Looking back at 1622 Washington Street: part 2

Published 7:25 pm Sunday, June 9, 2024

The chamber started its fundraising campaign and, in January 1936, had raised all but $10,000 of their $100,000 goal. They hired architect Robert J. Perry Jr. of Dallas, who worked with local supervision provided by Vicksburg architect W. A. Stanton, and in March the plans were let out for bids.  R. P. Farnsworth and Company was chosen and the Vicksburg Garment Factory, shirt plant of the M. Fine and Sons Manufacturing Company, was dedicated and formally opened on October 13, 1936.  

The Vicksburg Post reported Gov. Hugh L. White and “a group of other notables interested in balancing Mississippi’s agriculture with industry” were in attendance. The Post also reported that to commemorate the opening day there would be a laying of the building cornerstone with S. E. Treanor, chairman of the board of trustees of the Chamber of Commerce Industrial Fund, presiding as master of ceremonies. Additionally, the Carr Central High School band paraded through the business district prior to the dedication and presented a musical program in connection with the program. The American Legion Boy Scout drum and bugle corps was also in attendance. 

The cornerstone inscription read “Erected 1936 for M. Fine and Sons Mfg.Co. Inc. by Vicksburg Chamber of Commerce Board of Trustees S. E. Treanor, Chairman, Felix T. Weil, R. P. Wailes, Ben H. Stein, Louis P. Cashman, Louis L. Switzer.  Robert J. Perry, Architect, W. A. Stanton, Asst. Architect, R. P. Farnsworth and Co., Inc. General Contractors.”  The articles that were to be included in the copper air-tight container in the cornerstone were chosen by R. F. Evans, Felix T. Weil, and Ben H. Stein.  Placed in the container were a copy of the special Vicksburg Garment Plant section of the Vicksburg Evening Post; full list of subscribers to the garment factory fund, including a list of the employee groups; resume of the steps taken by the Chamber of Commerce leading to the construction of the plant; and the contract between M. Fine and Sons and the Vicksburg Chamber of Commerce.

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After the dedication of the cornerstone and the governor’s speech, the building was available to tour by the public in order to see how shirts were made. Officials and employees of the Fine Organization were on hand to show visitors through the machine-equipped plant and to explain the steps taken in turning out men’s shirts. The progress of the shirt was traced from the time the cloth arrived in bales, until the finished product left the factory in big boxes.

Fine and Sons met the million dollar threshold on payroll in about 1945 and the building was deeded to them. Unfortunately, the factory closed on July 1, 1947. The Vicksburg Post reported that on that date it closed for a two-week vacation under a union contract and when it reopened it was only to pay off its employees. The Chamber then began negotiations with M. Fine to buy the building back in order to sell it to another manufacturing company. Talks, however, broke down and M. Fine sold the building, purportedly for $100,000, to Henry Schlottman Jr., who intended to use it as a part of his transfer company.

In February 1948, Schlottman leased the building to the Ely and Walker Dry Good Company of St. Louis, who would operate under a subsidiary, E. W. Garments, Inc. The company manufactured ladies’ house dresses and planned an ultimate production from four to five hundred machines. In 1950, the company announced that it employed 100 Vicksburg women to produce cotton dresses for markets all over the nation and that they were in the $24-$36 price range per dozen.  

In March 1956, the firm closed, leaving 126 employees out of work. In September 1958, the O’Neill-McNamara Hardware Company announced that it had purchased the building and that it would move its operations from Clay Street to the building on March 9, 1959. Years later the company was bought by the Mississippi Hardware Company, which remained in the building until it closed for business in 2016.  

The building was then transformed into the Mississippi Center for Innovation and Technology, opening in 2023. 

Nancy Bell, Vicksburg Foundation for Historic Preservation.