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Textiles, hosiery a part of Winsted’s history

The making of clothing, textiles, and hosiery was a very profitable business in Winsted. The town’s first clothier was reportedly David Marshall, who operated a fulling mill on Lake Street opposite Rockwell. The first knitting machines used in town were manufactured locally. 

Alva Nash’s Mill

Around 1814, Alva Nash constructed a mill on the Branch Brook for making cloth. About 14 years later, David Bird converted it to a plant that made satinette, a finely-woven, cotton fabric with a finish that resembles satin. Winchester Manufacturing Company eventually took over the plant, and it burned down in 1858. 

Home Manufacturing 

Home Manufacturing erected a factory on the Mad River in 1846. It later became the site of the New England Pin Company. Home Manufacturing produced broadcloth and doeskin. Anson G. Phelps operated the business, until 1850, and sold it to Hartford Pin in 1852. 

Winsted Hosiery

The second largest manufacturer of men’s knit underwear and seamless hosiery of its time in Connecticut. The business was incorporated in 1882, with a capital of $300,000. It was originally located in a small, three-story wooden factory along the Still River and employed about 30 men and women. The workforce steadily increased to nearly 500, and the highly successful business eventually occupied ten buildings on Holabird Avenue. The new steam-powered plant has modern machinery, and when operating at full capacity it had an output of more than $1.5 million per year. The concern’s first knitting machines were manufactured by the Franklin Moore Machine Company, which was located in nearby Pine Meadow. 

Winsted Hosiery’s success was attributed to wise management and loyal employees. William L. Gilbert and Leverett W. Tiffany were two of the original officers, and Edward B. Gaylord was appointed secretary in 1885, and later general manager. All of these men were identified with many of Winsted’s enterprises and institutions. David Strong, a later president, served in the same position at Strong Manufacturing and First National Bank and was also a director of New England Knitting. 

Winsted Hosiery’s prosperity was gratifying to the community, not only because of the quality of goods it produced, but it proved that even in the absence of water power it was well fitted to manufacturing. The company’s original building was five stories and 50x120 feet. In 1888, a three-story 30x210 addition was constructed to accommodate the offices. In 1893 and 1895, two brick additions, measuring 30x60 feet each, were built. The machinery used was the latest available at that time, and the plant was powered by a 125-horsepower Watertown engine. By 1898, 185 skilled operators were given constant employment. The output, at that time, was 275 dozen half-hose and 75 dozen undergarments per day. The company claimed to have increased its output by 300-fold over the course of 10 years, while providing for the safety and comfort of its workers, many of whom remained loyal for years. Winsted Hosiery closed in the late 1960s. 

Southworth Silk Company 

In 1881, around the time that the highly successful Winsted Hosiery was established, J.G. Wetmore started the Southworth Silk Company on Main Street. Like Winsted Hosiery, Southworth had knitting machines, but the company folded about a year after it was established. The factory building which Wetmore had built for the silk company stood idle until it was taken over by the newly-organized New England Knitting Company, in 1887. 

New England
Knitting Company 

Organized in 1887, with a capital of $100,000, by Leverett W. Tiffany and Edward B. Gaylord while they were still connected with Winsted Hosiery. This concern was an immediate success and eventually purchased all of the businesses around it. Its buildings extended over Main Street and the Mad River and included those formerly occupied by New England Pin Company. This knitting company specialized in woolen goods, including fine underwear for men. It also manufactured the then-popular “Spinnaker” sportsmen shirt and produced knit sport suits for women and outerwear jackets and sweaters for men.

New England Knitting 

New England Knitting eventually expanded from four to 13 sets of carding and spinning machines and occupied several buildings and 66,000 feet of floor space. Nearly 150 employees turned out approximately 40,000 dozen garments annually. The key to New England Knitting’s success was experienced management and the fact that it kept abreast of current fashions. Regrettably, the flood of 1955 caused a total loss to the 4-story structure, and the corporate existence of the company was terminated the same year. The directors of the 68-year-old firm condemned the land and a building on Main Street and disposed of the machinery, tools and other property damaged or lost in the flood. 

Clifton Hosiery Company 

Founded in 1891. Waldo L. Curtiss, a Winsted physician, served as president of the company and was associated with the D.H. Lowe Medical Company. Clifton Hosiery made fine, seamless, color-fast, merino half-hose, referred to in the trade as “two-dollar” hose. The company began with a capital of $15,000 and occupied a 30x140 three-story building on Walnut Street near Wetmore Avenue. This highly successful business had the means to produce a variety of wool and cotton goods, but the demand for its half-hose was apparently so great that it fully occupied the time of its 42 employees. The hosiery was shipped mainly to New York, where it easily competed with foreign products of similar quality. Although its specialty product was considered having no equal for the price, Clifton Hosiery’s success was short lived, and it closed around 1896. It was an unfortunate end to another successful Winsted business.

 

Taken from “Brains, Money & Pluck: Profiles of Early Industries” by Verna Gilson, genealogy and local history research assistant, Beardsley and Memorial Library, Winsted.