This postcard, found recently on eBay, was from Geisendorff & Co. woolens factory, a 19th century manufacturer once located on the near-west side of downtown Indianapolis on land that is now the White River State Park. All that remains of this once-vibrant business: random ephemera like this postcard and remnants of a street bearing the name.
In 1847 two brothers, Christian E. and George W. Geisendorff, took over an abandoned building once occupied by the Indianapolis Steam Mill Company. At that time the area was called “Cotton Town” and it was located on the canal.
Woolen milling was not a promising business at the start, but “prosperity followed perseverance” and after five years, the brothers were able to expand and move their Hoosier Woolen Factory to the foot of West Washington Street, near the White River bridge. The company produced flannels, blankets, pants, yarns, stockings, satinettes (finely woven fabric) and cassimeres (twilled woolen fabric used for suits).
In 1861, the Geisendorffs opened a dedicated salesroom and dry goods store at 63 West Washington Street. After the Civil War, they enlarged the business to add Hoosier State Flouring Mills, but by 1880, the Geisendorffs no longer produced flour. The reason for this change in business direction isn’t entirely clear but perhaps it was due to a fire on the premises in July of that year which cost the business a whopping $14,992.
Reports of Cases Argued in the Supreme Court of the State of Indiana (accessible online) offer some interesting reading about the quibblings of Geisendorff shareholders (J.C. Geisendorff, C.E. Geisendorff, Isaac Thalman and W.W.H. MacCurdy) over a mismanaged order of ice in 1885. It appears that, at that time, the Geisendorffs were in “financially embarrassed” conditions. However, through the 1890s, the mill employed 50 workers and produced an average of 8,000 yards of fabric per week. Business was good enough to open up branches in New York, Chicago and St. Louis.
In 1897, banker S.A. Fletcher and Co. bought the company and soon thereafter, the Geisendorff mill disappeared from city directories. The same year, C.E. Geisendorff passed away on February 2. He was heralded in an obituary published in the trade publication, Fibre and Fabric, as
“… the best known of the pioneer residents of Indianapolis.”
“Those were the days when all wool was purchased direct from farmers, and there were no other buyers of the wool except the woolen mill owners. It was not an unusual thing to see from 150 to 200 wagons loaded with wool in the yard of Geisendorff’s Mill. They were also the days of barter, and the farmer took his pay in goods made by the mill. Mr. Geisendorff had the utmost confidence of his farmer friends, and they come to him with their troubles as well as their wool.”
In what businesses were your earliest Indianapolis relatives? We’d love to hear your stories.