James VanNess, from the Hudson Valley VanNess family, traveled here in the early 1820s. James’ father, also called James, died in Palmyra in 1823. The weaving factory James started was circa 1848 on Vienna Street, and there are many advertisements depicting his business and the goods he sold.
James primarily did “figured and fancy” coverlets using a jacquard loom attachment. Sounds like French to me! Actually it is, and this attachment was invented by a Frenchman Joseph Marie Jacquard in 1804. He thought the concept of a program using punch cards might be a novel idea and a method to repeat the same pattern without resetting the loom every time. Oh, doesn’t that sound a bit like the first IBM data card computer? Sure does and it was, just ask IBM.
Ira Hadsell was hired by James VanNess as a carpenter. Since looms are made of wood, there was a need for carpenters. Ira had also worked on the Erie Canal as a laborer and had a dairy farm. Ira joined the company of James VanNess and began to learn weaving in his spare time. Ira became an expert weaver, buying James out in 1854. There were five patterns used by the VanNess/Hadsell factory, and approximately 1,600 coverlets were made by Ira after buying out the business.
Now where does the Alling Coverlet come into this? Mrs. Agnes McLouth Griffith owned the newspaper with her husband, State Sen. Henry Griffith. After the senator’s death, Mrs. Griffith became the president of the Palmyra Courier Journal. The building built in 1901 by F. W. Griffith as the Palmyra Courier was the family business making type, binding books and making printing stamps. The presses were humming and the cutters were chopping the large stacks of paper purchased at the Alling and Cory Paper Company, a large Rochester firm supplying paper since mid-1800 for all things to be printed. Mrs. Griffith, newspaper president, and Mrs. Alling, coverlet collector, and an excellent weaver named Margaret Carr all became friends.
On July 4, 1976, when our country had its 200th birthday, the Alling Coverlet Museum celebrated its first anniversary and has been a wonder every since. Today, it holds the largest collection of hand woven coverlets in America.
On April 20, Thursday evening, Christopher DiCesare, of Massachusetts, will be doing a program at the Alling based on his experience at SUNY Geneseo in Dorm C2D1 Erie Hall in 1985. This interesting and unusual story turned Geneseo on its ear in 1985 when the unexplained happen. The program is at the Alling Coverlet at $10 per person, 122 William St., Palmyra.
Don’t forget the Fundraising Steak Roast Dinner with silent and live auctions on Saturday, April 29, from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. at the Alling.