history of Olney

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From four typewritten pages found at the librarian's desk at the Greater Olney branch of the Free Library of Philadelphia, 2002.02.19.

Whitaker Mills. One business that was associated with Olney history for many years was Whitaker Mills. This mill was started in America in the early 1800s and for many years (through the 1960s) was the oldest family business in the United States operating in some of the original buildings. Henry Whitaker purchased a piece of land on the peaceful Tacony Creek. A dam was built to supply water power. Stone was quarried out of the stream bank, local timber was used for the construction, and Whitaker was in business. The mill produced ticking and other heavy cotton cloth through all stages of the industrial revolution here--first by hand, then water power, then by steam, then by electricity. During the Civil War, the mill turned out blankets for the Union Army. For more than a century before World War II the staple product was common bluestriped mattress ticking. When the war began, the company began to make duck and canvas for the Armed Forces. However, when the war ended, the Whitakers had lost their ticking customers. A big asset during a difficult period was the ample supply of skilled workers in the community, experienced weavers and spinners. Another asset was the firm's size--it was small enough to produce a large variety of custom-made fabrics in relatively small quantities.

The Whitaker Mill maintained houses for some of its workers across the road from the mill. One outside pump supplied the water for these 18 houses. There was a covered bridge over Tacony Creek. People skated on the creek in winter and swam in it in the summer. The mill itself burnt down during the 1970s, but the houses still remain and are still occupied, although Fairmount Park now owns them.




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