A textile mill on Willett Street in Fort Plain produced women’s underwear, mainly panties, and was a major employer for most of the 20th century.
The multi-storied factory, which still stands, was occupied in 1874 by the Shipman Spring and Axle Works, previously located in nearby Springfield and Van Hornsville.
Minden town historian Rob Carter wrote, “In the course of a business combination, the factory was removed to Chicago Heights, Illinois, in 1894. The loss of this industry to Fort Plain was keenly felt.”
In about 1900, the Bailey brothers bought the Willett Street complex for their silk mill. That ran until 1931 when a company with the poetic sounding name of Luxuray bought the facility and embarked on an expansion.
“When this work is finished,” wrote the Otsego Farmer newspaper in 1933, “Luxuray Inc. will be one of the most complete and modern underwear plants in the United States, with a force of employees totaling from 250 to 300.”
The Gloversville Morning Herald that year reported Luxuray was implementing two shifts at its Fort Plain factory making rayon underwear.
The predominantly female Luxuray employees, most of them operating sewing machines, were regularly noticed in local newspapers for sporting events, employee parties and good deeds. In 1945, many of the women from Luxuray used their own funds to help pay for a bingo party for soldiers recovering from war wounds at a Utica hospital.
Some 250 employees and friends gathered for Luxuray’s annual clambake and dance in 1948. There was also a softball game and tug-of-war.
Luxuray sold its own line of panties and also supplied lingerie to stores like Macy’s and J.C. Penny’s. Luxuray had a factory store in Fort Plain.
Luxuray had several corporate owners. In the 1950s it became part of the Beaunit Corporation. The Fort Plain plant was sold to a group of Mohawk Valley investors in 1974.
“They may not know it,” wrote reporter Charles Tobey in a feature story in the Courier Standard Enterprise in 1984, “But right now, thousands of women are wearing panties made in Fort Plain.”
Harry Reeder, manager of the plant in the 1970s and 1980s, told the newspaper the number of employees had shrunk from several hundred to about 70 people.
"We have people here who have worked 40 or more years in this factory," Reeder said.
“Ladies' panties always have been the dominant product at Luxuray, although some other items have been manufactured from time to time,” Reeder said, “We make everything from a skimpy string bikini up to a size 68-inch hip."
Reeder added, “We like to think of ourselves as a good place to work.”
Rolls of cotton, nylon, acetate and other materials were trucked to Fort Plain, and Luxuray’s cutting room staff was responsible for minimizing fabric waste.
From there, the material went to the sewing machine operators, women who made up the majority of the employees.
Lightning apparently started a fire that damaged the roof of the Fort Plain factory in 1986. The company kept going.
Foreign competition led to Luxuray’s demise. The company merged with Johnstown Knit in the closing years of the 20th century.
By 1999 underwear production ceased. People still work in the former Luxuray building, however.
In 2000 the factory on Willett Street was purchased by entrepreneur Robert Hancock who established Glimmerglass Swim Spas and Pools in the building, manufacturers of fiberglass swimming pools.
Hancock also rents to several tenants, including Chris and Julie Tackacs, who operate Fort Plain Antiques and Salvage. The building houses a distillery, a high-end machine shop and an office outfitting company.
Bob Cudmore is a freelance columnist. Opinions expressed in his column are his own and not necessarily the newspaper’s. Anyone with a suggestion for a Focus on History topic may contact him at 346-6657 or [email protected].