Early Dry Cleaning 

A recent donation to the Special Collection at the Fenton History Center spurred a look into another business in Jamestown that saw the early days, the heydays and the gradual reduction of that type of business in the city. A book of mostly blank stock certificates for the Thomas Cleaning & Dyeing Co., Inc. came in with a few stock certificate stubs filled out. Each share was $100.00. According to the stubs, Frank A. Thomas purchased 28 shares paid for with property. A couple of days later those shares were transferred, 14 going to Kate L. Thomas, his wife, and 14 back to Frank A. Thomas. A Mary Aldrich purchased one share. All the other certificates are intact and unused.

The cleaning business, in Jamestown according to the listings in the Jamestown city directories, started as Dyeing and Cleaning.  Frank A. Thomas’ father was George W. Thomas. In 1880, George and his family were in Bradford, Pennsylvania and his occupation was dyer. By 1883 George is in Jamestown and is listed as a dyer located on Race near Main. Because the textile industry was growing in Jamestown at that time, there are a number of people in Jamestown with the occupation of dyer, but George is the only one with a place other than a textile factory. An interesting and puzzling entry in 1890-91 city directory is George Thomas listed as Dye and Bath House rear 18 Main with a residence at 345 Footes Avenue. The next city directory does not list the bath house with his entry but in the business directory under Baths, George is listed on Race, foot of Main. This location is in the old Brooklyn Square area near some of the factories along the river.

By 1900, there are two people listed under Dyers and Cleaners (Clothes) with one of them being George Thomas. He is listed in the 1909-10 city directory as retired. That year his son, Frank A. Thomas is listed as Engineer, 13th Separate Co., Armory and Cleaning and dyeing at 47 S. Main St. That is the same address that G .W. Thomas Cleaning and Dyeing was located in a 1908 newspaper ad. During the ensuing decades the need for dyeing diminished and cleaning (dry cleaning) became more prevalent in the community. The 1920 directory had 9 Cleaners and Dyers listed. That number increased to 11 in 1930. After the depression in the 1930s, only 8 were listed in the 1940 directory. There were almost 30 including two cleaners of fur in 1950. 

Frank A. Thomas continued the cleaning business, as president of the company for the rest of his life. The address of the store changed through the years, but at some time the cleaning plant was behind his home at 345 Foote Avenue according to the Sanborn Insurance maps in the Fenton History Center’s Research Center. Frank died in 1953, at the age of 81, and the business continued until about 1962 under other ownership. He had served in the Spanish-American War and was a member of the 13th Separate Company for 22 years. He was an expert rifleman and was a member of the rifle team of the Fenton Guards First Battalion. During World War I, he served as a civilian inspector in the Quartermasters Corps.  His wife, Kate (Root) Thomas, was the vice-president, secretary and treasurer of the Thomas Cleaning Company through the years. They also had a dance academy from 1915 to 1934 at the 47 S. Main address. Beginning in 1928, Kate had one of the first tourist homes in Jamestown in her home at 345 Foote Avenue. They had two sons, Robert and Harold. Kate died in 1960 at the age of 93.

Because of one book of stock certificates, we now have a story of one company operated by two generations for over 65 years within an industry that has served Jamestown for over 100 years.

Pictured: A stock certificate for the Thomas Cleaning and Dyeing Co., Inc. of Jamestown, New York. It appears that in 1909 when Frank A. Thomas took over the cleaning and dyeing business started by his father, George W. Thomas, he soon incorporated the company and issued stock in 1912. This was a recent donation to the Fenton History Center’s Special Collections.

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