In Port Richmond, An Industrial Legacy Lives On

 

7275317026_d959d207fb_b

From left: Whit Garret, Chris Masland, Frank Masland | Photo: Theresa Stigale

Editor’s Note: Last year, for the first time in their lives, the great-great-grandsons of the founder of the C.H. Masland Carpet Company, visited the mid-19th century building, on Amber Street near Allegheny Avenue in Port Richmond, where their ancestors had built the nation’s largest automobile carpet business. The family relocated the mill to Carlisle, PA in 1928. For more on the history of the company, click HERE. The property, now known as both Richmond Mills and Amber Street Studios, has since been renovated for artist studios and craft industrial firms. Theresa Stigale went along with Masland cousins Whit Garrett and Frank Masland and Frank’s son, Chris, to see firsthand how their family’s industrial legacy lives on. Later, she returned to the building to talk to the painters, sculptors, artisans, and photographers, as well as the members of small industrial firms that call the building home. One of them, Artifact Pictures, created a documentary about the use of industrial buildings in the post-industrial economy. The film is called “The View From Amber Street.”

Photographs of some of the current tenants of the old Masland carpet mill follow Theresa’s Q & A with Masland descendant Whit Garrett.

Theresa Stigale: Your great-great grandfather was Charles H. Masland. How did he get into the carpet business?
Whit Garrett: In 1865 he was 23 years old and newly discharged from the Union Army and got a job in a dye mill. He eventually bought his own dye business and started making carpets, as many mills back in those days has both a weaving and dye works on-site. He is actually buried in Laurel Hill cemetery.

Amber Carpet Mills

Photo courtesy Whit Garrett

TS: The mill survived the Great Depression.
WG:Well that’s a good story. We were told that in the early 1920s, F.E. Masland (the grandson of C.H. Masland) was sitting on a huge quantity of yarn that was severely devalued, having bought it previously at five times the going rate. He went to Detroit to try to drum up some business and met with Henry Ford, who needed carpet for his cars. Henry Ford took the carpet sample, ran a key through it, and when it didn’t tear, said, OK–you got the business. Eventually, the family got a patent for auto carpet with rubber on top. Ford literally saved the business and from that point on, the only car that anyone in our family has ever bought has been a Ford. Ford and Masland had an interesting history together.

TS: In December 1912, a newspaper printed an obituary of C.H. Seems like they might have had the story wrong.
WG: The headline proclaimed: “Aged Carpet Man Crushed by Debris” with a sub-line: “Widely known manufacturer likely to die as a result of his activity.” Well, first of all, he was only 73, hardly “aged” as we think if it today, and he was injured while supervising some demolition of one of the buildings. Some bricks and beams fell on him and he was buried. The funny thing is that not only did he survive, he went on to live for another 20 years!

C.H. Masland & Sons

Image courtesy Whit Garrett

TS: Like many mill owners in Philadelphia, the Maslands tried to keep unions at bay. Does this explain the move to Carlisle?
WG: In the early part of the 20th century unions were becoming a force in the large urban areas and Masland mills didn’t want to be union. They chose Carlisle, having gone to college at Dickinson–they really loved the area. Actually, Masland Carpets remained union free until the mid-1960s.

TS: Now that you’ve seen the building and the new uses, what do you think about your family’s legacy?
WG: Well we’re pretty happy that our family’s past still serves society today, the irony being the new plant (in Carlisle) is gone and the old plant is thriving. The building has seen a lot of sweat and tears in 125+ years. Most importantly though, it really shows that Philly is still a viable manufacturing town, and that that jobs aren’t just in the service industry.

<a href=

Allen L. Geiser & Son | Photo: Theresa Stigale

The Ceramic Shop | Photo: Theresa Stigale

The Ceramic Shop | Photo: Theresa Stigale

Photographer James Mosely

James Mosely Photography | Photo: Theresa Stigale

7276246022_54f0175395_o

Metropolitan Banners | Photo: Theresa Stigale

About the author

Theresa Stigale was born and raised in Southwest Philly. She earned a B.B.A. from Temple University in 1983. Theresa is a photographer as well as a licensed Pennsylvania Real Estate Broker, developer and instructor. In the past ten years, she has documented the loft conversion projects that she and her partners have completed in Philadelphia, from stately old abandoned warehouses covered with graffiti to vintage factories, some still active with manufacturing. Visit her web site at TheresaStigalePhotography.com.

Send a message!



1 Comment


  1. Once again, exceptional work by Theresa Stigale! Insightful interview, terrific photos!

Recent Posts
Furness Church Escapes Demolition, Will Be Reused For School Space

Furness Church Escapes Demolition, Will Be Reused For School Space

January 23, 2015  |  Morning Blend

Penn professor preserves Episcopal Church of the Atonement, a remnant from the early days of the Lincoln Highway, SOSNA considered Washington Ave mixed use, and some "Vintage Vaudeville" on display at the Barnes > more

J.T. Riley Lumberyard Yields To Mixed-Use Development

J.T. Riley Lumberyard Yields To Mixed-Use Development

January 23, 2015  |  News

Big development plans are in motion for the former site of J.T. Riley Lumberyard on East Girard Avenue. A leader of the lumber industry for over a century, the recently closed location in Northern Liberties-Fishtown will soon give way to modern apartments and retail space > more

Gray Area: The Future Of

Gray Area: The Future Of “30th Street Station”

January 22, 2015  |  News

In August, the President's signature enacted a law that renamed 30th Street Station for former Congressman Bill Gray. So does that mean we should expect a blitz of Amtrak marketing announcing the change like SEPTA did with "Jefferson Station?" Not exactly, if the new sign facing Center City is any indication. Brad Maule rides the rails to find out > more

Comcast To Monopolize Office Space In Next Skyscraper

Comcast To Monopolize Office Space In Next Skyscraper

January 22, 2015  |  Morning Blend

David Cohen speaks at Union League, Francophilia in mid-nineteenth century Philadelphia architecture, chaperoned “urbexing” in the old Thaddeus Stevens school, and development delays for one South Philadelphia restaurant > more

Preservation And Contemporary Design For 36th And Walnut

Preservation And Contemporary Design For 36th And Walnut

January 21, 2015  |  Morning Blend

The Ronald O. Perelman Center for Political Science and Economics to open in three years, annual homeless census tonight, Woodford Mansion in need of stewards, and a look the Bicycle Coalition’s goals for 2020 > more

Fearing Demolition, Community Advocates Of Germantown YWCA Call For Emergency Meeting

Fearing Demolition, Community Advocates Of Germantown YWCA Call For Emergency Meeting

January 21, 2015  |  News

A proposal by Mission First Housing Group to reuse the Germantown YWCA for low-income senior housing was officially rejected yesterday by the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority. Amid fears that the building may now be threatened with demolition, local residents will hold a public emergency meeting this Thursday night to air concerns and get more information from the developers and City officials. Hidden City co-editor Michael Bixler has the details > more