The Lafayette Cooperative Glass Plant


Olga S. Hardman

Photo (1908 postcard) shows 3 factories - l to r: Lafayette Glass, established August 28, 1899;
the Peerless Glass Plant,and the Clarksburg Zinc Plant.  The Peerless was built in 1905
by W.R. Jones of Morgantown, WV.  Mr. Jones operated the Peerless for some years
and then it was purchased by Eugene Rolland.  Mr. Rolland rebuilt the plant and
then opened as the Rolland Glass Co.

In 1899, some glassworkers from the Pittsburgh, PA, area decided to build a cooperative glass plant in Harrison County, WV. This locale was chosen because natural gas was plentiful and cheap ($.10 a thousand cubic feet) and the area had available railway transportation. Along with Jules Malfregeot (father of August, Louis, Jules C. and George,) Nicholas Folou (father of Rosa, et al,) Charles Rolland (father of Eugene, A.J., Charles, Ernest, Albert, and Marie,) Hippolyte Leuliette (father of Harry, August, Frank, Annie, Charlotte, Cicely, Margaret, Adeline, and Sarah,) Charles Moine (father of Charles, Joe, and Mary,) Louis Schmidt (father of Paul, Henry, Louis, and Germaine,) Eugene Kopp (father of John, Paul, and Gertrude,) my maternal grandfather, Julien F. Caussin (father of Julien, Jr. (Whitey,) Clarice, Danton, and Leah (my mother,) formed the Lafayette Cooperative Hand Glass Plant at the west end of Hamill Avenue in North View. Julien Caussin became the first president of the company.

There was some disagreement among the founders about the building site. Some wanted to build the plant in Glen Elk, but my grandfather preferred the North View site because the land north and east of the railroad had already been laid out in some 36 city blocks, as they are today. Between Goff and Pride Avenues, bordered by 21st and 23rd Streets there was a public park which had been planted with several small maple trees. A 300 foot water well with a windmill was located at its center.

After the decision was made to build the plant in North View, Julien Caussin, the company's new president, rented one of the only two houses which were then standing in the area. It was a two-story frame on the corner of 22nd St. and Hamill Avenue. (See Old House, Old Friend.)

Prior to the completion of the new glass plant building, the only place available for holding board meetings was the kitchen of Julien Caussin's home. Since the Caussin's did not own enough chairs at the time for the board to be seated, each man carried an empty nail keg from the plant site to 2200 Hamill for the board meetings.

Until they could get a side track built for unloading materials, the new cooperative members got permission from the B&O Railroad to unload their materials from the main line during the hours the train was free and not yet needed for its next run to Fairmont, WV.

The Lafayette began as a pot furnace operation, i.e., the glass was heated in clay pots. Sand, potash, limestone, coal dust, and cullet (broken glass) were placed into the pots and heated until molten. This material was then gathered onto steel pipes, which were 3/4" in circumference and 58" long, by a "gathering boy." It required gathering 3 or 4 times to get a sufficiently large lump (20 to 30 pounds.)  The gathering boy then took this molten mass to a cast iron block where the "glass-blower" blew a ball to a 42" circumference. The glass blower's helper, called a "snapper," would then carry the ball up to the blow furnace where the ball was heated again and the blower began the process of forming it into a cylinder. The blower would then swing the cylinder (called a roller) in a shaft in the floor (called a swing hole.)  By blowing, turning, swinging, and intermittently reheating the glass, the desired cylinder length of 55" to 60" was achieved. The cylinder was then split open on one side and then taken to the "flattener" where it was flattened in the flattening oven. After cooling, it was then ready to be cut to desired window size by the "cutter." If your home was built at the turn of the century, the glass for the windows in your home was probably made by this method.

At the Lafayette, this is the way glass was made until 1903, when it expanded to a continuous tank operation. This newer method made higher quality glass and eliminated some of the many operations required to make glass in a pot furnace.

I am told that, regardless of the method of production used, these glassworkers were a happy lot. Although the work was hard, hot, and dangerous, the men engaged in cheerful camaraderie as they performed their arduous tasks. It was common for children to carry pails to the factory at lunch time containing full-course hot meals for their fathers. The bottom of the pail usually contained extra salt to replace the salt lost in perspiration as the men labored in such a hot environment. 

As a direct result of the expansion of the Lafayette in 1903, the population of North View tripled bringing in many more glassworkers from Belgium, France, and Spain. In 1912, a street-car line extended through the heart of North View linking the glass plant to Clarksburg.

One of the pleasures the people of Harrison County still enjoy as a result of the immigration of these French glassworkers, is a French cookie called a "galette." It was originally made in a heavy iron over direct flame, first baking one side and then turning the iron to bake the other.  Now these irons are available in a much lighter version (aluminum) and even an electric model much like a waffle iron can be purchased. (See My Christmas Cookies.)

The social life of the community was greatly enhanced when the cooperative members built a social hall at 2007 Goff Avenue. It was a large two-story frame building containing a card room, saloon, and other social rooms on the first floor. The entire second floor was a large dance hall where dances were held every Saturday night.  I am told by my Uncle Danton that many of the girls from the city (Clarksburg) loved to walk to North View on Saturday nights to dance with the "French boys."  Since there were no paved streets at the time, it was customary to carry one's dancing shoes and leave one's muddy shoes at the door of the building, which was known as "Lafayette Hall," as well as the "Lafayette Club." The addition of the street-car line in 1912 made social life a lot easier.

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Part of a ticket for a Lafayette Dance at the Lafayette Club found by Jules Malfregeot
(grandson of one of the founders of the Lafayette Glass Plant) in his father's home.

The influence of the French, Belgian, and Spanish also added a cultural dimension to the area. Many of these immigrants loved music and played various musical instruments, a sufficient number to form the nucleus of a community band. The Lafayette Band, directed by Louis Zellers, father of Julia Zellers Leuliette, regularly performed on the bandstand in the North View Park. Those band members remembered by my uncle, Danton Caussin, were: August Malfregeot, Bass Horn; George Malfregeot, Baritone; Jules (Maud) Malfregeot, Baritone; Louis Malfregeot, Bass Drum; Danton Caussin, Alto; Jules Rapp, Trumpet; Maurice Rapp, ?; Charles Rolland, ?; Albert Rolland, baritone; Frank Leuliette, Clarinet; Harry Leuliette, ?; and Paul Schmidt, baritone.

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Pictured on a 1907 postcard. The x marks August Malfregeot. 3rd from left on first row is 
Frank Leuliette, clarinet, 4th from left is Danton Caussin, baritone, and 5th from left is Albert Rolland, 
baritone. Far right is Louie Malfregeot, bass drum. Louis Zellers, band director is 5th from left on second row.

Many of the descendants of these early glass workers have been music educators and/or practicing musicians over the last 70 years in Harrison County: Olga Stenger Hardman - public school music teacher, music supervisor, and private piano teacher; Henry Mayer - band-instructor and music supervisor; Camille Gillot - pianist; Nellie Gillot Payez - piano teacher; Olga Genin Langlett - clarinet and piano teacher; Fern Quinaut - pianist; and others.

The Lafayette Glass Plant operated from 1899 until it was destroyed by fire on March 25, 1919.   It was rebuilt and continued its successful operation until 1923 when a price war between Pittsburgh Plate and Libbey Owens literally forced the Lafayette out of business.   During the 22 years of its operation, it provided a good living for numerous residents, enabling them to raise many successful citizens of Harrison County.

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Board of Directors of the Lafayette Cooperative Glass Plant in 1913.
Seated: l. to r. Hippolyte Leuliette, V.P.;  Eugene Rolland, Pres.;  Charles Moine, Sr.; 
Adrian Demeester.  Standing: Louis Schmidt, Treas,;  Paul Kopp,  Sec.;   Julien F. Caussin, Jr.

            © 1999 Olga S. Hardman