Abandoned Silk Mill in Lonaconing, MD

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The following photos were taken at the Lonaconing Silk Mill, also known as the Klotz Throwing
Company, in Lonaconing, MD (near Frostburg).  I got the opportunity to photograph at the Mill
through involvement in the DC Urban Explorers Meetup group.  The owner, Herb Crawford, allows
access to the Mill in exchange for a fee, which helps with upkeep of the Mill.  He was very nice, and
even gave me a souvenir:  a spool of thread from 1936.

The Mill, the last intact silk mill in the United States, was constructed in 1906 at a cost of
$100,000.  The site was chosen by George Klotz (from New York) due to the availability of a
mainline railroad and plentiful, cheap energy (coal).

In the early years of the Mill, raw silk and Douppinni, an expensive silk that was used in the
production of wedding gowns, were thrown at the Mill.  The throwing process involved the twisting
and winding of silk into a yarn that was then used by knitters and weavers.  Other employees were
involved in the steaming, dying, and stretching of the silk, while others worked in the shipping
department, sending the processed silk to market.

The Great Depression had some impact on the Mill.  Pay had decreased substantially due to
slumping demand for silk products.  At the beginning of World War II, Klotz Throwing Company
found its supply of raw silk disputed due to the United States declaring war with a major supplier:  
Japan.  The Mill briefly closed when the government imposed trade sanctions against all Japanese
imports.  Any remaining raw silk in the Mill was used to produce parachute thread for the service
members.  To compensate for the lack of silk, the Mill converted to rayon, a synthetic silk material
which was cheaper to purchase in bulk and of the same texture.  After the war had ended, raw silk
was once again spun but at a decreased percentage compared to rayon.  In 1946, an additioin was
completed on the Mill to run additional synthetic materials.  By 1950, mill superintendent Wes
Duckworth was worried about the future of the mill.  The Mill featured outdated equipment and was
inefficient compared to newer, modern and automated facilities.  Demand for silk also declined.  Mill
workers requested an increase in wages to bring them up to the nearby textile company's wages as
well as an increase in product price.  Mill owners refused their request, and customers balked at a
potential increase in price.  The workers went on strike, and the Mill was closed on July 7, 1957.

Mr. Crawford, a retired Allegheny County teacher, purchased the property in 1978 when a company
had expressed interest in restarting the Mill's operations.  Crawford sought funding for years to
stabilize the Mill in a bid to preserve the interior for use as a museum, but lack of state initiative and
funding have nixed any proposals.  In 2007, the George's Creek Watershed Association nominated
the Mill for the National Trust for Historic Places.  Mr. Crawford struggles to maintain the Mill, using
meager grants and contributions to keep it afloat.  

It was interesting to see the Mill in its preserved state; it was like traveling back in time to 1957.  
Personal affects, such as shoes and a Pepsi can, still sit where they were left so many years ago.  
Thousands of spools are still linked to the machinery.  It was interesting to take it all in and imagine
the Mill when it was a booming factory.  


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