Changing Landscapes People and Places in the Mill Creek Valley Lower Merion c.1870-c.1920

Nippes/Barker Mill

 

 

Less than a mile away from the Schuylkill River on Mill Creek Road is an abandoned mill and factory on the Mill Creek. Although now abandoned and dilapidated, the mill was the site of some of the most prominent manufacturing businesses during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Along with the mill, the remains of stone tenement houses for the mill workers still remain on the property to this day. The mill’s initial functioning was as a gun manufacturing mill under the ownership of the Nippes family, one of the most well-known rifle manufacturers in the northeast during the early to mid-1800s. By the 1860s, the function of the mill had been converted to producing cotton and also woolen yarn, under the brief management of English immigrants James Ledward and Thomas Schofield. The half-brothers William Booth and Thomas H. Barker, also from a family that emigrated from England, began operating the mill in the 1870s, and would go on to be the property’s most famous owners. Due to the magnitude of its success, the mill would remain in the possession of the Barker family until the mid-twentieth century, and was the last running mill in the Mill Creek Valley community. The Nippes family produced guns on a large scale for the US Army; and the Booth and Barkers produced enough cotton and woolen yarn to become one of the leading manufacturers in the region. 

The Nippes Gun Manufacturing Era

The Nippes family purchased the land where the remains of the mill still stands today in the beginning of the nineteenth century.  The property was sold by Benjamin Brooke to J. Abraham Nippes in 1807, for $4,000.[1] Abraham Nippes was a gunsmith, and at the time he lived in the Northern Liberties section of Philadelphia with his wife, Anna Maria, and son Daniel.[2] Abraham established the mill in its present location on Mill Creek, and began manufacturing guns there in the early nineteenth century. During the first few years of operation under J. Abraham Nippes, the mill produced Model 1808 muskets for the United States.[3] A contract was made on July 20, 1808 for the mill to produce 9,000 of these muskets within five years, along with contribution from James Winner and John Steinman, other gun manufacturers in the Philadelphia area. [4] Between 3,900 and 4,126 of these muskets were recorded as being delivered.[5] Most of these rifles were marked with a “W. N. &S./PHILAD.”, for Winner, Nippes, and Steinman, however one variation of muskets were just marked “NIPPES/&CO.”[6]  A man named Daniel Henkels, who was an executor and agent for the Nippes family, had a contract with the United States in 1815 for 2,000 muskets, which was given to him to cover the debt of the Nippes Company from the 1808 contract.[7] The Nippes mill on Mill Creek is also believed to have produced 1808 model flintlock pistols in addition to muskets, however there are no remaining specimens of these pistols remaining today as evidence.[8]  These guns that were supplied to the United States government by the Nippes Company during this time period were used by the U.S. Army in the War of 1812.

Abraham died on December 7, 1812, and his son Daniel, as his executor, inherited the property and took over the gun manufacturing mill.[9] Daniel Nippes would be the owner that brought the company the most prosperity, with the United States government relying on Daniel’s patented 1840 Model flintlock musket being one of the primary weapons used during the 1840s.[10] While under the management of Daniel S. Nippes, the mill at Mill Creek produced about 1,600 Model 1816 US flintlock muskets between 1837 and 1840, with the marking “US/D.NIPPES/PHILA.” on them.[11] Also under the ownership of Daniel Nippes, the mill made 5,100 Model 1840 muskets between 1842 and 1848, with the markings “D. NIPPES/US” and “MILL/CREEK/PA” on them.[12] These muskets were contracted at a price of $14.75 each.[13] Satterlee notes that the other major factory producing these weapons at the time was the Springfield Arsenal in Massachusetts, however the government stopped purchasing these muskets from the Springfield Arsenal, while continuing to buy the same model from the Nippes Company at Mill Creek for another three years.[14] In addition to producing these model muskets, in 1848 the Nippes mill also had a manufacturing contract with the US government to alter the design of 2,000 muskets for $3 each and then $4 each within the same year.[15] Some of the muskets that were produced at Mill Creek under the ownership of Daniel Nippes most likely were used in combat in the Black Hawk War; however a majority were probably put in reserve at permanent military posts.[16]

In 1850 Daniel was sixty seven years old, and by that time his twenty six year old son, Albert S. Nippes, also a gun smith, had taken over control of the family company.[17] As early as 1848, Albert had started producing Sharps model rifles, with the insignia “A. S. Nippes” engraved into the guns.[18] Under Albert S. Nippes, the mill made about 100 Model 1849 rifles, and also about 150 Model 1850 rifles, both produced circa 1850 with the marking “MANUFACTURED/BY/A.S. NIPPES/ MILL CREEK, PA.” on them.[19] Nippes produced these two models under a larger gun manufacturer owned by Christian Sharps, who supplied many of these rifles to the Union Army and Navy during the Civil War.[20] Albert S. Nippes died in 1858, and by 1861 the mill was converted to a cotton yarn factory.[21] 

The Booth and Barker Era

During the 1860s, the property was still owned by the Daniel S. Nippes estate, however the mill’s function was converted to producing cotton and woolen yarn. During this time, the mill was managed by men by the name of James Ledward and also Thomas Schofield, both cotton and wool manufacturers from England.[22] The next major owners of this property on Mill Creek were the half-brothers William Booth and Thomas H. Barker, who bought the mill on Mill Creek in 1872.[23]. Booth and Barker were half-brothers—William was born July 25, 1845 in England, to John Booth and Elizabeth Hardy; and Thomas was born November 12, 1849 in Philadelphia, PA, to Edward Barker (who was also originally from England), and Elizabeth Hardy.[24]  William and Thomas both lived in Edward Barker’s household in the Chester section of Philadelphia in 1850 at the ages of 5 and a few months old, and would continue to live together until early adulthood.[25] Edward Barker was a cotton spinner himself, and this is how William and Thomas became involved in the industry at this time. The William Booth family eventually became related by marriage to the Nippes family, because William Booth married Daniel S. and Nancy Nippes daughter, Eveline E. Nippes, and this is how the Booth and Barker families came into the possession of the property on Mill Creek.[26]  In 1880, William Booth was 34 years old, living with his wife Eveline Nippes, in Nancy Nippes’ household. Thomas H. Barker was 30 years old at the time, living on the same street with his wife Josephine Conrad, and Edward Barker, Thomas’s father, was also living on the same street. This living dynamic shows the interconnectedness of the Nippes, Booth, and Barker families.

In 1865 when Thomas Barker was sixteen years old, he began working in a cotton and wool mill in Philadelphia owned by a man named James Greenwood.[27] Thomas also worked for his father, Edward, in Lower Merion, and by 1870 he rented and operated James Greenwood’s factory in Philadelphia. Two years later, he and his half-brother William Booth bought the property on Mill Creek, and used it to manufacture carpet yarn.

According to Samuel T. Wiley, Thomas H. Barker was a “staunch Republican”, and was a delegate in both county and state Republican Party conventions.[28] He was also involved in the Merion Title and Trust Company, which acted as one of the executors in his will, and was a largely Republican organization at the time.[29] Wiley also states that Thomas H. Barker was a member of the Episcopal church, Merion Lodge No. 260, Independent Order of Odd Fellows Lodge No 219, Knights of Pythias, and thirty second degree Scottish Rite Mason, as well as the “secret organizations” of the State Grand Lodge of the Odd Fellows and of Pythian Knighthood.[30]

Under the ownership of Booth and Barker, one branch of the mill was used to also manufacture cotton lamp wicks, in addition to carpet yarn.[31] In Theodore W. Bean’s “Manufacturing Industries” section of his History of Montgomery County, he states that when Booth and Barker began manufacturing on Mill Creek in 1872, they had ten employees, and the mill produced about 3,000 pounds of yarn each week.[32] By 1884, the time when Bean wrote the article, the mill was employing forty mill workers, and the production of yarn jumped up to 20,400 pounds each week.[33] He also states that the company had only one thousand dollars a month in wages.[34] Bean also gives insight into the interior of the mill at Mill Creek and the machinery and techniques used. He states that the mill manufactures the yarn using “three sets of machines” and “nine hundred spindles, which are driven by water power and steam.”[35] He also gives the dimensions of the physical mill building—“fifty by sixty five feet,” and “three and a half stories high”—and states that the property was worth fifty thousand dollars at the time the article was written.

Two of the men who worked in the Mill Creek mill as laborers in the wool mill were John and James Dobson, who would go on to start their own wool and yarn mills in Kensington, Germantown, and Falls of Schuylkill sections of Philadelphia.[36]

 

Thomas H. Barker.jpg

Thomas H. Barker, from: ancestry.com

John Dobson—Prominent Woolen Manufacturer in the Philadelphia Area

Similarly to James Ledward, Thomas Schofield, William Booth and Edward Barker, John Dobson was also originally from England, and emigrated to the United States in 1827 when he was twenty two years old.  Dobson worked as a laborer in the woolen manufacturing mill during the time Joseph Schofield owned the mill on Mill Creek. [37] After working at Mill Creek, Dobson formed a partnership with a man names James Lees and began manufacturing woolen yarns in Manayunk. The mill in Manayunk burned down in the 1850s, and after that John Dobson started his own manufacturing company in 1866 in partnership with his brother, James Dobson. In 1891 Dobson’s mills were burned down which led to a million dollar loss, but they eventually recovered and built the mills back up.  The Dobsons’ Company would eventually become the largest woolen goods manufacturer in the United States, with twelve mills overall and six thousand employees.

John Dobson was also involved in real estate, and owned three-million dollars’ worth of real estate in center city Philadelphia. He belonged to the Manufacturer’s Club, and also owned racing horses. During the Civil War, Dobson was a strong supporter of the Union, and was commissioned captain of the Pennsylvania Reserves two times. During this time he
“paid $4 a week to the wives of the 100 men in his command,” which shows Dobson’s generous nature. [38] Also, despite being a millionaire, Dobson was known to travel to and from his mills in the trolley cars, alongside his employees.

John Dobson died on June 28, 1911 from falling down the stairs in his home while he was sleep walking. At the time, he was living at Thirty-fourth street and Allegheny avenue in Philadelphia. Dobson’s wife was Sarah Schofield, Joseph Schofield’s daughter, who was also from England and had died at 83 years old in 1907.[39] John and Sarah Dobson were Episcopalian, and were members of The Church of St. James the Less in Philadelphia, where they were buried.[40]


 

dobson.png

John Dobson, from: Philadelphia Inquirer

Events at the Booth and Barker Mill

There were many events that happened at the Booth and Barker mill that give insight into the operations of the mill and also the relationship between the mill and also the Mill Creek Valley community that it was a part of. One of the events that occurred in the mill was a fire in 1886 that destroyed most of the building. [41] The fire caused thousands of dollars of damage, but Booth and Barker had insurance at the time to cover it. During this era there were many fires that destroyed similar mills along Mill Creek, such as mills owned by Steelwagon & Sons, Seth Humphreys, and Baltz & Bros.[42]  These fires often had drastic effects, due to the technology of the time and also because the local volunteer fire companies at the time traveled by foot. Another event that happened at the mill that was similar to a fire was an explosion in one of the engines. According to an article in the magazine Fibre & Fabric, written May of 1898, a cylinder in one of the engines of the mill had blown out and shattered a window, but no one was injured. [43] The same article also states that that the Booth and Barker mill was running steady at the time.[44]

Other events that affected the Booth and Barker mill along with other mills along the Mill Creek were major floods, due to the fact that the mills were on a creek that is in such close proximity to the Schuylkill River. In 1894, there was a major flood that caused damage to the whole Mill Creek valley, which included damage to bridges and roads. [45] At the Barker mill, the flood destroyed the dam breast, and also was powerful enough to sweep away heavy machinery from the mill, in addition to destroying the road near Barker’s mill. [46] Another flood occurred in 1902, which ruined the basement of the Barker mill.

Part of the success of the Booth and Barker mill is due to improvements the owners made in order to keep their company modern and thriving. A major advancement made by Thomas H. Barker was endorsing an extension of the local railroad company in 1884, to extend the rails to Rose Glen, the name for the area his mill was on. [47] At the time the Booth and Barker Company shipped about 4,000,000 pounds of yarn and other materials, such as the cotton lamp wicks, each year, and this new extension was a way for the Booth and Barker Company to make a key long term improvement for the company.

One of the main adaptations of the Booth and Barker mill that proved to be a crucial improvement for the company was the addition of a new turbine wheel in 1890.[48] This was around the same time that most mills in the country were converting to steam technology, so by advancing their turbine technology, the Booth and Barker Company was remaining competitive with other mills in the country. In 1894, a flood destroyed most mills on Mill Creek, and this coupled with the decline in industrial real estate in the area led to most mills on Mill Creek to go out of business.

Thomas H. Barker died in Ocean City, New Jersey on July 28, 1927, however the mill would remain in the family for another thirty years.[49] The Barker mill was the last mill to remain working on Mill Creek, with it remaining in business under the Barker family until 1956.[50]

The Mill in the Context of Larger Historical Trends

The Ledward, Schofield, Booth, Barker, and Dobsons all reflected the larger trend of English cotton manufacturers moving to the United States.   In the United States, cotton manufacturing mills were often the first mills to be established when looking at the broader industrialization trend, due to the fact that compared to other industries it was relatively easy to produce cotton and yarn.[51] Furthermore, there was always a steady demand throughout the United States for cotton goods in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. By the late nineteenth century, the US had surpassed England in cotton consumption, and England experienced a decline in cotton consumption overall from the late nineteenth into early twentieth century.[52] English cotton manufacturers such as Ledward, Schofield, Barker, and Dobson’s reflected this change, as they moved to the United States, where the market for cotton offered more opportunity than that of England. Also, the area which these families lived suggests that English cotton and woolen manufacturers that came to the Philadelphia area remained in contact with one another.

James Ledward emigrated from England, and lived in the Chester section of Philadelphia as early as 1850, which is also where William Booth and Thomas H. Barker lived as children under the household of Edward Barker.[53] By 1870, James Ledward still lived in Chester, but it is listed that he was a woolen manufacturer at the time, and also that his son, John, worked in a cotton mill as well.[54] Another Schofield family—though not the Thomas Schofield family—lived on the same street as Edward Barker in Chester in 1850, suggesting a connection between these families of English immigrants.[55] Thomas Schofield was originally from England, and stayed in the Lower Merion area into the 1880s working as a woolen manufacturer.[56] Another connection between these English families is the marriage of John Dobson to Sarah Schofield.

Edward Barker, James Ledward, Thomas Schofield, and John Dobson all had connections by being from England originally and all shared the common profession of being in the cotton and woolen manufacturing business. They also all moved from the Philadelphia area into surrounding suburban areas such as the Mill Creek Valley in Lower Merion. This shows a trend of moving to where there is demand for cotton and yarn product, and furthermore to areas where there is more opportunity for upward social mobility.

 
 

[1] http://lowermerionhistory.org/texts/first300/part07a.html 

[2] Ancestry.com. U.S. Census. Year: 1830; Census Place: Northern Liberties Ward 4, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Series: M19; Roll: 157; Page:98; Family History Library Film: 0020631; Will of Abraham Nippes. Book/Page: 4:247. Death date: 7 Dec 1812; Prove Date: 18 Feb 1813.

[3] Satterlee, and Gluckman, American Gun Makers including Supplement of American Gun Makers.

[4] Satterlee, and Gluckman, American Gun Makers including Supplement of American Gun Makers.; Flayderman, Norm.Flayderman's Guide to Antique American Firearms and Their Values. Gun Digest Books, Dec 3, 2007. P. 549

[5] Satterlee, and Gluckman, American Gun Makers including Supplement of American Gun Makers; Flayderman,  Flayderman's Guide to Antique American Firearms and Their Values. P. 549

[6] Flayderman,  Flayderman's Guide to Antique American Firearms and Their Values. P. 549

[7] Will of Abraham Nippes. Book/Page: 4:247. Death date: 7 Dec 1812; Prove Date: 18 Feb 1813.; Flayderman,  Flayderman's Guide to Antique American Firearms and Their Values. P. 551

[8] Flayderman,  p. 325

[9] Will of Abraham Nippes. Book/Page: 4:247. Death date: 7 Dec 1812; Prove Date: 18 Feb 1813.

[10] Russell, Carl Parcher. Guns on the Early Frontiers: A History of Firearms from Colonial times through the Years of the Western Fur Trade. Berkeley: U of California, 1957. Print. P. 160-162; Satterlee, L. D., and Arcadi Gluckman. American Gun Makers including Supplement of American Gun Makers. Harrisburg, Pa: Stackpole, 1953. Print.

[11] Flayderman,  p. 554

[12] Flayderman,  p. 559

[13] Satterlee, and Gluckman, American Gun Makers including Supplement of American Gun Makers.

[14] Satterlee, and Gluckman, American Gun Makers including Supplement of American Gun Makers.

[15] Satterlee, and Gluckman, American Gun Makers including Supplement of American Gun Makers.

[16] Russell, Carl Parcher. Guns on the Early Frontiers: A History of Firearms from Colonial times through the Years of the Western Fur Trade. Berkeley: U of California, 1957. Print. P. 162.

[17] Ancestry.com. U.S. Census. Year: 1850; Census Place: Lower Merion, Montgomery, Pennsylvania; Roll: M432_800; Page: 166A; Image:514

[18] Satterlee, and Gluckman, American Gun Makers including Supplement of American Gun Makers.

[19] Flayderman,  Flayderman's Guide to Antique American Firearms and Their Values. P. 194-195.

[20] Flayderman,  Flayderman's Guide to Antique American Firearms and Their Values, p. 193, 199.

[21] Will of Albert S. Nippes; OC-13694; Bean, Theodore W. History of Montgomery County, “Manufacturing Industries”. 1884. Pp. 612-619. 

 


[22] Bean, Theodore W. History of Montgomery County, “Manufacturing Industries”. 1884. Pp. 612-619.

[23] Wiley, Samuel T. Biographical and Portrait Cyclopedia of Montgomery County, Pennsylvania Volume 18958. Biographical Publishing Company, 1895.  Pages 557-558.

[24] Ancestry.com. US Census. Year: 1850; Census Place: Chester, Delaware, Pennsylvania; Roll: M432_776; Page: 81B; Image: 167; Ancestry.com. England, Select Marriages, 1538–1973 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2014. Marriage Date: 12 Apr 1837. Marriage Place: Mottram In Longdendale, Cheshire, England. FHL Film Number: 424861.

[25] Ancestry.com. US Census. Year: 1850; Census Place: Chester, Delaware, Pennsylvania; Roll: M432_776; Page: 81B; Image: 167

[26] Ancestry.com. U.S. Census. Year: 1850; Census Place: Lower Merion, Montgomery, Pennsylvania; Roll: M432_800; Page: 166A; Image: 514; Ancestry.com. U.S. Census. Year: 1880; Census Place: Lower Merion, Montgomery, Pennsylvania; Roll: 1158; Family History Film: 1255158; Page: 259A; Enumeration District: 013; Image: 0146.

[27] Biographical and Portrait Cyclopedia of Montgomery County, Pennsylvania Volume 18958 by Samuel T. Wiley. Biographical Publishing Company, 1895.  Pages 557-558.

[28] Wiley, Biographical and Portrait Cyclopedia of Montgomery County, Pennsylvania Volume 18958 Pages 557-558.

[29] Will of Thomas (H) Barker; OC-37456; Died L. Merion 1927; Will of Thomas (H) Barker; RW-42314; Died L. Merion 1927.

[30] Wiley, Biographical and Portrait Cyclopedia of Montgomery County, Pennsylvania Volume 18958 Pages 557-558.

[31] Conshohocken Recorder, July 29, 1882. Page 3.

[32] Bean, Manufacturing Industries, 1884.

[33] Bean, Manufacturing Industries, 1884.

[34] Bean, Manufacturing Industries, 1884.

[35] Bean, Manufacturing Industries. 1884.

[36] Philadelphia Inquirer, June 29, 1911. Americas Historical Newspapers. Page 2. 

 


[37] Philadelphia Inquirer, June 29, 1911. Americas Historical Newspapers. Page 2.

[38] Philadelphia Inquirer, June 29, 1911. Americas Historical Newspapers. Page 2.

[39] Ancestry.com. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Death Certificates Index, 1803-1915 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2011. Death Certificate of Sarah Dobson, Death Date: 28 Nov 1907.

[40] Ancestry.com. Pennsylvania and New Jersey, Church and Town Records, 1708-1985 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2011. Original data: Historic Pennsylvania Church and Town Records. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: Historical Society of Pennsylvania.

 


[41] Conshohocken Recorder, January 30, 1886. Page 3.

[42] Conshohocken Recorder, April 8, 1882 p. 3; Nov 25, 1882 p. 3; July 26, 1884; Aug 18, 1893 p. 3; April 13, 1894 p. 6.

[43] Fibre & Fabric: A Record of American Textile Industries in the Cotton and Woolen Trade, Volume 27. 1898. P. 138.

[44] Fibre & Fabric, p. 138.

[45] Conshohocken Recorder, June 1, 1894. Page 3.

[46] Conshohocken Recorder, June 1, 1894. Page 3.

[47] Conshohocken Recorder, July 26, 1884. Page 3.

[48] Conshohocken Recorder, February 28, 1890. Page 3.

[49] Will of Thomas (H) Barker; OC-37456; Died L. Merion 1927.

[50]http://www.mainlinemedianews.com/articles/2014/05/08/main_line_times/opinion/doc536b971ca837a714789442.txt

 


[51] Tyson, R. E., “The Cotton Industry,” in The Development of British Industry and Foreign Competition 1875-1914. Allen & Unwin: 1968.  p. 100.

[52] Tyson, p. 101.

[53] Ancestry.com. US Census. Year: 1850; Census Place: Chester, Delaware, Pennsylvania; Roll: M432_776; Page: 60B; Image: 124

[54] Ancestry.com. US Census. Year: 1870; Census Place: Chester North Ward, Delaware, Pennsylvania; Roll: M593_1336; Page: 133A; Image: 272; Family History Library Film: 552835

[55] Ancestry.com. US Census. Year: 1850; Census Place: Chester, Delaware, Pennsylvania; Roll: M432_776; Page: 81B; Image: 167

[56] Ancestry.com. US Census. Year: 1880; Census Place: Lower Merion, Montgomery, Pennsylvania; Roll: 1158; Family History Film:1255158; Page: 245B; Enumeration District: 012; Image: 0119