Mill Complex Served Many Local Industries

Posted: June 05, 1994

SPRINGFIELD — Just three years younger than the United States, the Mills of Victoria has paralleled the development of the nation.

In its 215-year history, the mill complex has comforted the Continental Army, warmed Russian soldiers during World War II, stored helicopter parts, pressed records, and manufactured grain, paper, cotton, dyes and fabrics.

Now the mill complex, one of the few remaining in Delaware County, has followed the nation's transition from an industrial to a service focus. Like many industrial sites in the country, the 5.24-acre tract down the hill from Springfield Mall has become an office park, where about 175 people are employed.

The mill complex was founded on property deeded to Peter Leiscester on Nov. 20, 1682. The first mills erected along Crum Creek were grist or grain mills in the mid-1700s, said Kenneth P. Barrow Jr., co-owner of the property. They were used by local landowners and residents to help process food.

According to Crum Creek: Past, Present and Future, a booklet by the Chester-Ridley-Crum Watersheds Association, the family of John Lewis obtained the property in the 1750s and erected a grist mill, for grain, in 1779. Lewis added a sawmill to the property in 1810.

Mary Ann Jeavons, president of the Swarthmore Historical Society, said the complex was used by Lewis to produce ticking for mattresses during the Revolutionary War.

The mills went through several uses during the first part of the 1800s. For a short time, the site was used as a paper mill and then parts of it were converted to a cotton mill, Jeavons said. It was a dye mill for several decades, running afoul of Swarthmore residents who complained about the rainbow of colors that Crum Creek displayed when excess dye was fed into the water.

The complex came to be known as the Wallingford Mills and was expanded under the control of Mordecai Lewis, who, in the late 1800s, sold it to John Turner, Barrow said.

Turner changed the name to the Victoria Plush Mills when it began manufacturing upholstery fabrics, curtains and other patterned material that was in demand at the turn of the century. The mills peaked in the mid-1920s, Barrow said, when they employed more than 100 workers. The name of the mill complex and its 19th-century owner are commemorated in street names in Nether Providence Township.

World War II saw the plant convert its operation to produce winter clothing for the European campaigns and for the Soviet Army. A year after the war ended, however, all production ceased at the mills.

Barrow's family purchased the land in 1951 or 1952 and, under the direction of Barrow's grandfather, Richard J. Seltzer, the plant became a light industrial park, leasing space for everything from vinyl record pressing to container manufacturing and helicopter parts storage. The buildings above the first floor were vacated in 1965 after the boiler, which had become cumbersome

because of the increased amount of silt in the creek, had to be retired.

In 1982, Barrow began his effort to convert the mill complex into a commercial office park. Exteriors were preserved, Barrow said, but interiors had to be gutted to make way for more modern needs. He said it was decided to leave the buildings because fewer offices could have been built on the property had the buildings been torn down. Renovating within the original structures allowed him to maximize the space on the property, he said.

The warehouses, weaving mill and main mill were converted into offices, as were the machine shop and part of the die shop. The Philadelphia Inquirer's Delaware County bureau, for example, is located in what was the dryer/sizing room. Built in 1917, the room was used to clean wool of impurities. Most of the buildings on the site were built in the mid-to-late 1800s or early 1900s.

Barrow said the original stone walls, mined from local schist and gneiss quarries, were left in place on the buildings. The warehouse and dryer/sizing room have the original wood beams.

The 120-foot smokestack, on which "Victoria" is spelled in brick, was left as a billboard for the complex. Because Springfield does not permit signs of any significant size, Barrow said he chose to allow the smokestack to act as the complex's advertisement. It is visible from both Baltimore Pike and the Blue Route and served as a functional stack up until the mills ceased operation.

The only major piece of equipment remaining is the old wheelhouse machinery

from which the mills drew their power in the 1800s. Barrow pointed out the wooden teeth on one large spoke. He said wooden teeth were used so that if one broke, it could be easily replaced. A broken iron tooth would require removing and replacing the entire spoke.

Though mills once dotted the fields throughout Delaware County, few remain. That, Jeavons said, is the charm of the Mills of Victoria.

"The fact that this is one of the remaining mills that were once numerous in Delaware County is wonderful," Jeavons said. "And that the architecture has been beautifully preserved makes it special."

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