Workshop of the World

stories of industry in & around Philadelphia

Pasted Graphic 1
View from the Friends Meetinghouse to the east facade of the oldest part of Spring Mills along Waln Street (2007).

1768-1862 Friends schoolhouse (demolished)
Spring Mills / Borie & Makie (umbrella & parasol sticks, cotton yarn)
1889- Montgomery Ford (umbrella sticks)
1894- David M. Hess (chemical works)
1895-1945 Wallace Wilson Hosiery Co. (infants hosiery)
c. 1920-
Malcolm Mills (yarn)
H. Riehl & Son (textile machinery)
Pappajohn Woodworking (custom woodworking) & misc tenants.

4355 Orchard Street, Philadelphia PA 19124
(east side between Church Street and Unity Street, property extends back to Waln Street; originally Waln Hill at Unity Street)

Barbara M. Auwarter and Joyce Halley, Workshop of the World (Oliver Evans Press, 1990).

Pasted Graphic 3
"Borie & Mackie, Spring Mills" (date?), Hexamer #264.

On the grounds of a razed 1768 schoolhouse and adjoining the oldest Friends Meetinghouse in Philadelphia, Borie & Mackie constructed Spring Mills from 1862 to 1874. 1 The mill complex spread from its original 1862 building on Waln Hill (now Waln Street) through to Orchard Street, its present main entrance. The steam powered mill manufactured umbrella and parasol sticks, a major industry in Frankford since Colonial times, and employed one hundred hands. The by-product, wood shavings, were conveyed by wheelbarrow to the steam boilers to power the plant. As a precaution against the ever present danger of fire, the walls of the shaving room were constructed of stone, the boiler room constructed of brick, and a water cask and fire buckets were kept filled at all times on every floor. By 1877, Borie & Mackie had expanded Spring Mills to include Providence Cotton Mill for the manufacture of cotton yarn. 2 Twelve years later Spring Mills was owned by Montg. Ford and continued with the production of umbrella sticks. 3

Pasted Graphic 2
"Spring Mills & Providence Cotton Mill, Borie & Mackie" (1877), Hexamer #1127.
Manufacturing at this site changed significantly by 1894 when David M. Hess had his chemical works there. The main building on Orchard Street with a date of 1895 built into the bricks of the front wall demonstrates the pride mill owners took in their establishments. By 1910, manufacturing reverted to textiles once again, the major industry in Frankford at that time.
4 Wallace Wilson manufactured infants' hosiery for at least two decades, subsequently sharing the site with Malcolm Mills, manufacturer of yard goods by 1920. 5
Riehl & Clark's, established in 1850 at Charlotte Street in Philadelphia, re-established itself as Henry Riehl & Son in 1885, and today occupies the entire mill complex, manufacturing and servicing textile machinery as it has since 1850
6 Textile machinery using finely crafted maple wood shuttles and ancient loom movements is now produced by Riehl's for textile manufacturers, some of whom produce goods for the space program. Complex Jacquard looms, used since Victorian times, are operated by a technology similar to that of a computer.

1  Guernsey A. Hallowell, For A Greater Frankford / Historical and Industrial Celebration (Philadelphia, 1912), pp. 33 and 55; see also, "Borie & Mackie, Spring Mills" (1874), Hexamer #792.
2  "Spring Mills & Providence Cotton Mill, Borie & Mackie" (1877), Hexamer #1127.
3  Ernest Hexamer & Son, #287 (1889). [Editor's note: this footnote appears as published in 1990 but seems incorrect].
4  Philadelphia City Atlases for 1894 (23rd Ward, Plate 2) and 1910 (23rd Ward, Plate 4); see also, (Name of author of The Old Northeast)
5  Philadelphia City Atlas, 1920, 23rd Ward, Plate 4, Philadelphia City Atlas, 1929, 23rd Ward, Plate 4
6  Henry Riehl & Sons, archival material found by B. Auwarter and J. Halley on site. The material consists of a promotion/advertisement/flyer, a ledger sheet of the company, and a wood shuttle. They were all donated to the Historical Society of Frankford.

Update May 2007 (by Torben Jenk):
The date '1895' on the Orchard Street facade probably refers to the founding date of the Wallace Wilson Hosiery Co. Other similar markings were obscured after WWII by the Wagners, the owners of H. Riehl & Sons. Paul Wagner remembers the date '1907' which probably reflects the date of construction and "Established... Wallace Wilson..." H. Riehl went out of business in 2004. The building complex was bought by Matt & Ian Pappajohn who use 12,000 sf on the first floor for their custom woodworking business and rent the other space to various commercial enterprises and artists. Gregory August, an interior decorator, is on the second floor and has preserved a number of the Riehl patterns as display pieces. A sculptor and artist are on the third floor. In the older adjacent building are a coffee roaster, graphic design firm and a residence.

The charming Quaker Meeting House (c. 1768) survives east of Waln Street, surrounded by simple graves and a stone platform which likely helped early Friends descend from their carriages. It is now used as a community center.

East of the cemetery is the former home of Kingsbury Inc. (now in northeast Philadelphia). In 1912, Dr. Albert Kingsbury invented the tilting-pad "six shoe" thrust bearing and ever since they have remained the technological leader in babbitted fluid film thrust and journal bearings for all types of rotating machinery. This 40,000 sf building has also been successfully adapted for multi-tenant use.

See also:
"Frankford (Preparative) Friends Meeting House, Corner of Unity & Walnut Streets, Philadelphia, Philadelphia County, PA" - Historic American Buildings Survey PA-6652.