New England Weavers' Seminar: 2019 Tour
Tour of Wistariahurst
and Lecture on the Textile Industry in Holyoke, MA
Join us for a visit to Wistariahurst, the historic former estate built in 1874 for William Skinner, in Holyoke, Massachusetts. William Skinner was the owner of a successful silk spinning and textile business. He was born and raised in London and was trained in the silk dying trade. He immigrated to the United States in 1843 and eventually went into business for himself in Haydenville, MA. However, in 1874, Mr. Skinner’s company, The Unquomonk Silk Co. was destroyed when the Mill River Dam gave way. He moved his company to Holyoke after the Holyoke Water Power Company offered him a prime canal site to rebuild his mill. They gave him a mill site rent-free for five years and an entire city block to build his house for one dollar. Not long after moving to Holyoke, the firm began expanding the product line by manufacturing many types of silk braid and cloth.
When his sons joined him, the company was renamed William Skinner and Son’s Silk Manufacturing. Over the 87 years of operation in Holyoke, the company manufactured an array of fabrics from their earliest origins of silk, cotton backed satin, and pure dye taffetas to washable crepes, rayon, Tackle Twill, and Ultra suede. Most popular among their later lines of Skinner materials was their bridal satin remembered today by many brides of the 1940s and 1950s.
This half day tour will depart Smith College at 10:00 a.m. on Thursday, July 11. We will travel via air-conditioned bus to the museum in Holyoke arriving around 10:30. Upon arrival we will take a tour of the Wistariahurst Mansion, an example of elegance and fine architecture since 1874. A box lunch in the gardens will follow and we will have time to explore the grounds of Wistariahurst which encompass three acres of historically-inspired and lovingly restored gardens. We will wrap up our visit by hearing a lecture by Penni Martorell, Holyoke City Historian. The lecture entitled: Skinner Silk and Textile production in Holyoke at the Turn of the 20th Century, will include historic images from inside the Skinner Silk Mill and a discussion of the production of textiles in Holyoke. We also will hope to see garments including Skinner Silk and other period costumes. We should finish up around 2:30 and be back to Smith College around 3:00.