Monday, June 8, 2009

Ypsilanti Underwear Company Worker Sara Schaff's History of the Factory

Kind readers may recall that Sara Schaff was a worker at the underwear factory and later an officer in the "club" of former workers that held reunions for a decade in Prospect Park. She wrote the history of the factory and read it at the workers' third reunion, in 1933. DD reproduces her spelling.

"Ypsilanti Mich Aug. 23, 1933

Dear friends,

Thinking you would be interested in the history of the old Mill I have prepared some items which I hope you will all appreciate + remember.

In the year 1827 a rude dam was built across the Huron River just south of what is now known as Forest Avenue Bridge. It was constructed of stumps, logs, stones, sod, and mud to hold back the watter for power for the Flour Mill that was built on the site where the Knitting Mills and Carding Factory later stood.

This Flour Mill was called the Eagel Flour Mills and was sold to John Gilbert with the watter power rights in 1839. Later in 1856 it was sold to Chauncey Joslin and the same year it burned and was rebuilt on the same spot.

Jacob Grobs Brewery nearby was established in 1861, and a few years ago burned down never to be rebuilt.

In 1868 the Woolen Mills Co's mill, buildings and machinery cost over $100,000.

The first Dam was swept away by floods and a larger and better one built in 1832. This was later swept away. The fine dam built some twenty five years ago was washed away during the great ice flood in 1917 and never was rebuilt. Electric power being used during the later years of the mills usefulness.

The Pioneers Mr. Follett, Norris, Chauncey Joslyn, Murdow, Mr. Conklin, and Mr. Le Quirk were some of the early owners of the mill and factory.

A saw mill once stood near the spot where the Knitting Mills stood, also two Flour Mills, early records of the City state. The erection of the building that has just been torn down was completed in 1866.

Daniel Quirk and Asa Dow were the builders and later sold it to Isaac Conklin. It was then called the Ypsilanti Knitting Mills Co. Mr. Murby and Mr. Harely or Haryly were later associated with the building. Mr. Murby did not retain his ownership long after the tragic death of his daughter who was drowned with her sweetheart Mr. Fred Graves while boating near the Peninsular Paper Mills a few days before they were to be married.

it was during the ownership of Hay and Todd that the Mill attained its widest and best reputation when they made fine yarns and garments from them.

Later it was sold again to Mr. Kneip and J. B. Colvin. Mr. Colvin came here from Chicago with two girls and much machinery + equipment and started and maintained for years successfully the Ypsilanti Underwear Factory, which you are all so familiar. They continued the manufacture of underwear of different grades and qualities much silk thread being used that was imported from abroad that was knit and fashioned by hand power machinery into garments, mostly underwear + some swetters, of all colors and sizes.

For two years or more garments were made that were later exhibited at the World's Fair in Chicago in the year of 1893.

The most expensive of these were Union Suits for a man who had them made to order (special) from pure Jap imported silk thread to take with him to Klondyke during the gold rush, and cost him $50 a suit.

Much black wool yarns were knit into tights in those days. Many Foremen have held positions during the years, also Foreladies. In the 1890s about 250 employees were on the pay roll at one time. many have come and gone, some never to return.

Mr. Pulver a night watchman met a tragic death while at his work there.

The Ypsilanti Underwear Factory failed in 1906 + 7 and later the Oak Knitting Co. moved here from Syracuse, New York and occupied the buildings conducting a branch Factory hear for some years, later finding it unprofitable they sold it to the Brotherhood Maintenance Corporation. The Ray Battery + the Jordan Battery leased and occupied it for some years then it was closed and empty with windows boarded up an indefinite time.

As it was an old building with some walls cracked and unsafe it was considered a fire trap and was condemned by the State fire marchal as a fire hazzard and, who deemed it wise to have it torn down so it was finally sold to Mr. Julius Sarko owner of the Arrow Housewrecking Co of Detroit. He and his employees wrecked the entire building in nine weeks by hand during the months of May, June, + July this year. While doing so they came across some flors and walls of the old Flour Mills in the north east corner of the basement.

The tank and watter tower were taken down by a Mr. Cody to be used at the Ypsilanti or Trojan laundry at the foot of Babbit St. (or corner Chitister + Race streets).

The Wearhouse was taken down by a Mr. Alexander and the sheds and Buysycle House were taken down by Mr. Oscar Ammerman who has looked after the Property for some years.

Thus has passed into only a memory and old landmark which will long be remembered, especially by many gathered hear today.

Mrs. Sara A. Schaff"


jml said...

I'll bite. What happened to Mr. Pulver, the night watchman?

Dusty D said...

jml: It's a grisly tale.

From Samuel Beakes's 1906 "Past and Present of Washtenaw County, Michigan":

"On the night of March 10th, 1894, J. Pulver, a night watchman in the Hay & Todd mill, was foully murdered. He had last been seen alive at six o'clock that Saturday night, and at seven o'clock Sunday morning he was found with his head crushed in, the murder having been done with a pair of pipe tongs. The motive for the murder was not apparent as no robbery had been committed. Mr. Pulver was 45 years of age and was not known to have enemies. Clifford Hans, an employee of the mill, was arrested and tried for the murder, the theory being that he had been discovered by the night watchman in an effort to damage the mill. Clothes with what was believed to be blood were found in his room. The trial was a hotly contested one and Hans was convicted and sentenced to the Jackson prison for life. He was pardoned out, however, by Governor Pingree in 1900."

Kind of raises more questions than it answers, doesn't it?

Why would Hans try to damage the mill?
How, in that era, would you determine some random stain was blood and not a million other possible stains?
How did they determine Hans was the suspect if no one else was there at the time?

jml said...

Thank you for the information!

Sounds like a labor issue on the surface, backed up by Pingree's pardon. According to his Wikipedia article, Pingree was quite the radical, advocating an eight hour day, and coming up with the "potato patch plan," a systematic use of vacant city land for gardens which would produce food for the city's poor. The potato patch plan has an echo today in the urban farming movement.

Dusty D said...

You're very welcome.

That's very interesting about Pingree. There was also a huge vacant-lot gardening push in Ypsi during the Depression as well, led by superhuman Ypsilanti social worker Inez Graves, who was a leading light during the Willow Run settlement era as well. I'll have to read up on the "potato patch plan"--sounds interesting. Thanks for the tip!