlottesville Factory produced cloth primarily for lower class consumption rather than for the groups which bought fancy Northern goods.--Harry Poindexter

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Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Baltimore Branch Clothing House

from the Baltimore-Pritchett collection

In the absence of any record showing the extent of the business of the company for the fifties, it is impossible to estimate its financial condition. The decade saw a steady stream of clothing goods appear from the North, especially Baltimore, which undoubtedly exerted considerable pressure on the local wool manufacture. Several stores sold these clothes during the period, one of them styling itself the "Baltimore Branch Clothing House in Charlottesville, Virginia". Railway connections between Charlottesville and Alexandria to the north and with Richmond on the east were factors in providing this competition for the Charlottesville Factory. --Harry Poindexter

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Thursday, April 5, 2007

The Place

Not all residents of "the Place" (the name applied by Woolen Mills residents to their neighborhood) worked at the Mill. This residential mill village was woven together as much by family connection as by common employment. C.M. Bibb bought his house at 1615 Woolen Mills Road from his father-in-law, George Baltimore. George was a carpenter at the Mill.
In 1920, George's daughters Bettie, Martha and Emma lived with their spouses in the Village as did his son's Harry and John. Son in law Bibb was a bridge superintendent for the railroad.

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