Workshop of the World

stories of industry in & around Philadelphia

Pasted Graphic 1
Hexamer General Survey #1809-1810 (1883), "Economy Mills, Sevill Schofield, Son & Co."

Economy Mills
, 1857
Venice Island, between the Schuylkill River and the Manayunk Canal, Philadelphia PA

Sara Jane Elk, Workshop of the World (Oliver Evans Press, 1990).

Across Rector Street and to the south of the Blantyre Mills along the canal, a part of Sevill Schofield's Economy Mills remains as a vestige of one of the largest mid-century textile manufactories in Philadelphia. When completed in its entirety, the complex stretched from Lock Street on the south, north to Rector Street, occupied both sides of the canal, and totally covered Venice Island between the Schuylkill River and the canal. The four-story stone mill that remains along the north side of canal near Lock Street represents a very small portion of the original complex. To the rear of it, and across what was a cartway to Main Street, stands a two-story, eight-bay structure used as the blacksmith's forge, the machine shop and the carpenter shop.
 
Sevill Schofield's skill in the mechanics of textile production in combination with years of favorable markets for his products, resulted in the development of the Economy Mills, one of the most important textile enterprises in Manayunk. Sevill immigrated from England at age thirteen with his parents, Joseph and Mallery, and five of his siblings. The family had come directly to Manayunk in 1845, presumably as experienced textile workers to find employment in what was emerging as a significant textile center along the Schuylkill. After several years of working for other mill operators and employing his sons in the process, Joseph Schofield formed a partnership with James Lee in 1849 to produce cotton in a mill along Mill Creek, across the Schuylkill from Manayunk in Montgomery County.
1 Laboring along side his brothers, Sevill became proficient with each process of the mill. It was in his father's mill that he became acquainted with James Dobson, another English immigrant highly skilled in the mechanics of textile manufacturing. Their friendship evolved into a inter-familial relationship that had a significant impact on both. 2 Dobson later left the mill to begin his own endeavor in Manayunk producing blankets with his brother John. Sevill followed nearly the same path.
 
In 1857 Sevill left the Mill Creek mill, then operated by two of his brothers, to purchase and manage a new endeavor for his family in the McFadden Mill.
3 A first generation Manayunk mill located near the lower lock of the Venice Island side of the canal, it occupied the site he would later expand to accommodate the Economy Mills. 4 Working with another brother, Charles, and six laborers they wove and spun on one floor and leased the other four floors to two tenants. The small operation of “S. and C. Schofield” produced “firm spun cottons and carpet yarn” for a market of handloom weavers across Philadelphia in Kensington. 5 The success of this trade expanded the firm enough to dismiss the tenants and to purchase their machinery.
 
Nearby the Dobson Brothers operated their blanket mill. When the Civil War began, they secured contracts from the United States Government to supply the Union Army with blankets and convinced their friend Sevill to do the same. The work earned the families staggering profits, setting each of them on a course of manufacturing success that lasted throughout their lifetimes.
 
Production of contract blankets began in the Schofield mill in 1861, propelling the brothers into a program of expansion, as profits began to double each year.
6 In 1863 they enlarged the mill and in 1864 purchased the Blantyre Mills, although they did not occupy it until 1869 when A. Campbell and Company moved out. 7 Although Charles retired from the business in 1864, giving Sevill sole proprietorship, the change did not slow the rate of expansion. In order to confront the continuing need to accommodate production demands, Sevill embarked on the construction of a new five-story mill next to the old mill in 1876. Equipped with machinery and ready for production, a fire completely destroyed the mill at the time of its completion. Undaunted, Schofield sailed Europe to purchase new machinery and immediately rebuilt the mill.
 
The 1870s brought with them the introduction of new products to supplement the Civil War staple, including "chinchillas, elysians, raze coating" and yarns for wholesale.
8 In 1875, the five-story mill which stands today was constructed for the production of wool yarns. The 1883 Hexamer General Survey gives the building three numbers: 9 (the first ten bays from Lock Street), 10 (the next three bays), and 11 (the nine bays after the jog in the building).
 
Building 9 had coal rooms in the basement level; mixing and storage of wool on the first floor; carding on the second floor; lumpers, willows and dusters on the third floor; ditto on the fourth floor, plus wool pickers as well.
 
Building 10 served as the picker house and was physically separated from the other two sections by stone walls and heavy iron doors. The picking of rags and wool created minute particles of dust which presented a combustion hazard. The thick stone and iron separation protected the rest of the mill from fire. With the exception of the first floor, which held wood for storage, mechanical picking took place on all floors.
Building 11 housed finishing operations, with storage of products on the first floor, combing and preparing on the second floor, worsted doubling and spinning on the third floor, and worsted spinning on the fourth floor.
 
Schofield maintained a retail store in the textile district of Philadelphia, listed at 51 North Front Street in 1866.
9 With offices in Philadelphia, Manayunk textile manufacturers could broker their goods to handloom weavers, carpet mills and garment manufacturers within and beyond Philadelphia.
 
The Economy Mills thrived until the 1890s when an economic slump caught Sevill misjudging the markets. The established inter-family relationship between the Schofields and the Dobsons allowed James Dobson to consolidate and operate the two Schofield mills, Economy and Blantyre, as the Imperial Mills, with Dobson Schofield as treasurer and buyer. By 1916, Dobson Schofield had advanced to secretary-treasurer.
 
Imperial Mills weathered through the Depression in Manayunk, but closed shortly after, ending almost a century of Schofields spinning textiles in Manayunk and leaving hundreds of workers without jobs. The property was sold in parcels and occupied by a variety of enterprises until fire destroyed the buildings on the island in the 1970s. The remainder of the complex was purchased by Apex and G. Whitfield Richardson, both manufacturing cleaners and lubricants for the production of and use of metal wire.

1  Scranton, p. 58.
2  Family ties were woven then the Dobson brothers married two of Sevill's sisters. Later, Sevill and his wife Catherine named one of their sons Dobson Schofield.
3  Scranton, p. 58.
4  Goshow, p. 101.
5  Scranton, p. 60.
6  Goshow, p. 101.
7  Scranton, p. 62. Sevill's wife, a Catherine Somerset, was the daughter of William Somerset, who enjoyed a successful career as a partner in the firm of A. Campbell and Company. This relationship may have prompted Schofield’s purchase of the Blantyre Mills. After the death of Archibald Campbell in the 1880s, A. Campbell and Company began to fail. Sevill provided a position for one of its employees, his young brother-in-law, William Somerset, who continued his textile career in the Schofield enterprise.
8  Scranton, p. 66.
9  McElroy, 1866, p. 646.


Update May 2007 (by Sara Jane Elk):
No change.



See also:
Hexamer General Survey #4 (1866), "Schofield's Mill."
Hexamer General Survey #405 (?), "Schofield's Mill, Sevill Schofield."
Hexamer General Survey #1131-1132 (1877).
Hexamer General Survey #1809-1810 (1883), "Economy Mills, Sevill Schofield, Son & Co."