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Freeland had a thriving silk industry in the late 1890s and going off and on for nearly 50 years. A page will be made about that industry soon, but meanwhile here are five silk mill locations. A couple of them might be a suprise.
In city and phone directories, the Freeland Silk Mill is listed at this Birkbeck Street location in 1897, 1901, 1912. Then in 1917 and 1921 is is listed as the Luzerne Silk Throwing Company at this address. It was also shown on Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps in 1900, 1905, 1912 and 1923. In 1929 it was shown as the Luzerne Silk Throwing Company.
In his book on Freeland history, Charles Stumpf wrote: "The Freeland Silk Mill made application for charter on March 18, 1897. The mill opened on May 24 with raw silk imported from Japan and woven into various patterns. The mill employed 50 workers under the supervision of Frank Frigerio [corrected from Frigeriu]. Three floors were equipped with looms and other machinery. The plant had a capacity of producing 100 pounds of silk per day."
Later in 1906 it was reported that the deed for this silk mill was transferred to the Luzerne Silk Throwing Company. I'm still working to understand the ins and outs of this local silk industry, so more on that later.
In the mid-20th century this building was repurposed as the Freeland Dress Company. It burned down in 1983.
In city and phone directories, the Washington Silk Company is listed in 1912, 1917, 1921 and 1928 as being on Ridge Street just north of the public school that was later purchased by the Belekanich family. It was also shown on Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps in 1912, 1923 and 1929. Early maps showed the address as 951 Ridge, and the 1923 map showed that the 951 numbering had been changed to 425-429. City directories variously reported the address as 435 and 439 Ridge. As shown on the map below, the factory building occupied what is now the empty lot on the north side of the former public school, later Belekanich's bar and home. I have not seen a photo of this factory; all I have at present is a photograph of the empty lot, taken in 2017. The view is from the alley and you can see a corner of the Belekanich building at top left in the photo.
In his book on Freeland history, Charles Stumpf reported: "The Washington Silk Mill, located at 439 Ridge Street, began operation during the summer of 1911 with 50 employees, under the management of August Rupert. In October the first piece of silk woven in the mill was exhibited in the window of John Shigo’s store." A local newspaper article in mid-August 1934 reported: "The mill was badly damaged in 1926 when mine settlings took place in the old Woodside mine after the water had been pumped out to prepare for operations to be resumed. The building sagged in several places but after being strengthened by supports, operations were resumed. Later after the Washington Company suspended operations, the plant was run by the Meadow Brothers before they moved to the Danko property at Ridge and South streets."
A few weeks later a newspaper article reported that officials of the bond holders of the defunct company have made a deal and will dispose of the silk mill building "that was established on Ridge St. over 25 years ago; it has been sold to a citizen of White Haven who began yesterday to dismantle the structure."
In November 2018 I received this email message from JP Sitko: Chuck, I came across your website about Freeland's history when searching for information about a building that used to be there. My grandfather Henry Sitko and greatgrandfather Condy Sitko purchased the Washington Silk Co building to build a dairy barn in White Haven in the early 1930s. I attached some stories from the 30s that I came across about them and the building that I attached. Thanks to your website I also found the exact location of the building. The barn was built with brick and large red stone window sills. If you have any photos of it or ever come across any photos of the original silk mill building I'd love to see them. If you also find any additional information about the building I'd be interested in that too. Thanks for the information on the website, JP Sitko.
JP also sent a newspaper clipping from nearly a year later in May 1, 1935 that said that the building had been sold to Henry Sitko of White Haven, and that the razing of the building was "nearing completion, and bricks, lumber and materials are being trucked away. After the building is removed, the plot of ground will be fenced in as a safety measure." So you can see that in the 1930s it took some time to carefully dismantle a building so that the parts could be re-used in another building, and then hauling the pieces to a new location, as opposed to just knocking it all down and dumping the pieces. Of course, winter also got in the way of such work.
In the early 1920s the Washington Silk Company's business was expanding. The 1928 Freeland directory lists both the Washington Silk Company at 435 Ridge and its Annex at 818 Front Street, behind the First National Bank. The Annex is also shown on the 1923 Sanborn map. That same building has also been home to several other businesses over the years, including S and S Soda, a shirt factory, and John R. Gallagher's branch office of the Hazleton Buick Company (thank you, Charlie Gallagher, for the Buick info!). I'll get these various tenants sorted out a little better and will report on that on the business pages of this website. The building is still there, I saw it when I was in Freeland in March 2019!
The Washington Silk Company mill on Ridge Street was badly damaged in 1926 when mine settlings took place in the old Woodside mine after the water had been pumped out to prepare for operations to be resumed. The building sagged in several places but after being strengthened by supports, operations were resumed. Bringing back the work after the Washington Silk Company suspended its operations, the plant was run by the Meadow (or Meadows?) brothers before they moved to the Danko property at Ridge and South streets. I'm assuming that they moved the business because of the damage the Ridge Street building sustained as a result of mine settling.
In his book on Freeland history, Charles Stumpf wrote that the Grand Opera House opened in 1896, thrived for many years, and then after being vacant for a long time the building was converted into a factory for the one of Freeland's silk companies in the mid-1940s. In the early 1980s the building was once again converted into apartments for seniors. The photo comes to us from John Rock.
Charlie Gallagher shared this photo of his father and sister, photographed with a cow in what was then a field two streets away in 1941. He wrote: My Pop (Bernie Jr.) holding my sister Sheila on the back of the cow. They would have been standing near the south end of St. John's parking lot on Vine Street. (Notice the cars in the background are on Fern St, not Ridge St.) So the photographer was on Vine Street, looking east across undeveloped land with the buildings on east Ridge Street in the background.
The two buildings at right, also shown enlarged here, are the white public school (later Belekanich's bar and home, painted a deep rose), and the Grand Opera House that would later be turned into a silk mill. The photo was taken in 1941, and the silk mill transformation would happen soon after. But the reason these photos are part of this section is that this is the only photo I have at present that shows the Grand Opera House!
Thank you to JP Sitko, John Rock and Charlie Gallagher for photos and information, and of course to Charlie Stumpf. If you have any information or photos to share regarding Freeland's silk mills, will you let me know? Thanks!