The local garment industry once employed thousands

Left, the predominantly female employees pose for a photograph at the Fessenden Shirt Factory; right, the Jacobson Shirt Factory on Cornell Street had large windows allowing for abundant natural light. (images from Friends of Historic Kingston)

With the great wave of immigration in the late 19th century, New York City had both an inexpensive immigrant labor force and a network of railroads. Clothing production boomed throughout the 1880s and 1890s, rising to become the state’s second biggest industry after sugar refining. New York City became a cultural and fashion center, and by 1910 70 percent of women’s and 40 percent of men’s clothing sold in the U.S. was produced there.

Prominent businessmen persuaded textile industry leaders to expand to Kingston in the early 20th century. Factories received textiles from northeastern U.S. mills, assembled them into clothing, ironed them, and then boxed, and shipped them to New York City’s shops and department stores. Due to the lower wages and higher skill levels, female labor was prevalent in the clothing industry throughout New York State. Many of the workers were unionized. Workers were easy to find. Former workers in the needle trades recount that you could walk down the street and find another job if you didn’t like yours,.

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Kingston Knitting Mills opened in Kingston in 1934. It manufactured polo shirts and sweaters for men and boys. According to retired owner Bob Davis, the company sold the same shirts to both J.C. Penney and Ralph Lauren, who added their own labels and sold them for vastly different prices. The company had about 150 employees in Kingston, with mostly women in the sewing department and men running the knitting machines.

The Jacobson Shirt Factory on Cornell Street was built in 1917 with a state-of-the-art sprinkler system and large windows. Employees enjoyed perks such as a cafeteria and dance hall.  Throughout the years, the building remained active through various owners and industries, It was  converted into artists’ lofts in 2001.

Kingston Knitting Mills was a major supplier of shirts and sweaters for men and boys. The building is occupied today by Arc Mid-Hudson. (Bob Haines Collection)

The  Fuller Shirt Company was established in 1892 by Isaiah Fuller on Prince Street, not far from from the old post office. By 1936, it manufactured 1.4 million shirts, becoming one of the largest shirt manufacturers in Kingston, and later, one of the largest in the state. Fuller continued to expand operations into the mid-20th century, hiring an additional 100 workers in 1956, the year that the Stetson Hat Company bought it. The firm continued producing shirts under the Fuller name, with all 350 employees retained. It closed in 1965. The building was recently renovated by architect Scott Dutton.

The Manhattan Shirt Factory, founded in the mid-1850s in Patterson, New Jersey, expanded to Kingston, Poughkeepsie, Albany, and as far as Vermont, maintaining corporate headquarters on Madison Avenue in Manhattan. Today the building is the Zaborski Emporium, an antique store with countless artifacts from Kingston’s past.

The United States Lace Curtain Mill, built in 1903, remained active in textile manufacturing until 1951. In its heyday, the 1.5-acre property had 250 to 300 employees, including many women. After 1946, it was known as the Scranton Lace Company’s Kingston mill. After being abandoned for decades, it was renovated in 2015, and as The Lace Mill now provides affordable housing for artists, 

The textile industry began to decline by the mid-20th century and relocated domestically to the South.  Those factories usestate-of-the-art technologies, including the latest and most productive looms. The old Northeastern factories could no longer compete. As in Kingston, many surviving factory buildings have now been converted to work/live spaces through adaptive reuse.

To see sample pages and information about supporting this 450-page book featuring 850 images that will be released in December 2021, please visit:  HudsonValleyHistoryAndArt.com.

Check out more articles from this series.

There are 2 comments

  1. Zack

    Noble wants Council to act on bikes, why don’t we get rid of these bikes lanes before more citizens get killed. Broadway is a disaster, I have an idea STOP SIGNS on Broadway as they are going to do on Greenkill Avenue and Wilbur Avenue, another disaster waiting to happen.

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