Provided by Timothy Youmans, Planning Director and amateur local historian
There is a rich industrial heritage in Winchester. You may know something about the apple industry (the Winchester area was once touted as the "Apple Capital"), but you may not have a good knowledge of Winchester as an early exporter of wheat. Likewise, you may not realize how much early and mid-Twentieth Century industry was downtown in the form of textiles.
Long before commercial apple orchards were set out in the 1870s, the Shenandoah Valley was known as a major wheat exporting area. Grist mills were located throughout the lower valley and included some early mills within the current city limits such as the Hollingsworth Mill constructed near Town Run beside the Abrams Delight Museum. It now serves as the offices of the Winchester-Frederick County Historical Society.
Our area supplied a large amount of grain heading to east coast cities. The introduction of railroads connecting Winchester to Baltimore began in the 1830s with the completion of the Winchester & Potomac Railroad. This would later become the B&O Railroad and now the CSX line. Winchester was also served by the Chesapeake & Ohio RR that served the west side of the city where coal was brought into the city and wooden barrels and crates were shipped out.
The apple industry really took off in the first part of the 20th Century with the construction of the Winchester Cold Storage facility in 1916. In 1918, the National Fruit Product Company (National Fruit) began to produce and market fruit byproducts such as apple sauce and apple juice. The Heinz Company had a large vinegar facility down along the east side of Valley Ave on land now owned by O’Sullivan Company, a major industry that started by making rubber shoe soles and today turns out injection-molded plastic and vinyl products for automobiles. Just across Valley Avenue from the former Heinz facility was the Virginia Apple Storage facility, which along with the ZeroPak facility on N. Cameron Street and the Winchester Cold Storage facility on N. Loudoun Street provided a huge capacity for cold storage of apples.
As mentioned above, textiles were an important part of Winchester’s industrial heritage. While some small woolen mills in the County date back to the late 1700s, the larger woolen mills in the city began in the late 19th Century and really took off with the establishment of the Winchester Woolen Company down along Abrams Creek across Millwood Avenue from Shenandoah University. At one point, this mill ran 24 hours employing about 200 workers making men’s knickers and caps. Notable industrial operations in the downtown area included the Graichen Glove factory on N. Cameron Street. Two of the largest downtown industries were the Virginia Woolen Mill and the Lewis-Jones Knitting Mill situated on either side of the B&O Railroad line between N. Kent Street and East Lane just south of E. Piccadilly Street.
The Virginia Woolen Mill commenced operations in 1901 but suffered a serious fire just three years later. The company quickly rebuilt and expanded many times in the early 1910s supplying blankets and clothing for WWI soldiers. The large weaving shed anchoring the corner of E. Piccadilly Street and N. East Lane reached its full size in 1923. At its peak in 1939, the company had 539 employees and had 120 looms buzzing night and day. The mill starting losing money in the 1950s and when company president H.B. McCormac was killed in an auto accident in 1955, the fate was all but sealed. The mill closed in 1958 and served other uses including a distribution center for American Woodmark until 1988. In 1999 it was demolished to make way for the Timbrook Public Safety Center. The Lewis-Jones Knitting Mill along N. Kent St had turned out underwear for many years before being shut down. Unlike the Virginia Woolen Mill, however, it was preserved after being purchased by Mr. Jim Vickers who undertook an extensive adaptive office reuse of the building as the downtown headquarters for his OakCrest Companies.
Historically, there were many other substantial industrial endeavors in Winchester, too numerous to detail in this podcast. This includes the old Papermill down near the corner of Featherbed Lane and Papermill Road (the road named for the actual papermill facility).
Winchester’s industrial heritage saw a boom in the 1960s when companies like Rubbermaid, Henkel-Harris Furniture, Fleetwood Travel Trailers, and Capitol Records opened operations in the Winchester Industrial Park at the south end of the city. In its heyday, Capitol Records employed 250 workers pressing vinyl records including notable albums such as Abbey Road by the Beatles.