Friday, March 10, 2006

Churchill Weavers

Churchill Weavers was founded by David Carroll Churchill and his wife, Eleanor, in 1922 in a third floor office at Boone Tavern in Berea, Kentucky. The weaving business soon outgrew the hotel space, and they set up shop with four looms in a shed at the edge of town on Lorraine Court where the present gift shop is located. They recruited local weavers and eventually employed 150 looms in the business.

D.C. Churchill was the engineer behind the company's success. He had graduated from MIT in 1899 and traveled as a missionary to India in 1901 to teach "mechanical trades." Working with unskilled native weavers, he perfected a hand loom which Indian laborers used to produce cloth four to eight times fater than the old-style looms. With the outbreak of World War I, Churchill and his wife returned to America, eventually accepting a teaching job at Berea College. When Churchill began his own weaving business, he used the same type looms he had designed in India.

Eleanor Churchill proved to be an unexpected asset to the family business. She was a natural designer with an innate flair for combining colors and textures in strikingly new ways. She was also the business manager of the firm. Over the years, Churchill Weavers avoided head-to-head competition with the large textile factories and sought to achieve a market niche with excellent handcrafted products.

Carroll Churchill died at age 96 in 1969. Eleanor Churchill sold the business to Lila and Richard Bellando in 1973. The Bellandos continued Churchill Weavers as a family business until 1996 when they sold it to Crown Crafts, Inc. of Atlanta, Georgia.

Over the years, Churchill Weavers was best known for woolen baby blankets, couch throws, neck ties, and ladies accessories. The expert weavers at the company were recognized in 1960 when B. F. Goodrich Co. selected Churchill Weavers to weave a special material for coveralls as part of NASA's space program.

See Berea Citizen, 29 May 1986, p54; information contributed by Richard and Lila Bellando.

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