J.S. O'Connor American Rich Cut Glassware Factory, Hawley Pennsylvania

Date added: July 21, 2022 Categories: Pennsylvania Industrial Hotel
Front and side of building (2004)

The J. S. O'Connor American Rich Cut Glassware Factory was one of the first factories to be built in Hawley, and one of the last to cease operations. Five enterprises have been housed in this building: the J. S. O'Connor American Rich Cut Glassware Factory (1890 - 1902); the Maple City Cut Class Company, T. B. Clark (1902 - 1918); H. W. Kimble & Company, Commission Silk Throwsters (1918 - 1943); the Arrow Throwing Mill (1943 - 1987); and the Country Inn (1987 - ).

"Early in 1890, J. S. O'Connor erected a handsome and substantial native bluestone glass factory at the foot of the Wallenpaupack Falls. The building was 60 x 200, three stories high and contained about 200 frames, giving employment to more than two hundred men and boys. This was the beginning of the glass cutting business in Hawley and led to the erection of many other plants later on, including the Keystone Cut Glass Company and the Wagnum Cut Glass Company." This excerpt from The History of Hawley by M. J. McAndrew (even though the dimensions are incorrect) clearly illustrates the J.S. O'Connor Rich Cut Glassware Factory's significance in local industry at its construction, a significance it was to retain throughout its life as a factory. Barbe and Reed in The Glass Industry in Wayne County call it "one of the most extensive glass cutting factories in America". They continue, "referred to by experts in the field as the 'perfect glass cutting shop', this factory produced some of the most beautiful cut glass made in America" (this cut on locally produced glass, blanks from the Dorflinger factor in White Mills, Wayne County, PA, as befitted the long association and close relationship between J. S. O'Connor and Dorflinger's founder, Christian Dorflinger). In 1902, T. B. Clark purchased the building from Mr. O'Connor and moved his Maple City Cut Glass Company here (from Industry Point in Honesdale, PA). Under its new ownership the factory issued ten illustrated catalogs full of fine examples of "Brilliant Cut" pieces. When H. W. Kimble moved the H. W. Kimble Silk Company into this factory building, the work performed changed from glass cutting to silk throwing, but the industry leading standards of workmanship and product continued in this new enterprise. Mr. Kimble, who was General Manager of the company had "devoted his entire life to the silk industry, having entered the business at an early age with Dexter, Lambert & Company (Hawley, PA), and today is considered by those in the industry one of its leading factors" (McAndrew's History of Hawley). Last in the line of factory owners, Vacca & Sons operated the Arrow Throwing Mill in the J. S. O'Connor Factory building. The Vacca business was "the last remnant of the silk industry in Hawley and one of the few remaining throwing mills of its type in operation in the northeastern sector of the United States" (Morgan's History of Hawley). In an interview with Mr. Daniel Vacca (one of the 'sons') he spoke fondly of his memories of the factory. Of all his experiences here, Mr. Vacca seemed most proud, not only of the service that The Arrow Throwing Mill was able to provide to the war effort during WW II as a major supplier of yarn for Emblems and Insignias and nylon cord for parachutes, but perhaps more so, that it was through the dedication of his employees that the company was able to provide that service. The Vaccas continued to operate the mill here until 1987, keeping alive the tradition of the silk industry in Wayne County and helping to ease the transition from an industry based economy to one based mainly on tourism.

Built by J. S. O'Connor, the "magnificent plant" reflected its owner's knowledge of and dedication to the glass cutting industry. Again, Barbe and Reed, "There is no question but that John S. O'Connor was one of the finest glasscutters in the country". "Glass cut by him took by him took the prize at the Paris Exposition. Through his genius and untiring energy glass-cutting reached the high art of the present day. He invented the feeding-up machine, the hardwood polisher, and various other appliances and devices now considered indispensable in the making of cut glass. He revolutionized glass cutting when he brought out his patent Parisian design." (Centennial and Illustrated Wayne County, 1902) "His Parisian pattern was the first cut glass design to use a circular cut, and for this he had designed special cutting wheels; previous to O'Connor's invention, all glass patterns were engraved in a straight line. O'Connor invented a vacuum device which sucked the ground glass, which had previously been inhaled by glass cutters, thus greatly lowering the mortality rate in this trade." (Christian Revi, American Cut and Engraved Glass) In addition to his Parisian design, he invented three other designs, the Rattan, the Florentine, and the Princess. An example of the high esteem in which O'Connor's product was held is that "in 1893 O'Connor had supplied the White House with a full service of elaborate glass" (Barbe & Reed). Mr. O'Connor retired in 1902, and his son, Arthur, moved all factory operations to their plant in Goshen, NY.

T. B. Clark then purchased the J.S. O'Connor factory building and moved his Maple City Cut Glass Company into it. Although he was proprietor of T. B. Clark & Company, as well as the Maple City Glass Company (which he had established in Honesdale in 1898), "apparently T. B. Clark perceived some advantage in keeping the two operations separate, for every effort was made to, if not hide, at least minimize any news of the connection between the two companies" (Barbe & Reed). Between the two companies, he was second only to Dorflinger in the production of cut glass in the area. According to Revi, "their wares rank with the best cut glass ever produced in this country". T. B. Clark patented three designs, the Quatrefoil Rosette (also called the Waldorf), 1899; the Lapidary Center, 1900; and the Rosette (also called the Prima Donna), 1909. Barbe and Reed tell us that the Maple City operation was moved into the T.B. Clark factory in Honesdale, but they do not explain why.

After Clark had moved his Maple City Cut Glass Company back to Honesdale, H. W. Kimble moved the H. W. Kimble Silk Company into the J. S. O'Connor factory building as the expansion of his business had forced Mr. Kimble to find larger quarters for it. H. W. Kimble started H. W. Kimble & Company in Hawley in 1900. "A 300 spindle mill at first, the firm operated mills at Middletown, New York, Phoenixville, Moscow, and Scranton, Pennsylvania, aggregating 50,000 spindles, most of which were sold in 1919" (McAndrew's History of Hawley). Mr. Kimble then focused his considerable talent and energy on the H. W. Kimble Silk Company located here in the J. S. O'Connor factory until selling out to Vacca & Sons (who, as many of the people involved in the silk industry in Hawley, came to the region from Patterson, NJ, where they had previously owned a silk mill).

Vacca & Sons operated the Arrow Throwing Mills in the J. S. O'Connor factory building until closing operations, and selling the building in 1987. In an interview conducted with Mr. Daniel Enterprise Vacca (the one remaining son of "Vacca and Sons") on December 21, 2003, Mr. Vacca said that the Arrow Throwing Company employed about 80-100 people (he estimated that H. W. Kimble would have employed about that same number). Mr. Vacca stated that the plant ran 7 days a week for the duration of World War II, but that "no one cancelled, everybody worked, they all knew what it meant". He also related this story about their work during the war years: "One day I received a phone call. The caller asked me if I could do an impossible necessary thing for the war effort. I asked what that might be. He requested an amount of yarn to be spun and dyed in two days time that did indeed seem impossible, but I said that the people here in Hawley would do their very best to fulfill this request. I was told that it was not possible that I be told the reason for the request at that time, but that I would know it later. Two days later the truck arrived and we loaded the complete shipment and sent it on its way. Later I was told how our shipment of yarn was used. When General Macarthur was preparing to go back into the Philippines, a major concern was the infiltration of Allied lines by Japanese soldiers pretending to be Filipinos. The yarn had been used to make armbands that were issued to all Allied soldiers, both American and Filipino, for easy identification during battle." Well into his nineties, Mr. Vacca still maintained an office in Hawley and was often consulted for his expertise in the manufacture of silk, nylon, and rayon.

Glassmakers were first attracted to the Wayne County in the early 1800's because of the ready availability of vast quantities of hardwood to serve as fuel and the large deposits of sand in the county's more than 100 lakes (Barbe and Reed, The Glass Industry in Wayne County). The first glass factory was established in Rockville (in what is now Pike County) in 1807, with windowpanes the major product. Finding the Rockville area too remote; the principles involved decided to move the factory to Bethany, the new county seat. In the 1820, the US Census of Manufacturers reported thirty employees and listed the market value of the factory's annual output at $20,000.00; again with windowpanes being the major product. The Bethany Glassworks continued to operate until 1848. The next venture was in Traceyville, beginning in 1846. Quality windowpanes continued to be the primary product, but jars and bottles were also produced. By 1876, annual production amounted to $100,000.00, giving employment to 100. The glass industry in Wayne County grew steadily following the establishment of Christian Dorflinger's plant in White Mills in 1865, where J. S. O'Connor headed the cutting shop for over 25 years before inheriting the capital in 1890 to build his own cutting shop. "This (the J. S, O'Connor American Rich Cut Glassware Factory) was the beginning of the glass cutting business in Hawley and led to the erection of many other plants later on, including the Keystone Cut Glass Company and the Wangum Cut Glass Company." (McAndrew's History of Hawley) The timing was opportune, since in 1885 many Hawley residents working for the Pennsylvania Coal Company were thrown out of work as the coal company's new railroad effectively bypassed Hawley; many were able to find work in "the mills (both glass and silk) that were now taking on new importance for Hawley's economic vitality." (Wayne Independent, Wayne County Bicentennial Issue, September 1998). Windowpanes and utilitarian jars and bottles were still produced, but the majority of these new shops were producing cut glass, cutting on blanks from the Dorflinger factory. Both the O'Connor and Maple City Glassworks figured prominently in this glass industry, the Independent of July 19, 1900, calling them "two of our largest cutting shops" (O'Connor employed 150 - 200 men, the Maple City operation 100 - 120). In addition to supplying glass to the White House in 1893, "two hundred wine glasses were ordered from the O'Connor factory to be sent to St. Petersburg, the capital city of the Czar" (Barbe & Reed). They (Barbe & Reed) also credit T. B. Clark with a full shipment of tableware to President Harrison.

As these orders demonstrate, both of these glassworks housed in the J. S. O'Connor building were highly regarded as producers of "brilliant" cut glass of the finest quality. Additionally, Barbe & Reed note, "in an industry where the life expectancy of a new company was alarmingly short, it is noteworthy that these factories survived for more than a decade". "In 1918, an industrial survey showed 467 persons employed in the glass industry, turning out products valued at $862,000.00" (Wayne Independent, Wayne County Bicentennial Issue, September 1998). However; most of the glass shops in Hawley were closed by the early 1920's, their demise being due to a combination of reasons: labor troubles, passage of the Eighteenth Amendment meant that few wine and table services (formerly an important factor) would be ordered, WW I interrupted shipping from Germany cutting off needed supplies, and cheaper "pressed" glass with minimal cutting was flooding the market, all of these leading also to the demise of the Dorflinger plant, which eliminated their source of high-quality blanks. It was then left to the silk mills to carry "Hawley's economic vitality" forward.

The silk industry came to this area a little later in the nineteenth century. In 1881, Catholina Lambert built the first silk mill in the area to take advantage of a labor force in an area without unions. The Hawley mill was so profitable; Lambert built a second mill in Honesdale, PA. By the 1890's, other large mill owners followed his example; as these "annexes" multiplied, Paterson, NJ (once the center of operations for most big silk manufacturers) lost many jobs and Pennsylvania became a major competitor in silk. In 1927 McAndrew wrote in his History of Hawley, "Among the industries of today at Hawley silk probably takes the lead" (having overtaken glass cutting a little after the turn of the century). He goes on to list 12 silk mills then operating in Hawley; H. W. Kimble (operating in the J. S, O'Connor Factory building) being one of the top three, along with the J. C. Welwood Company, then operating in the Lambert mill, and the Lambert Silk Company, which had moved its operation to another site. But "as elsewhere in this country, the clothes bearing the label 'Made in the USA' have largely been traded for garments weaved and sewn in foreign countries" (Wayne Independent, Wayne County Bicentennial Issue, September 1998 explaining the demise of the textile mills in the area); by the time of Morgan's History of Hawley in 1977, the Arrow Throwing Company operating in the J. S. O'Connor factory was the "last remnant of the silk industry in Hawley."

Many of these now closed, and, sadly, mostly demolished factories were also made of native stone in much the same style as the J. S. O'Connor Rich Cut Glassware Factory - and one other such surviving factory building, the Lambert Silk Mill. This is the mill mentioned in the last paragraph, built in 1881 by Catholina Lambert and named the Bellemonte Silk Mill in honor of his wife, Isabel (Shattuck) Lambert. Now housing The Castle Antiques & Reproductions, it is larger than the O'Connor building, containing 70,000 square feet of floor space and 176 windows (it is locally considered to be the largest bluestone building in the world). It is like the O'Connor building, however, in that the exterior remains basically unchanged while the interior has been altered extensively to accommodate multiple re-uses. These two magnificent buildings stand on their respective bluffs overlooking the Wallenpaupack Creek as reminders of the thriving glass cutting and silk mills that once drove the industry in Hawley and most of Wayne County.