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Early Business

The first comprehensive history of Florence was published in the Hampshire Gazette of April 2, 1867. Whether by intent or coincidence, this date is within six days of the 25th anniversary of the founding of the Northampton Association of Education and Industry. The following piece of that article was dedicated to the early manufacturing and mercantile interests in the village.

The First Store—Post-Office—

How Florence took its Name—Littlefield, Parsons & Co.

In the fall of 1850, Isaac S. Parsons, son of Capt. Samuel Parsons of Northampton, went to Florence and commenced the mercantile business, in company with S. L. Hill, under the name of I. S. Parsons & Co. Mr. Hill had been carrying on this business, in a small way, two or three years. In 1860, Mr. Hill retired from the firm, and Henry F. Cutler, who had been a clerk in the store was admitted as a partner; and in 1863, Plympton H. Smith became a partner. Mr. Cutler retired in 1866. The name of the firm has remained the same through all these changes. The partners now are I. S. Parsons and P. H. Smith. A large trade has always been done at this store. This was the first store opened in Florence.

On the 28th of December, 1852, after much hard labor, owing to the opposition made by the then postmaster of Northampton, a post-office was established in Florence, and Mr. Parsons was appointed postmaster, a position which he has filled to this time, with entire satisfaction to the public. Among those who rendered efficient aid in securing the consent of the post-office department to establish the is office, was Sidney L. Clark, now of Hartford, Ct. It is believed that his labors were largely instrumental in achieving this result. Other friends in Northampton also gave the project their generous and efficient support.

From the time of the establishment of the post-office, Florence has been known by its present name. Previously, the village was called “The Community”; and after that organization was dissolved, it took the name of “Bensonville”; and when Mr. Benson failed and took his departure, it was called “Greenville.” But on the opening of postal communication, Mr. Parsons; in consultation with Mr. Hill, Dr. Munde, and others, selected the very neat and euphonious name of Florence. The idea was suggested by the fact that the manufacturing village of Leeds, a mile and a half above, on the same stream, was named after the city of Leeds in England because of its large woolen manufacturing interest; and so, with equal appropriateness, the great silk emporium in Italy was drawn drawn upon to give its name this American silk manufacturing village. The name at once pleased the public, and has grown more and more popular as the enterprise of the village has continued to develop.

In 1854, S. L. Hill and I. S. Parsons became associated with A. P. Critchlow, in the manufacture of paper mache buttons, and union cases for daguerreotypes and ambrotypes. The name of the firm was A. P. Critchlow & Co. Daniel G. Littlefield, then a merchant in Haydenville, was hired to travel and sell the goods, and in 1857 he became an equal partner in the business. Mr. Critchlow disposed of his interest in the manufacturing in 1858. The name of the firm was then changed to Littlefield, Parsons & Co., which continued until the organization of the Florence Manufacturing Company in 1866.

From 1856 to 1865, the business of Littlefield, Parson & Co. gave employment to from 75 to 199 hands. Very great success attended the business after the first two or three years, particularly the manufacture of the union cases. The demand for these goods was so great that during a considerable part of the time the factory was run to its utmost capacity, night and day, producing daily 89 to 150 dozen cases. Although this case was a beautiful article, and ranked high in market, its great success was due quite as much to the extraordinary demand which existed at that time for cases of some sort, and if this company had manufactured any other variety its success would have been inevitable. About the year 1864 however, the fashion changed,—as fashions always do,—so that cases for daguerreotypes and ambrotypes were but little used; consequently the business of this firm, like the occupation of Othello, was essentially gone. It may return again, like Banquo’s ghost, and should it do so, we hesitate not to say, on behalf of the manufacturers, that it will be warmly welcome. The buttons also, made by this firm, were in great demand, and from 1855 to 1860 large quantities were manufactured and sold.

Florence Manufacturing Company

This company manufactures toilet brushes, union cases, lockets, &c., and is the legitimate successor of the firm of Littlefield, Parsons & Co. It was organized in July, 1866, as a joint stock company with a capital of $100,000. The stock is principally owned by D. G. Littlefield, I. S. Parsons, George A. Burr, S. L. Hinckley, and George A. Scott. Its officers, chosen in January, 1867 are the following:—Directors—I. S. Parsons, George A. Burr, D. G. Littlefield, George A. Scott, Anson B. Clark, Alfred Littlefield, of Pawtucket, R. I. and John G. McMurray of Lansingburg, N. Y. President—George A. Burr. Treasurer—I. S. Parsons. Clerk—George A. Scott. In the summer of 1866, the company began the erection of their present large and commodious factory, near the bridge, and completed it early in the following winter, when it was at once occupied by the removal of their machinery from the factory used by their predecessors. The factory is 125 feet long and 40 feet wide, three stories in height, and designed by Mr. Gardner, the Florence architect, and built under the immediate supervision of Mr. George A. Burr, whose experience in erecting the large buildings used by the Sewing Machine Co. eminently qualified him to produce so fine a structure. It is one of the most substantial structures in the village, and does great credit to the architect, the builder and the proprietors. Its cost, together with the engine and boiler was about $40,000. The beautiful steam engine of 30 horse power, not only runs the machinery, but furnishes steam for heating the whole building, and for preparing the composition used in the articles manufactured. The building is admirably equipped and there is an air of nicety in all its part, which arrests the attention of the visitor.

The principal article manufactured by this company is the toilet brush, which finds its way into almost every house in the land. The firm of Littlefield, Parsons & Co., having found that the sales of the union cases were decreasing, in consequence of the introduction and general adoption by the public of thecarte de visite, were casting about for some other article to manufacture, when, most opportunely, the suggestion was made that the composition used in the manufacture of the cases could, with improvements, be advantageously used in manufacturing toilet brushes. The suggestion was first made by Mr. Scott, one of the present board of directors, then a resident of Lansingburg, and the son of a brush manufacturer of many years’ experience. He came to Florence with his idea—the place of all others to find ready appreciators of ideas—and the work of experimenting with it was begun, soon producing the most satisfactory results. His principal point was in reference to fastening the hair and molding or shaping the handle at one operation; so that a complete water-proof brush could be produced at once, having the bristles all securely fastened, any beautiful design on its back, and a perfect finish or polish, ready for the market. This is accomplished so satisfactorily as to be at once acknowledged, like the self-evident truth of our great Declaration of Independence. The brush—unlike any other brush ever made—is absolutely water-proof. A trial of soaking it in water for forty eight hours, proved that the hair did not then start, nor was the composition in the least injured, it being composed of ingredients which have no affinity for water. The ordinary brushes, as is well known, are easily injured by occasionally dipping them in water; but with this brush, no such objection exist. The beautiful finish of the handles is an attraction which this brush possesses, surpassing even the buffalo-horn brush, the most elegant toilet brush heretofore made. The backs of the brushes are all handsomely ornamented, and various new designs are produced with ease. The different styles are very neat and attractive.

The process of manufacture is very simple, yet is an instructive curiosity to one who never before witnessed it. The hair, first being cut of a uniform length, is set in steel dies, and so accurately adjusted as to leave the brush, when it comes form the press, with but slight trimming, fit for the dressing table of the most fashionable lady. The company intend to manufacture none but brushes of the finest quality; yet they can manufacture, with ease and with astonishing cheapness, brushes of inferior grades. By the old method of manufacture, the hair is all drawn in with wire, which is bent in the form of a loop and inserted through the hole to be filled. The bristles are then passed half through the loop and doubled in the middle, and drawn into the hole by hand,—a very slow process, and a method by which a girl can only “draw” a dozen brushes per day. After this operation, the veneers and inlays for the backs are glued on and held in cabinet maker’s screws over night, to dry. In the morning, the screws are removed and the brushes sawed out to their desired shape, and worked smooth by the aid of drawing-knives, spoke-shaves, files, sand paper &c., after which they receive several coats of varnish and are rubbed and polished ready for the market. This process takes from 10 to 14 days. But the method of this company is more expeditious, so much so, that one girl will adjust the bristles for about ten dozen brushes per day, and the most elegant brush can be produced ready for market in fifteen minutes, from the rough material!

The bristles used by this company are all imported from Russia and Germany, and are of the very stiffest and best quality. The American bristles, which are much cheaper, do not possess sufficient stiffness to make a first class brush. They expect soon to consume from four to six ton per year, costing from $10,000 to $12,000 per ton. Every ounce of bristles which now goes into their brushes costs 50 cents.

There is abundant reason to believe that these water proof brushes will soon distance all competitors. The demand for them has been quite large, and fifty men and women are employed, producing about 250 dozen per week. Of course, their manufacture is yet in its infancy, they having but a few months since been introduced to the public; but we look for the rapid growth of the business, expecting soon to see the manufacture of brushes rank with the three other great manufacturing productions of Florence—sewing-machines, silks, and cottons.

This company also manufactures large quantities of paper-boxes, for the public as well as for its own use. This department is under the immediate charge of that veteran box maker, Mr. Morris Machol, of whom it may truthfully be said, and with increased emphasis after examining his productions, that what he does not know concerning that business, is of small account.

Florence Sewing Machine Company.

The most extensive business enterprise in Florence is the Sewing Machine works, employing a capital of $500,000, and giving occupation to from 275 to 300 men. The hands employed are all of an intelligent class, and add much to the good character of the village. These works have grown up very rapidly, and there is excellent promise of a still further increase. The first machine made and put upon the market, of this invention, was in the spring of 1861. Only about fifty machines were made that year. No agencies had there been established, and these machines were sold directly to families. They at once pleased the public, and the demand for them was so brisk as to warrant an immediate enlargement of the facilities for their manufacture. In April, 1861, the first company was formed which consisted of S. L. Hill, D. G. Littlefield, and L. W. Langdon. In the ensuing fall, George A. Burr, I. S. Parsons and S. L. Hill, Jr., were added to the number, the capital of the company being $125,000. In 1862, the business having expanded so as to require more capital, the stock was increased to $200,000. In 1864, the west building, 150 by 40 feet, and three stories high, was erected at a cost of $50,000. The business still increasing, faster even than its most sanguine friends had anticipated, it was decided in the spring of 1866 to increase the capital to $500,000. The stock was all immediately subscribed, and not a dollar of it went begging. In that year, the east building, of the same dimensions as the building first erected, was constructed, and also an extensive foundry. The present capacity of the works is about 20,000 machines a year. The sales have increased from fifty the first year to nearly 1,000 a month for 1866. In January last, the number sold was 930. These sales show that, while nearly all other kinds of manufacturing have been seriously checked, this business has been steadily maintained. We expect to see it at no distant day, at least doubled. The sewing machine trade is yet in its infancy, as the first machines made in the country were brought out only about twenty years ago.

The inventor of the Florence machine is Leander W. Langdon. While to him are due its main principles, to S. L. Hill and D. G. Littlefield belong great credit for their ingenious labors, continued through many months, in perfecting it and giving it its present beauty of form and simplicity and accuracy of motion. It is the handsomest machine made, and for capacity in doing all varieties of family sewing it ranks second to none. The machines are sold to agents in the large cities and principal towns. In New York, the company have an elegant salesroom, at 505 Broadway.

To Geo. A. Burr belongs much credit for the energy and efficiency displayed by him to introducing the machines into market. He organized the system of agencies, and pushed the enterprise forward with great success. He was treasure of the company until the fall of 1865, when he was succeeded by L. B. Williams, who also was the general agent, and under whose management the business largely increased.

The new building is used for making the woodwork of the machines, and the west building for the various metallic parts. The work is nearly all done by ten or a dozen contractors. The officers of the company are the following:—Directors, I. S. Parsons, president, S. L. Hill, Wm. B. Hale, H. G. Knight, Silas M. Smith, L. B. Williams, and Wm. Clark, Jr. Clerk, D. W. Bond. General Agent, J. M. Wardwell. Treasurer, Sidney Strong. Superintendent of the works, J. W. Hoxie.

The Company erected last year, for the accommodation of its workmen, three new blocks, comprising 24 tenements, and a large boarding house, at a cost of $30,000. An abundant supply of water is secured from a spring near the Ross farm, half a mile west of the factory, being forced by an engine into four large tanks in the building, The monthly pay-roll of the company varies from $15,000 to $17,000.

Nonotuck Silk Company


This company was organized July 1, 1855, and soon after was incorporated under the general statutes, with a capital of $75,000. The stock is all held by S. L. Hill, S. L. Hinckley, A. T. Lilly, J. D. Atkins, Ira Dimock, Lucius Dimock, Edwin M. Eaton, and A. G. Hill. With the exception of the latter gentleman, these were the original stockholders. The company organization is as follows:—President, S. L. Hinckley; Clerk, A. G. Hill. Treasurer, S. L. Hill. Mr. Lilly is agent of the company at the factory, and Mr. Eaton at the New York warehouse, 28 Warren street. The company owns and operates, besides the main factory in Florence, where 137 operatives are employed, the large brick factory in the upper part of Leeds, where 87 operatives are employed, under the immediate supervision of Mr. L. Dimock; thus making the aggregate number of hands employed, 224. The company manufactures skein sewing silk and machine twist, and its goods rank deservedly high in the market. The first machine twist manufactured in the country for sewing machines was made by this company. At first this was only a small part of the business, but since the rapid increase of sewing machines throughout the country, this branch of the manufacture has largely expanded, and now equals the manufacture of sewing silk. Some idea of the extent of the company’s business may be obtained from the fact that 550 lbs. of the raw material are worked up every week. The silk is mainly from China, but since the opening of commercial relations with Japan a portion comes from that country.

Greenville Manufacturing Company

This company was incorporated under a special character, in 1846, with a capital of $400,000. The stock is principally owned by Samuel Williston of Easthampton, J. P. Williston of Northampton, A. L. Williston of Florence (who has the active management of the business,) and Joel Hayden of Haydenville. The officers of the company are—President, S. Williston; Treasurer, J. P. Williston; Secretary, A. L. Williston. The company manufactures 1,000,000 sheetings per year. The mill is the building erected by Mr. Whitmarsh for a silk factory, and afterwards owned and occupied by the Community Association.

The Milk Business

The milk business in Florence has always been of considerable proportions, and has been conducted since the Community Association by Austin Ross. Mr. Ross was the farmer for the Association one year, and when it dissolved he bought the “Broughton’s Meadows,” or Gaius Burt farm, consisting of about 150 acres. He has kept from 12 to 20 cows, and supplied the village with milk. When the water-cure was in operation, he supplied that establishment with from 50 to 75 quarts per day. In 1866, he built a first-`