Over the years, there were four locations for the Gearhart Knitting Machine Company. The original site in 1887, which was more like a workshop than a factory, was located on Joseph’s childhood farm in West Decatur, Pennsylvania. The first official factory, established in 1888, was located behind his home on Nichols Street in Clearfield. These two sites were the subject of an earlier post, so I don’t think I can add to what’s already been published. As the business increased, the company expanded to locations on 1st Street and 2nd Street. I haven’t found much information on these locations yet. It is curious that something so prominent as a location and description of a factory would not have much visibility in the archives.
I do not know if either the offices or factory, or both, moved to 1st and 2nd Streets. I can see from a stack of letters postmarked 1919, that all correspondence was going to these two locations. I do not know if Joseph owned or rented these sites, and exactly where they were, and when he moved a portion of his business there. Of course the answer would lie in a trip to examine the Clearfield county records. If anyone can provide further information on the 1st and 2nd Street sites, it would be most valuable.
The final move for the company was to a huge new factory on 4th Avenue. This move was reported in a 1978 newspaper article as happening in 1921. The first direct reference I have to this factory is dated 1923, but could very well have been earlier. If it took as long as 2 years to construct a brick factory building, then the 1921 date may have been a ground-breaking. Further research will narrow this down. With three floors and over 40,000 square feet of space, it is still one of the largest buildings in Clearfield suitable for use in the manufacturing industries. The factory still exists today, even though it is empty and currently for sale. The newspaper article published in 1978 also said that the building was vacated by the Gearhart Knitting Machine Company shortly after their placement into receivership in 1925. I’m not so sure about that, and have become skeptical about newspaper stories after finding some really big factual and editorial errors over the course of my research. All of these errors have originated from the newpapers.
After receivership, the Company changed its name to the Clearfield Knitting Machine Company, and then the Superior Appliance And Pattern Company. Emory Gearhart was with both companies, and both companies sold the Gearhart Knitting Machine. The Superior Appliance and Pattern Company sold Emory’s Turfing and Runner Knitter devices as well. I have letters from both companies dating into the early 1930’s to the address at 4th Avenue. So, I can only conclude that even though the company was downsized and eventutally shared its factory space with the State Highway Department in 1928, it may have still operated from this location for some time.
In a letter dated May 3, 1929, Emory talks about maintaining an office as well as doing some preliminary work in the factory on “machines and contrivances I expect to develop”. So, we know from this letter that the factory was in use at least through 1929.
My father, who was born in 1931, remembered the factory and how his older brother and sister played there. So, assuming that he could remember back to when he was, at earliest, four years old, then the company would have had some presence in the buildings with Knitting Machines or one of Emory’s subsequent companies at least until 1935.
One puzzling item in the archives, and I’ll definitely get to the bottom of this, is a 1942 Gearhart Knitting Machine instruction manual issued by the Superior Appliance and Pattern Company. The manual doesn’t give a street address. It just says Clearfield, PA. This late date raises several questions regarding the machine inventories and the factory, which I hope to eventually answer.
My brother visited Clearfield a while back and took some photos of the exterior of the factory. The buildings look to be in pretty good shape, even though some of the window are broken and some of the openings have been bricked-over. I will eventually make a trip up there to look over the buildings and get some additional photos, and I’d also like to see if I can get into the buildings in order to discover any remanents of occupation dating back to the 1920’s. Unlikely, but intriguing nevertheless. Odd, how strange it feels to see photos of an abandoned factory building and imagine a time when your family centered their entire lives around it. I can imagine a busy place with hundreds of people, and the Gearhart sons busy moving through the office, and the elder Joseph stopping in every so often to check on things and chat with the workers.