Belding Brothers & Company, Silk Manufacturers
Belding Brothers and Company
Among the permanent industries of the United States were the silk manufacturing plants of the Belding Brothers & Company. They had mills located in four states and Canada - Rockville, Ct, Northampton, MA, Belding, MI, Montreal, Canada, and Petaluma, CA. All these mills ranked with the very best from the point of view of modern factory construction, mechanical equipment and liberal management.
What makes a record of the Belding Company’s enterprise particularly interesting is the humble way in which it was started. The foundation of it was laid in 1860 when Hiram H. Belding and Alvah N. Belding started from their home in Belding, Michigan (the western homestead of the family after leaving the east in 1858) selling silk from house to house. This silk was purchased for them by their brother, Milo M. Belding, who was then residing at their common birth-place, Ashfield, MA. This enterprise soon assumed the form of a large business and in a year after starting, the Belding brothers had extended the scope of their trade until it required the services of several teams, and embraced the largest part of the jobbing trade in sections in which they were operating.
In 1866 the Belding Brothers began manufacturing silk thread in Rockville, CT. In 1872 the increased demand for their products compelled them to build an additional mill in Northampton, MA, where they manufactured various broad goods and embroidery silks of every description. The brothers found expansion necessary and established themselves in Belding, Michigan in 1890. The Belding location was their largest single enterprise, operating four mills. Mill No. 1 was for silk thread exclusively, Mills No. 2 and 3 for fabrics and Mill No 4 for manufacture of sewing and embroidery silks of every description as well as a variety of crochet cotton.
In order to market their manufactured product, Belding Brothers & Co. established salesrooms at Chicago, New York, Philadelphia, St. Louis, Boston, Cincinnati, St. Paul, Baltimore, San Francisco, New Orleans, Montreal and Toronto. From these salesrooms traveling salesmen visited every city, town, and hamlet in the United States.
The conditions at Belding, Michigan, were such that it became necessary to employ large number of young women who were not residents of the town and in view of obtaining the most intelligent and desirable class, which the nature of their business required, the Belding Brothers & Company built and maintained three high-class boarding houses, “The Ashfield,” “The Belrockton” and “The White Swan,” with ample accommodation for one hundred and twenty-five persons each.
The dormitories were all handsome pieces of architecture and were fitted with all the modern conveniences of their day. Steam heat, hot and cold water, baths, electric lights, free libraries, and comfortably furnished in order to afford the young women employed by Belding Brothers & Co. as good a home as could be found only among the more prosperous citizens of the country. Maintenance of these buildings was not philanthropy, but a business proposition. The Belding Brothers experience had taught that highly intelligent, contented, well-paid employees would produce goods of superior quality and would inspire the success of the establishment. The dormitories were presided over by a matron and governed by rules and regulations similar to those of college dormitories of previous years.
Belding Brothers & Co. had also a well-established corporation hospital at Belding for the convenience and welfare of their employees and their families. The charges were very modest, the equipment modern, and staff well-trained.
All of the dormitories except the Belrockton have been torn down. The Belrockton acts as the Community Center and houses the Belding Museum. Work has recently been completed to restore the porches to the building.
Belding Brothers & Company merged with Heminway Silk Company in 1925 and did business as Belding-Heminway. Soon after, the company was acquired by Corticelli Silk Company and did business as Belding-Heminway-Corticelli. The last mill in Belding closed in 1932.
· Mill #1 (aka Red Mill) was built in 1890
· Mill #2 (aka White Mill) was built in 1901, a clock tower was erected there in 1903. This building was taken down in 2015.
· Mill #3 (aka Electric Mill) ws built in 1909
· Mill #4 (aka as Richardson Mill) was built in 1886) – It was built and immediately sold as the Richardson Silk Mill because the Belding Brothers did not want their name associated with it until they were certain it would be successful. It was reacquired in 1907 - This building is still standing. It was converted to Richardson Silk Mill Apartments 1986.