The History of Mill No. 1
Mill No.1 enjoys an important history along the Jones Falls, starting as a cotton mill in 1847 and in 1973 becoming the home of Life Like Products. The Mount Vernon Company, which operated several mills in the Jones Falls Valley, became the world’s largest producer of cotton duck in the late 19th century, supplying cotton for sails, uniforms, tents and parachutes for the army. The collection of buildings, listed on the National Register for Historic Places, dates from 1845 to 1918.
The demand for yarn and woven cloth made out of cotton in Baltimore initially came from the need of the local shipping and ship building industries for sailcloth, known as “cotton duck”.
About this time, Mt. Vernon Manufacturing Company employed workers sufficient to make up a village of 800 inhabitants.
During the year 1845, Hugh Jenkins had built the Laurel Flouring Mill which was then sold to David Carroll and Horatio N. Gambrill in 1847. It was converted into a cotton mill and renamed Mt. Vernon Mill No. 1.
Steam power replaced water power at Mt. Vernon Woodberry Mill in 1845, doubling the Mill’s capacity.
On June 20, 1873 Mt. Vernon Mill No. 1 burned to the ground, causing a loss of $250,000. By September, a new and much larger structure had been erected on the same site, and in 1881 a large addition and a packing house had been added to the northern end.
There were 1600 employees with 5000 spindles in each building by 1881.
In 1899, Mt. Vernon Company merged with 14 mills representing 7 cotton manufacturers into what became known as the Consolidated Cotton Duck Company. This was a time when Baltimore was the world’s largest provider of cotton duck, with a total of 227,000 spindles. They supplied cloth for uniforms, knapsacks, tents, sails and parachutes during WWI and WWII.
In 1918, there was a boiler explosion, one of numerous fires and explosions that occurred at the Mill during its history. 1918 was the same year the Warehouse concrete building was built across the stream.
Between 1900 and 1920, sail ships sharply decline, replaced by steam ships, and the textile industry expanded in the South due to the lower costs. The company reorganized in 1915 and closed several plants, leaving only Mt. Vernon Mills and Meadow Mill in the Jones Falls Valley.
Production in the post-war years led to the experimentation with rayon and nylon combined with wool and cotton.
In 1952, the Baltimore plant had approximately 30,000 spindles and employed approximately 500 persons.
In 1956 the name of the company was changed to Mt. Vernon Mills, Inc.
In 1972, the president of the company announced that due to the antiquated nature of the buildings, they could not be adapted to the latest technical advances. They moved their dress fiber and canvas production to South Carolina.
Life-Like Products was founded in the 1950s and was known for model trains and train accessories.
In 2005, the company, now known as Lifoam Industries, LLC, decided to concentrate their business on products of extruded foam and sold their model railroad operations to Wm. K. Walthers.
Using styrofoam for the hills and mountains, and other scenery model train gardens then led Life-Like into the manufacturing of styrofoam ice chests and other styrofoam products. A whole room was discovered in the Mill during renovation filled with molds for these ice chests, noodles and model train scene building materials.
Lifoam left a perfectly intact model train car set in a dusty box in the corner of the Mill that is being featured in the Lobby.
Today, Mill No. 1 is home to hundreds of residents.