Looking Back

The days of factories

By Mary Ellen Shaw

If you lived in the Rutland area back in “yesteryear,” you will remember the numerous jobs that were available in area factories. ”Yesteryear” from the point of view of my own early remembrances goes back to the 50s and 60s. However, some factories from that period had their beginning long before those days.

There were approximately 50 factories of various sizes in the area during those times, according to the H.A. Manning Rutland Directories. Reference is made to the fact that 92 percent of the labor force in these factories was “native born.”

When a factory started up it remained in the area for many years. It wasn’t uncommon to start your working career with the same company from which you retired. People didn’t seem anxious to seek a new job. They pretty much stayed put.

Now that I am in my 70s, the familiar things from my youth probably seem like ancient history to the young people of today. If they are anything like I was back “in the day,” they probably have little interest in learning about the history of places or people. That seems to come with age!

Let’s take a trip back to my own early days, and beyond, and look at a few of the industries and their products. Their longevity makes them an important part of Rutland’s history.

I knew that Lincoln Iron Works was active in my youth but I had no idea that it began in 1868. It was located at 255 West St near the railroad tracks, in the vicinity where the Vermont Farmers’ Market building is today. I found an ad from 1880 stating that this business produced coffee mills, pulleys, gears and wrought iron pipes.  If you looked down at the storm drain covers on city streets you would see the words “Lincoln Iron Works.” They also had a close connection to the area marble quarries which they supplied with machinery and equipment. The number of workers dropped from around 100 in the 1940s to a little over 20 when the industry closed in the 1960s.

Another long lasting industry was the Howe Richardson Scale company, which operated in a complex off Strongs Avenue where the Howe Center is currently located. The company came from Brandon to Rutland in 1877. It had a global base and was in operation until the 1960s. They manufactured highly accurate industrial scales. The railway’s close proximity to the business was probably an incentive to locate where it did.

Another long term Rutland business was Patch Wegner, which was located at the address currently known as 56 Howe Street. It was established in 1891 to make machine tools for cutting and working with marble. The merger of Patch with Julius Wegner Machine Works of Astoria, N.Y., happened in 1927, making it the largest business of its kind in the U.S. if not the world. It went out of business in 1976.

Rutland Fire Clay was another long term industry, established in 1883. For most of those years the business was headquartered on Curtis Avenue. The building was originally wooden but after a fire it was rebuilt of concrete. Over the years the company manufactured stove and fireplace products as well as plaster. It was a nationally known company shown in the May 1999 edition of  Popular Mechanics magazine. In the Q&A section, a person from California had mortar missing from his fireplace and asked how to fix it. The response was, “You can apply Rutland Fireplace Mortar – a ready mixed product that comes in a cartridge and is applied with a caulking gun.” In 1978 the company ceased its manufacturing operations in Rutland.

Tampax joined the list of Rutland factories in the 1940s. The maker of tampons was originally located at 210 Columbian Avenue. They moved to Park Street when General Electric moved into the Columbian Avenue location in 1957. Tampax was in operation for about 50 years, closing in 1996; 260 jobs were lost in its closing.

Rutland welcomed General Electric in 1957. The plant makes military engines, commercial engines and spare parts. An additional facility on Windcrest Road in Rutland Town was added in 1975. Fortunately for area workers, G.E. is still operating and has an apprentice program to attract new workers.

The 1960s saw the arrival of Moore Business Forms. My husband, Peter, was one of the early employees and retired from there 30 years later. They produced continuous forms. The railroad behind their plant was used for shipping in the earlier days of their business.

Obviously this is just a small sampling of the factories that operated in the Rutland area but it shows the variety of products they produced.

The fact that there were so many factories provides a good reason to continue “looking back” at these times in a future column.

Rutland will probably never go back to the numerous factory jobs from 50 to 100 years ago but we will always be connected to them by their place in history.

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