From the Vineyard Gazette edition of August 18, 1967:
By tradition the word factory conjures up the image of a monstrous functional building that bristles with highrise chimneys belching forth noxious fumes, its walls pockmarked by sightless windows. Not so the old woolen factory in West Tisbury, now the Martha’s Vineyard Garden Club Center. For 121 years it has stood sentinel at the spillway of the Old Mill Pond, its simple lines and discreet proportions never an offense to the eye, and its operation, by water power during the period of its fecundity, produced no problem of air pollution. In fact, a reporter for the fledgling Gazette of July 9, 1846, asserted:
“Since the putting up of the Bradley Woolen Mill, in West Tisbury, there is, we are told, a decided improvement in real estate in that pretty village. This little place, decidedly the most cultivated and picturesque in the county, has felt revivifying influence, and with the impetus given by the factory just up bids fair to ‘sustain the movement’.”
Although it has been said that the “delapidated Look mill” which Captain Bradley replaced had earlier been converted by David Look from grinding corn to carding the local clip, documentation of the extent of his endeavor is sparse. In the deed from his widow Hannah to Thomas Bradley, the building it is called a “certain Mill” though it includes the “privilege of the tentering bars now standing”, which implies manufacture of woolen cloth.
Nothing is mentioned, as in later transfers, about machinery, “appurtenances,” or tools, so it may be assumed that Bradley completely refurbished his new mill.
In 1859 Thomas Bradley conveyed to Henry Cleveland, master mariner, “a certain woolen factory . . . including dams, mill pond, gateways, flumes . . . wool house and privileges belonging to same.” The deed also reserved “to the town right of travel over the New Road on dam so long as the town shall keep said dam and bridges in safe travelling condition.” The original road from Old-town forded the brook on the east and passed south of the building.
A whaling captain of distinction, with five Pacific voyages to his credit, Cleveland is best known for his last command, the Niantic, which he converted to a passenger ship midstream and carried miners north to the gold diggings from Panama in 1849. At San Francisco he sold the vessel and it was run into the mud to serve as a hotel. Home again, the captain met with an accident while driving a skittish horse. It resulted in a broken leg which ended his career at sea, and doubtless occasioned his entering the mercantile business.
The outbreak of the Civil War less than two years after the factory changed hands must have had an adverse effect on business. Whaling, due largely to depredations by the Confederate raiders Alabama and Shenandoah, was in a lull, which cut down materially on the demand for monkey jackets, and kersey was hardly suitable for uniforms. It is also likely that, with a goodly proportion of the men of war, flocks diminished, both for want of shearers and demand for food.
This is supposition. However, Henry Cleveland’s account book for the years 1865-1871, which was given to the garden club by Daniel Manter, reveals the gradual decline in trade during those years. Thomas Bradley, the former owner, who was a Holmes Hole merchant, continued to be a steady customer, although, of course, he bought at wholesale prices.
Some of Captain Cleveland’s business was by barter. James Mayhew of “Quitsie” (known locally as Powder Jim) bought 9 1/2 yards of blue mixt kersey at $1.10 and paid in part with 3 bushels of corn at $2 a bushel. Mr. Manning — no doubt from Gay Head — paid for 2 1/2 yards of satinet and 2 skeins of grey yard with codfish.
One entry of exceptional interest notes purchases by Capt. Nathaniel M. Jernegan during the month of September, 1865, just prior to sailing on the whaler Thomas Dickason for the North Pacific with his wife Abigail aboard. Captain Jernegan purchased 22 yards of wide kersey cloth, 13 yards of blue kersey, 6 1/2 yards of satinet, also 13 skeins of blue mixt yarn. It all came to $61.86, for which the captain paid cash,
Other reminiscent names mentioned in the day book are those of Capts. Frederick Manter, Mathew Poole, Francis Rotch, Calvin Adams and S. Wilson Crosby.
Entries which were relatively frequent in 1865 dwindled to one in 1872, a payment from Thankful Hancock of $25. In 1873 William J. Rotch, whose emporium stood just down the road, advertised that he was having 1000 yards of “real old-fashioned Vineyard Satinet” manufactured in black, light and dark brown at the retail price of $1.25 a yard.
This was presumably the last “cloths” woven at the mill, although carding was undertaken until about 1887. Capt. Thomas G. Campbell took the “wooling factory” off his father in law’s hands in 1874, and it was purchased from his son, Donald R. Campbell, by the garden club in 1942.
Compiled by Hilary Wall