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.