The Antietam Woolen Mill of Waynesboro, Pennsylvania

The South Mountain range along the Mason and Dixon Line during the years leading up to the American Civil War was full of industry, from iron ore to grist mills, cobblers (shoe repairers), and cordwainers (shoemakers). One industry that played an important role in making garments was the textile and wool mills that sold fabrics to the small towns such as Emmitsburg and Waynesboro. These mills helped to make small towns be independent from outsides sources, unlike today’s world where the towns are now dependent on stores like Wal-Mart to supply goods to major cities and countries around the globe. As a living historian, I find it important to know how garments were made, and to interpret that information to the public such as explaining what went into dyeing, weaving and constructing the material that made up a uniform. Waynesboro has a wonderful history of industry. One such industry was the Antietam Woolen Mill.

The Antietam Woolen Mill has its roots established before 1800, when a group of German settlers established a place called Roadside. This was an area that was first settled in 1768, called the Homestead by John Horner. This area is located two and a half miles northeast of Waynesboro, in Washington Township along the West Branch of the Antietam Creek. In 1830, Gabriel Baer purchased twenty-two acres from John Keagey and converted the small grist mill into a woolen mill. Gabriel Baer was a cabinet maker by trade, but he soon had a profitable business of making coverlets, blankets, fabrics and carpets. Eventually the property featured five buildings powered by an 18 foot water wheel turning in the Antietam Creek. Machinery that was used in the mill was top of the line and ready for business.

In 1854, Gabriel sold the business to his son Henry Baer. By 1857, the woolen mill had a head weaver and manger by the name of John Schaller. John Schaller immigrated to America in 1854 from Bavaria and lived on a farm at the foot of Burns Hill. Gabriel, the original owner died in 1859, and in 1864, Henry sold the mill to his brother Ephraim Baer.

The Antietam Woolen Mill made several fabrics from jeans-cloth to cassimere and satinet. Jeans-cloth is a woven material made of either a cotton and wool blend, or completely made of cotton. Jeans-cloth was the working man’s cloth. Satinet is a cotton warped, woolen filled fabric, woven and finished to resemble an all wool fabric on the face. Cassimere was a smooth woolen cloth. All three types of material made at Antietam Woolen Mill and other mills throughout the United States was common material used to make uniforms during the Civil War for both the North and South.

An article found in the Waynesboro Library, author and date unknown, provides a great insight on how material was made, how it was dyed, and then sold on the market to make clothing. “A cooperative method of operation was set up by Mr. Baer. The farm wife grew the flax, “hackled” or combed it, and spun it into thread. She also raised the sheep, sheared them, picked, washed, carded and spun the wool. Then she carried her yarn to the woolen mill where it was put through the fulling process, dyed, and woven into the blankets, coverlets, or carpets.”

“Home-woven woolen cloth was uneven in texture and in some parts quite thin. The fulling process, by pounding the cloth with a large oaken mallet while it was kept thoroughly wet in a vat of warm soapy water, shrunk the fibers of the woolen cloth together so that, after drying, much better and more durable cloth was made.”

“The dyes used at the mill were made there from barks, roots and flowers. [Logwood and sumac were popular for dyes.] Only the indigo for the blues was purchased. This was brought to the mill by peddlers who got it at the indigo plantations in South Carolina. Blue was such a favorite color with the women that the “blue-pot” was kept simmering most of the time. These home-made colors were wonderfully lasting. The material of coverlets and blankets colored with them have worn out before the colors faded. Iris and goldenrod made beautiful colors, as did red oak and hickory bark.”

The Antietam Mill was most famous for its carpets and coverlets. These coverlets were decorative with influences from the Scotch-Irish women whom bought them in the area. The colors and designs were romantic while the patterns of squares, octagons, chariot wheels and quaint heraldic decorated the coverlet. Many Civil War living historians carry these at some point or another when demonstrating the average Civil War soldier, especially during an early war scenario.

“Tree and leaf forms were frequent motifs and flowers were still more common. Purely geometric patterns were built up of tiny angles because the hand loom could produce only straight lines. A woolen fringe was put on only three sides of the coverlet as the economic women did not waste fringe on the end which was to be tucked in at the foot of the bed.”

Many of the coverlets were woven on a narrow loom. While coverlets, blankets and carpets were commonly known from the Antietam Mill, fabric was also important in making garments. The most important aspect of the woolen textiles was the dyeing and finishing of the woven product. It is unknown to date, but most likely the Antietam Mill stored their wool in the form of a bale. A wool bale was compressed by a machine made from wood boards and had a wire winch mechanism.

Since the Antietam Mill is documented as making material for men’s clothing, it can be assumed it was in the textile business. The weaving process uses a loom. The lengthway threads are known as the warp, and the cross way threads are known as the weft. Based on the time Baer purchased the mill, and since it was documented as having top of the line machinery, it is assumed that it had a Jacquard loom which is a mechanical loom. The Jacquard was invented in 1801 by Joseph Marie Jacquard. This machine simplified the process of manufacturing textiles.

It is no doubt that the Antietam Mill supplied Waynesboro with top of the line products, materials which would then be sold to a general store or a tailor. In addition, since Union army officers from Waynesboro, for the most part, had to purchase their uniforms, it is no doubt that some of their uniforms featured fabric manufactured by the Antietam Mill. By the dawn of the Civil War, technological advances in the mills, and in the tailor shops, constructing garments by machine was becoming a likely occurrence.

In 1905, the Antietam Mill closed its doors. Some of its workers such as John Schaller, built a small shop by his home and began to sell the famous coverlets until his death in 1912. Today, as a living historian myself, and having a wife to make a lot of my uniforms, I can fully understand and appreciate the value of what went into making fabrics, and the steps of finishing those fabrics to make a garment.


10 thoughts on “The Antietam Woolen Mill of Waynesboro, Pennsylvania

  1. Arleen September 1, 2011 / 11:25 pm

    I would really like to know if you have more information on John Andrew Schaller. He was my grandfather's grandfather. It would be interesting to know more about the life he lead as well as any other information. Thank you.

    • Amy Fawks March 16, 2014 / 8:55 am

      My mother is a Schaller from Waynesboro, probably then a cousin of yours since she has the same grandfather. I do have some information to share, email me at

      • John A. Miller March 16, 2014 / 9:26 am

        Good morning,

        Unfortunately no. I do not have any information on John Schaller, but if you check the Waynesboro Historical Society here in Pennsylvania, they might. It would be worth a try. Thank you for the comments.

  2. John A. Miller September 2, 2011 / 12:16 pm

    The Pennsylvania Room at the Waynesboro Library has a genealogy section and that is where I found the photographs of the woolen Mill. I don't know if they have a book on the Schaller family. But if you’re in the area, it is worth a trip.

  3. Arleen September 3, 2011 / 11:26 pm

    I live in California which makes looking up information on my ancestors. Thank you for responding to my comment. It is neat to think that John Schaller was in the book. We have some stories that have filtered down but as everyone is no longer alive in my immediate Schaller line, it makes it difficult to really know what happened.

  4. Cynthia Gee January 5, 2013 / 10:28 pm

    Hello… my husband and I recently purchased the home of the late Dr. Joseph H. Baird on Country Club Road near Waynesboro. I read that the house was once a tenant house belonging to the woolen mill; is it the house on the right in the picture above?

    • John A. Miller February 9, 2013 / 11:33 am

      It might be. The best thing would be to contact the Waynesboro Historical Society and see if they have any records of the mill and the layout of the property. The drawing could be a modern drawing based upon someone else’s interpretation. Another avenue would be to contact the Franklin County Historical Society. I have a feeling though your assesment is correct. I drive past that area often.

      • Amy Fawks March 16, 2014 / 8:53 am

        My mother is a Schaller from Waynesboro. Her father was Harold Schaller, his father Byron Schaller, his father Andrew Schaller, then finally back to John A Schaller of your story. I have done some genealogy research on the Schaller line. My mother has a trunk of old pictures and other items from the Schaller family. We would like someone to be able to tell us exactly where they lived. My mother and her three sisters all still live in Waynesboro. Any help would be appreciated. Thanks in advance, Amy Fawks, Mont Alto PA

  5. Aaron Heiner March 18, 2018 / 7:21 pm

    Thanks for the article. My great grandfather’s grandfather (Martin Heiner) worked at the mill shortly after his family immigrated to America. The article describes the mill location as: “This area is located two and a half miles northeast of Waynesboro, in Washington Township along the West Branch of the Antietam Creek.” Do you happen to have a physical address where the mill was once located? I would like to visit the area.

    • John A. Miller March 18, 2018 / 9:19 pm

      Unfortunately, no. You might be able to contact the Waynesboro Historical Society or even the Franklin County Historical Society for more info. Thanks for the comment!

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