ATHM Transfers Machinery Collection to Randolph Heritage Conservancy

Lowell, MA – March 31, 2017—The American Textile History Museum (ATHM) in Lowell, Massachusetts, has transferred the majority of its collection of historic textile machinery to the Randolph Heritage Conservancy (RHC) in North Carolina. The transfer is part of the Museum’s ongoing process to relocate its entire collection of books, archival documents, costumes and artifacts of textile history to other qualified organizations as ATHM prepares to permanently close its doors.

The ATHM machinery collection, which is unique in the United States, has been designated a Landmark of American Mechanical Engineering by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME), recognized for its historic significance to engineering and technology. The collection represents some of the most significant devices used during the 19th and 20th centuries, illustrating the transitions from human to mechanical power and from wood to metal construction that improved product quality, variety, and volume, while reducing costs.

Due to a significant financial deficit, the ATHM Board of Trustees voted in May of 2016 to seek approval from the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office and Supreme Judicial Court to permanently close. As a result, the Museum’s Collections Committee and Board of Trustees have been working diligently to identify committed charitable organizations to serve as faithful, long-term stewards of the Museum’s significant collections.

“As we engage in this painstaking process to transfer our collections, we are seeking organizations that can ensure the greatest continuing public access and benefit,” said ATHM Interim Executive Director Todd Smith. “With a mission to preserve, manage and interpret the history of the American textile industry, with particular focus on the impact of the industry in transforming manufacturing and mechanical engineering in the United States, Randolph Heritage Conservancy will ensure long-term preservation and continuation of this component of ATHM’s mission in a region rich in textile history.”

This portion of the Museum’s machinery collection was moved to a storage facility in Cedar Falls, North Carolina ten years ago, due to lack of exhibit and storage space in Lowell. The collection includes looms, carding machines, winders, warping reels, knitting machines, spinning mules, spinning jacks, cap spinning frames, card clothing machines, shearing machines, and various tools and machinery parts.

RHC is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit based in Franklinville, North Carolina. Mac Whatley, the Founder and Chairman of RHC, has provided faithful oversight of the ATHM collection in North Carolina in his role as volunteer Adjunct Curator of Industrial Technology with ATHM.

RHC plans to place much of the ATHM collection on display to the general public in Piedmont, North Carolina, as well as establishing a textile museum in Franklinville, one of the oldest mill villages in the state.

“We at Randolph Heritage share ATHM’s commitment to the history of America’s textile craft and industry, and especially to this irreplaceable collection of artifacts from more than 200 years of American manufacturing,” said Mr. Whatley. “The development of textile machinery is the foundation on which was built the entire heritage of American engineering and machine tool technology. We are committed to showcasing the machinery collection as a resource for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) education, ensuring that it retains its great academic value and serves the widest public benefit.”

Pictured are two of the historical textile machines transferred from the American Textile History Museum to Randolph Heritage Conservancy. The roving frame on the left (1968.20.1 Roving frame, Woonsocket Machine and Press Company, Woonsocket, RI, c. 1910) takes very loose “ropes” of carded cotton, draws out the fibers, and twists them slightly. The spinning frame on the right (1967.46.5 Spinning frame, Whitin Machine Company, Whitinsville, MA, c. 1900) continues the process by twisting the strands more tightly to create a yarn with the needed size and strength. The finished yarn could be as thick a sweater yarn or as fine as a thread.
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