Hovey Woolen Mill
Before the mill sites were surveyed in 1845, Sam Russ sold a parcel of land to George Hovey in 1843, for 175 dollars, which is recorded under Block 25 at the Racine Register of Deeds.
Hovey started a woolen mill operation at the location where the north end of the Waterford Public Library now stands. It gave him all rights and privileges to access to the Run-a-By Canal for his water power. The following announcement ad appeared in the Southport Telegraph September 19, 1843, while the date in the ad specifies June 27, 1843.
To see this antique carding machine in operation, click HERE.
Apparently in early June, 1843, the Racine Advocate published an article extolling the origins of the first Woolen Factory in Racine County as being in Burlington. Sam Chapman, founding pioneer of Waterford, responded with the following letter to the editor, published on July 1, 1845. It is re-typed for readability. Chapman proved to be a very formidable promoter of Waterford’s water power and the associated businesses. His comments are frequently seen in future newspaper editions.
“Waterford Woolen Factory
“In speaking of the Woolen Factories of Racine county in our paper of the 17th ult., we said we believed the establishment at Burlington was the pioneer one in Racine
county, for the manufacture of woolens, &c.: But is seems we were mistaken in that belief; and our friend Mr. S.E. Chapman, in a communication, the substance of which we give below, puts us and the public right in this matter: The Waterford Factory takes precedence of the one at Burlington as well in the date of its establishment, as the extent of its operations. And we feel much obliged to Mr. Chapman for the interesting manufacturing statistics with which he has supplied us.
“Waterford is situated on Fox River, Racine County, one mile from the flourishing village of Rochester, and 23 miles west of Racine village.
“Mr. Editor: You are mistaken in supposing the Burlington Woolen Factory is the “pioneer” one in Racine county. The Waterford Woolen Factory was erected in 1843; and wool carding and cleaning, drying &c. were commenced there in the fall of that year. During the Winter and Spring of 1844, the machinery for spinning, weaving, shearing napping and pressing was put into operation; which was a long time before they began to operate in woolens at Burlington. With all due respect for the gentlemen of the Burlington factory, we must be allowed to say, that their machinery and facilities for manufacturing wool; are greatly inferior to those at Waterford.
“Great care has been taken by the proprietors of the Waterford Factory to obtain new machinery of the very best quality and most improved style, such as has been adopted and in use in the best woolen establishments at(sic.) the east. This factory contains two large double carding machines, and one single do.; a splendid vibrating double carding condenser, probably the best machine ever shipped through the Lakes; four power looms; a splendid roller turk, with 100 spindles; fulling machines; scouring or washing do.; also presses, warpers, nappers, shearing machines, and all the fixtures. &c. requisite in the complete woolen establishment. The looms are adapted to the weaving of broadcloths, casimeres, satins, and twil’d and plain cloths of any style desired. Attached to this establishment is a capacious dye-house, with suitable apparatus for coloring.
“The Factory edifice is built of brick, three stories high, and, including the dye-house, is 60 ft long. Unlike the Burlington factory, the Waterford establishment has manufactured over 25,000 yards of cloth already, and is capable of turning out 200 yards per day. The proprietors, Messrs. Hovey and Kelley, are thoroughbred practical manufacturers; and not only superintend their own establishment, but are constantly laboring with their own hands, determined to make their work what it should be, and they are encouraged to persevere with a confident assurance of success.
“They have on hand cloths from eastern manufactories, for re-dressing, &c.
“Connected with this establishment, is a machine shop for the making of cotton and woolen machinery; in which a part of the machinery mentioned as in operation in the Burlington factory, is now being manufactured!
“Waterford possesses the greatest water power in eastern Wisconsin: Already two large flouring mills, three saw mills, the woolen factory and sundry kinds of small machinery are in successful operation here.
Yours, &c. S.E. Chapman,
Waterford, June 21, 1845“2
In 1849, George Hovey sold the land to Erastus Willard, but apparently kept the mill. Perhaps it was in desperation to keep his mill operation solvent.
According to The History of Racine County, p. 483, “In 1840, William Hovey came from the State of New York and erected a large woolen mill at a cost of $16,000, but, after a lapse of ten years, Mr. Chapman instituted suit against him for using too much water and in the graphic language of one of the early settlers “cleaned him out.” About 1864 (1859 actual) George Gale arrived from the village of East Troy, Wis., and purchased the (Hovey) building which he fitted up as a paper-mill, carrying on that business for three years, but finally compelled to close out for lack of sufficient power.”3 The relationship between George and William Hovey has not been established.
In an article entitled, L.W.Carr Remembers, Waterford Post, she recalls that the woolen factory was on the site of the creamery until the foreclosure of the property by a Mr. Ford, when the machinery was dismantled and sent to Watertown for re-assembly in a new factory. Carr’s father, Joseph Woodhead went with the machinery and spent considerable time in re-assembly.4
Closing of the woolen mill would leave the buildings vacant and the property up for sale or lease.
Gale Paper Mill
Mr. Charles Gale, seeking an opportunity in 1859, retrofitted the vacant woolen mill into a paper making factory.
The paper mill turned out its first sheet of yellow paper December 1, 1859 and operated for almost two years. This LINK provides an insight of what a paper mill operation in the mid 1800’s might have looked like.
Gale forms a partnership with M.V. Blackmare in manufacturing and opens a distributorship in Milwaukee in 1860.
Evidence in the form of a foreclosure ad indicates that the mill also encompassed part of Mill Site No. 31. However, further research shows that there were legal rights by some of the owners covering both mill sites that needed to be part of the foreclosure filing. Hovey’s woolen mill is clearly located on 65 feet of the north part of Mill Site No.2., from River Street to the Fox River.
The building pictured here on a 1911 Sanborn Fire Map appears to be a two story frame structure about 20 feet wide by 60 feet long which partially matches the Chapman description of a 3 story brick structure 60 feet long in the same location.
Owing to the lack of waterpower would prove to be the paper company’s downfall, just as it did to the woolen mill – not enough goods produced during periods of drought. The result was a foreclosure and Sheriffs Sale of the property, September 9, 1861.
It would take until June of 1864 before the final disposition of the property would go to James Kehlor for 1500 dollars.
Bella Allen purchased the southern 135 feet of the original site from Willard in 1854 for ten dollars.
Businesses operating before tax records were kept – 1863, can only be identified through newspaper narratives, ads, and property records. Property owners were not necessarily the business operators.
Most notable of the businesses that existed on Site No. 2, after the woolen mill, fronted on Main Street.
Heg & Christensen General Store
In 1858, only one building, located on the southwest corner, is shown on this site. H.C. Heg bought the southern 135 feet of the mill site from Allen for fifty dollars in February, 1863. He then owned the south two-thirds of the mill site while the owners of the woolen mill site owned the northern one-third.
Based on the fifty dollar purchase price, it appears that the small building was not the brick structure pictured below. It more closely matches the valuation with other vacant lots in the village. At the end of the year, tax records show the valuation to be 1000 dollars, which would indicate that the store was built and operating by then.
Hans Christian Heg is Colonel Heg of Civil War notoriety. He, along with his brother Ole, came to the Waterford area as young men and engaged in commercial business until H.C. Heg was appointed Superintendent of Prisons in 1859. After a two year appointment, he was tapped by the governor to organize and lead the 15th Brigade from Wisconsin. Brother Ole, was tapped to be the First Lieutenant, and quartermaster, which fit him perfectly since he was involved with his brother in the Heg & Christensen general mercantile store. Christensen was Ole’s wife’s family name. Ole returned to Waterford after one year being released from his military commitment due to illness.2
Col. Heg was killed in the battle of Chickamauga, Georgia, September 19, 1863. His remains were returned to Waterford where a large military funeral was held at the old Congregational Church – where the high school now stands. Burial was only two blocks away in the Old Settlers Cemetery until exhumation and re-burial in the Norway Lutheran Church Cemetery near the Town of Norway Park bearing his name.3 The mill site property remained in his wife’s name until 1869 when it was sold to Iverson & Co. who moved over from Mill Site No.1
Iverson, Harden & Erickson – Carriages & Buggies
The next notable business on the south end of Mill Site No.2 was Amasa Harden’s buggy business. Harden moved his business after the fire on Mill Site No. 1. Iverson and Ericson joined him after a few years and the site remained active from 1870 to 1880.
Dr. G.E. Newell
Dr. G.E. Newell purchased the center lot on the Main Street side, south of the Iverson-Harden-Ericson property in 1873. Dr. Newell, son of Geo. F. Newell, pioneer doctor of Waterford, was also the druggist in town. In those days, a druggist did not have to be registered, but it helped to offer a complete medical service.
Dr. G.E. Newell Obituary Picture and ad from Waterford Post, 1923.
While at this location, Dr. Newell sub-leased part of his building to J.W. Jordan, who came to Waterford after the Civil War. Dr. Newell subsequently moved his medical practice to Burlington. Jordan ran a small grocery store, assumed the druggist trade and became the village postmaster. In 1880, Jordan entered the hardware business with Irving Hoover.4
Walker Whitley – Meat Market
Walker Whitley started a meat market in the Waterford House on the northeast corner of Jefferson and Main in a main floor east side room. At 9 years old, Whitley was orphaned in England and started learning the butchering business from his uncle at age 14. After emigrating to Waterford, he married at age 25 and started in business with practically no money.5 The couple would prove to be very industrious and became very prominent citizens in the village.
As his business grew, in 1881, Walker Whitley bought the north 65 feet of the mill site and two buildings just west of the bridge on the north side of Main Street. He remodeled the west one for the market and the east one for his residence.6 Remodeling was done during 1882 and the store opened in December.7
Waterford Post Item and Ad, April 13, 1882 edition
His very successful meat market and cattle dealings weren’t his only endeavor. Whitley was a hard working, well respected, prominent person in the village serving in a number of governmental positions as well as being an Administrator of Wills.
Whitley’s wife, Martha, operated the business in his absence.8 He operated his meat processing business at this location from around 1882 until his retirement. Son, William, continued to operate the business in partnership with William Kortendick until 1905 when it was sold to Harvey Glueck.
Walker and Martha Whitley, Digital Archives WI.wp10102-31 and -21
Henry Glueck – Meat Market
Henry Glueck bought the business around 1905 and continued it until around 1945.
Oscar Graf – Transportation
The next notable change was the expansion of the Oscar Graf’s automobile operation on Mill Site No. 1. In the late 1950’s, Graf purchased the north half of Mill Site No. 2, followed by purchases of additional parcels by his son, Robert. The property was used as a school bus company depot and automobile storage yard.
Waterford Public Library
One other notable site was the establishment of Waterford’s first library in the home of Mrs. Elizabeth Noll on the southwest corner of the mill site. The Village rented a 10 by 12 foot room in Mrs. Noll’s home with donated books for the public to share and no reading facilities.9The Library moved several times before finding a permanent home.
Originally this was the site of the Colonel Hans Christian Heg family home and business mentioned earlier – Heg & Christensen, during the 1860’s. The present Waterford Library Community Room marks the site today and has been dedicated.10
On March 12, 2001, the current WATERFORD PUBLIC LIBRARY was dedicated. It takes up all of Mill Site No. 2 . It now serves the needs of the greater Waterford area and is part of the Lakeview Library System.
Lead Researcher: Robert E. Gariepy, Sr.
NOTE: Should the reader have further documentation to enhance the content of this web page, please contact the Lead Researcher through Absolutely Waterford. We are particularly interested in pictures or historic artifacts that may be shared. Credit will be given.
- From the Collections of The Henry Ford. Object ID 30.1544.1, THF91531 / Carding Machine, 1850-1880 / Photographed by John Sobczak.
- Racine Advocate, July 1, 1845 edition
- The History of Racine County, p. 483; Waterford Library History Room
- L.W. Carr Remembers, Waterford Post, January 8, 1925 edition
- Wisconsin State Journal, December 12, 1859 edition
- The Grassroots History of Racine County, Waterford Library History Room
- Waterford Post, December, 14, 1882 edition.
- L.W.Carr Remembers, Waterford Post, January 8, 1920
- Pamphlet by the Village of Waterford, dated 1964, expressing the need for a new Municipal Building.
- Waterford Public Library, WI.wpl00818.bib