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A restored 1867 Dorflinger glassworker’s house will be open for limited review


TRR photo by Tom Kane
This 1867 Dorflinger glassworker’s house is one of 33 houses that were built for 182 employees and their families. (Click for larger image)

WHITE MILLS — Walter Barbe and Kurt Reed’s efforts have finally paid off.

For three years, the two volunteers of the Dorflinger-Suydam Glass Museum have been laboring to restore a once-dilapidated 1867 house on Charles Street to its original pristine condition.

The house, which was originally one of seven houses built by Christian Dorflinger to house workers in his glass factory, will be open for viewing by White Mills residents and Dorflinger-Suydam supporters this Saturday, September 14.

In less than two years, 33 houses were built in White Mills for 182 employees and their families. This house, one of the original seven, was fifth in line. It has been restored to its 1875 condition, when siding was placed over the board-and-batten walls and the back porch (summer kitchen) and parts of the front porch were enclosed.

Dorflinger came to America from France in 1848 with his widowed mother and two brothers and two sisters. He began his work with glass in America in New Jersey, but soon moved to New York City. In 1852 he started his own factory and in 1865 moved his family to White Mills where he built a glass factory and a factory town.

“Just at this time, households switched from oil lamps to kerosene lamps which needed glass chimneys,” Barbe said. “It was in the making of these chimneys that Dorflinger made his big money.”

TRR photo by Tom Kane
Walter Barbe, Dorflinger benefactor and volunteer, poses in the house beside an old water pump. (Click for larger image)

The two-story house, both outside and inside, is constructed entirely with hemlock wood, which was plentiful in the era before the tanning mills ate up all the supply, Barbe said.

“Luckily, the recent owner didn’t alter the house for occupation of people but used it to store materials from his business,” Barbe said. “This kept the house near to pristine condition.”

The house contains many of the authentic utensils and tools that were used in the heyday of glass making. By Barbe and Reed’s efforts, many antiques from the glass-making era are contained in the house.

The project is part of Historic White Mills and the Dorflinger-Suydam Wildlife Sanctuary.

“We want to connect local people with their heritage,” Barbe said. “The tragedy is that Wayne County has lost its heritage of glass.”

The original glass factory still stands on the corner of Elizabeth Street and Route 6 in White Mills.

TRR photo by Tom Kane
An antique bed and bedpan, vestiges of another era, are on display at the restored glassworkers home.< (Click for larger image)

“The area was ideally suited for a glass factory,” Barbe said. “Coal, an indispensable element needed to make glass, was plentiful, for the Delaware & Hudson Canal ran directly in front of the factory.”

The house remained in the possession of the Dorflinger family until 1924 when, after the factory was closed a few years, one of the Dorflinger daughters began selling the more than 60 workers’ houses that had been rented and were still in the possession of the family.

In 1892, the Dorflingers began selling many houses to workers.

“It is likely that this move was prompted by the union -led labor unrest in 1892 which culminated in a major factory fire, possibly the result of arson,” Barbe said.

Dorflinger’s finest work was crystal-like glassware some of which was purchased by Mary Lincoln for the White House.

“After that purchase, Dorflinger glass became enormously popular,” Barbe said.

TRR photo by Tom Kane
Dorflinger volunteers Walter Barbe and Kurt Reed, assemble an antique water pump in the house’s kitchen. (Click for larger image)

Barbe, who is a retired editor-in-chief of Highlights for Children, a nationally popular magazine for children, is the chairman of the Executive Committee of the Dorflinger-Suydam Museum Board.

The house will be open on Saturday, September 14 from 1:00 to 3:00 p.m. for White Mills residents only, and from 4:00 to 5:00 p.m. for those who are attending the fund-raising dinner at the Dorfinger-Suydam Museum later that evening.

Barbe said the house will be open to the public at a later date.

News & columns provided by The River Reporter