Skinner Collection

Wistariahurst Museum,
Holyoke, Massachusetts

The Skinner Family Collection, 1864 – 1980

211 boxes (200 linear ft.)

COLLECTION REFERENCE NUMBER — MS 101 The Skinner Family Collection


William Skinner, a prominent silk manufacturer of the early twentieth century, moved his family and business to Holyoke, MA in 1874. At the time his family consisted of 2 daughters from his first marriage to Nancy Warner, Eleanor Skinner, and Nancy Skinner; along with his second wife, Sarah Elizabeth Allen Skinner, and their children, Elizabeth Allen Skinner, William Cobbett Skinner, Joseph Allen Skinner, Ruth Isabelle (Belle) Skinner and Katharine Skinner. With an unlimited source of power and inexpensive immigrant labor available in Holyoke, the silk production and textile manufacturing business grew and profits increased. William Skinner remained at the head of the firm until his death in 1902 when control was turned over to his two sons William C. and Joseph. In 1961 the Skinner family sold the business, with all their trademarks and patents, to Indian Head Mills. The William Skinner & Sons silk and satin mills were earning sales revenues in the millions of dollars and employing over 1,000 people at the time of William Skinner’s death in 1902. As manufacturer of “Skinner’s Satins” he came to be widely known, and his own success was extended philanthropically to Holyoke and its people. The family maintained a residence in Holyoke at their home, Wistariahurst, for eighty years.  The Skinners donated the property to the city of Holyoke in 1959.

The collection is open for research. Some restrictions.


William Skinner was born in London in 1824. In England, William served as his father’s apprentice and learned the trade of silk dying. In 1843, at the age of 19 1, William Skinner immigrated to the United States. Skinner arrived in Northampton, MA, one of the few areas that had an established silk industry. Skinner immediately got a job in the Valentine Dye Works. In 1848, Valentine’s business failed and Skinner went into business for himself in a dye‐house adjoining the Conant Silk Mills. In 1850, Skinner married Nancy Warner. Together they had two daughters, Eleanor “Nellie” Skinner and Nancy “Nina” Skinner, who died in 1854. Two years after marriage, Skinner entered a partnership with Joseph Warner, his brother‐in‐law. After the death of his first wife, Skinner’s partnership with Warner dissolved and Skinner moved north to Haydenville and set up his own company, Unquomonk Silk Mills. He married Sarah Allen of Northampton and had five children that lived into adulthood. The eldest was William C. followed by Elizabeth, Joseph, Ruth Isabel “Belle” and Katharine.

The years in Haydenville proved prosperous for Skinner. His mills grew, as did his fortune. The area around his mill and boarding houses became known as Skinnerville. In 1868, he had a house designed by William Fenno Pratt constructed for himself and his family. The house was of the latest fashion and symbolized Skinner’s advancement. In May 1874, the Mill River Dam, which had supplied water power for Skinner’s mill and others, gave way. The ensuing flood destroyed Skinner’s mill and over 140 people lost their lives in the flood. His house, however, withstood the flood with only some minor damage.

At the time of the flood, Skinner was fifty years old. He had built a large fortune and had lost almost everything. On the verge of financial ruin, William Skinner was eager to rebuild without amassing a large debt. Luckily, Holyoke was attempting to build an industrial base and offered Skinner a prime canal site on which to rebuild his mill rent free for five years, and a portion of one square block of land on which to build his house for one dollar. Since most of his house had survived the flood, it was dismantled and brought to Holyoke.

William rebuilt his factory in Holyoke. Within six months, he was again producing sewing silk and silk braid used for binding men’s suits and service uniforms. In 1883, the company became William Skinner and Sons. William Skinner, Sr., remained at the head of the firm until his death in 1902 and then sons William C. and Joseph took over leadership of the firm. The company that William Skinner created became the largest producer of satin linings in the world. Company products were bought in all parts of the world. “Skinner’s Satins” were known wherever silks were used. Large sales and distribution forces were located in New York, Boston, Philadelphia, and Chicago. As the years passed, new generations of the family kept up with the times, producing other varieties of fabric and introducing synthetic materials. Most popular among their later lines of Skinner materials was their bridal satin remembered today by many brides of the 1940s and 1950s. Silk and silk satin were the earliest fabrics and the mainstay of the business for 87 years.

In 1961 the Skinner family sold the business, with all their trademarks and patents, to Indian Head Mills who closed the mills shortly after. The mill buildings were destroyed in a fire in 1980. Holyoke Heritage State Park now occupies the mill site.

William Skinner and his descendants are well‐known for their philanthropic gifts to social and educational institutions in western Massachusetts. William, the elder, gave money to the Holyoke YMCA, Holyoke Hospital, and to build a gymnasium at the Dwight L. Moody School in Northfield, MA. Joseph A. Skinner was a Trustee at Mount Holyoke College for 19 years in addition to serving several years as President. He donated the land and buildings that now comprise Skinner State Park. Belle and Katharine established the Skinner Coffee House to serve the needs of immigrants who worked in the city’s mills and factories. Belle received international attention for her work rebuilding the French village of Hattonchatel after World War I. In 1920, she was awarded the French Legion of Honor for her efforts.

The Skinner family lived at Wistariahurst for two generations. The estate was named by the family in 1901, for the wisteria vines draping the mansion that Sarah planted in the late 1880s. Over the years there have been many changes and additions. In 1913, the Conservatory and Music Hall were built to house Belle Skinner’s collection of musical instruments. In 1927 when the Marble Lobby and Main Hall were added, the entrance to the home was changed to Beech Street. The two lions at the Cabot Street entrance were purchased by Mrs. William Skinner in Rome in the 1880s and installed at the original main entrance at 247 Pine Street. In 1927 Belle Skinner had them moved to Cabot Street as part of the 1927 addition.

The house was deeded to the City of Holyoke in June 1959 by Katharine Skinner Kilborne, the youngest daughter of William and Sarah Skinner, and her three children, for cultural and educational purposes. Wistariahurst became the quarters of the Holyoke Museum in April 1960. The museum has evolved over time to become an historic house museum that tells the story of the history of Holyoke and her inhabitants, including the Skinner family. Wistariahurst is a Department of the City of Holyoke supported by Historic Holyoke at Wistariahurst, Inc. and the Friends of Wistariahurst, and the Holyoke Historic Commission, and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.


The Skinner Family Collection consists primarily of material dating between 1860 and 1960. The collection includes family correspondence; maps, blueprints and architectural drawings of homes and other buildings owned by the Skinners; as well as scrapbooks, photos, clothing and memorabilia of the family. It also contains products and ledgers from William Skinner & Sons Manufacturing, the business which the family sold in 1961.

The first large component of this collection is comprised of family correspondence. The correspondence included in the collection is primarily between William Skinner, his wife Sarah Allen Skinner, and his children Eleanor “Nellie” Skinner, Elizabeth Skinner Hubbard, William C. Skinner, Joseph Allen Skinner, Ruth Isabel “Belle” Skinner, and Katharine Skinner Kilborne. There is also a large sampling of correspondence from Katharine’s husband Robert Stewart Kilborne, and their descendents Barbara Briggs Kilborne, Elizabeth Kilborne Hudnut, and George Briggs Kilborne. Correspondence from the Warner, Clark, and Hubbard families, as well as the 4th generation Skinner and Kilborne families will also be found.

Materials pertaining to the family home, Wistariahurst, include primary source information related to the Mill River Flood, which precipitated the Skinner family’s move to Holyoke; miscellaneous papers and documentation of Robert Stewart Kilborne II’s costume donations; information regarding Ruth Isabel “Belle” Skinner’s renovations to the house, including the music room; information on the tea house and maps of the gardens; documentation of the donation of the house to the City of Holyoke in 1959, including the Katharine Skinner Kilborne deed; and biographical information on several of the Skinner family servants. These servant profiles include Tony Bosky, Rose Barselo, Frank L. Larrow, Nellie Wright, Hulda Klemm, Prudence Lagogue, Hattie Riley, James Jack, George and Walter Brakey, Charles Linderme, John Byrnes, Charles Kistner, and William Rogers. Letters to and from family servants, as well as photographs of staff, can also be found in the collection.

Materials pertaining to Ruth Isabel “Belle” Skinner’s collection of musical instruments include music hall stationary; photographs, paintings, and glass negatives of several instruments; a copy of the Wistariahurst Guestbooks, 1912‐1928 and 1928‐1946; and recordings of instruments in the collection from Fanny Reed Hammond. The donation of Ms. Skinner’s collection to Yale University in 1961 is documented in correspondence from Katharine Skinner Kilborne and Robert Stewart Kilborne II. Copies of the donation agreement, bill of sale, and deed of gift to Yale University are included.

The Skinner Family collection includes records of the family’s philanthropic endeavors, most notably the construction of the Skinner Memorial Chapel, the Skinner Coffee House, and Ruth Isabel “Belle” Skinner’s work in the French village of Hattonchatel. Skinner Chapel materials include building specifications and programs from the laying of the corner stone in 1909 and the dedication in 1912. Documents pertaining to the Skinner Coffee House include a general history, brochures of events, internal reports of monthly activities, and financial statements. Ruth Isabel “Belle” Skinner’s work in Hattonchatel is documented in primary source materials including several French publications and a scrapbook of articles compiled by Hulda Klemm, a Skinner family servant.

There are extensive photographic records of the family, including the Skinners, Kilbornes, and Warners. Within the photographs are pictures of Ruth Isabel “Belle” Skinner in Hattonchatel, a collection of photographs from Ruth Isabel “Belle” Skinner’s trip around the world with her brother William C. Skinner, and photographs and glass plate negatives of Wistariahurt’s interior, exterior, and gardens. In addition to the photographs is a small video collection. Videos include Skinner family movies from the 1920s documenting Hattonchtel and a family reunion over Christmas 1927. More recent video includes a WGBY production on the history of The Orchards.

The collection includes number of scrapbooks compiled about members of the Skinner family. Some compile personal effects like birthday and greeting cards, but they are primarily composed of news clippings about the family, obituary notices, reunion information, and other important events like William Skinner’s campaign for Congress in 1888.

Other personal effects and documents survive in the collection and are organized by former owner. These items range from family recipes and school notebooks to travel memorabilia. In addition to photographs of himself and his family, the miscellaneous documents of Joseph Skinner include information regarding his relationship with Mount Holyoke College, Skinner State Park, The Skinner Museum in South Hadley, and The Orchards golf course. A selection of books from the Skinner family library can also be found in the Archives. Selected titles include The Genuine Works of Flavius Josephus, the Jewish Historian, volumes I and II; Life of Daniel Webster, volumes I and II; The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens; Essays and Treatises on Several Subjects in Two Volumes by David Hume; and collections of poetry and prose.

The family business, William Skinner and Sons Silk Manufacturing, is documented from the years 1873 through 1961. Company records in the Archives include personnel lists, company cash books, private cash books, company ledgers, payroll records, inventories, monthly journals, store ledgers, and store sales books. This portion of the collection also includes selected satin, velvet, and braid material samples, as well as company publications and promotional materials. Other industry coverage featuring Skinner Silks have been collected and are included. William Skinner and his sons made several trips to Japan to learn new manufacturing techniques. Documentation of these company related travels include postcards, hotel rate sheets, a presentation poem/scroll from 1914, and a number of photographs from their travels. Other business related photographs depict the exterior and interior of the Holyoke mill, including photos of the chemist, the infirmary, and other departments such as quilling, winding and spinning, warping, weaving, and sorting. Commemorative items from the 100th anniversary of Skinner and Sons include a letter opener, key chain, guest badges, coins, and paperweights. A copy of The Holyoke Transcript‐Telegram article dated July 17, 1980, reports of the destruction of the Skinner mill by fire.


Subseries A – Albums, Books and Journals
Subseries B – Photographs
Subseries C – Correspondence
Subseries D – Documents
Subseries E – Extended William Skinner Family

Subseries A – Albums, Books and Journals
Subseries B – Photographs
Subseries C – Correspondence
Subseries D – Documents
Subseries E – Extended Allen Family

Subseries A – Albums, Books and Journals
Subseries B – Photographs
Subseries C – Correspondence
Subseries D – Document
Subseries E – Extended Warner Family

Subseries A – Albums, Books and Journals
Subseries B – Nancy “Nina” and Clark Family Photographs
Subseries C – Correspondence
Subseries D – Clark Family Documents & Correspondence

Subseries A – Albums, Books and Journals
Subseries B – Elizabeth Skinner Hubbard and Family Photographs
Subseries C – Correspondence
Subseries D – Documents
Subseries E – Extended Hubbard Family Correspondence
Subseries F – Hubbard Family Documents

Subseries A – Albums, Books and Journals
Subseries B – Photographs
Subseries C – Correspondence
Subseries D – Documents

Subseries A – Albums, Books and Journals
Subseries B – Joseph Allen Skinner and Family Photographs
Subseries C – Correspondence
Subseries D – Documents
Subseries E – Martha “Mattie” Clement Hubbard Skinner (Joseph’s Wife)
Subseries F – Ruth Isabel Skinner (Joseph’s Daughter)
Subseries G – Elisabeth Skinner (Joseph’s Daughter)
Subseries H – William Skinner II (Joseph Skinner’s Son)
Subseries I – Martha Skinner Logan (Joseph’s Daughter)

Subseries A – Albums, Books and Journals
Subseries B – Photographs
Subseries C – Correspondence
Subseries D – Documents

Subseries A – Albums Books and Journals
Subseries B – Katharine Skinner Kilborne and Kilborne Family Photographs
Subseries C – Correspondence
Subseries D – Documents
Subseries E – Robert Stewart Kilborne (Katharine’s Husband)
Subseries F – R. Stewart Kilborne, Jr. Correspondence
Subseries G – R. Stewart Kilborne, Jr. Documents
Subseries H – R. Stewart Kiborne Photographs
Subseries I – Barbara Briggs Kilborne (R. Stewart Kiborne’s first wife).
Subseries J – Elizabeth Kilborne Hudnut Correspondence.
Subseries K – Hudnut Family Documents & Photographs
Subseries L – William Skinner Kilborne Correspondence
Subseries M – George Briggs Kilborne
Subseries N – 4th Generation Kilborne Family

Subseries A – Albums/Journals/Scrapbooks
Subseries B – Books Owned by Skinner Family
Subseries C– Corrrespondence
Subseries D – Documents
Subseries E – Reunions
Subseries F – Photographs and Photo Albums


Subseries A – Articles Books and booklets
Subseries B – Photographs
Subseries C – Correspondence
Subseries D – Documents
Subseries E – Employee and Union Records
Subseries F – Advertisements and Labels
Subseries G – Samples
Subseries H – Scrapbooks & Mementos
Subseries I – Inventories
Subseries J – Journals
Subseries K – Cash Books
Subseries L – Ledgers
Subseries M – Price Lists
Subseries N – Japan related

Subseries A – Articles Books and Newsclippings
Subseries B –Photographs and Video
Subseries C – Correspondence

Subseries A – Article Books and Newsclippings
Subseries B – Photographs
Subseries C – Correspondence
Subseries D – Documents
Subseries D – Recordings

Subseries A – Albums Scrapbooks and Newsclippings
Subseries B – Photographs
Subseries C – Financial Reports
Subseries D – Documents

Subseries A – General Information
Subseries B – Photographs
Subseries C – Correspondence


Subseries A – Albums, Article, Newsclippings,Scrapbooks
Subseries B – Photographs
Subseries C – Correspondence
Subseries D – Documents
Subseries E – Donations/Gifts
Subseries F – Wistariahurst Museum

For Detailed Skinner Finding Aid, click SkinnerFindingAid


The Wistariahurst Museum Archives are located in the Carriage House of the Museum property. The Archive hosts several main research collections: The Skinner Family Collection; The Textile Collection, containing many exampales of Skinner Satin Wedding Dresses; The Holyoke Collection, a general archive relating to the History of the City of Holyoke as a whole; The Carlos Vega Collection of Latino History in Holyoke; The Magoon Collection, relating to the History of Papermaking in Holyoke. The Museum encourages patrons to come and view the Archives for educational and recreational purposes.

The Wistariahurst Museum Archives are available for public use Mondays, from 9:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m., and Thursdays, from 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. Patrons may also call ahead to schedule an appointment to use the Archives. Finding Aids for The Skinner Family Collection, The Holyoke Collection and the Vega Collection, listing box and folder locations, are available for patrons to look through. Materials may be requested by completing a provided Call Slip which includes collection name, box number, and folder number of the material. The staff person on duty will retrieve the requested items from the Archives. Only staff persons are allowed in the Archives storage area.

Researchers are not allowed to copy, scan, or photograph material without Museum permission. If you would like a photocopy, scan, or photograph of a document, you must complete a photocopy request form. Depending on the item’s condition, the staff person will make the copy or scan for you, or instruct you on taking the photograph as to not harm the item. The staff person on duty has the right to refuse to copy, scan, or allow a photograph to be taken based on his or her assessment of the condition of the item.

Patrons must ask permission from the Museum Curator to use items in a publication. Only the curator may give permission. He or she will review the items on a case‐by‐case basis, and will inform patrons if restrictions exist. In the event that permission is granted, the curator will provide the patron with a use agreement. The proper citation for these items is: “This photograph is courtesy of the Wistariahurst Museum, Holyoke, Massachusetts.” Some items may be under copyright and unavailable for publication. The owner of that copyright must be contacted to allow usage of their items.


Terms of Access and Use — The collection is open for research. Some restrictions.

Preferred Citation — Cite as: The Skinner Family Collection, Wistariahurst Museum, Holyoke, Mass.

History of the Collection — The contents of The Skinner Family Collection were donated to Wistariahurst Museum by the Skinner Family Descendents

Processing Information — Processed by various curators and directors over the years 1960‐present.

For reference queries:
Please contact the Curator, Wistariahurst Museum,
238 Cabot Street, Holyoke, MA 413‐322‐5660


Languages: English

Separated Materials — Duplicate materials, published works, records publicly available elsewhere, non‐archival bindings and folders, and paper clips have been duly removed from the collection.

Copyright: The researcher assumes full responsibility for conforming to the laws of copyright. Whenever possible, the Wistariahurst Museum Archives staff will provide information about copyright owners and other restrictions, but the legal determination ultimately rests with the researcher.

Requests for permission to publish material from this collection should be discussed with the Museum Curator.


Related published materials:
Constance McLaughlin Green, Holyoke, Massachusetts: A Case History of the Industrial Revolution in America. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1939. (Available in the Archive)

Wyatt E. Harper, The Story of Holyoke. Holyoke, MA: The City of Holyoke, 1974. (Available in the Archive).

Thibodeau, Kate N. Holyoke, The Skinner Family and Wistariahurst. Chicago, IL: Arcadia Publishing, 2005

Related materials in the other nearby collections:
Textile Collection at Wistariahurst Museum

Joseph Allen Skinner Museum at Mount Holyoke College, South Hadley, MA

The Williamsburg Historical Society, Williamsburg, MA

The Holyoke Telegram – Transcript, Available on Microfilm at the Holyoke Public Library


2 Responses to Skinner Collection

  1. Darcy Hurst says:

    Greetings. I have enjoyed your article regarding the “Skinner Silk Mills” Family Collection 1864-1980. I am pursuing family genealogy and have located on census records that my ancestors worked at a “silk mill” in 1880 and I am assuming that it must be the “William Skinner and Sons” factory I can’t help but notice that there are archives which may contain the following: The family business, William Skinner and Sons Silk Manufacturing, is documented from the years 1873 through 1961. Company records in the Archives include personnel lists, company cash books, private cash books, company ledgers, payroll records, inventories, monthly journals, store ledgers, and store sales books.
    I am seeking to look at these archives to locate my ancestors. Is the only way to view these archives is to come to “Wisteriahurst”? If there is another possible option, I would be appreciative of that information and who I might contact. I will certainly make a donation to the museum for your efforts in providing me with information. I look forward to hearing from you.
    Warm Regards,
    Darcy Johnston Hurst
    Battle Ground, Washington, USA

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s