Andover And The Silk Business
Written and Submitted by William A. Greene 2005
In late 1902, the Business Men’s Association of Andover met with a party of men from New York City who were in the silk business and were looking to enlarge. In January of 1903 they came to an agreement and it was settled that they would build in Andover. It would be called the Rochambeau Silk Company. They hoped to have a building competed by the 1st of June.
By the early part of February 1903, plans and specifications had arrived and several contractors asked for estimates. On February 22nd Grandville M. Barney drew the first load of stone for the new silk mill. The ground was surveyed and the stakes placed for the building.
By March they had run into a big problem, When the estimates were received it was found that the building would cost over $10,000, that didn’t include the cost of engines and boilers. The New York men were informed and they agreed to stand for the amount in excess of $5,000 and furnish their own power. Remember this is before electricity was around.
The Olean Supply Company was the lowest bidder and commenced immediately building the new factory. By April 1st the foundation walls and filling inside were done and the brickwork had started. Also by this time all of the machinery for the silk mill had been ordered and was to be delivered sometime in June. The President of the Rochambeau Silk Company set sail for Europe to see all of the latest designs and methods of the silk trade upon which the Andover looms will manufacture.
In the first part of June 1903 the brickwork was all done and the roofing placed, with the exception of the ribbed glass, and the concrete flooring being laid. The agents for the Northern Engineering Company laid the pipes through which the electric wires were placed from the dynamo to the machines. The gas engines and dynamo were installed as soon as the engine room was completed.
By the end of August Mr. A. Chovet arrived in Andover to take his place as superintendent of the Rochambeau Silk Company. He was well qualified for the job having been superintendent with the West New York Silk Mill Co. for nine years and for two years with the Alliance Silk Mill Co. of Weehawken, N.J. Ernest Gutinger was to be his assistant. A John M. Poncet was the President.
Some of the looms started running by the middle of October when everything was completed. By the first part of March all of the looms were running. The workers were beginning to understand how things worked and production was going up. The workers were finding it possible to make a fairly good wage weaving silk.
In July of 1904 the motors on the looms started going bad, as they weren’t strong enough for the job they were doing and they were replaced as fast as new one could be gotten. The looms were also geared a little higher so they could produce faster.
By December more weavers were needed. “There is not another institution in Allegany County that gives work to so many women at such good wages as the Andover silk mill. It only takes a few weeks experience before a girl can make from seventy-five cents to a dollar a day and, if faithful and industrious, can in time make her pay check read $1.50 for a day’s work.”
The mill continued to grow. As the years passed new equipment was installed and working conditions were made better.
On October 1st, 1911 the Rochambeau Silk Company was sold to the Albert Godde, Bedin & Co. They were one of the largest silk manufacturers in France. They immediately shipped 30 new French looms to the Andover mill. The name was changed to The Andover Silk Company.
In 1917, the Andover Silk Company started a branch mill in Depew, New York in order to take care of their increasing business. This plant also operated under the same management, making the same rapid advancement.
In 1921 the Andover Silk Company bought the building left vacant by the Andover Stamping Plant. They were now employing 85 people instead of 20. The people were well paid and had two modern mills, which were kept clean and sanitary to work in. The mills were well lit and all the walls and ceilings were painted white, and every comfort and convenience was afforded the employees, so they could feel at home while working.
Silk is a very delicate commodity to manufacture, and it is essential that an even temperature with the proper humidity be kept at all times. That was obtained with a humidifying system, which also benefited the employees.
All belts pulleys and cogwheels were properly guarded and a committee appointed by the management held weekly inspections and any good recommendations were promptly acted upon. Employees were asked only to keep their individual machines clean, as there were men for the purpose of sweeping all the aisles, floors and keeping waste cans empty.
There were suitable places for personal belongings to be stored while the employee was working. There was also a large recreation or assembly room fitted with chairs, dining tables, gymnasium apparatus, a piano, phonograph, pool table and more.
Outside the mills the grounds are arranged like a park. The lawns are intersected with flowerbeds and the property surrounding the buildings was kept in good condition and in strict accordance with the inside plant. There was also a large baseball diamond and a splendid tennis court.
In the November 24th 1922 issue of the Andover News there was talk of starting a branch mill on Main Street, Wellsville, N.Y. It will only do weaving there; the warps will still be made in the Andover mill and will be trucked to Wellsville. This will open at the first of the year.
In May of 1923 the Andover Silk Company changed names again but not owners. The name was now to be Albert Godde, Bedin, Inc., they had a national and international reputation, with offices in San Francisco, St. Louis and New York City. They were known world over as being leaders in the wholesale silk industry. The Andover Silk Company had always sold their output of their mills to Albert Godde, Bedin & Cie.
The Albert Godde, Bedin, Inc. was a very large company. They had large mills in Lyons, Tarare, Mulhouse (France) Amplepuis (Rhone) Saint-Just-La-Pendue (Laire), Lodz (Pologne), Andover, N.Y., epew, N.Y. and St. Johns, Canada. They had about 62 offices located all around the world and were running 7,500 looms. At its peak of development between 1925-1930 the Andover mills employed approximately 140 people.
In December of 1931 the Andover Silk Mills were shutdown temporary until the trade in the silk industry could right itself and they could operate at a profit once more. The depression and over-production of silk products were the main factors. Andover wasn’t the only mills to shut down; all of the mills in the state were practically shutdown.
In early February 1933 it was reported that mills were starting to open back up. Three in Hornell were operating at full speed, one of them day and night. The Galeton silk mill was on a 24-hour production basis, with added employees and orders booked for capacity of the mill until April or May. But nothing was going on in Andover.
By the first week of 1934 the Andover silk mills started getting machines and equipment ready to begin operations again after two years of being shut down. Nearly 30 people were at work with the preparation. The only problem holding them back was the lack of experienced warpers. The starting of the looms is dependent upon the making of the warps, and you can’t have warps without warpers.
In the middle of May 1934 they shut down again for a week but opened back up the next week. Sometime in August of 1934 the mill closed again due to the conditions of the silk industry. Again this was to be temporary.
In May of 1935 it was made known that Albert Godde, Bedin, Inc. did not plan to re-open the mills in Andover and they were for sale or lease. A resident of Paterson, N.J., engaged in the silk business, as a broker, informed Andover that he was interested in moving the Paterson mill to Andover and they would be here May 27, 1935 to look at the upper silk mill property.
There was also another interested party but it was the Paterson Silk Company’s proposal that was accepted. Phone calls were made to Albert Godde, Bedin, Inc. and they also accepted the proposal and the necessary papers were sent from Paterson Silk Company to be signed. As of September 1935 the mill was still not open but must have opened sometime as I find that they are having trouble in February of 1938.
In December of 1937, Bertram Stamm of New York City, who owned a silk mill in Shinglehouse, Pa., rented the lower silk mill on a three-year lease, with the option to buy. He will change the name back to the “Andover Silk Company, Inc.
Mr. Stamm purchased looms for the mill here. The looms were installed with sufficient auxiliary equipment so production would start here using all Andover people. As soon as the looms were producing silk they helped fill his orders. Then the looms in Shinglehouse were stopped and sent here, so there always looms working on his orders at all times. He planned on having 100 to 120 looms at the mill.
At the end of March 1938 the Andover silk mills started operating and were running two shifts in the preparatory department and were expecting to add a third shift. They had enough orders to keep them running at full capacity for several months.
By the middle of July 1938 the lower mill, a weaving mill, had 62 looms in operation and about 50 people on the payroll. 80 looms are ready to be operated but 18 were being held up for a possible satin order, and the other looms being operated for silk weaving.
The upper mill was operating under a new organization and under the name of a new corporation called “The Allegany Print Works, Inc.” This was to be a mill for printing silk or other woven cloth.
By September of 1940 another party buys the mill equipment and leases the upper mill from Albert Godde, Bedin, Inc. It is to be run by two young men from New York City by the names of Emanual A. Gluck and Selig Goldman and is to be called the Andover Weaving Corporation. Nothing else can be found of this company nor of Mr. Stamm’s company.
Along comes Steuben Silk Mills Inc. which originated in Bath, New York, when E.J. “Doc” Allen and F.V. Conrad, both of Wayland, formed a partnership and started in business with 30 looms in 1938.
After once getting established, business conditions improved and in 1941 they began looking for a larger building so they could expand and put in more looms.
At this time several men from Andover including Hugo Honegger and Ellis Horsfall were working in Bath at the silk mill as the former silk mill in Andover had liquidated. They knew that there were still some looms in the old Andover mill, which were owned by the bank and were for sale so suggested the Mr. Allen and Mr. Conrad might be able to use them.
The two partners called the Andover Bank and inquired about the looms and shortly afterwards, Andrew Fuller and John E. Cannon drove over to Bath and made them a proposition to move their business to Andover and take over the old empty school building on the corners of Elm St. and East Ave. to use as a mill.
This was done and with a lot of modification in the fall of 1941 the equipment was moved over from Bath, lock – stock and barrel and full operations were commenced in the new business place.
Shortly afterwards, World War II erupted and business skyrocketed. The two partners incorporated, bought more looms, as well as the building, broke in more help and were soon running three shifts around the clock.
At the height of the business boom, the Steuben Silk Mills Inc. employed around 95 people and paid these employees around a quarter of a million dollars annually.
In 1946 the demand for nylon cloth was still great, so the firm purchased the old Albert Goode, Bedin silk mill property which had been standing empty for years, fixed it up, installed new electric wiring and purchased 40 automatic looms which included 16 of the latest S-6 Crompton and Knowles looms.
After several years the market became flooded with nylon cloth, with the price dropping until the weaving business was sharply curtailed and force the closing of the old school mill. The necessary equipment was moved to the Rochambeau plant and operations continued there under one roof.
In 1962, F.V. Conrad sold his interest in the mill to his partner, “Doc” Allen, and retired to his farm in Rexville, passing away a short time later. At that time, Ralph “Red” Allen, who had been plant superintendent for several years, was taken into the firm and was made vice president, which position he held until the death of E.J. Allen in January, 1972. Ralph was then elected as secretary – treasurer of the firm and operated the business until it was force to cease operations in November of 1973 due to the prohibitive price of raw silk, which went from $8 per pound to $25 in just a little over a year.
In August of 1946 the lower mill was sold to the Andover China Company and was used to make fine china until September of 1958. Then later the Joyce Western Corp. used it until the roof fell in. Today Karl Wittie keeps some of his equipment stored on the concrete floor.
Sometime in the 1990’s the upper mill was torn down and in April of 1999 ground was broken and a Senior Citizen Apartment Building was built. It offers affordable living to people over 55 years of age or disabled people.
In 1962 the old school house on the corners of Elm St. and East Ave was torn down and two houses were built. One belonged to James Kessler the school principal and now belongs to John Hyland and the other still belongs to Charles Joyce.
There is nothing left to ever let you know that there once was a very prosperous silk manufacturing business here.