Scranton Lace Company – Scranton, PA

The Abandoned Scranton Lace Company in Scranton PA. (Walter Arnold)

 

The Scranton Lace Company’s operations spanned two centuries of American history, ending production in 2002.

During its heyday in the early 20th century, Scranton Lace employed over 1,400 people and was the world’s largest producer of Nottingham lace. It had bowling alleys, a gymnasium, a barber, a fully staffed infirmary, and owned its own coal mine and cotton field.

Founded in 1897 in Scranton, PA, the company used looms that were made in Nottingham, England, stood nearly three stories tall and 50 feet long, weighing over 20 tons. During World War II, the company expanded its production line to include mosquito and camouflage netting, bomb parachutes, and tarpaulins. After the war, the company returned to producing cotton yarn, vinyl shower curtains, and textile laminates for umbrellas, patio furniture, and pool liners.

In recent years, the number of employees dwindled to around 50, with annual sales averaging $6 million. As mechanized looms replace manual, Scranton Lace joined the ranks of craft-style textile manufacturers in shutting their doors. – From: http://www.scripophily.net/sclacucope.html

 

We woke up the day after exploring the St. Nicholas coal breaker, still sore, tired and picking coal dust from between our toes. Will, Andy and myself hopped in the SUV, and headed down to Scranton, PA.

Andy had done a drive-by of a few weeks back and noticed video cameras around the building and a few posted warning signs, so we weren’t entirely sure of what to expect. A fellow photographer had given us some access tips so we were relying on that information.

The neighborhoods surrounding the Lace Company buildings didn’t seem too bad. We circled the massive buildings twice before parking on the street.  Gear in hand, we trekked along the side of a large building that spanned at least two city blocks. We followed our access instructions and slipped into the complex undetected (or so we thought).

The complex consists primarily of two massive buildings, side by side, with a long ‘courtyard’ running between them. The total footprint of the buildings were over 288,000 square feet! The courtyard was quite overgrown and we waded through waist high weeds as we searched for an entry point into the buildings. We passed old loading docks, and walked under large enclosed walkways that connected the two buildings from the second floor.

The Abandoned Scranton Lace Company in Scranton PA. (Walter Arnold)
We came upon a old wooden door and found it unlocked. We entered a large room filled with the old looms we had read about. These giant, black, two story machines lined the room and were dimly lit by a bank of grime covered windows. Most of the looms still had lace threads strung and ready to run. One in particular actually had clean, white, half-woven lace still sitting in the machine! It felt like they had simply shut down one day, closed the doors, and never came back.

The Abandoned Scranton Lace Company in Scranton PA. (Walter Arnold)
The Abandoned Scranton Lace Company in Scranton PA. (Walter Arnold)
The Abandoned Scranton Lace Company in Scranton PA. (Walter Arnold)
I climbed one of the ladders onto the second level of the looms, stood atop wooden planks and stared down the line of machinery . From there I could see thousands of threads running through the loom were organized by huge sheets of punch cards riddled with small holes for the needles to pass through. It was an amazing sight to see.

The Abandoned Scranton Lace Company in Scranton PA. (Walter Arnold)
The Abandoned Scranton Lace Company in Scranton PA. (Walter Arnold)
The Abandoned Scranton Lace Company in Scranton PA. (Walter Arnold)
Along the side wall, thousands of sheets of card stock hung from a massive rack. It reminded me of a vintage mainframe computer, holding massive amounts of binary data. On or off… Hole or no hole… Either the needle falls through the hole or it is blocked by the card, and after hundreds of lines of ‘code’, a pattern is made. After a moment of study, I could detect patterns in the sequence and arrangement of the holes, indicating the repeating pattern of the fabric they once would have woven.

The Abandoned Scranton Lace Company in Scranton PA. (Walter Arnold)
The Abandoned Scranton Lace Company in Scranton PA. (Walter Arnold)
After shooting the loom room, we ventured out into the rest of the building. We made our way through a labyrinth of windowless hallways, poking our flashlights into dark rubble filled corners. We came to a massive two story warehouse. As we entered the room we heard distant echoes of murmuring voices. We froze and listened. The mumbled voices were above us! Slowly I walked out into the center of the room, my shoes crunching on the tiny shards of broken fluorescent light bulbs.  Suddenly, an eruption of birds from the air ducts and rafters above us settled the mystery. The voices we heard were the muffled coos of doves that had made the old air vents their home. Our hearts slowly settled as we realized we were still alone.

The space was rich with details–wooden boxes stamped with the company emblem, old safety posters, even an R2-D2 robot-like machine! I noticed a VHS tape lying in a pile of junk. I flipped it over and found it was an instructional guide to the original Windows 3.1. The computer geek in me was greatly amused.

The Abandoned Scranton Lace Company in Scranton PA. (Walter Arnold)
The Abandoned Scranton Lace Company in Scranton PA. (Walter Arnold)
Finally we found a way up to the second floor. The paint on the walls and ceiling of the stairwell hung in sheeted tatters as if the walls were shedding brightly colored pages of a book.

SONY DSC (Walter Arnold)

First thing we encountered was the heat and we immediately started sweating. We came to a packing room. Conveyor lines on either side of the wall ran at least 70 yards to a stock room. At one end of the room we found a funny old sign that at one point used to light up depending on what production was traveling down the conveyor lines. We speculated as to whether the lace company actually supplied Wal-Mart with fabric or if it was a joke denoting the high quality production (black tie) versus the lower end production (Wal-Mart).

The Abandoned Scranton Lace Company in Scranton PA. (Walter Arnold)
The supply room was filled with row after row of empty wooden racks. The heat in there was like a blast from a furnace compared to the rest of the second floor and was utterly unbearable.

The Abandoned Scranton Lace Company in Scranton PA. (Walter Arnold)
I managed to stay in long enough to get this shot looking straight down the center of the racks. After just 2 minutes of standing there shooting this image the sweat was literally pouring out of my body as if I was in a sauna.

The Abandoned Scranton Lace Company in Scranton PA. (Walter Arnold)
We continued wandering room to room shooting, all the while wondering where the famed bowling alley was located. We found one of the elevated walkways that we had walked under in the courtyard. We headed across and were faced with a choice to go up or down. We chose to go down knowing it would be cooler on the first floor.

The second building by comparison was not nearly as wide as the first but it was still a pretty big place. We explored the first floor but found no sign of the bowling alley or any other paths to take. We went back to the walkway stairs and up into the hotter second floor.

We came out in what at one time must have been an employee recreation area. A wide hallway filled with stacks of the coded punch cards presented itself to us.

The Abandoned Scranton Lace Company in Scranton PA. (Walter Arnold)
The Abandoned Scranton Lace Company in Scranton PA. (Walter Arnold)
With a touch of irony, the walls were covered with photographic wallpaper depicting a lush forest scene.

The Abandoned Scranton Lace Company in Scranton PA. (Walter Arnold)
Directly off the hallway we discovered the gym/theater. A basketball court was filled with old personal-sized sewing machines and fabric. One end of the court had a large theater style curtain drawn across a small stage. Up and above the court on one side, were rows of movie theater style seating.

The Abandoned Scranton Lace Company in Scranton PA. (Walter Arnold)
The Abandoned Scranton Lace Company in Scranton PA. (Walter Arnold)
I walked down a small hallway behind the stage and discovered a kitchen. Large stoves, ovens, ranges, and pots and pans filled the room.

The Abandoned Scranton Lace Company in Scranton PA. (Walter Arnold)
The Abandoned Scranton Lace Company in Scranton PA. (Walter Arnold)
As I was shooting the kitchen I turned and noticed a beautiful scene that was picture perfect before me. The kitchen was lit by large banks of windows. Outside of the windows a flock of pigeons were roosting on the ledge. The lower windows were frosted so they could not see me. The silhouettes of the birds framed in the panes of the old windows and the warm diffuse glow from the colors outside, made for a lovely shot. I quietly called Andy and Will in to check out the scene.

 

The Abandoned Scranton Lace Company in Scranton PA. (Walter Arnold)

As the three of us stood there shooting, a very loud, low, deep BOOM shook the building. We stared at each other, listening for follow up noises. It was hard to tell where the sound had come from but it had been very loud. We had felt it. A minute passes and we heard no other noises. We speculated that it may have been a large metal bay door slamming shot, or maybe someone lit a M80 somewhere nearby. It was the day after 4th of July after all. A little nerve wracked and startled from the explosion we continued on.

The room adjacent to the kitchen must have been the old cafeteria, but now was a repository for hundreds of waist high stacks of more of the punch cards used in the looms. It was staggering how many there were.

The Abandoned Scranton Lace Company in Scranton PA. (Walter Arnold)
The Abandoned Scranton Lace Company in Scranton PA. (Walter Arnold)
The Abandoned Scranton Lace Company in Scranton PA. (Walter Arnold)
We found an old spider infested arm chair and had to get portraits of each of us. Notice the giddy look on my face. I’m like a kid in a candy store. A dark, dangerous, abandoned, spidery candy store.

The Abandoned Scranton Lace Company in Scranton PA. (Walter Arnold)
The Abandoned Scranton Lace Company in Scranton PA. (Walter Arnold)
The Abandoned Scranton Lace Company in Scranton PA. (Walter Arnold)
 

Portraits by Will Arnold

From Top to Bottom:

Walt

Andy

Will

We turned around after taking our portraits and…there it was… THE BOWLING ALLEY! A four lane bowling alley complete with pins and dozens of old bowling balls. Old score cards still littered the floor.

The Abandoned Scranton Lace Company in Scranton PA. A set of old bowling pins sit on an abandoned bowling alley. (Walter Arnold)
The Abandoned Scranton Lace Company in Scranton PA. (Walter Arnold)
The Abandoned Scranton Lace Company in Scranton PA. (Walter Arnold)
We had a blast shooting in the room, and before we left we actually each bowled a frame. I scored six, Will got seven, and Andy (the showoff…) rolled a strike! I blame my six on the fact that I was first to go and my ball cleared debris from the lane, allowing for my fellow photogs a cleaner roll!

We had been shooting for a solid 4 hours and at this point we were completely drenched in sweat. We decided to head back down and start to pack up. When we reached the old wooden door we had come in through we stopped in our tracks. It was propped wide open with a piece of wood. Our minds started racing, that boom we heard… there was definitely someone else here. We headed out into the court yard for a look but didn’t see anyone. We decided to shoot a few more shots of the outside of the building before we left.

The Abandoned Scranton Lace Company in Scranton PA. (Walter Arnold)
It was at this point that our real fun started…

We exited the grounds and walked back onto the street running behind the building. We stopped on the sidewalk to take a few snapshots of the “Scranton Lace” sign on the old entrance.

The Abandoned Scranton Lace Company in Scranton PA. (Walter Arnold)

As we were shooting the sign, a large black SUV cruised down the far end of the street. As it approached, it slowed to a crawl, almost stopping right next to us. Inside were two unfriendly-looking guys with shaved heads, and white tank tops on. They eyeballed us with intent. We took the hint and started walking back to where we had parked, about 150 yards away. As we walked off, they disappeared around the corner. We were about halfway to our car when they circled around the building a second time. Again they slowed down and glared at us as they passed. At this point we started getting nervous, jogged to the car. We agreed that we would just throw our gear in the trunk and high tail it out as fast a possible. No sooner had we reached the car and started pulling away, when the two thugs rounded the building a THIRD time… They fell in directly behind us and proceeded to follow us. We drove away from the building making several turns hoping to lose them.  They tailed us for a few more miles until we reached the highway and then peeled off in a different direction as we got on the highway….

We all breathed a sigh of relief thinking that we had dodged a bullet (possibly literally!) It was at this point that I realized–I had lost my glasses! I knew I had them on me when I left the lace factory and now they were not in the car. They had to have fallen off during our flight from the factory.  We turned around and headed back down the very road where we were just chased out of town. At our original parking spot, Will and I jumped out and began frantically searching. Andy kept the car running and drove along side us on the street. Thankfully, I spotted my glasses on the sidewalk about halfway back toward the factory. We jumped into the car and sped off! Laugh about it now, sure, but it was a pretty scary situation, and we felt very lucky to have gotten away without a confrontation.

All in all Scranton Lace was a fantastic location to shoot, and we had quite the adventure.

 

-Written by Walter Arnold Photography. Photos by Walter Arnold Photography unless otherwise noted.

Thanks to the fellow photographers who joined me on this trip:

Will Arnold: www.twarnold.com

Andy Wheeler: www.adwheelerphotography.com

__________________________________________

33 Comments

  1. Freaking awesome shots dudes!

    • Donna Henry

      I think the program I watched on TV recently was shot by your crew. Kind of makes me sad to see all the decay and think about the thousands of folks who worked there each day making lace. Very nice photos.

  2. Amazing shots.

  3. Nancy

    Beautiful, beautiful pictures. My mother started to work at Scranton Lace when she graduated from high school in 1947. She continued to work there until the early 60’s, when she married and had children. She often spoke about the bowling alley and what a great place it was to work. When I was very little, we could here a loud horn-like sound coming from the lace works, which I suppose, signaled lunch. My mother always told us it was the “sandman’s whistle” and we would go down for our naps. I also recall my mother telling me that Hilary Clinton’s father was the President (think that was his title) of Scranton Lace for many years. In 1980, my mother returned to the Lace Works (as it was called by locals). She worked there for another decade, as her children went to college and moved away from Scranton. Reagan was President, and life was much harder for those working at Scranton Lace. The bowling alley and good times were over. Scranton Lace loomed large in my childhood, but I never went inside. Thank you for giving me a glimpse of it.

  4. Nancy

    Beautiful, beautiful pictures. My mother started to work at Scranton Lace when she graduated from high school in 1947. She continued to work there until the early 60’s, when she married and had children. She often spoke about the bowling alley and what a great place it was to work. When I was very little, we could here a loud horn-like sound coming from the lace works, which I suppose, signaled lunch. My mother always told us it was the “sandman’s whistle” and we would go down for our naps. I also recall my mother telling me that Hilary Clinton’s father was the President (think that was his title) of Scranton Lace for many years. In 1980, my mother returned to the Lace Works (as it was called by locals). She worked there for another decade, as her children went to college and moved away from Scranton. Reagan was President, and life was much harder for those working at Scranton Lace. The bowling alley and good times were over. Scranton Lace loomed large in my childhood, but I never went inside. Thank you for giving me a glimpse of it. I can’t wait to show them to my mom.

  5. Tracy

    Amazing!!!!!! The pictures are fabulous! My grandmother use to work there, and I could remember going for the ride to pick her up. I was never inside but I never thought it was that big. I can’t wait to show my parents this. This needs to be turned into a special for the Discovery Channel! Excellent job!!!!!

  6. JohnnyBinDC

    I REALLY enjoyed this page. Your Urbex pictures as well as the storyline were fantastic. I used to walk by “The Lace Works” every day on my way to and from Elementary school in the 60’s. This page brought back many memories. Thank you and stay safe.

  7. john quinn

    just came across these photographs of nottingham lace curtain machines while searching the internet,thanks for recording them,i worked on this type of machinery here in nottingham ,england ,unfortunately there are no examples of them left in the city of there creation,great photographs and thanks again for recording them even though they have seen better days

  8. rl

    ive been through the whole building many ttimes

  9. Jim

    Absolutely fantastic photographs capturing history in a photo—-a true photographic journey. I grew up in Scranton and lived only several blocks from the Lace company —my grandfather worked there for years and interestingly he came from England (Nottingham) with his large family and so many of them including my grandfather worked at the Lace works—-I can clearly remember the “whistle” blowing during the day at lunch time and of course that great clock tower. Sadly I never was inside or new just how large the whole plant was and what it housed other than looms etc….your photographic journey means alot to me and I thank you so much for taking us on it especially those who remember it so well. I plan to revisit the area and certainly will be sure to see this historic site.

  10. Lorraine Stott

    I enjoyed looking at the pictures of the Scranton Lace Co. but it also made me very sad to see how bad it is now inside. My father worked there as a weaver all his life. My uncle Charlie
    and my brother when he got old enough worked there too. My uncle was a weaver and my brother was a supervisor. It just broke my brothers heart when it closed and he
    had to leave and find a new job. When we were kids my father always took us there and we would come home black from everything you would touch. We loved to run up and
    down the walkways and slid on the rubber mats…My father bowled there often. It was a great place to work and he raised us 5 kids on a good salary. My mother never had to
    work. The Scranton Lace made parachutes during the war, my father never had to go. Our windows in our house had nothing but Scranton Lace curtains. My mother had
    stretchers whe would but them on to dry. We lived on Albright Ave directly across from the front entrance. My father and his brother Charlie eventally bought a house right up
    the road on Marion St. Huey Rodam, Hillary Clintons grandfather worked there also with my father. Thank you for the memories, but it does make me sad how the building
    and grounds have been let go. Lorraine

    • Ron Blackledge

      Thanks for the memories. Our gang, used to hang-out there, we would “drag race” on the long straight away in front of the building. I never knew of the bowling alley inside, quite a story. The period I’m speaking of was in the late 50’s.

  11. jim walsh

    These great photos brought back memories. I attended a private high schoool about one mile from the laceworks in the 60s. The school did not have a gym. Our basketball team practiced at the laceworks for a couple of years. We would arrive after the working day and we had to walk through various parts of the building, including the cafeteria, to access the gym. The locker room is upstairs from the gym behind behind the seating area you photographed. Even in those days, much of the plant was no longer in use. We too had a sense of forbsoing in walking through the masive empty spaces, largely in darkness. Everything was covered with a thin layer of graphite which was used to lubricate the machinery. The balls we used at practice became covered in black. I wondered how they were able to manage the food service under these condtions. At the same time I was impressed with the range of facilties provided for employee recreation.

    Thanks.

    Jim Walsh

  12. Tresspass or not does not matter what you did is open a door to a “time” long ago expired. The photos are incredible. No one would ever see the insides of this great building if not for you three explorers. Thank you thank you thank you. There should be more like you not only here in Scranton but around the world. Granted progress closed down this great giant of the industry as it does across the board with others. But that does not mean that they should be forgotten forever. I remember there was some talk about the machinery going to a museum. Maybe some of it should. But we need the pics to show where we came from. The building can be restored into apartments if not for the well to do but maybe for some of the middle class and lower class of people who would just like a nice place to live. Maybe some developer who doesn’t need to get rich quick can look into it. But then again there is so much greed out there I doubt tha will ever happen. Thank you again for the fantastic pics.

  13. Mary Walsh

    My great-uncle was the controller at Scranton Lace about 100 years ago. And my grandmother and great grandmother worked there around 1900. I have no idea where in Scranton this is located, though. Where is it?

  14. Linda Marichak

    I loved the photos but regret that there were not more images shot when the plant was in full operation. I spent 23 years employed there. I was the only female weaver to run the Nottingham Looms, and was the Weave Department Supervisor until the plant closed in 2002. There are other projects in the works to memorialze the textile industry. I had been contacted by a producer working on a project for the History Channel.

    We did produce goods for WalMart, as well as all of the high end stores. Our products were unlike any you can find today. Many were handed down through generations. The closure of the Lace Company can be described as the end of a functional museum. No other facility is quite like it. Machinery of that size driven by leather belts is not common. The room photographed housed one of the looms that was still in production. Sadly most of the others were removed from the building.

    Thank you for the walk down memory lane.

  15. Lulu B.

    @ mary the first picture on this page shows you the streets the building is on. Check it our on Google maps. It is right near the Albright Avenue and the flood gates there.

    Just wonderful photos and it makes you appreciate just how hard the older generations worked.

  16. Jeanne

    I came across your wonderful photos and story while trying to look up information on old lace/textile factories and equipment in the US.

    Being the dreamer that I am, I often wonder what became of some of these places and equipment, and wonder what the possibility would be of resurrecting some of them with new generations of people or people never exposed to them, who have a love of nostalgia and the quality in vintage to figure out how it could be done.

    When I hear of old sockmaking equipment being rediscovered and reused, the vintage lace lover in me begain to wonder about such a lofty idea such as abandoned textile/lace mills!

    It would be interesting to do a little research to see what kinds of old industries and equipment could be rediscovered and brought back to life….and it doesn’t matter if it is an old slow expensive process because the beauty of the end product could be born again! People have grown weary of the cheap, poor quality, mass produced imports and many would love to bring back American industry and get Americans working again!

    Since we have many people returning to traditional farming, growing their own foods, soapmaking, lots of handwork, etc., why not the old machine lacemaking where the original excellent quality could reign again!

    I’d love to see Etsy do a piece on your discovery and chronicle, and showcase it to their hundreds of thousands of people around the world who would appreciate the ghosts of industry! Maybe it could even spur groups of people to form a collective and literally start the wheels rolling again!

  17. Trish

    Words cannot describe how much I appreciate what you have done here. Your photography is outstanding and took my breath away. How exciting it must have been to roam through a piece of history! There are probably sad, neglected old structures that used to be vibrant and bustling with activity like this all around the US and I hope there are others, like you, who are taking photos . . . . before they are all destroyed which seems to be customary today.

  18. Judy

    I stumbled on the “Abandoned” tv show where they were going thru the Scranton Lace Co and then did a Google search and found your site.

    My great grandfather was from the Nottingham England area and manufactured lace-making machines in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. Did anyone take any photos of the name plates of those looms in the lace works? His factory was the Spridgeon Lace Works in Long Eaton, near Nottingham. I know they exported machines to the New England area, but have known any specific companies. My great grandfather, grandfather and several great uncles also spent time here overseeing the installation process. Some stayed longer than others. I would love to see any images you might have if any of the machines were Spridgeons.

    Thanks.

  19. Kathie

    Please make a book of these photos (and your narrative); they are breathtaking. They bring back a time–and many a lifetime–worth commemorating. Stunning work.

  20. I saw this factory on a TV show on the History channel. I think it was called Abandoned. Great photos of this old factory. Too bad they went out of business. Buy USA made or this will happen to all of them!

  21. Scott C

    I became fascinated with this factory after the Abandoned episode. I agree with the above poster who actually supervised there when it shut down about what a shame that was. I also agree with an above poster about how amazing it would be to start this factory again and make quality products, unlike the junk we have now.
    Thanks so much for the pics.

  22. deb

    Any chance you could get permission to be there and take even more pictures?

  23. Gene Brennan

    Great pics and narrative. Used to go by this building all the time in 80’s and 90’s. Always wondered what was inside. Never thought to go see. Older relative of my ex-wife was some kind of high-up boss there before it closed.

  24. Helene

    Wonderful pictures!! It’s a shame what happened to this and many other places. I remember right before they shut down, they would have sales, they made the most beautiful tablecloths. You can’t find quality like that anymore, but thank you for this.

  25. michael mickavicz

    I worked there for 7 yrs. back in the late 80’s early 90’s. It was nice to look at the pics. I miss that place and my old co-workers.I also bowled on those lanes lol. the pics bring back alot of memories

  26. Clint Wirth

    When were these taken……I’d love to go in there, just once. I used to work there and wonder it I can still find my way around

  27. mike

    I remember my grandmother speaking of the Lace Works and I think she worked there also.Buildings like that will never be constructed again and thats a shame. The construction put so many people to work- which is what we need today- and YES BUY AMERICAN.the job your neighbor saves might be yours. and you can save theirs– I just wish my parents were still around to fill me in on the past. Scranton itself was such a wonderful town- today it is a “dot” on the map.

  28. Meg

    This was featured on the show Abandonded which aired on History channel. Very interesting show. Lets hope they feature more buildings like this. Here is a link to more info about the show.
    http://treasure-hunting.factoidz.com/history-channels-abandoned-tv-reality-show-review/

  29. I was one of the lucky few to empty out this building. My brother bought some of the machinery to use in his factory. I went along for the ride and took my camera. I also took pictures. I also watched other people cutting up the big lace machines for scrap. I bought two of the original steam engines out of the boiler room. I also bought some of the tools. I bought a lot of Parker vises from this factory and thats what brought me to this sight.

  30. Dan

    I was in this building several times to work on equipment there in the late 1980’s/early 1990’s. I also remember seeing a large room with several billards tables and a barber shop with the old barber chairs with the scrolling on the foot stool. I also remember seeing the bowling lanes, gym and cafeteria. I believe the University of Scranton, which was St. Thomas, played their basketball games there.

  31. Walter Arnold (Author)

    That’s fantastic Gerard! Thanks for sharing! If you have any photos taken there and want to share, I’d love to update the blog and include your images. Always love adding to the history of these places when I can. Thanks again! – Walter Arnold

Comments are now closed for this article.