Rockingham County, Virginia
VAGenWeb Project

A History of Rockingham County
John W. Wayland Ph.D.

Chapter XXI






     In regard to manufactures, the same general conditions have existed and the same general changes have occurred in Rockingham County as in the country at large.  Early times were marked by a great many and a great variety of manufactures in small establishments and in the homes of the people; the civil war stimulated these local enterprises, and called forth certain ones unknown before; the boom periods produced larger establishments than were operated before, but which were usually short-lived; the last two or three decades have seen most of the small factories give up their business to a few large ones.

     The number of different industrial enterprises in our county during the last century or more has been so great that nothing more than a desultory catalogue can be attempted here, except in a few cases.

     Some of the first manufacturing establishments, and some of the most important of all, were flouring mills, built on the banks of the numerous power-giving streams.  The Bird, Zirkle, and Strickler mills, on Smith’s Creek, Plains mill, below Timberville, Bowman’s mill, on Linville Creek, Paul’s mill, on Beaver Creek, Carthrea’s mill, at Port Republic, and other mills on South River and tributary streams, were all likely built a hundred years or more ago.  The 40 mills now in the county form one of our most important branches of industry.

     Tanners, shoemakers, harness and saddle makers, cabinet makers, tailors, weavers, and blacksmiths were on the ground, of necessity, from very early days.  In 1839 Wm. J. Ford was a saddler in Harrisonburg; in 1840 Henry Smals was a



shoemaker in Bridgewater; for 50 years, beginning in 1850, John W. Jacobs was a shoemaker at the same place.  In 1826 Jacob Houck and Samuel Liggett were hatters in Harrisonburg; Liggett had perhaps been at McGaheysville beforehand.  The same year (1826) John Crummey had a gunshop in Harrisonburg; other gunsmiths in the same town, about 1850, were Alex. McGilvray, Geo. S. Logan, and Wm. W. Gibbs.  In 1854 Isaac Stone, in Dayton, J. M. Irvine, O. C. Sterling, and J. C. Williams, in Harrisonburg, were making chairs, bedsteads, and other furniture.

     A large number of tanneries were operated from time to time in various parts of the county.  Soon after 1800 the following men were tanning at the places indicated:  John Zigler, Timberville; Michael Wise, Bridgewater; Francis A. Hite, James Clarke, Abraham Shue, Abner Fawcett, and Jesse Bowlin, Harrisonburg.  In 1870 the Zigler Tannery, at Timberville, declared to be one of the best in the Valley, was still running.  Later tanners at or near Bridgewater were Geo. F. Dinkle, Philip Phares, and A. R. Hollen.  In 1842 George Conrad had a tanyard in Harrisonburg; and later tanners here were H. J. Gray,  Jos. Cline, J. A. Loewenbach, and Houck & Wallis.  Between 1860 and 1880 the following were tanners:  Jas. O’Brian, McGaheysville; S. P. H. Miller, Conrad’s Store; S. Burtner, Keezletown; V. H. Lamb, near Bloomer Springs; Simon Smith, Edom; Wm. S. Downs, Port Republic; John Shutters, Cootes’ Store; and somebody at Peale’s Cross Roads.

     In 1826 Henry Tutwiler made buckskin gloves in Harrisonburg, and kept postoffice.  About the same time John Zigler had a hemp mill at Timberville.  At the same time and later Nelson Sprinkel had a shop in Harrisonburg in which he made all sorts of spinning wheels, at times working 25 hands.  He would send out these wheels by wagons into all the adjoining counties, trading them for flax seed, bacon, etc., as well as money.  In 1839 J. Meixell & Co. were making threshing machines, corn shellers, etc., at Harrisonburg; in 1841 P. A. Clarke was manufacturing air-tight stoves at Mt.




Crawford; in 1844 C. S. Weaver was advertising threshing machines and cloverseed boxes from his shop “one mile below Davie Kyle’s mill on Mill Creek”; in 1854 John W. Showalter, near Mt. Crawford, was making an improved sausage machine; in 1858 Col. Henry Miller of E. Rockingham invented and patented a corn harvester; in 1866 W. H. Karicofe invented and patented the Virginia Corn Planter, a half interest in which he sold to H. J. Gray for $5000; in 1871 Miss Mary E. Long, of Lacey Spring, made a skein of fine white sewing silk, from cocoons of her own raising; in 1873 S. Loewner, at Harrisonburg, was manufacturing combs of different styles; the same year, at the same town, F. Staling was making paint; in 1877 R. H. Snyder (Hbg.) was making a specialty of grain cradles; in 1892 Calvert McGahey, of Elkton, invented, made, and patented a steam engine; in 1911 the Miller device for train control, invented by H. B. Miller, formerly of Harrisonburg, was proved a success.

     For many years J. G. Sprinkel, Harrisonburg, was a skilful metal worker.  In 1857 he and Basford invented and patented an engine.  He made engines under his patent, and four of his make were in use in Rockingham in 1861 - one of them driving the press of the Rockingham Register.  He also made circular-saw mills.  In April, 1863, he was advertising for six men to make cavalry steel spurs.

     In 1862-3 Isaac Reamer, Conrad’s Store, was making (by machine) shoe pegs of all sizes for sale; at the same time J. H. Long, Harrisonburg, was offering 5c each for old blacking boxes, to be used in marketing his Ivory Paste Blacking.  In 1840-41 Berger & Pope, in the 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s Chas. Eshman, and later others, all of Harrisonburg, were manufacturing cigars, etc.; and in 1888 it was stated that the town manufactured more cigars than any other in Virginia, except Richmond.  Peter Bolinger, at McGaheysville, and Young & Cox, Harrisonburg, were brewers early last century.  Peter Dinkel, Mt. Stevens (p. 201), in 1822, and John Bowman, Jr., near Timberville, in 1870, had distilleries; in 1867 J. R. Koogler and W. P. McCall erected on Muddy




Creek, near Rushville, a steam distillery, with a capacity of 200 to 250 gallons of whiskey a day.  In the Register of April 8, 1875, it was said:  So far this season, about 6000 lbs. of Maple sugar has been made in the upper end of Brock’s Gap.

     Wagon makers and potters were important in earlier days.  The Rohrs made carriages and wagons in Harrisonburg for half a century; Joseph Dinkle was a pioneer carriage maker at Bridgewater.  In 1826 G. Cline had a pottery in Harrisonburg; in 1830 and 1880 J. H. Kite, near Elkton, Ireland, Duey, & Shinnick, at Mt. Crawford, Emanuel Suter, at New Erection, and J. D. Heatwole (Potter John), on Dry River, were making all sorts of earthen ware.  About 1890 large potteries were started at Harrisonburg and Broadway.

    During the Revolution Coonrad Hansberger (page 93) had a woolen mill on elk run, site of Elkton.  Prior to 1815 Jonathan Shipman owned a woolen mill at or near the site of Spring Creek; Abram Whitmore and Thomas Tousey succeeded him in ownership.(1)  In the 40’s Michael B. Cline, of Dayton, was doing much wool carding; Patrick Kelly was a Rockingham carder and fuller; and the Blossers, at Dayton, were operating a “Silk, Cotton, and Woolen Dyeing Establishment.”  Between 1860 and 1873 no less than 12 factories for carding, spinning, weaving, or dyeing wool were operated in the county:  at Riverton, near Conrad’s Store; Port Republic; River Bank; on Cub Run; on Beaver Creek; Hollen’s Mill; Berlinton; Mt. Crawford; Bridgewater; and elsewhere.  The leading promoter of these industries was J. H. Larkin; some other prominent in the business were C. M. Harlow, A. B. Tanquary, D. C. Anderson, and J. F. Bradburn.

     In 1880 the Massanutten Organ Company was organized at McGaheysville, and organs were manufactured for awhile.  In September, 1882, the Virginia Organ factory, at Dayton, was started in a 2-story building, 40 x 60 feet.  In 1886 the factory burned, about 70 organs being destroyed.  A few


(1)  S. H. W. Byrd has an old advertisement of this mill dated June, 1815.  Probably this was the same mill operated later by Daniel Thomas.




years ago S. A. Myers built at Dayton a large pipe organ, which was first used there in the United Brethren church, and which is now in the Presbyterian church of Waynesboro, Virginia.

     In different parts of Rockingham large iron furnaces have been operated:  In Brock’s Gap, by the Pennybackers; at Paulington, by Faussett and others; east of Elkton, by Daniel and Henry Forrer and others; Mt. Vernon Furnace, in Brown’s Gap; etc.  Faussett probably started the furnace at Paulington prior to 1800; the Forrers were in control east of Elkton for many years before 1866; Mt. Vernon Forge was at Grottoes; and there have been foundries at Port Republic and elsewhere for many years.  In the 70’s J. Shickel and Sons had a foundry and machine shop near Rushville; from 1877 to 1885 Jos. Shickel was superintendent of the Broadway foundry and machine shop; in 1877 a foundry and machine shop were built at Natural Falls above Bridgewater.

     Among the different manufacturing enterprises in Rockingham at present are the woolen mill, the canning factory, the carriage factory, and the plow factory at Bridgewater; the harness factory, working about 30 hands, the creamery, and the Shrum Brick factory at Dayton; the Fravel Sash and Door Factory, Houck’s tannery, and Bradley’s foundry at Harrisonburg; Paxton’s lime kiln at Linville; the Timberville creamery; Cover’s tannery, at Elkton, and the Elkton creamery; the Whitesel poultry coop factory, at Pleasant Valley, from which more than 65,000 coops have been sent out.

     The Bradley foundry was operated in the 50’s by Nelson Bradley and others; from 1866 to 1878, by P. Bradley and J. Wilton; since 1878, by P. Bradley and his sons.  The Houck tannery has been developed from the earlier establishment


(2) I acknowledge information concerning Mt. Vernon Furnace received from Messrs. J. H. Mace, J. W. Blackburn, and R. T. Miller; and concerning Faussett’s furnace, from Messrs. John A. Armentrout and J. H. Mace.




of J. A. Loewenbach and others.  The Elkton tannery was built by John Cover in 1872.  Its present output is 220 sides of heavy sole leather daily.  The Miller cannery at Bridgewater, the first in the county, dates from 1888.  Its products take high rank.  The Bridgewater woolen mills, was started in 1872.  J. F. Bradburn was superintendent for many years.  H. G. Miller is president; J. A. Fry secretary and treasurer.  The output of its products is inadequate to the demand for them.  The Bridgewater plow factory, with John P. Burke, J. A. Fry, and D. S. Thomas as president, secretary, and manager, makes a specialty of the Superior garden plows, turning out about 10,000 yearly.  The Timberville creamery, E. M. Minnick president, W. C. Hoover secretary, was making 100 gallons of ice cream and 1000 pounds of butter a week during the past summer.

     Besides the things already mentioned, brooms, barrels, etc., by the thousands, tanks of apple butter and bergs of ice are made in Rockingham every year.

     The extent and variety of our local manufactures having thus been indicated, a detailed account is now presented of that particular manual art in which our mothers and grandmothers have most excelled.  This account is a special contribution to this work.


Hand-Weaving in Rockingham County.

By Professor Cornelius H. Heatwole.

                                                                        . . . . . . The piece prepare

And order every slender thread with care;

The web enwraps the beam, the reed divides,

While through the widening space the shuttle glides,

Which their swift hands receive, then poised with lead

The swinging weight strikes close the inserted thread.”

                                                Ovid’s Metamorphoses.


     A century or more ago hand-weaving was the usual means of making the cloth used in the colonial homes from the Carolinas to New England.  The hand-loom formerly




used in the colonies, and occasionally still used in some homes in Rockingham county, is an historic machine of great antiquity and dignity.  It is perhaps the most absolute bequest of the past centuries, which we have had unchanged in domestic use, to the present time.  In some of the famous paintings of the year 1335 you can see just such looms as many of our grandparents had in their homes in Rockingham county.

     The whole process of converting the wool or flax into yarn went on often in close proximity to the loom, and was carried on by some member of the household as a by-industry.  the term “spinster” has come down to us from this occupation.

     “The first half of the present century saw a race between spinning and weaving.  The first found its evolution to machinery; and then led the way for similar means of carrying on the weaving industry.  By 1850 combers, spinners, and weavers were no longer individual workers, but became a part of that great monster the mill machinery.”(3)

     When the pioneer settlers came to Rockingham county from 1730 to 1750 to make their homes, one of the first machines they set up was the old loom.  It found its abiding place in one of the rooms of the main house or in a shed attached to the house; sometimes in the attic; and often a house was built especially for the loom.  There are at present, particularly in the western part of the county, many homes that have a building about the premises known to this day as the “loom house.”  If one were to look carefully about in one of these buildings, one could find here the old loom resting in peace, as a relic of bygone days.  It is sometimes even now called into service for the making of a piece of rag carpet.

     The operating of the loom, together with the accessory occupations, such as spinning and carding, were duties assigned to the women of the household.  The mother took


(3) Earle’s Home Life in Colonial Days, page 231.




the weaving side of the work, while the daughters did the spinning and spooling.  During the spring months the loom was occupied with the making of rag carpet, while in the fall it was used for making the requisite amount of clothing and linen for the household - jeans (usually grey) for suits for the men and boys; linsey (chestnut browns, dull blues, and Scotch plaids) was the material used for the wearing apparel for the women and children.  Sometimes a piece of linen for the table, towels and counterpanes, were made during the fall.  The flax used in making these articles was grown in a little patch near the house, and was harvested and prepared for the loom by the women.

     During one generation the old loom would turn out a number of those rare products of the weaver’s art, the coverlets.  The size of the family usually determined the number of these; for every ambitious housewife desired that each one of her children should have at least one of these interesting, and in many respects artistic, bed covers.  These were made and carefully stored away in a chest, and were presented to the children on their wedding day.  The coverlet is probably the highest form of the hand-weaver’s art.

     The woolen blanket was a product also of the hand-loom.  Each member of the family fell heir to one, when she left the old homestead to establish a new home of her own.  All the work attending the preparation of the wool for these fabrics, such as washing, combing, carding, and spinning, was done on the premises by the women.

     The various colors used in dyeing these household fabrics, particularly the carpets and linseys, were usually the bright, warm colors; red, yellow, green, and blue; though sometimes the more delicate shades were obtained.  These colors were arranged in patterns of stripes either in the warp, or chain, or in the woof, and sometimes in both.  The sources from which these dyes were obtained were largely vegetable, and procured according to the most primitive methods.  The hickory bark furnished the yellows, walnut bark or hulls made the rich browns, sumac berries produced the deep warm reds,




oak yielded the shades of purple, and the cedar berries furnished the delicate dove, or lead color.  The simplest method of extracting the coloring matter from these vegetables was employed.  The bark was put into a large kettle and boiled for several hours, and then the wool and rags were immersed in this liquid and hung upon the line or fence to dry.

     The work preparatory to the actual weaving was probably the most difficult phase of the whole process.  The person planning the article to be made on the loom must have skill in handling the instruments, mathematical accuracy for grouping threads and determining the size and proportion of the piece.  The aesthetic taste of the individual was shown in the choosing of the patterns and in the selection and combining of colors.

     After coloring the chain, which was usually on sale at all country stores, and known as “prepared chain,” the skeins were placed upon the swift and run upon spools or quills.  These spools were generally made of corn cobs, and the quills of the stalk-part of the weed known to the German people as “Boova Strahl,” but to others as teasel.  The main reason for using these was because the pith was easily removed.  Sometimes these quills were made of rolls of paper and paste.

     These spools, filled to the requisite number, were placed in the spool-rack or, in the parlance of the weavers of some sections of the country, the “skarne.”  This is a large frame, with every few inches small sticks or wires running through, upon which the spools were placed.  A thread is gathered from each one of these spools and run through holes in a paddle so that the weaver can gather the threads into “bouts” and run them upon the warping bars.  The warping bars are an upright frame revolving with one end of the axle on a pivot on the floor and the other at the ceiling.  The bars upon which the war-threads were wound were one yard apart, and so the length of the threads, and also the length of the piece of cloth, was determined.  One takes off twenty yards of thread if one wants to weave twenty yards




of cloth.  Forty warp-threads make what is called a “bout,” and a warp of two hundred threads was designated as a warp of five “bouts.”

     From the warping bars these bouts were wound upon the warping beam of the loom.  The bouts however were first passed through the “wrathe,” or rake, a wooden bar with rows of closely set wooden pegs.  This rake kept the bouts from becoming entangled, and gave the warp the proper width as it was wound upon the beam.  This particular process of winding the warp upon the beam was known as “beaming the piece.”  It took two persons to do this, one to turn the beam and the other to hold and guide the warp.

     The next process in the order of placing the warp upon the loom was called “drawing in.”  The end of each thread or group of threads was “thumbed in” with a warping needle through the eye or mail of the harness, or “heddle.”  The harness was commonly called “gears” by the weavers, and consisted of two rows of twine or cord stretched vertically between two horizontal bars, which were fastened above to a pulley and below to a foot-treadle.

     The warp-threads were next drawn through the inter-spaces of the reed, or sley.  This was done with a “reed-hook.”  Two or more warping threads were drawn through each space.  The reed, or sley, was composed of a row of thin strips of cane arranged somewhat like comb-teeth, and called “dents.”  There might be fifty or sixty of these dents to an inch for weaving very fine cloth.  The number of dents to the inch determines the fineness of the cloth.  The reed when filled was placed in a groove in the heavy batten, or “lathe,” which hung by two side bars and swung from an axle, or “rocking-tree,” at the top of the loom.  The swinging of this batten “strikes close the inserted thread,” as Ovid puts it, and produces that thwacking sound heard in hand-weaving.  All the threads thus drawn are brought over the front frame of the loom and fastened in the cloth-beam and wound round it.  By means of ratchets connected with the cloth-beam and the warp-beam the warp is stretched up and the piece is ready for weaving.




     The temples are adjustable bars with sharp teeth-like pegs in the ends to catch in the selvage to keep the cloth uniform in width.  The shuttle is an instrument that contains the woof, and is thrown from one side of the loom to the other by the weaver’s hand, and by moving the harness with the foot the shuttle goes over every alternate thread.  With the motion of the batten the weft-threads are crowded into place, and thus the operation continues till the piece is finished.

     Some one has calculated that in weaving three yards of close woolen cloth, which was regarded as a day’s work, the shuttle was thrown three thousand times, and the treadle pressed down and the batten swung the same number of times.  The number of yards regarded by the housewife as a day’s work depended upon the kind of cloth.  With the finer fabrics, such as linen and jeans, three or four yards was a good day’s work; while with carpets as many as ten yards have been woven in a day, though six or eight yards of carpet was regarded as a good day’s work.  In an old copy of the Rockingham Register, dated March 2, 1871, it was reported that a married lady living in Harrisonburg, age fifty-seven, had woven in the past three years, on an old fashioned-loom, 1800 yards of carpet, besides attending to her domestic duties.  It is safe to say there were hundreds of these old looms in Rockingham county during the last half of the nineteenth century, and thousands of yards of the various kinds of cloth and carpets were turned out annually by them.  The price paid for the weaving of carpet was from ten to twelve cents per yard; for jeans, linseys, and linens the price was considerably more, probably from twenty-five cents to fifty cents per yard.

     The loom was made of heavy timber, and the ordinary carpenter in the community could make it.  Sometimes it happened that one person specialized in this particular line, and made looms as a business.  It is known that Samuel Weaver made many looms in the western part of the county, on the farm now owned by Mr. Elias Brunk.  A man by the




name of Lamb made looms in the section locally known as “The Brush.” John G. Heatwole also made many looms on the farm now owned by Mr. Abram Heatwole, a few miles north of Dayton.  These men got any where from eight to ten dollars for doing the carpenter work on one of these looms.

     Just how many of these old looms may be found now within the bounds of Rockingham county is hard to say; and how many are now and then brought out for a piece of rag carpet can hardly be ascertained without a great deal of effort.  The people in the county of German extraction are still given to making rag carpets, to a great extent.  The hand-looms are probably never used any more for the making of such fabrics as linen, wool blankets, coverlets, linseys, etc.  Nowadays one often notices in bills of sale, particularly where an old household is being broken up, the “old loom” mentioned as one of the articles for sale, and when put up it generally goes for the meager amount of seventy-five cents, or at most for a few dollars.  One was sold a few months ago at a public sale for fifty cents.

     The old Rockingham county loom is fast approaching the period of its history when it will be regarded as a relic of the past.  Its products, such as linen for table cloths, coverlets, and blankets, are already being treasured by the present generation, and valued for their associations.  In almost every household, if you should speak of these rare products of the old loom, the housewife would go to a chest of drawers and bring out, from a safe keeping place, pieces of the various kinds of cloth woven on the old ancestral loom.  It is to be hoped that some one who has a proper appreciation of the things of the past will made a collection of the old looms, their accompanying paraphernalia, and their interesting products, and preserve them in a suitable museum for the information and interest of the coming generations.