The Elkridge Heritage Society held its July meeting at the (air-conditioned!) Hamel Builders office. Mr. Ed Hamel graciously opened his conference room and kitchen for our use, and we had at least 30 people in attendance, including Terry Chaconas, County Councilmember Courtney Watson's assistant. The energy of the group was very inspiring, as several Davis and Hemphill employees spoke about what it was like to work at the factory. Mr. Hans Reichnach was the most senior former-employee, having worked for the factory for 55 years, starting at age 17. All the employees, including Hans Reichnach and Richard Marshall, spoke about what a family-like atmosphere it was to work there, and about the excellent quality of the workmanship required for the Davis and Hemphill products. Ruth Sherwood, whose husband passed away recently, also spoke about her husband's time working there. She said she wished he could have attended the meeting and seen all the improvements and memorabilia.
Davis and Hemphill made anything that could be made using screw machines. That is, they did not make screws for hardware stores as their parts were of much higher precision that the average screw. One of their most common parts that you might have in your home is a Monarch nozzle for an oil heater system. For other endeavors, Davis and Hemphill manufactured solid silver screws for a very hush-hush project, made parts for the space program, and parts for hand-grenades and other weaponry during war-time. The young people brought on as machine operators were not put through a formal training program, but were given hands-on training, moving up to more and more precise machines as they were able. Those who were not able to manage the machinery often went on to become managers for other companies, such was the level of workmanship required. At its peak, the company had about 150 employees. As automated machinery advanced, the staff necessarily down-sized, but because of the precision required in the parts, the human aspect could not be entirely removed.
After the round-table discussion with the former employees, Mr. Ed Hamel told us some of the history of the factory, and how it originally started in the corner of a building near the Viaduct, making telephone operator connectors, and then moved to the Furnace Avenue site in the early 1900s. As time went on, the factory expanded and added to the original building. Eventually, the factory closed and Mr. Hamel acquired the building in 2004. By 2005, he had completed the renovation and opened the new offices for Hamel Builders, a company well-known for its renovations and adaptive reuse, as well as new construction. He gave us the grand tour. The renovations he accomplished were spectacular! When he did his first walk-throughs, trying to decide if he could make this building work for his offices, he said he would come out covered in oil. The floor boards were soaked in it. It was quite an environmental undertaking to renovate the factory. He re-used much of the building, however, and even used some of the metal beams for the entrance awning, which keeps the industrial history of the site alive. The factory bell is still on the roof, though it cannot currently be rung, and a hoist on a trolley decorates one side of the building. The skylights that are so visibly appealing from Race Road bring in much needed natural light for the architects. The original skylights were mostly blocked and leaking, but he kept with the style, and fixed them. On one side of the building, the skylights had to have blinds added to them because they actually let in too much light!
After the tour, County Councilmember Courtney Watson arrived, just in time for dessert! We had her say a few words at the business portion of our meeting. She talked about how she fell in love with Elkridge because of its sense of community, which she first felt at a benefit concert at Elkridge Landing Middle School in 2005. If memory serves me correctly, this was probably the benefit concert put on by the area music teachers for victims of Hurricane Katrina.
As for business, since our former president, Gail Sigel, moved to Arizona, we had to elect new board members. We are very pleased to announce that Dave Grabowski is the new president, Doug Duvall is Vice President, and Ray Miller is in a new position we are calling "Second Vice President." Dave has long been concerned about the artifacts in the Brumbaugh House and wants to see the collection digitized as much as possible. Doug Duvall excels at getting people together and talking them into giving presentations at our meetings. Ray prefers hands-on projects, such as renovations to the house. For our final business matter, Cynthia Garner, recently graduated from high school, asked to pursue getting the school children involved with landscaping projects for the house, and also wants to try to get a Junior Heritage Society started.
After the meeting, Coni Fuller Bogdan said "Thank you! The tour was just great as well as meeting some new and old friends. As former employee's of Davis & Hemphill, it was so great for my husband and I to be able to see what has been done with the place and how they preserved old pictures and mementos. They did an outstanding job."
We want to to thank everyone for attending the meeting. We are very excited that the Elkridge Heritage Society has become rejuvenated, and look forward to what the future brings.