Interview with Richard F. Rowe, 1968 July 9 [audio](part 2)

Hagley ID:
  • Working with water power at the woolen mill; turning on the machines at the wool mill; generating hydroelectric power at the woolen mill; identifying Hagley buildings from old photographs
    Keywords: electrical power; Hagley Yard; hydroelectric power; Murphy's Meadow; water power; water turbines; water wheels; World War (1914-1918)
    Transcript: Rowe: I was up there shooting off about different things you know, and it seems a shame it should be dug up...

    Wilkinson: We have done some excavating in other mills and we have taken out a turbine and put it on display in the museum building which you may have noticed alongside of a water wheel display, right beyond it we have put in this full size turbine that was in the yard at one time. So this is to explain a little of the evolution of the kinds of power- where did the mills get their power from. There's ample archaeological work to be done around there still. You had some more questions on that too?

    Rowe: I was telling her as you walk in the front door, I could take just about maybe five steps- well it would be over- has the wheel been taken out of there?

    Wilkinson: Yes. When we built the museum we braced the walls and we took out everything inside, just the bare four walls were left standing. Nothing of the old mill operation remains.

    Rowe: No, because I remember you used to walk down and it was just like a dungeon. It was a part cellar in there, you know? And I remember there used to be these little red salamanders, like little lizards used to be down in there and we used to catch them, put them in a can and scare the girls with them, you know? It was like a dungeon down there.

    Wilkinson: Did they swim around in this turbine pit?

    Rowe: They seemed to be sort of a land lizard, but they were red, you know. I think they called them salamanders- whatever. But I was telling her how when you turned the mill on everything was run by leather belting. Now the gears- every Saturday I had to go down and pack them all with grease and that seemed to run it for a week. Now after that it threw half the grease off- whatever. On the wheel we used o have a sign there "A man is down on the wheel." But if you turned that wheel on full speed ahead right off the bat it would knock every belt off in that place.

    Wilkinson: You had to do it very gradually.

    Rowe: I can remember there was a shaft that went on down with a cog wheel on the floor with a dog on it. You loosened the dog, and you turned it very gingerly until you saw the belts shake. As soon as it shook you cut if off again because that meant it was getting ready to start. See, what you were doing was opening a flume. Then you'd start it again very gingerly and just as soon as you saw the wheel starting to move you'd let it drift along, a penny's worth at a time, and ease it in. You stood by the speed and first one girl would turn on her machine, then another one would turn hers on and you'd have to give it a little more. After a while all the machines were on and you had this on full force. If everybody would shut their machines off at one time the thing would run away with itself, so when a few machines would shut down for some reason you had to go back and slacken off on the speed.

    Wilkinson: What horse power did it generate, do you have any recollection?

    Rowe: I wouldn't know anything about that, but I do remember that in the fall of the year we used to work until 5:00 and you know how it starts to get dusk? Over on the side there was an electrical apparatus which was direct current and all the electric run off of this water wheel with a generator. I used to have to stand over there, and there was a knob with a handle and just like the old Model T Ford. When you tramped on the low gear the lights used to light up, and when you hit the high gear you almost had to strike a match, well these lights were the same way. You had to stand there...well, maybe they shut four machines down at one time. This operation was called doffing, and that was to take the full bobbins off and set them aside on a spindle and put empty ones on. If they shut four machines down at once to doff then the hand used to go up and all the lights got real bright. You had to watch that because they only stood so much or it blew something out. That was my job, to watch the rheostat. Of course, when they started on the thing again everything would go dull and you had to give it a little extra twist. This was right before I was 15, because I went to my trade in September.

    [Mrs. Pizor questioned Mr. Rowe about the fact that all the buildings which were in the pictures located where our parking lot is now would have been torn down by 1923 and Mr. Rowe confirmed it. Dr. Wilkinson asked if there was a building known as the storehouse.]

    Rowe: All of this building here, whatever it was, was down looking at a picture because right here, this is where the girls' toilet was; it was an outside toilet. The boys' toilet was around on the other side. As I understand it, these toilets were not built for the woolen mill, but the old powder mill because they also had women working in the powder yard during the first World War. They used to work up in Murphy's Meadow. Right above the iron bridge there used to be another bridge, and it was a suspension bridge. I suppose maybe the old piers are still around today. That's in the Upper Yard. Anyway, they were across on the other side, and I don't know what their function was. I think it's a Boy Scout camp there now, but there was a great big round thing over there which had bins in it. That thing must have been about 30 ft. in diameter. I guess these bins were revolved by hand, and I think the girls used to pack something.

    Wilkinson: It was a powder packing operation. There was something called a pellet press line where they stamp powder into pieces about the length of your finger, a little thicker, with a hole right down the middle. I'm not sure they were on the other side of the creek or the yard side of the creek.

    Rowe: I remember one old gal who lived in this end house here, old Bess Dock, Miss Dougherty was her name, but we called her Bess Dock, and I remember Mame Fleming worked there also. I remember they wore khaki bloomers and long black stockings; they also wore khaki middy blouses. I'm making a guess at this, but I know this stuff- the pictures? Had to exist before 1900. I can't remember any of these buildings, just the little annex. I remember the brick rubble pile, that's all.

    Pizor: Were these additions to the Museum building, the frame structures on the front and sides, were they still here when you worked here?

    Rowe: This was here and the steps that went up to the second floor. Right inside of this addition was where they weighed the wool and we packed the yarn. It was put into boxes, and you put paper in the boxes first, and the yarn was weighed on a scale. There was only a couple of boxes shipped out about twice a week. This was more or less a little shipping room.

    Wilkinson: Do you remember how long Hodgson stayed in that building?

    Rowe: I can't remember how long Hodgson was in the business; it didn't seem like it was too long. Maybe about a half dozen years at the most.

    Wilkinson: Was it vacant in the depression years, during the 1930s?

    Rowe: I think the thing laid idle. I used to go through that Yard a lot, just to walk and it was never used for anything and I can remember one time I went up with Ed Sharpley and we went inside and they had partitioned the first floor or something.
  • Childhood interactions with members of the extended du Pont family; swimming in Squirrel Run; location of an old powder mill door
    Keywords: "Motsie" Copeland; Christ Church; Daddy Keyes' Hill; Flea Park; Free Park; Hagley Yard; Powder mills; Squirrel Run
    Transcript: Wilkinson: Did you ever hear what it was used for in World War II? Anything about packing parachutes?

    Rowe: I don't know anything about that. If they did it was a quiet operation.

    Pizor: When you were working here in 1923 was anything else going on here in the mills or was everything else quiet?

    Rowe: That was the only operation there was around. The Hall of Records was the only other thing and Lindsay Whiteman was there for years. Lindsay's dead now. It was like Hodgson's Mills, then the next part was Bancroft's- where you could always seem to get a job, you never got any money, but you always got a job.

    Wilkinson: Mrs. Copeland came to own the Hagley Yard after the powder mills closed down. Maybe not right away, but sometime in the late 1920's. I think she had in mind to just hold on to it as du Pont property and beautify it with some landscaping and trees and shrubs. You weren't there at any time that was going on, were you?

    Rowe: Yes, I remember Mrs. Copeland used to love to walk through the other side of the creek for some reason or another. I can remember it was in cherry season, and a bunch of us kids were over there with this cherry tree all bent over, and we didn't know she was around. Pretty soon she walked up on us and it was just like coming upon the devil out in the middle of the desert. She was explaining to us that we should not break any branches and she would be very glad to plant a cherry tree for each one of us in our homes. Of course, we'd all be about 50 years old before we'd get any cherries. Here's something else I just remembered. This is about Motsie Copeland. Well, when he was a young guy he had an old .45 automatic pistol and he used to come up through the Yard. There used to be a few little pussy cats around that the girls would feed with their scraps of food, and I remember he shot one of the pussy cats, and the girls were ready to shoot him. I remember he had this old .45, and around back was the guys' lavatory. I don't know where we got the bottles and tin cans but I went across the race and lined them up on the other side and I don't know if you've ever shot a .45, but they are the most inaccurate guns the United States ever had, but he was pretty good. I can remember how provoked the girls were at him for shooting the little pussy cat.

    Wilkinson: Did you have any contacts in the Upper Yard? What became of the Crowninshield property about the same time - 1923?

    Rowe: No, but we have quite a few pictures of when they put in this old Roman garden, or whatever it was. We must have 25 or 30 pictures of that thing. I'll get them together and bring them over to you.

    Wilkinson: As a young woman Mrs. Crowninshield had a class of younger women and taught them how to sew. In later years it was sort of a yearly reunion to come and have tea with Mrs. Crowninshield periodically. It seemed to be mostly the women from the Squirrel Run area and around Christ Church who were involved.

    Rowe: My mother wasn't involved in that and I don't know anything about it. I do know that once a year they gave a big picnic up there where Hallock du Pont's house is sitting right now. That was quite a function.

    Wilkinson: What did you call that place, when you were a boy?

    Rowe: The old picnic grounds was about all we knew it as. Miss Mary's woods was on the right, and when you went in to the picnic ground you passed the old shaving pile. The old shaving pile was shavings from the old DuPont works and they used to catch on fire once in a while, spontaneous combustion, and right where Hallock's gate is now, right in back of that was where the old shaving pile was kept.

    Wilkinson: Did you ever hear it called Daddy Keyes Hill?

    Rowe: Keyes, yeah, that does something there; I don't know. It was actually the old tin can dump. That's where all the tin cans in Squirrel Run were dumped; no garbage.

    Wilkinson: Did you swim in Sandy Bottom?

    Rowe: Oh yes.

    Wilkinson: We interviewed Bess Beacom, and Ed Cheney is another, and two or three others who lived up there and we've got a pretty good picture of life up there.

    Rowe: There was another, old Ed Cheney, he had one arm...

    Wilkinson: That was the father, didn't he become the sextant of Christ Church? He was the father of the man we interviewed.

    Rowe: Well that old section was called Flea or Free- Flea Park, that's what they called it up there.

    Wilkinson: It started out as Free F-R-E-E and after several years of raising pigs and chickens they changed it into Flea Park or so we've been told.

    Rowe: Oh, and there was another incident about Christ Church. When they were building Christ Church, one of the stonemasons on the job was drunk and had his bottle with him. Anyhow, the foreman came along, and the stonemason didn't know what to do with his bottle, so he laid it down and covered it over with cement and was going to wait until the foreman left. But, for some reason the foreman stayed right beside him, and the stonemason had to proceed with his work. Some place in the walls of Christ Church there's a bottle of whiskey buried in the walls.

    Wilkinson: We heard it was one of the du Ponts who was opposed to hard liquor who came and stood behind him.

    Pizor: Do you recall who were the wreckers for a lot of the mills?

    Rowe: No, I don't, but that's when old Motsy came into this thing. He was the guy who pulled out all of those wheels. That was just a damn shame. I don't exactly know when it was, but I guess around World War II. That should never have been done. I know there is one pair of wheels left standing in one of the mills. They should recast some in concrete or other. Many a time I've said I wish they'd put in some animated characters up there or even some in wax, like at Disneyland.

    Wilkinson: You know the building in the middle of the yard which was known as the Machine Shop. Right at the foot of the hill where Sharpley lived? We converted that into an Exhibit Building in which we have working animated models of all of the steps of powder making right from the refining of raw materials to the packing and storing of the magazine.

    Rowe: I mean life-size figures; like at the Birkenhead, where you have that wheel turning. Some of those old mills down in the lower yard used to run and a roller mill, you know that great big iron cog wheel going around, my god, it had an ominous sound. It seemed like it would grind hard and then coast for a little bit. Then grind hard and I never heard the one sup in the upper yard, but I went if you were on the other side of the crick they had an ominous sound to them, too. It seemed like it would push a...

    Wilkinson: They were supposed to ride above the bed plate a distance roughly the size of a hide of leather, a fraction of an inch. I suppose at times they got out of alignment and must have rubbed the bed plate.

    Rowe: Well this was the gears underneath and I often wondered where the sound came from now, as I've gotten older because they should have been well greased. I can still hear that old sound.

    Wilkinson: They had heavy wheels up above them to turn them.

    Rowe: They would have almost been silent I suppose... You know, at one time on each one of the doors it used to have the rules and I had a set of them at one time. Was it 250 pounds of powder to a run or something? This here old door I told you about was up on the hill. Some Sunday I'm going to walk down in there and I bet them old hinges are still in there.

    Wilkinson: Wear your high boots, there's poison ivy in there.

    Rowe: No, now you would come in as you come over McConell Bridge you'd turn left and go up to the top of the hill, well then you would go down into the woods there and that would lead you down.

    Wilkinson: You mean up from Walker's Mill.

    Rowe: I don't think anyone's moved it or known it was there.

    Wilkinson: We're always on the lookout for any pieces of old equipment that in anyway tie in with the operations.

    Rowe: I've got an old ax, Leo has it now. We've always called it a willow ax. I don't know if it was used for stripping willow or what. It has an old odd handle, sort of curved.

    Wilkinson talked about getting in touch with Mr. Rowe's two brothers and seeing if they could add anything to this information.
  • Fun and leisure; religious life; catching an escaped pony; associations with the du Pont family
    Keywords: antique furniture; du Pont family; honey hunts; jokes; leisure; pranks
    Transcript: Rowe: Yes, it might jog their memories. We've got some data on Grandpop that you asked me about. Did you ever hear about the old honey hunts they used to have down there years ago? Old Simon Dorman who ran the store; Simon looked something like Abraham Lincoln, well, he was supposed to be the magistrate. How the whole thing would start - somebody would ask a stranger, "Do you like honey?" Most everybody likes honey. They'd say they knew where a big tree was and could get all one wanted for nothing. So right away the fellow would want to get some. What they'd do would try to get a young fireman or someone who had just gotten onto the police force or somebody who had the kind of a job who shouldn't be out swiping stuff.

    Anyway, they would take the guy out over the hill and they used to have a little light ladder they'd carry with them. Of course, the guy who was going out after the honey doesn't know where he's going. But beforehand, there would be several fellows who would go out to the tree with their shotguns and be waiting. So they go out to this tree and put the ladder up, and the fellow taking the other fellow out to get the honey will go up the ladder first. He'd have a little bottle of syrup and pour a little it down over you when you were following him up the ladder. He'd say he found some honey, but would have to strike a match to see better. When he struck a match that was the signal for all the other guys who were hiding in another tree to shoot up in the air and they were supposed to be the farmers. Of course, you got killed. You fell on the ground, and the other guy is in strange territory and doesn't know what to do.

    Well, we capture him and take him down to Simon, that's where the magistrate comes in. Simon could look across at you and keep a straight face. The guy's trying to explain he didn't know he was stealing honey; of course, he has syrup all over him. Then Simon would ask about the friend and this fellow would have to say he got killed. Simon would ask what kind of work he did, hoping he was on the police or fire force. You mean to tell me you're out stealing this farmer's honey? Course the guy, he'd get smaller by the minute. That was the old honey hunts. Course it would take a couple of hours. People used to come form in town if they knew we were going to have a honey hunt, just for the trial. Simon would say "I don't know if I can hold this crowd back." Of course, they weren't doing anything. "I don't know if i can hold this crowd back any longer, I think they're going to lynch you."

    Wilkinson: We've heard that in one of the saloons there was a Protestant bar and a Catholic bar. Did you ever hear of it? How was the religious spirit on the creek?

    Rowe: They got along fine. If there was something going on like a play up at Christ Church everybody would go there and if there was something at St. Joseph's everybody would go there. I never saw any sense of animosity. There was never any trouble.

    Wilkinson: Was the Lawless place on the top of the hill operating then?

    Rowe: Tommy Lawless' place? The saloon? I can remember it. It was right on the corner there because it had an iron bar. I could draw you a picture of his bar with a big looking glass in back of it, but I can't remember it being in operation. I must have remembered it being in operation because we went to school right there. Pop and Tommy Lawless were very good friends. He was the father of Father Lawless and Martina "Teenie" Lawless, who is still living, and Gussie. Of course Father Lawless just died. I remember one time Les Mathewson's brother, Walker Mathewson had bought a pony for his kids and it got away. It was right before Sunday School took us in, and we kids all went to Sunday School in those days. We kids are chasing and trying to get him. I remember Father Lawless caught the pony. Pretty soon up comes Walker and he gives us kids the devil for chasing for pony. So after he gets all done, of course, Father Lawless gave him the pony. When he started to walk away Father Lawless said, "Hey, thanks for catching the pony." He had never even thanked the Father for catching the pony. "Oh," he says, "thank you Father."

    Wilkinson: In addition to your brother, can you think of any other persons we could benefit by in having an interview with?

    Rowe: I can't think of anyone. Most of the old timers are gone. The ones who were right in the middle of things. I'm just sorry I couldn't be of more help.

    [Dr. Wilkinson informed Mr. Rowe that he had just finished an interview with Mr. Les Mathewson and there was a little discussion about that and then Mr. Rowe continued the talk with...]

    Rowe: Well, Les is the biggest liar. I worked for Les one time. Let's see, Les is about 73. Les' father and Alfred I. were friends. The first time I ever met Victor du Pont was years ago and I was working for Mrs. Simpson Dean for a while. That was in between some trades again in the summertime. I was cutting some grass. Anyway, we were to go up and get a table for Mrs. Dean and it was up at Vic's place. Well, we pulled up at his place and I guess he must have raised pigs for a hobby or something. Well, these two men were sitting on a fence and Les says to me, "Which one of them two is Vic?" I said, "Neither of them." He said, "Yes, the one on this side." So he took me down and introduced me to him. This was up around Guyencourt somewhere. That was an old antique table and we brought it back with us. I thought, was that the right table? They told us to wrap it up and not to scratch it. When I got back with it I asked Mrs. Dean if it was the right table and she said, "Yes, isn't it lovely?" I said, "I wouldn't take it home." I said, "It's bent in the middle." "Oh," she said, "we're going to have it taken somewhere and have it steamed." "I don't mind telling you the price of this table," she said, "it's $4,000." I said, "I wouldn't give you $1.47 for it." I didn't have any close association with any of the du Ponts. Every Christmas, S. Hallock du Pont's mother would have a Christmas party for us, and we'd go over to her house, and she'd have a big tree and ice cream and some toys to bring home. It was very nice. That's when Mr. Maxwell was her chauffeur.

    Wilkinson: Were you made to feel that these people were superior?

    Rowe: No, I don't think so. The old timers used to say it was the du Ponts and Jesus Christ in that order, but I don't think it really was so. There was no sense of superiority.

Digitized material in this online archive may document imagery or language that reflects racist, ableist, sexist, homophobic, or otherwise offensive and harmful beliefs and actions in history. Hagley Library is engaged in ongoing efforts to address and responsibly present evidence of oppression and injustice in our collections. If you are concerned about the archival material presented here, or want to learn more about our ongoing work, please contact us at