I had the great pleasure of going on an adventure in western Maryland last weekend. I had read about the Lonanconing Silk Mill and I knew it was going to be a photographer’s dream. A group of photographers, armed with flashlights, multiple lenses and tripods, and dressed in layers of warm clothing, spent six hours there on a day when the outside temperatures were in the 40s. There is no electricity, and therefore no heat or light other than what comes through the windows of this immense building. The silk mill closed in July 1957, and on that day workers walked out, leaving personal belongings, mill records and all the machinery intact. The Lonaconing Silk Mill (originally called the Klotz Throwing Company) is the last intact silk mill in the United States. The mill was responsible for twisting raw silk into thread, and in its early years it created fine silk thread for wedding gowns. Two world wars and a depression caused ups and downs in the economy and in the production at the mill, ultimately leading to a change to rayon in the early 40s. During the depression the mill reorganized as the General Textile Mills Company.
My first impression of the mill was that it must have been a noisy place to work. It was built in 1907, with additions in 1916 and 1946. Much of the equipment was belt-driven and there are rows and rows of metal that a genius must have designed. I have no mind for engineering, so it was unfathomable to me how any of this worked. It didn’t matter, because the shapes, colors, leading lines and odd pieces of personal property were intriguing. Another thing I suspect about this mill is that most of the workers were women. I haven’t read that anywhere, but the personal effects left behind seem to indicate that. Of course, in those days, the management would have been male, and the maintenance of the equipment would have been done by men as well. The third thing that is worth mentioning is that the mill has no signs of mice, bats, or any other kind of animal because there is no food or water source. Windows are broken, perhaps by kids practicing their throwing skills, and paint is chipping off the walls and ceilings. It is interesting to see how a building ages, what changes and what stays intact. Take a look at my images to see what you can learn about the Lonaconing Silk Mill.