Tredyffrin Easttown Historical Society
History Quarterly Digital Archives

Source: 1943 Volume 5 Number 4, Pages 73–80

Weavers and weaving in Tredyffrin-Easttown

Compiled by Myrtle Wandless

Page 73

"There is no work of woman's finger that furnishes the relationship existing between an industry and the region where it may have been developed than the textile art. Suppose a certain kind of raw material to abound in any area or country; you may be sure that savage women searched it out and developed it in their crude way. Furthermore, the peculiar qualities and idiosyncrasies of each substance suggest and demand a certain treatment.

"As clothing has from time immemorial, been one of man's necessities and almost as essential to his welfare as food, it is not surprising that the textile industry has long in value of output been second only to the production of food stuffs. Important, however, as the industry is, its history, so far as we know, has never, at least in American, been published.

"Anyone who passed through a New England village on a week day a century ago, or rode up to the door of a Pennsylvania or Virginia house, would probably be greeted with a heavy thwack-thwack from within doors, a regular sound which would readily be recognized by everyone at that time as proceeding from weaving on a hand-loom."

Page 74

Although the loom was not as universal as the great and little wheels which were used for spinning, many homes had a loom room where the weaving was done. Hand weaving was a trade for men, to which they were apprenticed. Then there were also professional weavers who wove at home - weaving their own yarns and selling the finished articles or some who worked at neighbors' homes, sometimes carrying their looms with them. They often had apprentices.

The following "Notes on the Textile Industry" were given to me by Mr. Franklin L. Burns:

In early Colonial times the most durable clothing and bedding brought over from the old country was handed down through two or three generations.

Since additional cloth was in demand, the flax raised on the plantation was spun, and woven upon handlooms by the wives of the settlers and as the demand increased the farmers took their linen thread to the expert custom weavers who also used the hand loom.

The Scotch-Irish Neeleys came over from County Antrim, Ireland, prior to the Revolution, between 1768 and 1771. Beginning about 1775 and for three generations (James, Robert and again James Neeley) followed the trade of linen weaving in a log shop which stood in the yard immediately in front of their house north of Reeseville (now Berwyn). The shop, one story with loft, had a dirt floor and no heat. This building was removed about 1880 and a small stone annex built to the west side of the house to shelter the carpet weaving loom of the last Neeley who also was named James. This building is still standing on the State Road. There is a tradition that the first James Neeley furnished the linen cloth which was used to cover the faces of the dead from the Paoli Massacre. Mention has also been made of an account book showing the sale of cloth to Anthony Wayne, and it might well have been destroyed. It is not certain when the linen weaving was given up but the probable reason for it was the difficulty of growing enough flax nearby, the ground having been rich enough for it originally, but through constant use had gotten too poor. The last two generations - Robert and James, grandson and great grandson respectively of the original James, were carpet weavers.

In a pamphlet, in the writing of which Miss Anna White collaborated with Mr. Burns, mention is made that the name of the settlement where the Neeleys lived was Cockletown and also that since James Heeley aided in burying the dead at Paoli the morning after the massacre, Mrs. Neeley cut up her linen sheets to cover their faces.

Some of the German Mennonites of Tredyffrin, who arrived shortly before the Revolution, were weavers as well as farmers. Among them were Ruth, and Shewalter.

Thomas Aiken, Sr., from Yobson, Ireland,(near Londonderry), some time before the Civil War, wove carpet as well as farmed west of Howellville. Later he moved to Berwyn and owned considerable land which included the present Aiken property. He had his shop on the second floor in the stable which at that time was located at the rear of Garber's stone house. Later when John Barsby, Sr., bought the stable in 1894, it was converted into a house and moved to its present position, fronting on Knox Avenue.

Page 75

"In his weaving shop, Mr. Aiken had two looms, one about the width of a bedstead and the other made the ordinary width runner of rag carpet." His customers brought rags which had been cut in strips and sewed together and these he wove into carpet for them.

There seem to be no implements of his trade left, but there is in existence, now the property of Mrs. Van Tries, a desk which he had in his shop -

"the bottom of the desk is like a large table with two drawers. The top, which is not fastened but just rests on the table, is 40" high, has two full length doors which cover shelves, various sized pigeon holes and small drawers."

An example of "Grandpop" Aiken's kindheartedness is told - that he had all the youngsters in the neighborhood collect and bring paper bags to him, then in return he would give each one a bag filled with candy.

Robert Webster, wife and five children, came from Leeds, Yorkshire, England, about 1835, as an expert woolen weaver by water power, and leased the small mill at Howellville on the south side of the Bear Road and on a branch of the Valley Creek that comes down from Prissy's Hollow. This was the only mill of its kind in Tredyffrin, although there were other mills just beyond the borders - Moore's and Crosley's mills (woolen) on Darby Creek in Newtown Township; Martin's Mill on Elliot's Run and the Valley Forge cotton mill in Upper Merion Township.

The Websters manufactured blankets, broadcloth, etc. In January, 1850, articles of agreement were drawn between Robert and John Syre Webster, as partners to operate under the firm of Robert Webster and Son. The machinery to be valued and John to pay his equal share on the wear and tear. The net proceeds of all goods on hand, the wool warp, dye-wares, etc., to be valued and credited to Robert. Each of said partners to give his personal attention and time wholly to the interests of the firm, as well as best skill and judgment and should not engage in any other speculation. This firm endured until the spring of 1852, when they removed to Frederick, Maryland.

The wages of an expert weaver at this time never ran over $7 per week, often less. The English operators and operatives understood waterpower and for more than a generation controlled the local market by means of small, independent mills along small but never failing streams of water. Their decline began with the perfection of steam power, improvements of machinery and the introduction of great capital which permitted the scrapping of machinery about once in every seven years to keep up with the American labor-saving devices. Gradually the little country factories, far removed from places of convenient and rapid transportation, were abandoned and fell in ruins.

George W. Lewis, born in 1800, and married in 1822, had eight children and lived in Tredyffrin Township at the Fish Pond or Lewis Hollow on Contention Lane. While he was not a professional weaver, all of the carpets, sheeting, clothing and blankets used in his home were made on his homemade loom which he had in his workshop. He used a pointed shuttle.

Bringing the study up to our time:

Page 76

Miss Anna Atkinson, of Leopard Road, Berwyn, began to study weaving in 1918 and bought an old loom from an artist in Bridgeton, Maine, in 1921. The loom was 38" wide, suitable for dress and coat material of which she made many yards. She was active in weaving, starting it first as a hobby, then later selling her pieces until 1930. Miss Atkinson enjoyed most working with linen, weaving different designs and patterns. She adapted her weaving to various needs - making material used for clothing, covering for furniture and luncheon sets.

Her loom and all the weaving equipment is now in the Kentucky mountains and is being used by the Caney Creek Community Center, where a class in weaving has been organized.

In 1936, Read Wandless hung up his shingle on Warren Avenue, in Easttown Township, Berwyn. He wove rugs, using a cotton filler, on a 36" wide loom of Swedish design, homemade from oak wood.

A Swedish Knitting Loom

Following is a list of terms used in olden times connected with weaving.

1 bout 40 warp threads
Saddle also called wrathe or rake, ravel or raivel; used to keep warp threads properly arranged.
Tomble or tumble corruption of temple; keep cloth stretched evenly. Attached to the selvedges.
Pace-weight keep warp even.
Bore-staff tightened warp.
Crocus a coarse cloth made in Pennsylvania, New England, Virginia and the Carolinas. Now obsolete.
Virginia Cloth Homespun stuff for Negroes.
Shuttles carefully made, shaped, scraped, hollowed-out, tipped with steel. Made of applewood or boxwood, or dogwood.

Page 77

Comparing prices of articles is always interesting. The following are taken from the Account Book of Joseph Eldridge:

1812 Abram Hoopes Dr.
4th mo. 16th - To weaving 20 3/4 yd. of linen @ 15 cts - $3.11
6th mo. 26th - To weaving 15 1/2 yds. of tow @ 11 cts - 1.73
2nd mo. 27th - To weaving Bird Eye Coverlet - 1.75
Flannel - .21

General prices for weaving rag carpet when the rags were supplied by the customer were between $.50 and $.75 a yard, depending on the kind of warp used, number of beats, design, fringe, etc. Modern prices of $1.25 a yard, with all new material furnished by the weaver, compare favorably with the older prices.



Franklin L. Burns

The production of home industries resulted in the development of water power from the early Scotch Irish hand looms for linen and the English immigrants (deprived of a livelihood at home) found it profitable, with small capital, to run small independent woolen mills on small but never-failing streams in more or less remote communities in America.

Nearly all of the local textile mills were just beyond the bounds of our two townships, but nevertheless added to the wealth and industry of our inhabitants. It also resulted in the quickening of the social, intellectual and fraternal life of our community.

William Crosley bought 187 acres of land on the Darby Creek and in 1828 erected a woolen mill and conducted a large business until the mill burned down. The property then passed into the possession of Henry Pleasants, 1861, and from him to Casper C. Garrett, who erected a paper mill which he subsequently enlarged.

The site of this once thriving community was recently revisited. The brier and weed infested site of the mill dam is just above a pretentious ancient stone arched and coped bridge built in 1811 with the $400 bequeathed in 1810 by Thomas Walsh for that purpose. Never was money spent to a better purpose, for this bridge has withstood time and freshets a century and a quarter. (When the bridge was visited July 6, 1942, we found some building going on. Upon inquiring we learned that the west side of the bridge was being torn down, the roadway widened, and some of the bend removed. The work was done by the Highway Department.)

Below on the left hand are the foundations of the old buildings. The old race continues for some distance below, past remains of lesser buildings, thence down an incline and underground flume to the creek. On the right side there are the remains of two single and one double dwelling, the latter over the Crosley store, and all that remains of the operatives' homes.

Page 78

Moore's Bridge at site of farmer Moore's Mill on Darby Creek

A short distance below Crosley's Mill are the remains of two ancient dam breasts and the ruins of Moore's woolen factory. The thick walls stand, owing to the care of the late owner, John A. Brown, The ruins present a picturesque appearance with ivy encrusted gable and great sycamores growing from the interior.

About 1835, Adam Siter sold to the Moore brothers, 80 acres on which they erected a substantial three-storied building 40 x 10 feet, and a single storied stone picker house. Fourteen tenement houses were built also, and a large business conducted until 1855, when the main building was destroyed by fire. Since that time the water power has not been used, save during the Civil War when a smaller mill directly below, manufactured cloth for the soldiers.

The old Hammer Hollow Mill located on a branch of the Trout Run in Tredyffrin, was originally a grist and flour mill, later a spool and bobbin factory, in Hammer Hollow, bounded on the north by Pugh Road, south by Gulph Road, west by Valley Forge Line Road, and east by West Valley Road about one and a half miles northwest of Strafford Station. It was a grist and flour mill during the Revolution. Tradition says that an officer in the American Army, named Wilson, was ordered to commandeer wheat from neighboring farmers and take it to this mill to have it ground into flour for the soldiers encamped at Valley Forge (Winter '77-'78) which he did.

An Englishman named William Cundy lived in the miller's house with his family and owned and operated the mill as a spool and bobbin factory about 1865. (Listed as Wm. Cundy's spool and bobbin factory in Witmer's Atlas 1873) The bobbins made here were slender and perfect little articles made from dogwood.

Cundy had a son and several daughters, one of whom married a man named Hudson who helped Cundy operate the mill. Later, Cundy went west, after which time his wife carried on the business.

Tradition also says that Cundy went to institutions for homeless boys in Philadelphia to get workers for his factory.

Page 79

Lizzie Cundy, another one of his daughters, married a man named Ashmead, whose family did not approve of the match; but Ashmead's father bought the Cundy mill for his son who lived there and farmed the ground but never operated the mill. Cundy was the last person ever to operate it. Ashmead later sold it and the surrounding ground to the Presbyterian Hospital, the money for the purchase having been donated by a Mrs. Cathcart and a Mrs. Richardson. Two large buildings were put up by the hospital, west of where the mill, which is now in ruins, stood. In small houses below the dam breast of this remote hive of industry, a cigar factory was managed by the elderly Brown, who employed several workmen.

Hammer Hollow Mill

Another traditional story has it that this mill was used as an underground railway station for a short time before or during the Civil War. On an 1847 map, it is listed as T. Brown's Lathe Works. On an 1860 map, it is listed as Factory and Textile Mill, J. B. Newman, This was a grist mill in colonial times, later a scythe factory. One mill hammered out the blades and another mill below turned the wooden handles.

Sometime later in this period, another mill was located on Crow or Elliot's Run, just where the ravine meets the valley, a most profitable business was done by the Martins at the Union Mills. This was near the present Colonial Village.

At Valley Forge, on the Valley Creek, Brook Evans of Sheffield, England, leased the property and converted the old saw and rolling mills vacated by James Wood, into a gun factory and there made 20,000 rifles of a beautiful pattern. The mill was later enlarged and converted into a cotton and woolen factory and prospered for a long time.

Page 80

Opposite the Valley Forge Station there was a shoddy mill.

The oldest residents of a few years ago remembered the time, about 1845, when five or six weavers were employed in carding, spinning, and weaving flax in the old stone shop on the Howellville Road, on the property now known as Doyle's Nursery.

In conclusion, the following, taken from a poem written in 1692, expresses the importance of weaving as one of the prime industries of the country.

"--Whose Trade in Weaving Linen Cloth is Much.
There grows the Flax, as also you may know,
That from the same they do divide the Tow;
Their trade fits well within their Habitation,
We find Convenience for the Occasion: ---
So that the Flax, which first springs from the Land,
First Flax, then Yarn, and then they must begin
To weave the same, which they took pains to spin.
Also, when on our back it is well worn,
Some of the same remains, Ragged and Torn;
Then of the Rags our Paper it is made,
Which in process cf time doth waste and fade:
So what cones from the earth, appeareth plain,
The same in time returns to Earth again."

— Richard Fraeme.



Woman's Share in Primitive Culture - Otis Tufton Mason

The Story of Textiles - Perry Walton

Home Life in Colonial Days - Alice Morse Eerie

Notes on the Textile Industry - Franklin L. Burns

Neeley Log Cabin - Franklin L. Burns, West Chester Historical Society

Neilly Log Cabin - #43 - Anna White, Howellville, and Mr. Burns

Information from Mrs. Daisy Aiken Van Tries

Joseph Eldridge Account Book-1812-13 - West Chester Historical Society

Information - Mr. & Mrs. E. B. Colket, 5237 Wissahickon Avenue, Germantown

Information - Miss Margaretta Atkinson, Berwyn

Old Roads Out of Philadelphia - John T. Faris


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