A Guide to the McHone Brothers (LLC) Collection of

Houck Tannery Records, 1870-1913

SC# 4044

Compiled by: Chris Bolgiano, Katherine Carr, Tracy Harter, Andréa Hillebrenner, Maggie Keller, Julia Merkel, Erica Morrison, Jodie Tsou, and Sarah Vaughan, 2002-2007


Part of 20 feet of  unprocessed records punched onto steel wire


Descriptive Summary

Repository: Special Collections, Carrier Library, James Madison University

Title: McHone Brothers (LLC) Collection of Houck Tannery Records, 1870-1913

Collection No.: SC# 4044

Creator: Houck Tannery, Harrisonburg, Va.

Extent: 6 record storage boxes, 1 Hollinger box, and 1 oversize flat box; 8.5 linear feet



This collection consists of 8.5 linear feet of records documenting the operations of the Houck Tannery and the J.P. Houck Store in Harrisonburg, Virginia, from 1870-1913, chiefly from 1890 to 1913.  The collection contains:  account ledgers, registries, correspondence, and financial and transportation documents that record this turn of the century industry.

Administrative Information

Access restrictions:


Collection is open for research.

Use restrictions:


The copyright interests in this collection have been transferred to the James Madison University Special Collection Library. For more information, contact the Special Collections Library Reference Desk (library-special@jmu.edu).

Preferred Citation:


[Identification of Item][box number, folder number],McHone (LLC) Collection of Houck Tannery Records, 1870-1913, SC# 4044, Special Collections, Carrier Library, James Madison University, Harrisonburg, Va.

Acquisition Information:


Records were donated by the present building owner, McHone Brothers, LLC, in 2000.  The collection was discovered in the late 1990s during renovations to the Houck Building on Court Square (71 South Main) in downtown Harrisonburg, the former offices of the Houck Tannery and store.

Processing Notes:


The collection was received on several long strands of heavy gauge wire totaling twenty linear feet which presented some difficulty due to their great weight and inherent instability.  Documents had been punched onto the wire in chronological order which facilitated their arrangement but left edges exposed to a century’s accumulation of grime and to damage by pests.  As a practical matter rather than an ideal conservation practice, each article was wiped with an untreated flannel dust cloth rather than vacuumed under mesh to encourage the exposed and embrittled corners of documents to crumble away from their much cleaner cores.

Biographical Note

Joseph P. Houck was born on April 4, 1839, in Allentown, Pennsylvania. In the spring of 1866 he went to work for Shenandoah Iron Works in Page County, Virginia. He was successful in the business for fourteen years. Around 1880, Houck and his family moved to Harrisonburg, Virginia, as he had significant business interests there.  He had bought a controlling share of the Harrisonburg Steam Tannery in 1878, which soon was renamed the Houck Tannery. In 1879 he opened the Houck Store near Court Square which sold leather goods in addition to household goods and furnishings.  Houck was a prominent member of the community, a member of the Rockingham Union Lodge, and secretary and treasurer of Valley Telephone. He died on June 16, 1908.  Both the Tannery and the Store were passed on to his son, Joe [J.T.].  The younger Houck sold the store to William B. Dutrow in 1913, but continued to own and operate the tannery until its close in the 1920s.

The tannery which came to be known as the Houck Tannery had a long history prior to its ownership by J.P. Houck.  Local historian John Wayland noted in his 1949 book Historic Harrisonburg that sources indicate that as far back 1826, Joseph Cline had “carried on the tanyard now owned by Lowenback,” and that George Conrad had later purchased Cline’s “farm & the tanyard in town,” although the date of that sale is not provided.  Nonetheless, in 1871 J.A. Loewenbach owned and operated the tannery.  That year, he constructed a new building for providing steam power, and in 1872 he had run a pipe from an unidentified spring in town to the tannery.

By 1878 ownership of the tannery was transferred to J.P. Houck.  Although several tanneries operated in Rockingham County, Houck’s was the largest. An 1880 census reports a capital investment of $75,000 and thirty employees in the tannery. The industry also supported significant numbers of workers who supplied and transported raw materials to the factory.  A spur was laid from the Chesapeake and Western Railroad directly to the tannery warehouse to facilitate the tonnage of bark required for the manufacture of leather. In 1889 the tannery boasted a well that ran 600 feet deep.  In addition, the tannery's powerful steam plant is credited with being the first provider of electricity in Harrisonburg.  The city contracted with Houck in 1890 to power its street lights prior to the formation of the Harrisonburg Electric Commission.  The factory ceased operation in the 1920s, and its 120 foot smokestack was demolished in 1929.  A municipal parking deck now stands on the site.  The sole remaining structure housed Whitesel-Sinton farm equipment in the 1930s, the armory until the 1950s, and the police department until its demolition in the early 1970s.

Scope and Content

This collection consists of 8.5 linear feet of records that document the daily purchases and sales of the Houck Tannery and the J.P. Houck Store in Harrisonburg, Virginia, from 1870-1913, chiefly from 1890 to 1913.  The collection is arranged in five series:  Account Ledgers and Registries, Communication, Financial Documents, Distribution/Transportation Documents, Images, and J.P. Houck Store.  The first four series deal primarily with the Tannery; materials relating to the Store are housed in series five.  References to the Tannery may be abbreviated JPHTC, while the Houck Store may be abbreviated JPHS.

Series I, Account Ledgers and Registries, 1870-1895, consists of a bound register (1870-1884), account ledger, and check stub registry.  The register lists names alphabetically by race, date registered, and age.  Intially presumed to have been an employee register, many of the names listed were prominent local citizens and/or businessmen who were not in the employ of the tannery; therefore it is likely that this was an unofficial voter register that somehow came to be housed in the same building as the tannery records, and may in fact have had nothing to do with the tannery itself.

Series II, Communication, 1900-1912, includes business and payroll correspondence, telegrams and telegraphs, arranged alphabetically by topic, then chronologically.  Several of the items in payroll correspondence are undated handwritten notes from employees or contract laborers, requesting that their pay be sent home with another individual.

Series III, Financial Documents, 1891-1912, is largely composed of receipts and paperwork regarding transactions and regular operating expenses, arranged alphabetically by topic, then chronologically.  Topics include cash accounts, expense accounts, and payroll information for Brandiwine [Brandywine], W.V., insurance and utility payments, tax and legal issues, cancelled checks, tannery receipts and vouchers, money orders (from Southern Express & Adams Express) and Houck Store receipts.  Oversized materials that have been placed in an oversized box are noted in the contents list.

Series IV, Distribution and Transportation Documents, 1893-1913, constitutes the bulk of the collection and represents regular transactions that occurred during production at the Tannery.  These are further divided into eight subseries, based on transaction type.  These subseries are arranged alphabetically by location or railway, then chronologically.  Descriptions of the subseries are as follows:


Series V, J.P. Houck Store, 1898-1912, consists of materials that can be attributed specifically to transactions pertaining to the J.P. Houck Store, such as bills of lading for wholesale goods, customer charges, and freight and shipping receipts.  These are arranged topically, then chronologically.  The bulk of this series contains bills of lading for goods shipped to the Store [non-Virginia bills of lading], and bills of lading for goods shipped from the Houck Store to other locations in Virginia [Virginia bills of lading].  These are arranged by railway/company.


The collection is arranged in five series:

Series I:              Account Ledgers and Registries, 1870-1895

Series II:             Communication, 1900-1912

Series III:             Financial Documents, 1891-1912

Series IV:            Distribution/Transportation Documents, 1893-1913

Series V:             J. P. Houck Store, 1898-1912

Items within each series are arranged alphabetically by topic or locality, then chronologically.

Original pagination retained.


Barb, Mia, 1991. Tanbark Industry in the Shenandoah Valley, Oral History Interviews, SdArch 4. Carrier Library Special Collections, James Madison University, Harrisonburg, Va.

Bolgiano, Chris. 1999. “Tanbark Harvesting as an Economic and Environmental Factor in Appalachia.” [S.1.:s.n.], 1999. Presented at [the] Shenandoah Valley Regional Studies Seminar, James Madison University, Harrisonburg, Va., January 22, 1999.

Coakley, Sherry L. 1991. “The Old Tannery.” Harrisonburg Rockingham Historical Society Newsletter 13(1): 1-2.

"History of Rockingham—Houck Tannery.” Harrisonburg Daily News-Record, 28 February 1959.

Lathrop, J.M. An Atlas of Shenandoah and Page Counties, Virginia; from actual surveys by J.M. Lathrop and B.N. Griffing.  Strasburg, Va.: GP Hammond Pub., 1991.  Originally published as: Philadelphia, Pa.: D.J. Lake & Co., 1885.

"Mr. Dutrow’s 20th Anniversary.” Harrisonburg Daily News, 11 March 1908.

Price, C.G. Sr. “My Recollections of Harrisonburg at the turn of the century.” Rockingham Recorder III:1, April 1979.

"Dutrow Buys Houck Store."  Daily News Record, 11 July 1913. [original newspaper housed in Special Collections at Bridgewater College, Bridgewater, Va.]

Suter, Scott Hamilton, and Cheryl Lyon.  Images of America: Harrisonburg.  Chicago: Arcadia Press, 2003.

Suter, Scott Hamilton, and Cheryl Lyon.  Places, Faces & Traces:  Historical Photographs of Harrisonburg and Rockingham County.  Dayton, Va.: Silver Lake Mill, 2005.

Wayland, John W. Historic Harrisonburg.  Staunton, Va.: McClure Print. Co., 1949 [esp. pages 11, 130, 243 and 239.]

Related Material

West Virginia Pulp and Paper Company Logging Photographs, 1927-1931. SC# 3037, Special Collections, Carrier Library, James Madison University, Harrisonburg, Va.


Collection Inventory/Contents List

(pdf, 30.1kb)