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Alfred Embroidery Mill

by Bruce Tucker, Alfred Historical Society

The concept of having an exotic manufacturing facility like an embroidery mill in Alfred is shrouded in mystery. Certainly, it was not a common enterprise in rural Maine, so it was not a case of Alfred copying another successful venture in a neighboring town. Embroidery sales were limited to clothing manufacturers so it’s market was not necessarily the same as the high volume textile industries found in nearby Sanford or Biddeford. To serve the embroidery niche market would take a person with special connections and understanding to exploit that market profitably. To set up an embroidery mill from scratch would also require an understanding of the special machinery involved in embroidery manufacture. There were no local embroidery resources to fall back on in Maine to render assistance problems were encountered. The process and the facility also required significant working capital and few investors would be willing to risk their money unless they sensed a steady hand on the tiller.


The person on the Alfred scene who possessed the required specialized knowledge of embroidery was William A. Illigen. In the 1900 census, Illigen (age 26 years) appears in Sanford, renting a house there with his wife Ada and her son Eddie, age 16 (no last name given). Illigen had been born in Austria March, 1874 and immigrated to America in 1892. Ada had been born in England July 1864 and immigrated to America in 1875. Her son Eddie had been born in Massachusetts July 1883 in a previous marriage. Eddie gave his line of work as “color mixer” but no profession is listed for William Illigen.(1)

Illigen was born in Hard, Austria, on the border with Switzerland, of the shore of Lake Constance. His small hometown (pop.12,000 in 2000) was within 15 miles of St. Gallen Switzerland, the global epicenter of shuttle embroidery. Shuttle embroidery was invented in St. Gallen in the 1860’s by Isaac Grobeli who was inspired by the improvements in the sewing machine. Americans quickly adopted the lacey fashion trend but American importers, anxious to conceal the source of their laces, imported through the port of Hamburg Germany and all laces were called “Hamburgs” By 1870’s, there were 14 companies in Switzerland making hand loom embroidery machines. By the dawn of the twentieth century, embroidery was the most important industry in eastern Switzerland , employing 20% of the population. In the year 1890 cotton embroideries to the value of $18,000,000 were shipped from St. Gall to various quarters of the earth. More than $8,000,000 worth of these came to the United States. (2)

1) A mysterious item appeared in the Springvale Advocate Aug. 9,1912; “Mrs. William Illigen received word that the body of her son Leroy D. Saunders age 21 washed ashore on Lake Ontario. He had been missing for a week.” In the 1900 census Ada stated that she had 1 child, whom we assume is 16 year old Eddie. In 1900 Sanford census, Leroy Saunders, born 1889 in Maine, was living in the household of William P. Kirnon, an Irishman born 1858 (age 58?) and his wife Ann age 51, born in England. Kirnon’s occupation was “designer” and he and his wife had immigrated to America in 1874, likely working in the Sanford Mills. Also in the household was Annie Beaumont, (age 20, born England , immigrated 1885, occ. Spinner) and Mary Beaumont (age 78, born England, immigrated 1881). Nine year old Leroy is listed as “boarder”, apparently having no relation to anyone in the household. Ada initials on her grave read “Ada F. B. Illigen” perhaps she is a Beaumont. She occasionally visited relatives in Springvale (Springvale Advocate 3-26-1909) William Illigen’s second wife was Annette- maybe Annie- hmmm. I’m sure there’s a great story here but it’ll have to wait till I retire.

2) A complete History of Dry Goods by George S. Cole 1892 The above reference describes the trade “The hand-machine was soon in the houses of half the peasants, and factories were founded where many machines were collected and worked - but still by hand-power only. The character of the work was then, and remains now, excellent, but the production is comparatively slow. The Swiss manufacturers are, as a body, wealthy people, but their workmen have not too much of the good things of of life. The profits are usually large to the dealers; but the embroiderer barely makes a good living, as it is always necessary for him to pay an assistant, known as the "threader," to help work his machine. This common old embroidering hand-machine of 1827, with few improvements, is the one that is used today for the millions of fine embroideries that are sold to all quarters of the globe. There are about 30,000 of them in use in Switzerland, the number of needles averaging about 250 to the machine, and the number of stitches not exceeding 2,000 to the needle, daily. As embroiderers are paid on the stitch basis only, they have very small earnings left after paying their threaders and other expenses. At the present time 50 cents, sometimes less, is a fair average of the daily earnings of a hard-working embroiderer, who must toil all day long with head, hands and feet, working his machine.


In 1876, Alphonse Kursheedt imported to America the shuttle machines that utilized a continuously threaded needle and a shuttle with threaded bobbin. Later a steam powered an embroidery machine that promised to triple output. In 1892, there were in operation about 300 Swiss embroidering hand-machines in America. The men working these were all brought over from Switzerland. (3)

3) A complete History of Dry Goods by George S. Cole 1892. When two automated shuttle or “Schiffli” machines were placed together, with the single automatic pantograph acting for both, they produced 12,000 to 15,000 stitches daily. By contrast, two hand-machines, worked by two expert men and two helpers produced 5,500 stitches daily. In 1892, hand-machines cost $400; automated machines- $1,000 to $1,500.

In 1903, immigrant Robert Reiner began importing automated embroidery machines into New Jersey’s Hudson County and the industry exploded, fueled by hundreds of Swiss, German and Austrian immigrants who came to toil in the embroidery shops across the Hudson from Manhattan. The towns of Union City and West New York, New Jersey were especially involved in the trade because the heavy machines (20,000- 40,000 pounds) could be set upon the bedrock of the Jersey Palisades to dampen vibration.(4)

4) In 1875, the shuttle pantograph embroidery machine was invented by Isaac Grobeli, Franz Sauer and his son Adolph Sauer. With the first Schiffli embroidery machines, the embroiderer guides the pantograph around a pattern with his left hand which the machine duplicates. Instead of the threader, the inspector now checks that needles and threads are working properly. A second helper fills the Schifflis (shuttles). The automatic Schiffli embroidery machine was invented in 1895 by Isaak Gröbli's eldest son, Joseph A. Grobeli. The embroiderer was replaced by cards and only one person, the inspector, controlled the embroidery process. Ref. History of West New York, NJ; 1948 note #4 p.147 and appendix #4

Initially, embroidery was set up as a cottage industry in Hudson County, with machines being purchased by a family and set up on the ground floor of a building or in the back yard. Duties were shared by all members in the household with men running the machines, women doing the repair needle work and children the loading of shuttles and folding finished cloth. The trade spawned generations of embroiderers who sometimes increased their production by purchasing many machines and entering the business on a grander scale. If William Illigen was part of this immigration of embroiderers, he saw the wealth and growth the trade could bring to a community. The population of West New York, NJ nearly tripled from 5000 in 1895 to 13,560 in 1910 and doubled again in five years (25,000 in 1914). Embroidery was the basis for this growth. In 1914 there were 90 embroidery factories in West New York, NJ alone. Of the 1020 shuttle embroidery machines in the US and Canada in 1910, nearly half (468 machines) were in northern New Jersey.

Whether or not Illigen came to America because of the lace trade is not known. Certainly, he saw it all around him growing up in western Austria and, perhaps, in northern New Jersey. Arriving in Maine and looking around, he saw many similarities to his homeland- an agriculturally based economy that was marginally successful but one sandwiched between growing textile industries in nearby Sanford and Biddeford. Embroidery would seem a natural adjunct to cloth production and textile market connections already established in the area. Certainly, looms and weaving were not entirely foreign to Alfredians as they were familiar with the Springfield blanket mill so a knowledgeable and willing work force could be found locally. Embroidery manufacture seemed to fill a natural niche for everyone and its uniqueness in the area would perhaps give it an edge. Without a doubt, the embroidery trade could be pitched to Alfred town fathers as a growth industry, one that could employ their youth safe at home.

Alfred Embroidery Company

The idea of an embroidery mill may have kicked around town for a while but it came to fruition at a meeting at Alfred town hall on May 13,1908. The Alfred Embroidery Mill was incorporated three days later. It’s charter was to “design, manufacture, bleach, dye, finish and sell embroideries and lace of all fabrics.” The company was entitled to “own all real estate, factories, dams, generate electricity and produce lumber necessary for the production of said lace.” The corporation was capitalized at $100,000 with 1000 shares costing $100 each. The largest investor was, naturally, William Illigen with 30 shares. If he was the driver in the enterprise, it was time for him to step up with some cash...and he did. H.G.Lord and wife (of Marietta O.) purchased 25 shares and B.C.Jordan (local lumber baron) and George L. Chadbourne (5) purchased 20 shares each. Samuel Came (local lawyer), John P. Brock and Richard Stanley purchased 10 shares each. The remaining shares were generally held by owners of five or fewer shares. There were a sprinkling of shareholders from Sanford and Lyman but the vast majority of the original 75 shareholders in the mill were from Alfred. The board of directors were men of local regard and reputation- B.C. Jordan, H.G. Lord, William A. Illigen, G.L. Chadbourne, R.S. Stanley (selectman), C.E. Landers (local doctor and engineer), and F.J. Allen (local lawyer). Corporation clerk was Leon C. Akers (postmaster/dentist/candy salesman) and treasurer was Samuel M. Came (lawyer).(6)

5) George L. Chadbourne see Early Families of Alfred by Fred Boyle. P.42, 43, 206. George Chadbourne married Mabel Knight whose sister Emma was briefly married to Ernest Goodall circa 1875. ref Woven Together by Madge Baker, 2002, p.152

6) Incorporation Book for York County vol.13, page 134, dated 5-16-1908

The enterprise seems to be a true grass roots operation with local investment and local governance. It was probably intended to create jobs in Alfred that would employ young Alfredians who would otherwise leave town to find work. With the closing of the Springfield blanket mill that operated until about 1904 at Littlefield Mills there were virtually no jobs in town except sawmills, woods work, or farming. Rather than see town youth scatter to distant cities, the embroidery mill would offer a stay-at-home alternative and, perhaps, profit local investors as well. Alfred was apparently trying to yank itself into the industrial age.

But Alfred capital investors had their limits. The initial stock offering raised just over $29,000 as only 292 shares were issued. The balance of 708 shares were unissued. Alfred coffers were tapped out.

Goodall’s Littlefield Mill

The first step was to acquire the site of manufacture, which was Littlefield Mills, the most developed and accessible water power to the village. At the time of incorporation, the water rights rested in the hands of Alfred Light and Power Co.(7) This was a shell company owned by the Sanford Goodalls who had acquired the site in 1902 while casting about the Mousam River drainage for suitable water power site to power their proposed electric railway. . Always careful to hedge their bets, the Goodalls acquired dams, privileges and property as far upstream as Shaker Pond in order to control water storage and flow to whichever site they ultimately selected. They had no desire to be controlled by the riparian rights of others.(8) Once the Estes privilege was selected for the power generation, the Goodalls had less use for the Littlefield Mills and, being prudent businessmen, decided to dispose of a nonproductive asset.

7) Alfred Light and Power incorporated 3-2-1906, ref. Incorporation Book for York Co. vol.10 p.25. Only three shares of the 2000 shares authorized were issued for the corporation; one each to Charles A. Bodwell (president), his brother William J. Bodwell (treasurer) and Charles son Stillman A. Bodwell (director) all of Sanford and associated with the Goodalls. See York Co Biographies p.330, 604 for bios.

8) Woven Together by M. Baker p.112, 113 For example, see Shakers to Alfred Light and Power 561/332 5- 3-1906. See adjacent pages for other grantees on Mousam drainage. See 550/237 for Whitcher Mills privilege and 555/187 for Estes and Linscott privileges.

The Goodalls were cautious businessmen and the assets of the Alfred Light and Power (a close cousin to Sanford Light and Power) were held by the Knickerbocker Trust based in New York, a shell company that provided legal protection to the principals. New York ownership would allow a change in venue from Maine to New York in case Alfred Light and Power were ever sued. Out of state capitalists had a bad track record in Maine courts, especially when capitalists a shifted water rights from traditional agricultural uses to commercial uses. Local Maine courts were more in tune with rural concerns over Maine water rights. A change in venue to New York would find a more favorable reception for corporations, reduced damages or dismissal of damages to Maine resources. It also deterred locals from challenging corporations who could rally a phalanx of expensive and intimidating lawyers.

From this bewildering thicket of legal trusts and shell companies, the Goodall brothers conveyed to the embroidery company the Littlefield Mills and the Springfield woolen mill across Kennebunk Rd., together with their water rights.(9) A deed from the Knickerbocker Trust followed a week later. (10)

9) YCRD 571/327 dated 6-26-1908 10) YCRD 574/489 dated 7-3-1908


Once the site had been secured from the Goodalls, the next step was to raise a building to house the embroidery works.

Ref. Herm Sayward records in Hist. Soc. Files

Circa 5-10-08 citizens raise $30,000, Wm Illigen at the head of the enterprise

Circa 6-21 -08 embroidery mill launched.

Circa 8-23-08 digging foundation, work rushed, want to occupy by Oct.1; order for $24,000 equipment placed (nearly all the capital raised in the stock offering).

By mid November, three car loads of machinery had arrived and were awaiting completion of the building for set up.(11) “Work was progressing slowly by the end of November. The main building where the machines are being set up is roofed and nearly ready for the hardwood flooring. Supt. Illegan expects to have at least one machine in operation by January 1. The assembling of the parts of one of these machines, the total weight of which is about 12 tons, with thousands of separate pieces, is a very complicated and tedious task. The machines were entirely taken apart when they were packed for shipment in Switzerland and were coated with a heavy grease which hardened upon them to protect them from corrosion...”(12).

11) Springvale Advocate 11-13-08 12) Springvale Advocate and Biddeford Journal 11-27-1908

Illigen’s estimate was not far off. Production from the first machine began by Jan. 22, 1909. A week later, three embroiderers and two assistants had arrived in Alfred and were running two machines with another machine to begin production in 10 days. Three more of the machines were running in February. Indeed, by the end of February, the Springvale Advocate reported that the mill was in full production and piece work was being carried home for completion by women in the neighborhood. (13)

13) Springvale Advocate 1-22-09; 1-29-09; 3-26-09

It did not take long for the embroidery enterprise to reveal that all would not be smooth sailing. Technical matters, labor issues and undercapitalization reared their ugly head. “The town of Alfred on Thursday lost its only industry, when the Alfred Embroidery Manufacturing Company closed its plant for an indefinite period, for the reason, the superintendent said, that the unskilled operatives spoiled so much stock that each day saw a loss instead of a profit. The company, which has been in operation for about a year, employed about 60 hands, most of them women and girls, practically all of whom were from towns in York County.”(14)

14) From “100 years ago feature” dated 4-22-2010, originally in Biddeford Daily Journal

Despite full operation, the embroidery mill apparently needed an additional cash infusion. On 5- 6-1910, the mill was mortgaged to three Alfred citizens who advanced the mill $15,000; B.C.Jordan, Samuel Came and Loila Stanley- daughter of Alfred Embroidery Mill president R.S. Stanley. The load was at 6% interest with $1500 due the lenders in 6 months ($500 per lender). The assets mortgaged were 8 Sauer embroidery machines, 6 Singer sewing machines, 2 smaller sewing machines, the new steel flume, boilers, mangles, pumps, belts, shafts and flowage rights. The company was to carry $8000 insurance to protect the assets.15

15) YCRD 590/318; 5-10-1910


The mortgage continued until it became apparent that the mill had outstripped the resources of the homegrown Alfred entrepreneurs. Work became sporadic and backers of the mill realized the mill had to increase capacity or fold. July 30, 1912 the Alfred Embroidery Co. sold out to Klauber Embroidery Co.(16) The transaction included the land, the embroidery works, bleachery, sawmill, grist mill and any unfinished goods.

16) YCRD 611/60; 7-30-1912; R.S. Stanley was president and William F. Russell was treasurer of the Alfred Embroidery Co. at that time. The day of the sale, the mortgage on the mill held by Jordan, Came and Stanley was discharged. Ref. YCRD 566/252, dated 7-30-1912

Recent upgrades in Alfred’s infrastructure likely made the mill a better investment for the Klaubers; in 1910 electricity was installed in Alfred that could increase the work day without the need to illuminate the shop with dangerous lanterns. In 1911 the water company was formed and placed fire hydrants near the mill that improved fire suppression and reduced the cost of fire insurance on the mill and equipment.(17) The Alfred Fire Dept. was formed and a fire station was established in the mills area soon after the water lines were placed in the Mills neighborhood.

17) Alfred Town reports 1911 and 1912.

The newly formed Klauber Embroidery Co.(18) was established at a meeting in Portland and was chartered to buy, sell, import, export and manufacture embroidery and lace with Gerry L. Brooks (clerk and treasurer); George C. Wheeler (president); and Henry N. Taylor and Harry L. Cram directors. Of the $100,000 capitalization, $98,600 was in preferred stock likely held by three directors unnamed at incorporation. Those directors were undoubtedly the Klauber brothers of New York City.

18) York County Incorporation Books vol.14 p.422 dated 7-25-1912 19 Springvale Advocate; 8-2-1912

David Klauber (1852-1905) immigrated to the United States from Frudrickshof, Austria (located presently in the Czech Republic) and was selling embroidery and lace as early as 1892. They were continuing a family business that operated in Europe as early as 1859. From 1899 to 1907 he partnered with Michael Horn to operate Klauber Horn & Co. and in 1904 Samuel Klauber (1856-1922; David’s brother) joined the firm. In 1907, the Klaubers elected to go it alone under the name Klauber Brothers. A year later Arthur Klauber (1882-1952; David’s son) and Leonard Klauber (1883-1962; Samuel’s son) joined the firm. In 1910, Alfred Samter Klauber (1885-1949; Samuel’s son); Edward Klauber (1889-1959; David’s son) and Murray (1891-1965; David’s son) joined.

The Springvale Advocate noted the transfer of the mill. “The Alfred Embroidery recently purchased by New York parties will soon be started with a large work force of expert operators. Illegan arrived from New Jersey where he has been in charge of a mill since Alfred shut down last fall. The new company will lay foundation for an addition.”19 In Maine registries from 1912 to 1925, the Klaubers are described as purveyors of Swiss embroidery and Hamburg lace. In 1920, the firm’s mast head advertised lace embroidery, handkerchiefs, neck wear and white goods. The Klaubers boasted manufacturing facilities in St. Gall and Weinfelden, Switzerland and Alfred, Maine. William Illigen continued to supervise the Alfred operation.

As the medical member of the Alfred Board of Health, Sumner Marshall noted in his diary entry of March 31, 1916: “Disinfected the boarding house of Klauber Embroidery Company this afternoon.”

The Maine Registers, which list business by town throughout the state, list Alfred Embroidery as in operation in their volumes for 1909-1912. Klauber Brothers are listed 1912 thru 1925.


An article in the Portland Evening Express Feb. 1, 1923 proclaims the Alfred mill to be the only embroidery mill in New England and the description of the operation is worth quoting at length. “...The works in Alfred consists of two separate factories; the bleachery, a large wooden building that years ago was used as a blanket mill, and a large concrete building where the embroidering and finishing is done. The plant is run by water power that is taken from Shaker Pond. In 1916, owing to the increase in business, a large finishing room was added; from time to time, new automats are replacing the old style pantograph embroidery machines, so that at present(1923), out of the ten machines, six are automatic. The raw cloth is first cut into 10 yard strips, so as to fit the embroidery machines which are the same length, these strips are then sewed lengthwise together and rolled upon the machines. These machines are 10 yards in length, having a lower and upper tier of needles, a total of 680 needles in all, making 20 yards of embroidery at once. The new automat, which runs on the same principal as the self playing piano with the perforated pattern, requires only two operatives. The needles work stationary while the tightly spanned cloth moves in any direction on its moveable frame, thus making the different embroidery patterns. When one band of embroidery is done, the cloth is simply rolled down and another clear band takes its place. On the average, about 500 yards of embroidery a day can be turned out by one of these machines. After the embroidering, the cloth is taken upstairs where all the skips (imperfect stitching) are filled in by members on high speed sewing machines. The threads are then cut by hand, for when the needles change from one band to another, long threads are left. The cloth is then taken to the bleachery where the hanging threads are first sheared and then singed; by singeing is meant that the cloth runs through, at a high rate of speed, several flames of gas, thus removing all the nap. The cloth from the singer drops into the basement where it is bleached, starched, extracted and again taken up to the second floor where it is put through a large drying and stretching machine. The cloth is now ready to cut out. This is done by running the embroidered cloth through the cutting out machine, where exceedingly sharp band knives follow along the raised embroidery, leaving it from (with?) cloth base. After ironing and folding, it is ready for shipment. The Klauber Embroidery Works employs about sixty people.”

On May 11, 1924, a pall was cast over the village when, after a sickness of two year, Ada Illigen (Wilhelm’s wife) died of Bright’s disease at age 55 years. The Illigans were popular folks in town and her loss was greatly felt in the community. She left a son, Karl, who was attending Boston University.(20)

20) Ada Illigen obit. Sanford Tribune 5-15-1924; Karl BU ref Sanford Tribune 12-4-1924; Karl Illigen , a resident of Harrisburg Pa., married Agnes Warren (dau. of Northham Warren) in Garden City Long Island NY on Nov.27, 1937. He was described as “son of the late Wilhelm Illigen of Alfred, Maine.” It looked like the social event of the season. Social security records state Karl was born Aug.2, 1904 and died April 1979 in Stamford, Ct.

By the 1920’s, hard times also befell the firm and Dec. 27, 1924, the Klaubers sold the mill to the Alfred Manufacturing Co., a group of local investors who stepped in to find another buyer for the mill. Thus, the mill had come full circle and was once more in the hands of those who sought to preserve jobs and see the town progress economically. The latest iteration of Klauber Brothers in New York closed in 1926, although Leonard Klauber continued to sell lace as late as 1930. His brothers/cousins Alfred, Arthur and Edward listed their occupation in 1930 as stockbrokers. If the Klaubers viewed stock broking on Wall Street in 1930, the depth of the Great Depression, preferable to selling lace, the lace business must have been a brutal profession indeed.(21)

21) The Klauber business was reborn in 1943 by more Klaubers who immigrated to America in 1939 from Munich Germany. Their relation to the previous Klaubers is not known for certain but they seem to be the same family. They were in business in NYC; 114E 32nd Street; as late as 2002 but were closed by 2007.

Working in the Mill

As no employee records for the embroidery mill apparently exist, review of the 1910 census finds only ten people employed at the mill. Although we know William Illigen was present, he does not appear in the census for reasons unknown.(22) A demographic sketch of the mill operatives finds them young (average age 23.4 years, oldest was 30 years); seven of the ten were unmarried and lived at home with their parents. All were born in Maine except Thomas Barnick, a 25 year old stitcher from New York who boarded with Eben Cluff. The rest had local roots and their surnames are familiar to Alfred ears- two Donavans (John B., 19, stitcher; Alfred 17, laborer), two Littlefields (Guy 22; Emery 21, both laborers), a Drew (Carl 20, stitcher), and three Chadbournes. The married operatives were Herbert Chadbourne (age 29, stitcher) who still lived in his father’s home and a married couple; Burton and Bessie Chadbourne who both worked at the mill. They were the only operatives that had formed their own household and they had an infant son, Ernest, age 8. Bessie Chadbourne was, in fact, described as “fore lady” at the lace mill, a testimony to forward thinking Alfredians in the days before woman’s liberation. It seems likely that her higher position and commensurate wage, when combined with her husband’s stitcher wage, produced a livable family income. The remainder of the workforce wages were as contributors to household income- in households that were not their own but belonged to their parents. Thus the mill was fulfilling it’s original purpose of providing employment for local youth in Alfred- keeping them in town.

22) I also exclude a man named Ivory Pool, a 62 year old clothing designer from Massachusetts. Pool was in town with his family but likely did not assist in production. We will consider him management.

A review of the 1920 census, finds the embroidery mill workforce very different from that of 1910. The mill was big business, likely having expanded with the Klauber’s capital infusion. The workforce had grown from 10 in 1910 to 44 in 1920, including Illigen, the manager. The average age had jumped to 34 years of age, the oldest operative was a 69 year old laborer. The mill wages had become attractive enough so that 12 head of households worked at the mill and provided those families primary financial support. Mill working households were more likely to have other members of the household working at the mill and 6 of 8 mill workers who boarded out, lived in mill working households. Many households had multiple family members at the mill; Maria Ricker (wife of John W.) ran a sewing machine and her two sons Myron (age 21) and Burley (age 18) were stitchers; Ralph Emery was a shearer, his wife the mill bookkeeper and his mother in law ran a sewing machine; Alice Yates did not work in the mill but her sons Albert (age 47, cutter) and Irving (age 33,laborer) worked there as did her two boarders the Engel sisters ( age 25 and 18) who loaded the shuttles. John W. Yates did not work in the mill but daughter Nellie (age 15, laborer) did as did a boarder Irving Thompson (age 24, laborer) and Irving’s wife Lily (age 21, b. Eng.) and infant son Irving Jr.(23)

23) Irving and Lily were married 8-21-1917. Their marrage was recorded in Alfred Records but they were apparently married out of town. Alfred Annual Report 1918

The only holdovers in the mill from the prior (1910) census were the married Chadbournes- George B.(Burton) had taken a fireman’s position and ran the boiler to generate power and Bessie, the former fore lady, had been demoted to mender. (24) Rather than a reflection of Bessie capabilities, Bessie’s demotion was due to specialization in the work pace, jobs which were unique to the textile trade for which Alfredians, like Bessie, were not prepared. The Klabuer infusion of money had apparently financed an upgrade of the embroidery machines from manual to automated. Whereas in 1910 job descriptions were descriptive and straightforward (5 stitchers, 4 laborers and a fore lady), there were many new and specific tasks at the mill in 1920- a dyer, a bleacher, a cutter, a mechanic, a machinist, a millister (?), a shearer, a finisher, 2 shuttlers (25), 2 sewing machine operators, 6 menders, 8 stitchers, 9 laborers, a bookkeeper and a fireman. One important person was Leon Hayes whose job was listed as “puncher”. I suspect he punched holes in stiff paper that controlled the embroidery pattern the machines produced much like a paper roll called the tune for a player piano. Prior to this automation, a skilled operator traced an embroidery pattern with a stylus and a pantograph that controlled the needles on a machine, reproducing the pattern many times over. Cards did away with this tedious and meticulous duty and not only sped up production but eliminated the skilled (a highly paid) job and reduced operatives to machine tenders.

24) George was now head of household that included his elderly father. 25) “The shuttler in an embroidery shop does many jobs. The shuttler helps set up the machine, folds goods, stores yarn and fills the shuttles with the bobbins it needs to make the machine stitch.”

Not all operatives could be termed machine tenders. Four workers held the mysterious title of “watchers”. A description was found for this task in reminiscence by an Irish embroidery shop worker in Hudson County, New Jersey.(26)

26) Until The Judgement by David Templeton and Catherine R. Guerra 2008,

The watcher “set up the machine and the yarn and the needles that would stitch the pattern. ...For each needle that is to stitch, a bobbin is needed. The yarn is set up to go through the needle in the front of the machine and the bobbin is set in the back of the machine... (The watcher) would constantly walk up and down checking the stitches and make sure all the needles were stitching. When he saw a needle that was not stitching, he would rethread the needle while the machine was running, mark the spot on the goods where the needle failed to stitch, and keep walking and checking to make sure the design, or pattern, was stitching properly. ...Many times when the machine was stitching the bobbin thread would break. When this would happen, the machine, of course, would not stitch. So, the watcher, when he saw the machine wasn’t stitching, he would holler, “On the top!” or “On the bottom!”, depending on where the bobbin was failing to stitch. I, being a shuttler, would then have to run around back of the machine and fix the shuttle so the thread would pick up when the needle passed through it... A mender would later repair the design on the goods using a sewing machine.”

These job descriptions were basically the same throughout the industry and work responsibilities in New Jersey would apply to Maine.

Not only were the tasks and equipment at the embroidery mill more exacting and exotic, the people who performed them were drawn for many different locales, revealing the source of man power that fueled the global textile industry. In 1920, forty three percent of the Alfred embroidery mill workers were born outside Maine- 4 were English, 2 were Swiss and one each from Germany, Austria and Greece. Six hailed from Massachusetts, one each from Vermont and New Hampshire. Two workers born in New York had parents born in Germany, and two workers born in Maine had Canadian parents. Thus, most operatives had prior experience in the textile industry in Massachusetts or New York and many were immigrants or first generation Americans who were familiar with textiles in their homeland. Whitehouse era

Alfred Manufacturing that purchased the mill in 1924 was apparently another organization of home grown, local boosters, perhaps with Illigen at the lead again, hoping to wrest profits from the mill. In 1925, Alfred Manufacturing mortgaged the mill to William Penn Whitehouse 2nd of Portland for $22,000 for one year while Whitehouse raised capital.(27) The Sanford Tribune reported optimistically that the mill had began to show signs of life - operators were making samples and the mill was taking in coal.(28) This infers that the machinery was still in the mill at that time. In February, William Illigen was in New York on business for the Alfred Manufacturing Company, no doubt lining up orders in the garment district for his lace.(29)

27) YCRD 735/509, mortgage to Whitehouse dated 1-6-1925

28) Sanford Tribune 1-22-1925 29) Sanford Tribune 2-19-1925

But before the year was up, however, the Alfred Manufacturing Co. conveyed the mill to Whitehouse.(30) The local group apparently had neither desire nor the financial wherewithal to become lace manufacturers again. They figured if Whitehouse could make a go of it, let him try. Whitehouse then mortgaged portions the property to raise money but how much progress he made toward making lace is not known.(31)

30) YCRD 756/96 deed to Whitehouse dated 10-30-1925 31) Whitehouse conveyed a 1/7 interest to Nathan W. Thompson and John W. Hill of Portland (YCRD 756/97, dated 1-6-1925) and conveyed the remainder to Whitehouse Brothers Inc. of Portland (YCRD 756/98 dated 10-31-1925). Whitehouse then procure a loan for $8000 with the mill as collateral from Joseph Webster of Limington (YCRD 782/91 dated 12-10-1927) and used the money to buy out his partners Hill (YCRD 766/458 dated 12-10-1927) and Thompson (YCRD 786/31 dated 12-10-1927) William P. Whitehouse 2nd father was a superior court justice in Augusta in 1881. Whitehouse’s brother Robert T. Whitehouse was a lawyer and district attorney in Portland who always kept at least one servant in the household to tend his growing family. William P. Whitehouse also had servants in his Brookline Mass. home but his occupation was not known. Whitehouse died in Los Angles Ca. Nov. 1, 1976.

Great Depression

Leary of Whitehouse’s financial instability, in 1932, the Town of Alfred won a suit against Whitehouse in Superior Court that awarded them 1/3 interest in the mill for taxes due.(32) Joseph Webster, a Whitehouse lien holder, saw the collateral for the loan he had made to Whitehouse slipping away, foreclosed on his note and was quitclaimed the property by Whitehouse Bro. Inc.(33) With little going on in the mills, the wooden buildings at Littlefield Mills, including the bleachery, were deemed “not useful and a fire hazard” and were taken down in the spring of 1934.(34) As the bleachery was no longer needed, I assume the lace making machinery was gone at this juncture. 32) YCRD 835/320 dated 2-4-1933

33) YCRD 839/314 dated 8-3-1933 34) Sanford Tribune 5-3-1934

Any hope of reviving embroidery production in Alfred was slim but the absolute final nail in the coffin was the death of William Illigen, age 60 years, in Sanford on Sept.12, 1934. He had moved from Alfred to a home on School Street about four years prior and had been ill for a year. His obituary stated he was born in Hard, Austria and had lived in America for 41 years. He was remembered as a loyal Mason, a Congregationalist and conducted the Alfred Embroidery Mill for 28 years. G. Elmer Mossman, a former Alfred pastor now preaching in Scarboro returned to conduct William’s funeral. Illigen was survived by a son Karl, in Philadelphia, a wife Annette, 2 brothers in Switzerland and a sister in Germany.(35) Illigen was virtually the only man who ever ran the embroidery mill and, without his expertise, the enterprise was truly dead. The mill and buildings had become a very dead asset, one that rested weighty on Alfredian hands.

35) Sanford Tribune 9-13-1934 + 9-20-1934

At a town meeting held on the evening of Sept. 11, 1936, Alfred citizens decided their own fate regarding their interest in the mill. On a motion made by Sam Chadbourne and seconded by Jim Plummer, Alfred conveyed their 1/3 interest in the mill to Thomas J. Brown of Westbrook for $575.(36) The deed included the mill privilege at Littlefield Mills as well as the privilege on the other side of the road. Whitehouse’s former mortgage holder, Joseph Webster, finally sold his interest in the property to Thomas J. Brown who, combined with the town’s interest based on tax liens, held the major interest in the mill.(37)

36) YCRD 897/431 dated 9-11-1936 37) YCRD 890/34 dated 12-2-1936

Eight years later, as the war was winding down, Brown finally threw in the towel and conveyed the embroidery mill to Etta Ricker. Ricker Farm Equipment was born and the mill entered another phase of business use.(38)

38) YCRD 1017/67 dated 5-29-1944


Barney DeHaven had a store across the stream from the mill. There were always a lot of folks hanging around and shooting the bull but precious few people buying anything. It closed at the beginning of the war when grocery items were rationed and hard to get. We have one of his display cases from that store in the museum.

Arthur S. Tucker (my great grandfather) and my uncle Arthur used to mix dry chemical with shovels on the floor of the old mill, making chimney soot cleaner to sell during the depression. Arthur S. ran a sawmill in the backyard of his Sanford home and why he came all the way to Alfred to mix these chemicals is a mystery. (Sid Emery recalls their making flue cleaner in the mill- cardboard boxes filled with chemicals- and said Illigen had an interest in the business.)

Wes Clark remembers that when the mill left, they abandoned an in-ground tank of naphtha in the back of the mill. Drivers in theAlfred Mills neighborhood all tuned their Model A’s to run on the naphtha and drew it out of the tank with a bucket. Everyone in town knew when someone from the mills neighborhood was around because their car exhaust smelled like moth balls.

Margaret Thompson Ford recollections (3-26-2010): Alice Yates was my great grandmother. She ran a boarding house. (Either the now Aiken’s place or a building situated where Mary Reed (2010) now lives.) John Yates, brother to Albert and Irving (all from England), was my grandfather. Nellie was my aunt and Lily was my mother. Irving Thompson was my father (1895- 1930). His army papers stated his occupation was “mill worker”. I always wondered what mill. He was in the National Guard before World War I. Bert and Bessie Chadbourne lived in the big Brick Building that was gutted by fire in 1968. Maria and John Ricker lived in the little house snuggled up to the embroidery mill (on the east side). I remember the Ricker's well. I gave Mrs. Morrison some snap shots of the embroider workers some time ago for the museum.

Martha Roberts (4-2-2010) William Illigen lived in the Dr. Richards house in the village formerly owned by Elein Jordan, brother of BC Jordan.

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