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Somersville Manufacturing Company Records

 Collection
Identifier: 2013-0030

Scope and Contents Note

The records consist of administrative and financial files and volumes, marketing material, photographs and scrapbooks, and correspondence and other materials associated with the Somersville Manufacturing Company and the company's founders and owners, the Keeney family of Somersville, Connecticut.

Series I: Administrative Records (1903-1964), consists of Subseries A: General Business receipts and correspondence (1903-1945) and Subseries B: company reports, publications, correspondence and files (1911-1964).

The materials in Subseries A were originally stored in cardboard business boxes that were numbered consecutively, which generally correspondenced by year. These documents were removed from the business boxes and reboxed in the general order by the original number, which is recorded in the scope and contents note for each new box. These records show the day-to-day workings of the company and account for all general correspondence and other business conducted by the company with other businesses or business persons. The scope and contents notes for each box notes only those topics and companies for which there were a considerable amount of material, or were particularly noteworthy. Subseries B consists of other general company records that were not part of the cardboard boxed set.

The materials in Subseries B include correspondence, memorandum and publications of organizations that associated with the Somersville Manufacturing Company, including the American Wool Council, the National Federation of Independent Business, and Woolens and Worsteds of America, Inc. Also included is correspondence with selling agents O'Donnell & Ellis of New York, the Clothing Supply Office of the U.S. Naval Supply Activities, life insurance policies for the company's presidents and other officials, and documents relating to legal matters involving the company. This subseries includes memorandum concerning a sit-down strike (1937) and other labor matters including a report of two men seen throwing full bobbins of yarn out the window of the mill, into the Scantic River, to see how they long it would take for the bobbins to unspool. Also included are financial reports from the company's certified public accountants (1938, 1949-1960).

Subseries C includes textual items, mostly correspondence, receipts, lists, and other administrative documents, from the desk of George E. Keeney, company president from 1901-1923.

Series II: Financial Volumes (undated, 1867-1969), consist of payroll records (1867-1930) listing wages for workers, and other financial volumes including day books, ledgers, cash books, and journals. This series also includes volumes detailing the basic production of the mills, including weave room records, finishing reports and receiving books.

Series III: Marketing (undated, 1947-1956), consist of news clippings, publications, advertisements and other documents the Somersville Manufacturing Company and J. J. O'Donnell & Co., their advertising firm, used to advertising its wool fabric to potential customers.

Series IV: Photographs and Scrapbooks (undated, 1926-1954, 1993), consist of graphic and other materials of the company mill, the town of Somersville, Connecticut, and members of the Keeney family.

Series V: Keeney Family (1888, 1935, 1939-1945), consists of correspondence, much of it as copies on carbon paper, from and to members of the Keeney family, particularly from Robert Leland Keeney, Sr. (Leland), written in the 1930s and 1940s, particuluarly during the World War II period. There is also extensive business correspondence written by Leland. This series also includes the transcript of a diary written in 1888 by Eudora Denison Keeney (1855-1918, wife of Lafayette).

Dates

  • undated, 1867-2013

Access

The collection is open and available for research.

Restrictions on Use and Copyright Information

Permission to publish from these Papers must be obtained in writing from both the University of Connecticut Libraries and the owner(s) of the copyright.

History

The Somersville Manufacturing Company, manufacturer of fine heavy woolen cloth, was established in 1879 in Somersville, a village in the town of Somers, Connecticut, by Rockwell Keeney. Rockwell Keeney can trace his ancestry in the United States back to 1648 when his ancestors settled in Wethersfield, Connecticut. Prior to founding the Somersville Manufacturing Company, Rockwell Keeney had textile mills in Meriden, Connecticut, and Palmer, Massachusetts.

Rockwell Keeney (1822-1901) was the company’s founder and first president; his descendants continued to run the company until it folded in 1969. Company presidents include George E. Keeney (1849-1923, son of Rockwell, president from 1901 to 1923), Lafayette Keeney (1857-1927, also son of Rockwell, president from 1923 to 1927, when he died in a freak industrial accident), Ralph Denison Keeney (1882-1960, son of Lafayette, president from 1927 to 1960), and Robert Leland Keeney, Jr. (1916-1985, grandson of Lafayette; served as the last president of the company, from 1960 to 1969). Robert Leland Keeney, Sr., known as Leland, (1883-1960, son of Lafayette, brother of Ralph), served as Vice-President and Treasurer of the company from 1926 to 1960. The company employed about 200 workers in the late 1800s and provided benefits to its workers similar to those at Cheney Brothers in Manchester, Connecticut (although not at the same scale), including workers houses built on company land, sports teams, a recreation hall, and skating on the mill pond. During World War I and World War II the company supplied woolens for coats for the military. At its height in the 1950s the company likely employed no more than 400 people. Other products manufactured were satinet (a coarse wool with a cotton warp), cashmere, angora, camel’s hair and chinchilla. The company purchased its raw materials from outside of the United States, including China, Australia, New Zealand and Saudi Arabia. Marketing for the company in the mid-1900s was done by J. J. O’Donnell & Co., based in New York City.

For the last ten years of its existence the company consistently lost money and by the late 1960s, presented with environmental regulations involving the Clean Water Act to clean up lead paint and dyes in the Scantic River, and rising labor costs, the company closed. The company was purchased by a competitor, Wyandot Industries of Waterville, Maine, in 1969 and the looms and machinery were removed from the factory almost immediately. From 1969 to the early 1970s the building remained vacant but was used over time for the manufacture of motorcycle parts, for a waterbed company, and as an antiques store. The mill was purchased in the 1980s with the intention to convert it to condominiums but this never came to pass. By 2006, when taxes went unpaid, the town discovered there was another owner. After several subsequent tax sales, the most recent owner was “a Manhattan outfit” who purchased it two weeks prior to a major fire of the property.

On June 2, 2012, there was a fire at the mill set accidentally by three young adults. What stands as of August 2013 is the wreckage from the fire and there is no definite decision on what will happen to the property.

The industrial village of Somersville, located along the Scantic River, which powers the textile mill, was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1995.

The Keeney family was very involved in politics in the state for many years. Either R. Leland (Sr.) or Robert Leland (Jr.) chaired the Somers, Connecticut, Republican town committee for all the years between 1920 and 1980.

Extent

82 Linear Feet

Language of Materials

English

Abstract

The Somersville Manufacturing Company was established in 1879 by Rockwell Keeney and produced fine woolens in Somersville, Connecticut. The company was run by members of the Keeney family for the 90 years of its existence. The collection consists of administrative and financial records, marketing materials, photographs, scrapbooks, and correspondence.

Provenance and Acquisition

The collection was donated in March 2013 by Mr. Timothy R. E. Keeney of Somersville, Connecticut, great-great-grandson of Rockwell Keeney, the company's founder, and son of Robert Leland Keeney, Jr., the company's last president.

Mr. Keeney made an addition to the collection, including copies of letters by R. L. Keeney, in December 2013. In April 2014 Mr. Keeney donated the materials in Series I, Subseries C: Accession 2014-0042, items found in the desk of George E. Keeney.

Related Material

Archives & Special Collections has a substantial collection of materials pertaining to Connecticut's business history. For detailed information on these collections please contact the curator or ask at the Reference desk.

Title
Somersville Manufacturing Company Records
Status
Published
Author
Archives & Special Collections staff
Date
2013 August
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
English
Script of description
Latin

Repository Details

Part of the Archives and Special Collections, University of Connecticut Library Repository

Contact:
University of Connecticut Library
405 Babbidge Road Unit 1205
Storrs Connecticut 06269-1205 USA US
860-486-2524