History of Skinner Silks, courtesy of Wistariahurst Museum:
William Skinner was born and raised in London and was trained in the silk dying trade. He immigrated to the United States in 1843 and secured work in Northampton at the Valentine Dye Works. When the Valentine business failed in 1848, Skinner went into business with Joseph Warner. Skinner eventually went into business for himself in Haydenville, MA. Skinner's company, The Unquomonk Silk Co. was located on the Mill River. The company produced organzine, sewing silk and twist for buttonholes.
On May 16, 1874, the Mill River Dam gave way and destroyed the villages of Williamsburg, Haydenville, and Leeds, including the village around the Unquomonk Mills known as Skinnerville. The Unquomonk Silk Co. was destroyed, but The Skinner family home survived the flood with minor damage.
Soon after, the Holyoke Water Power Company offered Skinner a prime canal site to rebuild his mill. They gave him a mill site rent-free for five years and an entire city block to build his house for one dollar. William Skinner moved his operation and home to Holyoke the same year. Not long after moving to Holyoke, the firm began expanding the product line by manufacturing many types of silk braid and cloth.
William Skinner's move to Holyoke in 1874 was fortiutous for Skinner and the City of Holyoke. With an unlimited source of power and inexpensive immigrant labor in Holyoke, the manufacturing business grew to have sales of $6.5 million in the year 1902 with 2,500 employees. Silk and satin were the earliest fabrics and the mainstay business for 87 years.
In 1848 William Skinner married Nancy Edwards Warner (1825-1854), the younger sister of his future partner, Joseph Warner (1817-1877). They had two childred, Eleanor ("Nellie") (1850-1929), and Nancy ("Nina") (1853-1922) before Nancy Edwards died in 1854. Four years later, William Skinner married again, to Sarah Elizabeth Allen (1834-1908) of Leeds. Together they had six children: William Cobbett (1857-1947), Elizabeth Allen ("Libbie") (1859-1927), Joseph Allen (1862-1946), Ruth Isabel ("Belle") (1866-1928), Mary Emma (1868-1872), and Katherine (1873-1968).
William Skinner's house, Wistariahurst, was constructed about 1848 in Williamsburg and moved on blocks to its present location in Holyoke in 1874. Substantial additions were made in 1913 and 1927. The house is today the Wistariahurst Museum.
Eleanor Skinner Warner
Nancy Edwards Warner Skinner Clark
William Cobbett Skinner
Elizabeth Allen Skinner Hubbard
Joseph Allen Skinner
Mary Louise Skinner
Ruth Isabelle Skinner
May Emma Skinner
Katherine Skinner Kilborne