Endangered 2011: Lonaconing Silk Mill

There is not a place more worth saving than that of which has historic value and remains intact from the time of its importance than this silk mill.

There is not a place more worth saving than that of which has historic value and remains completely intact from the time of its importance.

The Lonaconing Silk Mill, owned by the Klotz Throwing Company for much of its life, is considered the last intact silk mill in the United States that has never been modernized. Located in Lonaconing, Maryland, the mill lies within the National Lonaconing Historic District, and was nominated to the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s list of America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places.

Completed in April 1907, the mill was a fixture in the early industrial town for fifty years. Throughout its turbulent history, the mill found itself facing unionization, the Great Depression and World War II – during which time the supply of raw silk, imported from Japan, was all but cut off. After switching to synthetic rayon, the Lonaconing Silk Mill prospered but only for a short duration. A lack of modern machinery and the threat of a strike forced the plant to consider closure. When workers balked at the lack of a pay increase and walked out, the mill shut its doors for good.

On June 18, Abandoned organized a meet-and-greet with other historians and photographers in mountainous western Maryland. Twelve people showed up, and we were given access to photograph the Lonaconing Silk Mill, coming away impressed that for over 50 years that the mill has remained standing – vandalism free and in a condition that is all but unseen in abandonments. Paperwork dating to the 1940s lay scattered on a work desk, while Milky Way boxes, advertising chocolates for five cents, lay adjacent. Rows and rows of machinery lay dormant, well lubricated and strung with silk still attached to reels. Downstairs, canisters of Esso oil rusted away on the ground, next to a coal-fired boiler and an ancient bottle of ammonia. Powdered coloring agents, embossed milk bottles and calendars dating to 1957 were scattered throughout.

Amazingly enough, the building is in good shape although it needs major repairs to its roof. Temporary beams hold up several weak sections, and water intrusion – while minimal, threatens the wooden structure.

The owner, Herb Crawford, had purchased the building over 30 years ago when word spread that a mill was looking for property to expand upon. While that idea never materialized, Crawford understood the importance of preserving the property, and has now opened the doors to those interested beginning in March 2011. For a nominal $75, one is granted five hours to roam the halls of the Klotz Throwing Company, coming away with an appreciation of early American industrial history.

The mill remains threatened with potential demolition, however. It has remained in a disused state for over 30 years, and one individual alone is not enough to adequately maintain the industrial site. While historic preservation organizations have made pledges of help throughout the decades, none have come forward to offer any substance due to a lack of funds and a lack of interest – partially due to its remote location. But after Crawford sought a scrapper to see what the value of the materials inside were worth – over $400,000, he received calls almost immediately from congressmen and organizations nationwide. Funding is being actively pursued for stabilization.

Read more about the Lonaconing Silk Mill’s history, and view the more than 30 photographs »

Lonaconing Silk Mill Trip Series

In this series, covering three states and three historic locations,


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You had your hands on some of the most valuable silk in American and you just tossed it back on the pile like it was a rag. I almost fainted. What a waste.

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