RVA Legends — E. T. Pilkinton

RVA Legends — E. T. Pilkinton

A look into the history of Richmond places and people that have disappeared from our landscape.

[IOR] — E. T. Pilkington — 514 North Twelfth Street, circa 1886 — three years after the death of its founder
[IOR] — E. T. Pilkington — 514 North Twelfth Street, circa 1886 — three years after the death of its founder

AKA, W. W. Russell, Chas. Millhiser’s Cigar Factory #135
514 North Twelfth Street

Another tobacco factory that changed hands many times.

(Antique Tobacco) — Fruits and Flowers Mixture Tin
(Antique Tobacco) — Fruits and Flowers Mixture Tin

Manufacturers of all styles and grades of Smoking Tobacco, No. 514 North Twelfth street. This is the oldest and the largest factory engaged exclusively in the manufacture of smoking tobacco in the city, and for twenty-six years has “Fruits and Flowers” been upon the market as their leading brand.

(VCU) — 1889 Baist Atlas Map of Richmond — Plate 5
(VCU) — 1889 Baist Atlas Map of Richmond — Plate 5

Its reputation is known to the lovers of a good smoke on two Continents, and no brand made in this city is better known to the local trade The capacity of the factory is 1,200,000 pounds per annum. They employ forty hands; have three commercial salesmen on the road: local agents all over the United States, and sell to the trade throughout America, Australia, and England.

(Find A Grave) — William Walden Russell
(Find A Grave) — William Walden Russell

This business was founded by the late E. T. Pilkinton in 1860, who managed the concern until his death in January, 1883, since which time Mr. W. W. Russell has been the proprietor. Mr. Russell has had many years experience in tobacco, and was connected with this house for years prior to becoming the owner of the business. He is a native of Virginia, and a former resident of Petersburg. [IOR]

[RVCJ93] — W. W. Russell’s Tobacco Factory, circa 1893
[RVCJ93] — W. W. Russell’s Tobacco Factory, circa 1893
Eventually, respect for the previous ownership and branding faded.

W. W. Russell, manufacturer of fine smoking tobaccos at 514 North Twelfth street, has been established in that line of business since 1882; for the first eight years of this period under the firm name of E. T. Pilkinton & Co., though he was sole proprietor. Two years ago he discontinued the use of that name, as well as the manufacture of their brands, and has since been devoting his attention to fine and fancy smoking tobaccos.

(Antique Advertising) — Virginia Creeper Granulated Mixture Tin
(Antique Advertising) — Virginia Creeper Granulated Mixture Tin

His leading brands are the “Virginia Creeper,” “Topaz,” and “Queen of Virgina.” He manufactures more granulated smoking tobacco than any other house here, and he covers a larger trade territory than any other here also. He has four men on the road in his interest, and his fancy smoking mixtures are sold all over the United States. His factory has a capacity of a million pounds a year.

Mr. Russell is a Virginian, twenty-one years resident of Richmond. A cut accompanying this notice shows the outward appearance of his establishment. [RVCJ93]

(Library of Congress) — Sanborn Fire Insurance Map from Richmond (1905) — Plate 74 — showing the former E. T. Pilkington location now as Chas. Milhiser’s (sic) Cigar Factory #135
(Library of Congress) — Sanborn Fire Insurance Map from Richmond (1905) — Plate 74 — showing the former E. T. Pilkington location now as Chas. Milhiser’s (sic) Cigar Factory #135

By 1905, the property had been taken over by Charles Millhiser, another well-established tobacco man, for his cigar manufacturing operations.

The “Virginia Star” cheroot factory, Mr. Charles Millhiser’s establishment, which is shown in the cut accompanying this matter, is one of the representative and most notable concerns of its line at Richmond. It has 150 Mr. Millhiser first embarked in the trade in 1885, and he is one of the most substantial manufacturers of his line. He has resources and property to back him, and the enterprise to maintain the lead he has gained over competing concerns.

[RVCJ93] — “Virginia Star” Cheroot Factory, location unidentified, circa 1893
[RVCJ93] — “Virginia Star” Cheroot Factory, location unidentified, circa 1893

He has five men on the road selling for him. They cover nearly the entire United States, and he sells besides, largely, through brokers and others, in all the principal cities. The “Virginia Star” cheroot is his specialty, although he makes also a number of other brands. It forms—such is the demand for it—nine-tenths at least of his output. It is made of superior stock, and is of the best workmanship. It is produced from the best New York, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Havana leaf, under the close inspection of competent heads of departments.

[RVCJ93] — Charles Millhiser, circa 1893
[RVCJ93] — Charles Millhiser, circa 1893

Mr. Millhiser gives the business personal supervision. He brings to his labors a long and varied experience, not merely of tobacco in its divers commercial forms, but of business generally. He is a native of the city, and was in general mercantile pursuits from 1866 until 1879.

In that year he went into the manufacture of cigars, and afterwards included the trade in leaf tobacco; and after spending six or seven years profitably in that line became one of the pioneers of cheroot manufacture here, by establishing the “Virginia Star” factory and brand. He is, as we have said, a man of solid resources and high character, and is well known and highly esteemed here. [RVCJ93]

December 2019 — looking towards 514 North Twelfth Street today
December 2019 — looking towards 514 North Twelfth Street today

And so was it true in 1893. By the time of the 1903 edition of Richmond, Virginia: The City on the James, Millhiser is no longer a darling of the Chamber of Commerce, or perhaps didn’t pay to be in the book, and is unmentioned.

Today, the corner on the alley where E. T. Pilkington stood is now completely consumed by the Harry Lyons Building of the VCU Health School of Dentistry.

[IOR] [RVCJ93] — side-by-side comparison of the 1886 (left) and 1893 (right) depictions of 514 North Twelfth Street
[IOR] [RVCJ93] — side-by-side comparison of the 1886 (left) and 1893 (right) depictions of 514 North Twelfth Street
It’s interesting to note that while the 1893 edition of Richmond, Virginia: The City on the James reused some illustrations from Industries of Richmond, that is not the case here. It is clearly not a reworking of a previous photo; the street scenes and cloud patterns are completely different.

(E. T. Pilkington is part of the Atlas RVA! Project)


Print Sources

  • [IOR] Industries of Richmond. James P. Wood. 1886.
  • [RVCJ93] Richmond, Virginia: The City on the James: The Book of Its Chamber of Commerce and Principal Business Interests. G. W. Engelhardt. 1893.

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