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The Snuff Mills

Snuff Mills, 1925

Yorklyn Snuff Mills, 1925. Photo, courtesy John R. Harrison.

In the late 1890s, the snuff business passed out of Garrett family hands, but snuff production continued in Yorklyn. American Tobacco Company—through its subsidiary, the American Snuff Company—had bought up most of the snuff mills in the country, creating a virtual monopoly. About 1902, the Yorklyn mills reached maximum size and capacity with the addition of the large “#5 Mill” and the relocation of the packing process from Philadelphia to Yorklyn.

In 1911, the Supreme Court intervened to enforce the Sherman Anti-Trust Act, splitting American Tobacco Company into three separate companies—one of which, George W. Helme Co., assumed control of the Yorklyn snuff mills. Not long thereafter, the Yorklyn mills downsized sharply, with only about 40 employees continuing operations until the mills were closed in 1954. The Worth Brothers of Wilmington then purchased the land and buildings, moving their offices to the old clubhouse and leasing several of the buildings to a host of business ventures, including the Yorklyn Mushroom Company, Spitz Laboratories, and Spatz Chemicals, among others.

In the 1980s, local developer Dan Lickle purchased the 12-acre property and improved and leased buildings to various shops and businesses. The outlook was promising until the devastating floods of 1999 and 2003 eliminated practical use for most of the structures. Today, the Garrett Snuff Mills are enjoying a renaissance thanks to the remediation efforts associated with the NVF property, and Yorklyn hopes to welcome new enterprises to the community.

Garrett Snuff Mill

Garrett Snuff Mill.

Garrett Snuff Mills Historic District

Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the Garrett Snuff Mills Historic District encompasses a core complex of 14 structures built between 1846 and 1901 (most of brick, with the two earliest mills constructed of stone), plus 17 early 20th-century domestic buildings associated with the mills. These include the mill owner’s and supervisor’s houses, a late Victorian frame house, and four rows of workers’ housing.

Panorama of Yorklyn taken by T. Clarence Marshall, 1903

Panaorama of Yorklyn by T. Clarence Marshall, 1903. Photo, courtesy John R. Harrison.

Yorklyn’s population grew rapidly in the late 1890s when the snuff packaging, labeling and distribution work shifted from Philadelphia to Yorklyn. The addition of the Division #5 snuff mill markedly changed the landscape, as seen in this photograph by T. Clarence Marshall.

Boarding House

Boarding house used by workers of the George W. Helme Company. Photo, courtesy Hagley Museum & Library, Thomas C. Marshall Photograph Collection.

To house the new workforce needed for its expanded operations, the George W. Helme Company built four rows of millworker homes and converted the old mill manager’s home into a “boarding house.” As noted by historian Jack Harrison, Yorklyn’s population increased enough in the early 20th century to earn it the title “Village of Yorklyn.”

Garrett Packing Plant, 1915

Yorklyn Packing Plant, ca. 1915. Photo, courtesy John R. Harrison.

Snuff operations in Yorklyn reached their height in the early decades of the 20th century. In 1925, 2.2 million pounds of snuff were produced by the George W. Helme Company. Workers in the “packing house,” mostly women, packaged the snuff into small tubular containers and applied the labels.