William Broadhead, Jamestown’s Entrepreneur

The Hometown History column is presented by the Fenton History Center and The Post-Journal. Each Friday, a distinct item from the Fenton History Center collections or archival special collections will be featured. Learn about your hometown history through parts of its past.

If one of the items featured brings back some memories or brings up a question, please contact the Fenton History Center at 664-6256 or information@fentonhistorycenter.org to share your memory or get an answer to your question.

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Unquestionably, one of the most momentous events in the history of Jamestown was William Broadhead’s decision to establish the worsted industry here. The story has been repeated many times how after 29 years residence in Jamestown, Broadhead, then in his early 50s, paid a visit to his hometown, Thornton, in Yorkshire in the north of England. There he saw a remarkable transformation. The quiet little town with much poverty and few opportunities that he had left as a young man had experienced the industrial revolution thanks to a new kind of woolen mill. It was now a prosperous, thriving, growing city.

Broadhead was a man with more enterprise in his soul than 10 ordinary citizens. He had already tried and found ways to make money with blacksmithing, snath (wooden handle) production, real estate development, axe manufacturing and production of wire for the new telegraph technology. But he had been most successful as a tailor and clothing retailer. He had been trained as a weaver in his youth. Here was an Englishman who knew wool and understood both cloth and machinery and had enormous energy and enterprise. He thought what had happened in Taunton could happen in Jamestown.

Amazingly, Broadhead was able to transplant an entire industry to Jamestown before the end of the following year. He secured local financing from William Hall, builder of the Hall House, the Fenton Library’s new home. He persuaded an experienced English manager, Joseph Turner, to emigrate and take charge. He built the factory on First Street, located, imported and installed what then must have been the largest machines ever seen in Jamestown and lots of them, and he persuaded numerous English technicians and skilled workers to pull up stakes and relocate to Jamestown. Then he hired a hundred Jamestown Swedes and Yankees to fill out the roster. The first cloth was woven on Dec. 1, 1873. Our pictured artifact is the 1873 corner stone from that first factory. At that time, it was said to be the first worsted mill west of Philadelphia.

This is all part of several much larger stories. Woolen mills of various sorts, not including worsted, already had a history in Jamestown going back to 1815. The several worsted mills built by the Broadhead family and others employed thousands in Jamestown for more than 50 years and brought in millions of dollars. William Broadhead and his descendants, particularly his two sons, Sheldon and Almet, were involved financially and managerially in the whole spectrum of development in Jamestown in that period: other industries and plants; the lake steamboats, the trolley lines; the Shale Paving Brick company that produced bricks for the streets; electrification, Celoron, Midway, and Sylvan parks; the huge though now forgotten Lake View Rose Gardens, the transition from village to city and the first city charter, real estate development, banking, and much more.

Besides the overt investment Broadhead made in other industries and businesses, he also quietly invested and loaned money to many of the eager entrepreneurs, many of them Swedish immigrants, who were building factories all over the city in that era. Broadhead built more buildings in Jamestown than any man in its history to that time.

The original Broadhead Mill, first known as the Jamestown Alpaca Mill, closed following the deaths of the two Broadhead sons in 1925. We acquired the corner stone when the original building was torn down in 1988. Part of the remaining structures burned Jan. 28, 2004, and some still stand and are put to various uses. The last mill in Jamestown, Empire Worsted Mill, closed at the end of January, 1955. National Worsted in Falconer closed Feb. 7, 1968.

Of all the local history projects crying out to be done, none would be more appropriate, informative and needed than a biography of William Broadhead because nobody has or probably ever will benefit Jamestown more or in so many ways as that enterprising Englishman.

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The purpose of the Fenton History Center is to gather and teach about southern Chautauqua County’s history through artifacts, ephemeral and oral histories, and other pieces of the past.

Visit www.fentonhistorycenter.org for more information on upcoming events.

If you would like to donate to the collections or support the work of the Fenton History Center, call 664-6256 or visit the center at 67 Washington St., just south of the Washington Street Bridge.