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of Freeland, Pa.
A Freeland factory, 1914
Inside an early Freeland factory, from Judy Domchick Hall
When Judy sent me this photo, she wrote: Hello again. I was going through my Dad's albums and found two pictures you might be interested in. The first is a picture of my grandmother Elizabeth Wilson Domchick, seamstress. She was the wife of George Domchick, the Butcher. She was born in 1894. She left school at 14 and went to work as a seamstress in a factory. I don't know which one, but she lived on Alvin Street so maybe the one across from the high school? In this picture, she is the 6th young lady on the left, counting from front to back, in a dark blouse. The photo, as you'll see, is amazing. [The enlarged view was repaired digitally by Jay Cawley - thank you, Jay!] I have never seen an interior view of a Freeland factory from so long ago. There is so much information in this image! However, it also contains some mysteries. Perhaps some of our readers can help to solve them.
First, who are the other people in this photo? If you recognize anyone, please let us know!
Second, when would this photo have been taken? Judy didn’t have any information on that. There is a calendar on the factory wall at the front right part of the photo, from the First National Bank. [Here’s an enlargement at right.] I can see that it’s showing the sheet for January, and that January 1 is on a Wednesday. I checked at http://www.timeanddate.com/date/weekday.html and saw that January 1 was a Wednesday in 1908, 1913, 1919, 1930. (For some reason there didn’t seem to be another Jan. 1 on a Wednesday between 1919 and 1930; perhaps that’s an error from the website I checked? This needs further checking.). If Elizabeth Wilson quit school at age 14 to go to work at the factory, that would have been around 1908, and looking at her in this photo she seems to be a young woman, so this suggests that it may have been taken in 1908, 1913 or 1919. My brother Steve noticed that Elizabeth is dressing in black, while most of the other workers are wearing white blouses, suggesting that perhaps she was in mourning. Judy is checking with relatives to see if that suggests anything in terms of what year this photo was made.
Then, a third question: what factory was this? Here at left is one clue, and I’m hoping that perhaps someone reading this page will be able to help with it. I’ve cropped and enlarged the image of the man in the suit who’s standing in the center area of the photo – the factory owner? He looks familiar to me, but I don’t know who he is. Yet. Someone out there will recognize him. Please email me and let me know! A bit further down on this page you'll see some guesses as to which factory this was, but first pleast enjoy the following additional close-ups cropped from the main photo.
Fortunately Judy sent a high-resolution copy, so we can all benefit from the resulting detailed views. These enlarged details almost allow us to walk into the photograph. The first one [at right] focuses on the left side of the main photo, showing us that there were apparently three long tables in this room. Think of the noise! At least there was a fair amount of natural light admitted through the windows, and there were lamps hanging over the tables every few feet. Still, this must have been eye-straining work for long hours in a noise-filled room. It's interesting to see the stacks of fabric, the wooden boxes, the coat racks. This crop also gives a good view of the sewing machines.
Another cropped detail [at left] focuses on the table most in focus in the main photo. What were they sewing? The fabric seems to be of various colors, but the thread all seems to be white. Judy's grandmother is clearly shown here. Most or all of these women seem fairly young. The man standing at the back of the room would have been, what, maybe a foreman, or (he's wearing overalls) a janitor or handyman? The overhead lamps are easier to see in this photo. It's really pretty impressive to see how many work stations have been fitted into the space. People today who work in offices with cubicles complain about the lack of private space, but compared to this factory situation, those cubicles seem kind of luxurious.
A third cropped detail [at right] focuses on the front edge (closest to the photographer) of the table most in focus in the main photo. It's easier to see that these women are wearing dark skirts and white or light print blouses, some of them also wearing aprons. They're just sitting on stools! That can't have been comfortable, hour after hour. Maybe the stools had cushions on them.
Meanwhile, site contributors Bob Zimmerman and Charlie Gallagher have both looked at the factory photo and given some feedback as to which factory it might have been. Possibilities suggested: the factory that used to be located at Foster and Cunnius streets, the DiSpirito feed store, the Freeland Bobbin Works across the street from the feed store on south Washington street, and the Abrams factory that was on north Centre street just a few buildings up from Chestnut street, across from the old Herkalo’s store. (All four buildings are now gone.)
The factory that used to be at Foster and Cunnius streets was the first location of the Blass Overall Factory in 1896 (which became the Freeland Overall Manufacturing Company, later moving to south Ridge street), and later was Bressler’s Cigar Factory, and even later the Major Shirt Corporation. Here’s a photo showing what it looked like, along with a detail cropped from a Sanborn map.
[This DiSpirito text was updated 7-2019.] The Dispirito feed store (recently torn down) seemed like an attractive possibility from the perspective of the configuration of the building, but there doesn’t seem to be any reference to its having been used as a factory at any point. In spring of 2019 I received email from Jim (Spirits) DiSpirito, and also had a phone conversation with him. He wrote: "I'm writing you concerning the speculation as to where the factory was located in the article "inside an early Freeland factory by Judy Domchick Hall". You wrote that one of the possibilities was the DiSpirito feed store on Washington St. I doubt if our feed mill was the place. My grandfather and great uncle bought the property from the Armour company. My uncle 'Packy' DiSpirito, who is still alive and well living in N.J., says it was bought in 1917; however the publication "Freeland" by Charles K. Stumpf dates the purchase to Jan/Feb 1916. I never heard it referred to in the family as having been a factory. Only a warehouse. Hopefully this will shed some light on part of the mystery. -- Jim (Spirits) DiSpirito."
Here are Bob Zimmerman's musings as he proposed this building as a possiblity. He wrote: “Architectural comparative anatomy works! Seven windows on the right side of the factory picture. Assume seven on the opposite side - et Voila! - matches the exterior shot of the feed mill. The interior picture also gives a strong suggestion that there was an outside entrance at the left rear of the building. Encore une fois - et Voila! The feed mill sports one at the same general area. Estimating the height of the ceiling on the interior at about 10 ft. and trying to make a comparable guess using the front porch ghost line it looks to me as though the distances are similar. It also seems that the width of both buildings are almost identical. I realize this is not conclusive proof but I’d like to propose Dispirito’s feed mill as your sewing factory.” Charlie Gallagher wrote: “Also, the Dispirito Store building on Washington always had railroad tracks adjacent to it on the South Side. It started out as the Armour Chicago Beef warehouse on the 1895 Sanborn map. I believe the railroad preceded the building. Armour is still listed on the 1912 Sanborn map, so I have no reason to believe that it was a factory for another purpose during the 1895 to 1912 time frame.”
We wondered about The Freeland Bobbin Works was approximately across the street from the feed store, but my impression is that it was a factory that actually made bobbins, and the few references in my files refer to their staff as being men, not women, so it doesn’t seem to me that it was a sewing factory. Charlie Gallagher wrote: “The interior photograph suggests a very narrow building. This may have been the Freeland Bobbin Works. I'm a little confused as to the location, but if you look at google maps, there ia a large building just south of Dispirito's on Washington (that would have been across the railroad tracks and the first property on Foster Township). The Bobbin works is always listed at South Washington Street, but that used to start with any location south of Front Street back then. But then there is also a description as being south of Carbon Street. I'll have to do more digging.” Charlie later was able to identify its location as being part of the same building shown on this map detail from 1912 labeled "Hame M'f'y." My notes list it at 175 south Washington street, which would be about right for that location.
The fourth proposal for this factory location is the Ambra Manufacturing Company, which was managed by Irving and Phillip Abrams, later becoming the Freeland Shirt Company annex. According to Charlie Stumpf it was originally built by Emmanuel Berger, Freeland contractor, for a religious sect known as the "Burger Church” (listed on Sanborn maps as the Christian Holiness Church). It was purchased by the Bethel Baptist congregation as its headquarters until their new church was erected, and later the building was used by the Freeland Shirt Company. According to a 1931 newspaper clipping in my files, it was the first factory to be operated by the Freeland Shirt Co., but was abandoned “when the new Dewey street mill was completed.” It was remodeled and converted into a cutting department and storage house by the company and was used in that way until it burned down. I have the impression that after the fire it was rebuilt and continued to be used as a factory for another couple of decades. Bob Zimmerman wrote of this location: “Another possibility is the old Chapel across from Mike Herkalo’s little store on North Center St. I know it was used as a factory in 1941 as I remember large trucks with the Arrow Shirt logo loading in the alley behind D.C.M. School when I was in 1st grade. Of course, your picture is much earlier; if only the year on the wall calendar was legible.” Charlie Gallagher also suggested this location: “Now there is one other possibility for the building in the picture. There was a factory of very narrow width on Center Street just north of Chestnut on the east side of Center. This was a sewing factory and was torn down years ago.” Charlie later added that perhaps this wouldn't be it, because the buildings on either side wouldn't let much light in.
What about you - can you who are reading this page tell us anything about this factory photo?