So That’s What It Was!

So That's What It Was!

I have frequently passed this building and wondered when it was built and what it was used for. A phone call to the Cape May County Museum and a bit of research at the county library provided the information.

The building at 502 S. Main Street (Route 9) in Cape May Court House originally housed the Colonial Knitting Mill. It opened in 1932 and was considered a state of the art facility for the production of women's apparel, as well as a model factory in the hosiery industry.

The Court House facility was one of four owned and operated by Colonial Knitting Mills, Inc., which had two in Philadelphia and one in Mohnton, Pa. The Court House location was undoubtedly influenced by the fact that H.G. Norris, president of the company, maintained a home in nearby Stone Harbor. In the depths of the Great Depression, one can be sure that Middle Township welcomed a new plant that employed 105 residents. The company made sure that all of the employees came from the township and it maintained a weekly payroll of $1,500.

While the mill produced a number of products, its main focus was the production of ladies hosiery. At full employment, the mill produced 1,250 dozen pairs a week. The site also housed a school that taught employees the "difficult branches of the knitting industry" in a six-month course. Harry G. Bell, the plant superintendent, knew well the intricacies involved in the work and he preferred to employ men and women in the 18 to 22 year age bracket.

The mill ran two shifts and exhibited real concern for the health of its employees. Athletic activities were encouraged for the staff and a women's athletic association was started which even boasted a basketball team. The male employees talked of starting a bowling team. In 1934, the Cape May County Gazette praised the company's "emphasis on the comfort of the employee."

County lore says the mill may have made parachutes during the war years, but I could find nothing to confirm that. Whatever the truth of that rumor, there is little doubt that the odd-looking building, which presents such an incongruous image on Main Street in the Court House, was part of a time when industry mixed with the traditional emphasis on tourism and fishing in the local economy.

Vincent Conti, Cape May Court House, a senior administrator in higher education for more than 40 years.