~THE HAT FACTORY~
Charlotte Dickinson made the palm leaf hats for the small Leonard M Hills dry goods store on East Street. The leaves came from Cuba by way of Boston and Palmer. Charlotte bought the leaves for 25 cents per pound. She split, braided and sewed the leaves forming them into fancy hats, which she traded to the store for goods. She was usually credited with 23 cents a hat and sometimes more. This system quickly caught on and by 1857 Hills and son had farm women producing 60 hats a day. In 1858 they decided to devote themselves entirely to making and producing palm leaf hats
The Leonard Hills House was the home of Leonard M. Hills, palm leaf hat manufacturer and leading citizen, who built this Italian villa style home in the most prominent part of town. Hills started his first hat factory on East Main Street in 1829.
The factory consisted of the main building, boiler house, pattern shop, box shop, bleach house, dye house, and a barn. It had about 100 employees most of whom were women. Massachusetts was also the only state in the union that made palm leaf hats.
Competition between the Hills and Burnett hat factories in Amherst led to a feud in 1897. The Hills Company sabotaged a banquet held by the Burnett Company in Springfield. They not only stole the ice cream for the banquet, they also stole the train to Springfield, and, when the Burnett workers finally arrived, they launched a smoke bomb into the banquet hall.
The women who worked for Hills went on strike because of an employment shortage in 1905. The owner started bringing in workers from other countries. The women were afraid of losing their jobs to the Japanese workers because they were willing to work for less. Later, the company couldn't hire enough workers and the Japanese workers were laid off. The women returned to work but things didn't return to normal, and Hills went out of business in 1935.
In his first year in business, Leonard earned $5000 dollars. In 1880 his factory burned down, and he built a new one that was made out of brick. The new hat factory cost $100,000 dollars.
Timeline of Hills Hat Factory
Stationery from the Hat Factory
Hat Factory Workers
Info thanks to Tales of Amherst, a Look Back By Daniel Lombardo
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