Friday, November 29, 2013

David Chillas -- Lithographer

Ad for David Chillas, c.1855
In February 2011, I did some cursory research and wrote a post about the Roseville Cotton Mill, which was located along White Clay Creek near Kirkwood Highway, just east of Newark. In the last paragraph of the post I mentioned that after its manufacturing days were over, the property seemed to have been sold to the Chillas family. I had all of two sentences about them, noting only that the owner appeared to be Scottish-born David Chillas, then later his son Arthur. Then the other night, while trolling around for something completely unrelated, I happened to come across the Chillas name again. At first I didn't believe it was the same person, but when I finally realized it was, I think my jaw did literally drop. It seems that Mr. Chillas had a surprising career before moving to Mill Creek Hundred.

David Chillas was born in Scotland about 1817, but eventually ended up in Philadelphia. There he became an artist and a printer -- a lithographer, to be precise. Lithography had first been developed just prior to 1800, and was popular throughout the 19th Century. Using a combination of acid, wax, water, and oil-based paints on a stone plate, lithography represented the first method that allowed artists to make multiple prints of the same high quality as the original. When chromolithography was developed around 1840, artists and printers could finally mass-produce color images. It was in these early days of chromolithography that David Chillas worked in Philadelphia.

It's unknown exactly when Chillas immigrated into the United States, but he was naturalized in Philadelphia in 1842. Before entering the graphic arts field, Chillas first worked for the North American Coal Company. His older brother Arthur had been president of the company since 1839. After marrying in late 1842, David and new wife Mary moved to Pottsville, PA, where he continued to work for the coal company for about ten years.

By 1852 Chillas was back in the City of Brotherly Love, when he entered into a partnership with lithographer Alphonse Brett, a French émigré. This partnership ended less than a year later in a very un-Brotherly Love-like court battle. Chillas then established his own firm, located at 50 S. Third Street. In no way do I claim to know very much about mid-19th Century lithography, but from what I can see Chillas was fairly successful and well known in his craft. According to this page from the Library Company of Philadelphia (from whence most of the info came), he mostly produced advertisements, cityscapes, and certificates. He also must have done some government work, because in 1858 (after he had left the field for, well, fields) he testified before Congress in some sort of an investigation into printing contracts.

Another of Chillas' works

Perhaps souring on the business world after these problems, David Chillas left the lithographic business and moved himself and his family (which by this point included children Louisa and Arthur) to a farm outside of Newark. Interestingly, as seen below, what appears to be the same property is listed on the 1849 map as "A. Chilles". I've combed the 1850 Census and can find no one with a name anything like that in the area. The name is just too close to be a coincidence, so I think that David's older brother Arthur must have purchased the farm as a rental property, then David bought it from him around 1856.

From the 1849 map. Note the "A. Chilles"
The same area in 1868, with D(avid) Chillas

As you can also see on the 1849 map, the Roseville Cotton Mill was still very much operating when Chillas first moved to the area. It is said to have closed sometime soon after the Civil War, which makes the advertisement below a bit of a mystery. It's offering "Water Power to Rent" and "30 cottages and fine residence", which must be the Roseville complex. It comes from the February 17, 1864 issue of the New York Herald, and lists David Chillas as one of the contacts. But since Hamilton Maxwell was still listed in a tax assessment from later that year as the owner of Roseville, I think Chillas was just listed because he was the nearest neighbor. However, I do think the family may have eventually bought the property.

From the New York Herald, Feb. 17, 1864 

When David Chillas died in 1880, his son Arthur inherited the property. The 1881 map shows Arthur owning 208 acres, and appears to include the Roseville structures. Twelve years later, the 1893 map shows Arthur with 100 acres and A.E. Wiegand just below him with 107 acres. From these it looks as if the Chillases owned Roseville for a while (after the factory had shut down), then sold it.*

* - See the follow-up post here for more information about the Chillas family and Roseville. I don't know how long Arthur Chillas (or his children) stayed on the farm his father (and maybe his uncle before that) had bought. I'd venture to say, however, that no other farms in the area had been occupied by former big-city graphic artists. Scotsman David Chillas eventually ended up as just another Mill Creek Hundred farmer, but took a route there fascinatingly different from any of his neighbors. If nothing else, this is another great example of "You never know what you're liable to stumble on at any given moment".



    1850 United States Federal Census
    about David Chillas
    David Chillas
    Birth Year:
    abt 1814


    Home in 1850:
    Pottsville South Ward, Schuylkill, Pennsylvania
    Family Number:
    Household Members:
    David Chillas 36
    Mary Chillas 28
    Louisa Chillas 7
    Arthur D Chillas 1
    Mary McCartney 37
    Mary A Kelly 23
    Maria Pitts 18

  2. He is buried at White Clay I'm setting up a FindaGrave memorial. I'll link this story into the bio section.