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Cigar Makers and Feather Merchants

Anne W. Cissel

The young "Town of Mechaniks" naturally had its share of blacksmiths, wagon makers, millwrights, and barrel makers, and these occupations would continue for over a century. But the waters of Hunting Creek also powered a factory making woolen cloth and carpets which existed in 1817. This factory was located on 7 acres just west of town. The Mechanicstown Woolen Factory was still advertising striped and plain woolen goods and stocking yarn in 1857. By that time, most home spinning had ceased and fabrics were commonly sold by the yard; "ready made" clothes were still in the future.

The town seamstress and cloak makers were joined later by makers of women*s hats called milliners; these commercial crafts were some of the few thought suitable for women. Milliners Kate Hesson and

Carrie Boblitz used fur and feathers to decorate their creations, and for these they turned to Graham and Matthis feather shop on Main Street. In addition to the ornamental kind for show, the feather merchants also carried common duck eider and goose feathers to stuff the town*s mattresses and pillows.

The benefits of the nearby railroad depot, relocated to (now) Carroll Street, contributed to the rise of several new industries in the 1870's. Waesche*s Crescite Fertilizer works, Smith*s Burial Casket Factory, and the Cassell, Stocksdale Planning (Lumber) Yard clustered along the railroad tracks in the areas of the present Boundary Avenue. One industry directly related to the railroad was the machine shop manufacturing

Richard O*Toole*s invention, an alarm bell for railroad crossings. Though short-lived, the American Signal Co. was another example of the town*s inventive and progressive citizens.

The most interesting of the new trades was the rise of Mechanicstown/Thurmont as the center of the Cigar-making industry. By 1883, there were at least three Cigar Factories in town. J. H. "Harry" Freeze reportedly sold his stock of 150,000 cigars to dealers from Washington in one month in that year.

Mahlon Whitmore operated his well-known cigar-making business on Water Street employing as many as 12 people. Cheap cigars sold at the price of 2 for a penny, while the "half-Spanish" were more expensive. Gradually the cigar makers attached their own brand or house names to their product. E. Webb Unger and

W. A. Conner were also town tobacconists in a trade that lasted until the 1920's. Probably many Thurmont attics today still hold relics of this industry in a cigar box full of old, treasured keepsakes and memories.

If you have any Information or historical news clippings on business in the Thurmont Area, Please send them to us so we can included them in our archives. E-mail us at: history@mythurmont.net

Read more articles by Anne Cissel