Saturday, August 6, 2011

Sepia Saturday #86


This week's Sepia Saturday theme is ... well ... open to interpretation. I've decided to interpret it as "Attractions on the Water," and in light of that, I give you:

As stated in the caption, this is the Newville Knitting Mill, circa 1912. I recently purchased this photo from my local historical society for three reasons: first, as an effort to lend financial support; second, because it depicted a part of my little town of which I was ignorant (and trust me, my ignorance of local history far outweighs my knowledge, so anything I can do to tip the scale is a good thing!); and third, it really caught my attention because there's something inherently and romantically tragic about a building which no longer exists -- which means that my imagination was engaged and my curiosity wouldn't rest until I knew more.

The property had originally been the location of the McFarland Flour Mill, built in 1765, along the banks of the Big Spring. Over the years, the mill changed hands and changed production focus -- sometime in the 1800s it became a paper mill, and then was sold in 1898 to eventually become the knitting mill.

Gilbert Ernest Swope (pictured below) was one of the original owners and the treasurer of the Newville Knitting Company, which opened for business in March 1907. It had 35 knitting machines and 75 sewing machines, employed 80-100 girls and made ladies underwear and "half hose." Sadly, like most of the industry in small towns across the country, the company went out of business and the mill was dismantled in the 1950s.

What I find really interesting about Gilbert Swope is that he seems to be more than just the average businessman of the times. He started out as a pharmacist and had his own druggist business in town, then helped found the knitting mill. But his passion, like so many of us, was genealogy. He authored several books of local history, including A History of the Swope Family and Their Connections 1678 - 1896 and A History of the Big Spring Presbyterian Church 1737-1898.

I wonder if the historical society has any of those knickers in their collection?

Thanks to Tattered and Lost for reminding me about this great commercial. It says it all:

For more Sepia Saturday thematic interpretations, clicky ==>> HERE!


  1. I can understand how you feel about the mill. My hometown in UK is Nottingham, historical centre of the hosiery and lacemaking industry for centuries, and it saddens me that so many old mills and other buildings were bulldozed in the 60’s and 70’s, without a thought for preservation. Thankfully they woke up and many have now been saved. Thank goodness for canny people like Swope, with an interest in history!

  2. As soon as I saw the photograph I immediate thought of my own West Yorkshire landscape of mills and chimneys. It is that mix of functionality with just a hint of decoration. A fine photograph.

  3. Yorkshire and Lancashire wool and cotton mills cam to my mind immediately when I saw your photo. Good find. Sahme the building has gone.

  4. Places like that seem so nostalgic now, but I bet it wasn't much fun working there.

  5. It looks like an interesting building. They could have preserved at least a part of it. I wonder what building is there nowadays, I noticed the rail tracks are still there.

  6. Thanks, all.

    Postcardy ~ I'm sure you're right, although being a small town, I'm hopeful that conditions weren't as bad as recorded in the bigger cities. Of course, it immediately brings to mind the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in NYC in 1911, but I've not heard of any incident even remotely close to that. I will be doing more research on it.

    Rob ~~ I've been wondering that myself. I need to pinpoint exactly where the knitting mill stood, then I'll post a current photo. I'm thinking it's actually property that now belongs to an assisted living facility, but I'll let you know in a follow-up post once I find out more.

  7. these old mills have such history.

    have you ever visited lowell national historical park (in mass)? it is a type of nirvana for those of us who enjoy learning about this chapter in our shared history...

  8. When I see photos like this I am reminded of The Cannery by I think Sinclair Lewis. My home town has lots of long gone warehouse and buildings too. In the town where I live now everything is preserved and reutilized. I like that. Good post.

  9. Ah yes, back when the country made things. When I think of the clothing that used to be made in this country I immediately think of the commercial that used to run. It was all woman looking up at the camera singing:

    Look for the union label
    When you are buying a coat, dress, or blouse
    Remember somewhere
    Our union's sewing
    Our wages going
    To feed the kids
    And run the house.

    Jobs all gone. Just like the building.

  10. we're still fighting to preserve some silos in the old port. so much has disappeared here, even if tourists find that we still have a lot...

    thanx 4 sharing!!

  11. Thanks for sharing this interesting story, and brining it out....since it's gone now it's story isn't so easily found. But what are half hose? I'm curious, were they stockings for ladies? Thanks for such good info for SS!

  12. Mouse ~ I've heard of Lowell but I've never been. I'll have to add it to my list of places to visit. Thanks!

    T&L ~ Wow! That little ditty brings back some memories. I'll have to find it on YouTube and add it to the post!

    Karen ~ I'm assuming they're some kind of stocking. Maybe a knee high or just above the knee? Fashion isn't my forte, so I'll include that in my additional research and let you know.

  13. Yes,I had the same thought as Alan.That Mill could be in West Yorkshire.
    The Video! Trouble is ,these days, even the label does not inform (many British companies have been sold to China & all that's left is the Label!)

  14. Wonderful to have collected this little history around the mill and its owner and purposes, a short story next perhaps.

    It reminds me of something my Uncle told me recently, he was resposible for Production Design for the film 'Made in Dagenham' and told me that sadly many of the buildings used as locations for that film were demolished not long after the film was made. He also managed to locate the original Ford plant sewing machines which were used in the film, fortunately someone had saved them and how wonderful that they were brought back to life for a short time.