Milton History

a pictorial history of Milton, PA

West Branch Knitting

West Branch Knitting - 104 Center Street at Maple Avenue

This property was along the east side of the railroad tracks, at the southwest corner of Center Street and Maple Avenue. The first two buildings in the foreground have been torn down, but the third still stands.

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Picture above courtesy of the Milton Historical Society. It was taken from the back side of the building looking SE. Zoom in to see more detail.

The following is courtesy of Homer Folk and the Milton Historical Society:

Samuel J. Shimer's addition had one lot suitable for industry. Lot 240 on the corner of Center Street and Maple Avenue was sold to Milton Knitting Company in 1888 for $3500. The company was incorporated October 3, 1888 for the purpose of manufacturing and selling knit goods and other textile fabrics. They erected the building on Center Street in 1888 and the second (middle) building around 1890. Samuel J. Shimer was a major shareholder and also a director. His venture into the textile business did not have the success that he found in metal products. Financial problems may have forced them to sell the company at a loss in 1892 to West Branch Hosiery Company.

Incorporated May 31, 1893, West Branch Hosiery Company was under the leadership of Solomon Silverman, of Williamsport, Pennsylvania. This company also had a short industrial life. By 1904 they had been assigned to a receiver. The modern factory building they erected during their ownership may have been a financial burden. During the receivership, Milton Spinning Company and Milton Weaving Company may have leased floor space in some of the buildings. It is confirmed that

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during West Branch Hosiery Company's ownership, they moved into the new (middle) building and leased the Center Street building to Reid Tobacco Company, who occupied the building until they moved into their new warehouse and jobbing house on Hepburn Street at Railroad Avenue.

In 1905 businessmen from Lock Haven, Williamsport, Philadelphia and Milton formed a company and were Incorporated December 12, 1905 as West Branch Knitting Company for the purpose of spinning and manufacturing cotton, wool and other thread and yarn, to be used in the weaving and manufacture of cotton and wool hosiery and other textile goods and fabrics, and for the manufacture of all kinds of silk and woolen knitted goods. The major shareholders were Edward Hecht, Lock Haven, and John Knoell, Philadelphia. In 1906 they occupied the three buildings shown in the photograph. Under the leadership of Edward Hecht, West Branch Knitting Company became one of Milton's leading industries.

On January 6, 1916 Edward Hecht and John Knoell became sole owners of West branch knitting Company. They reorganized the entire plant, installed new machinery, added new facilities to make their plant one of the most modern knitting mills in the state. A new dye house was added and with other improvements, the production of the hosiery department exceeded 1000 dozen pairs per day. West Branch Knitting Company's quality hose for men and women were made from Japan silk, fiber silk and fine lisle yarns. They claimed none better anywhere.

West branch knitting also manufactured the famous Twintex Underwear for men and boys, sold all over the United States and in many foreign countries. Comfortable long underwear found ready markets. Produced from the best cotton yarns in mesh fabrics and in balbriggans, it was ideal for summer wear.

After the reorganization in 1916, Edward Hecht was president, and John Knoell, treasurer. Eugene Hecht, son of Edward was a superintendent. Marvin E. Cheston was also a superintendent.

Jacqueline Hecht White, daughter of Eugene and granddaughter of Edward, remembers going to the factory as a child and watching the machines working. Her knowledge of the mill is best told in her words:

“In 1917 through World War I, the mill made men's underwear, called “long johns”. Sometime after the war's end, possibly in the early 1920s, they retooled the machines and switched over to women's hosiery. Men's hosiery may have been made also. I remember only women's. In those days, women's stockings were of rayon or lisle. When silk stockings were first manufactured, they were too expensive for the general market. The hosiery made at West Branch Knitting was seamless, made on tubular machines. Eventually, full fashioned silk stockings made in flat pieces and seamed up the back commanded the market. My grandfather evidently felt it would not be cost efficient to change the machinery again or buy new. The operation was shut down in the early 1930s. Of course, as we all know, seamless stockings came back into vogue a couple of decades later.”

West branch knitting Company sold the complex to Milton Hosiery Mills in 1938. They manufactured hosiery in the south building until the 1960s. By that time the value of the buildings for textile manufacturing had come to an end. An era had passed. By May, 1991, the two buildings closest to Center Street were not safe for occupancy. They have been razed and the south building is still in use.