We know much about the history of iron and steel in Phoenixville – it was the Phoenix Iron Works that gave the borough its name, after all (prior to incorporation in 1849, the village was known as Manavon). But there was also a significant textile industry, including a number of knitting mills, which are described in Thomson’s “Chester County and Its People” from 1898, as follows:
Byrne, Parsons & Co., the firm being composed of Thomas F. Byrne and William H. Parsons, proprietors of the largest knitting works in Phoenixville, began the business in which they are now engaged in 1885. At first they were located in a small frame building on Jackson Street, remaining there until 1890. Then, after being on Hall Street until 1896, they removed to their present three-story and basement building, which is 140×46 feet in size, and fully equipped with knitting and sewing machines, the machinery being propelled by a seventy-five-horse power engine. The company manufactures hose and ladies’ underwear, employs about 175 hands, and turns out annually about $175,000 worth of goods. [Thomson unfortunately doesn’t give the then-current location.]
The Phoenixville Knitting Mills were established in 1891, by the present firm, Davis, Russell & Co., composed of Amber Davis, William Russell and Jonathan Davis. Their building is on Breckenridge Street, is two stories high, and at first was 32×60 feet in size, an addition of the same size being erected in 1894. These works are well equipped with knitting and sewing machines, which are run by a ten-horse power steam engine. The company employs about eighty hands and manufactures about $70,000 worth of hose and ladies’ underwear, the latter feature of the business being added in 1894, when the second building was erected.
The Perseverance Knitting Company was organized in the spring of 1896 at Spring City, and moved down to Phoenixville in September, 1897. This company is composed of William Rice, Annie R. Davis and Hiram Buckwalter. The business is on Vanderslice Street, and is in the same building with the Schuylkill Valley Illuminating Company. This company manufactures ladies’ underwear, employs about thirty hands, and turns out about $25,000 worth per year. Mrs. Annie R. Davis is president of the company and William Rice secretary and treasurer.
William J. O’Donnell began the business of knitting ladies’ underwear in February, 1896, in the upper story of a two-story building owned by himself on Hall Street, the lower story being used for the manufacture of paper boxes. He employs about ten hands and manufactures from $6,000 to $10,000. Power for propelling the machinery in this factory is derived from the Schuylkill Valley Illuminating Company.
Parsons & Angstadt, proprietors of knitting mills at the corner of Hall Street and Lincoln Avenue, Phoenixville, the firm being composed of Lewis Parsons and Peter Angstadt, began business in August, 1897. Their building is a two-story brick, and is fitted up with machinery suitable to the knitting of ladies’ fine hosiery. The firm employs about twenty hands, and turns out from $7,000 to $10,000 worth of goods per year. Power is derived from a steam engine in the first story of the building.
The Union Knitting Company, composed of H.W. and E.E. Walters, began business in April, 1897, renting a two-story brick building on Main Street, near Church. They carry on the business of knitting ladies’ underwear, their machinery being propelled by electric power derived from the Schuylkill Valley Illuminating Company, about twenty-five hands being employed, and from $60,000 to $70,000 worth of product being manufactured annually.
The Phoenixville Industrial Association was incorporated under the laws of the State of New Jersey March 22, 1898, with a capital of $100,000. The stockholders numbered about 150, and the first board of directors and officers were as follows: Paul S. Reeves, president; Amos G. Gotwals, treasurer; Dr. J.P. Eldridge, vice-president; C.H. Howell, secretary; Thomas D. Grover, David Schmutz, V.N. Shaffer, Thomas L. Snyder, John S. Dismant and J.F. Starkey, Jr. Five acres of land was donated to the enterprise by John Gallagher of Phoenixville, the land being located on Franklin Avenue at the corner of Grant Street. Ground was broken for the erection of a building June 15, 1898, the building to be of brick, and 50×300 feet in size, and there is to be also a boiler and engine building and a good sized office besides. The purpose of the association is to manufacture silk ribbon, and the works are to be operated by Johnson, Cowden & Co. of New York City. When in full operation it is expected this company will employ 400 hands.