The Silk Mill building, the largest building in Jim Thorpe, and the former home of its largest manufacturing business, although closed and boarded for 35 years, may be looking at a second life – at least that is the dream of a group of interested preservationists and entrepreneurs who recently toured the building.
The 70,000 square foot four story "H"-shaped brick building on 10 acres at the junction of East 5th and Silk Streets in East Jim Thorpe is one of the largest properties within the borough of Jim Thorpe. Running through the property is Ruddle's Run, which still has a dam and used to provide water for the Lehigh Valley Railroad steam engines at the Mauch Chunk Railroad Station, currently the site of the Jim Thorpe Market.
About five years ago, the current owner, in order to dissuade vandalism and prevent injury, fenced the property. On Friday, Jan. 11, interested parties were invited to tour the former silk mill building. The tour was led by Jim Thorpe realtor Gene Mulligan and was initiated by Glenn Claypoole.
Claypoole said that he had negotiated with current owner Alex Spivec of New York, and they had agreed upon a price of $250,000 for the property. Claypoole said that the understanding was that he would attempt to raise the money by bringing together interested preservationists and entrepreneurs to form a group to purchase and develop the property.
A tour of the property revealed that due to extensive vandalism, the property is likely to need well over $1 million to be restored, although the basic structure of the building and the roof appear to be in good condition. According to Claypoole, a previous owner had put a 50-year roof on the building, and died before he could begin developing the property.
"It was originally the Dery Silk Mill building," said Jack Sterling. D. George Dery was the premier silk industrialist in the United States. In 1886, he arrived in the United States and took charge of a silk mill in Paterson, N. J. Within months he owned his own silk mill which he relocated in Catasauqua, and the following year, built a new silk mill there that employed 350 people. In 1888, he built a silk mill in East Mauch Chunk that employed 400 people. By 1914, Dery owned 16 mills employing some 4,000 people. He was considered the world's largest individual silk manufacturer. His operations ceased in 1923.
For a few years. It was operated by the Amalgamated Company. In 1929, the silk mill was acquired by Louis and Samuel Zaleshitz (later Zales) as the S. Zaleshitz Co. Inc. with Samuel heading the New York City sales operation and Louis operating the silk mill in Jim Thorpe. In 1960, they were employing 250 people. By 1970, many of the mills in Pennsylvania had started to relocate to the South, although Zaleshitz continued to operate on three shifts with about 40 people per shift. By 1980, the plant closed.
Bill Solomon and Charlie Bott worked there around 1970 when Zaleshitz was producing silk fabric for neckties and draperies. "It was very noisy and dangerous," said Solomon. "Safety wasn't part of the game. There were big flywheels that were open and could suck you in."
"They had a vault with their proprietary designs for their loom," Bott recalled. "There were two elevators in the building – a freight elevator and a personnel elevator. A few years ago, I was interested in the property to assemble kit airplanes."
So, for 35 years the largest building and the largest manufacturing facility in Jim Thorpe has stood idle, falling apart on its own, hastened further by vandals. What is the future of the old silk mill?