The following photo, dated 1888, shows the Gearhart homestead in Boggs Township (now West Decatur), Pennsylvania. This house is where Joseph E. Gearhart first came up with the idea for manufacturing a Circular Knitting Machine which was later to evolve into his life interest and vocation until his death in 1928. Back in the beginning, he carved his first knitting machine from maple and made the tin needles himself. With this first machine, he made ties and other small things. The back of the photo contains some notes made much later by Emory Gearhart, his son, which dates and locates the house in “Blue Ball” County.
In 1890, at the age of 42, in order to promote his expanding new business, he moved to the nearby town of Clearfield and built his new house at 116 Nichols Street. By 1900, as shown in the photo below, he was quite well-established with a nice factory building next to the house, complete with a wagon in front and a sign over the front door. Clearfield at this time was a typical small town with dirt roads and local charm, where most homes had oil lights, and a few had those new Edison electric lights. I think it would be quite normal to see dirt streets and a raised sidewalk, since everything ran by horse-power and the first automobiles were not to been seen for at least another five years.
On the back of this 1900 photo, Emory later drew a diagram of the floorplan and made the following note: “Original 1890 Knitting Machine factory, 116 Nichols St., Clearfield, PA, before street was paved, when I was a kid.”
It is not clear from this photo and notes exactly when this factory was built. The photo is dated 1900 but the notes indicate an 1890 construction. Further evidence shows that the factory was indeed built in 1890, and the photo was taken 10 years later when Joseph was well-established and earning a conderable income from his Knitting Machine business.
We also have the following information from the book Clearfield Borough, 1840-1990, by the Clearfield Heritage Foundation and Clearfield County Historical Society, which places the construction of the factory at 1890:
Joseph E. Gearhart, who invented the home knitting machine bearing his name in 1888, moved his operations from West Decautur to Clearfield in 1890 and for the next 30 years utilized a building behind his home, then located at the corner of Nichols and West Front Streets. In 1921 the company built a factory on West Fourth Avenue.