T. B. Fitzgerald

T. B. Fitzgerald (1840–1929)

T. B. Fitzgerald helped to found and served as the longtime president of the Riverside Cotton Mills, in Danville. Born in Halifax County, he served briefly in the Confederate army during the American Civil War (1861–1865) before being discharged for illness. In 1882, he was a founder of the Riverside Cotton Mills, a company that provided contracts to a construction business Fitzgerald had established a decade earlier. Over the next several decades, the business and Danville both grew rapidly, and Fitzgerald invested in real estate and lumber and helped establish the Danville College for Young Ladies and the Danville Street Car Company. In 1895, he became president of the newly chartered Dan River Power and Manufacturing Company, which merged with the cotton mills in 1909, eventually becoming Dan River Mills. Fitzgerald, who remained on the company board for the rest of his life, died in his Danville home in 1929. MORE...

 

Early Years

Thomas Benton Fitzgerald was born on August 23, 1840, in Halifax County and was the son of Alfred B. Fitzgerald and his first wife, Theodosia Lipscomb Fitzgerald. He attended a local school and then began an apprenticeship under his father, who was a building contractor. After Virginia seceded from the Union, Fitzgerald enlisted on May 31, 1861, in Pittsylvania County in Company A of the 38th Virginia Infantry Regiment. He served less than five months before being sent to a Richmond hospital on October 24. Issued a surgeon's certificate of disability, he was discharged from Confederate service on October 28. By September 1865 Fitzgerald had become a merchant in Pittsylvania County and received a license to sell wine and liquor. On January 14, 1868, in Danville he married Martha Jane Hall. Of their seven children, three daughters and two sons lived to adulthood. His wife died on February 26, 1917.

Cotton Mills

By 1872 Fitzgerald and a partner had opened the Danville brick-making and construction business of T. B. Fitzgerald and Co., which they incorporated in 1885. Their construction ventures included erecting industrial facilities, such as warehouses and factory buildings, as well as some of the city's most notable churches and houses. Branching out into other businesses, Fitzgerald acquired water-power rights along the Dan River. He helped found the Riverside Cotton Mills, incorporated in August 1882, and became its largest stockholder. Fitzgerald served as its first president but did not receive a salary. His compensation came through contracts awarded to his construction company for the Riverside Cotton Mills' new building and expansion projects. Robert A. Schoolfield, the treasurer and secretary, managed the mills' daily operations.

Both the Riverside Cotton Mills and Danville itself grew tremendously during Fitzgerald's leadership of the company. What was initially one mill producing yarn and cloth on 2,240 spindles and 100 looms in April 1883 expanded with the building of two new mills and the acquisition of a rival company in 1890. By the following year, four mills operated 36,432 spindles and 1,246 looms. The company's expansion helped fuel Danville's population growth from 7,526 in 1880 to 10,305 in 1890, the year the General Assembly incorporated it as a city. Fitzgerald also helped foster the city's cultural and economic growth during this period. In 1883 he served as a vice president on a board that established the Danville College for Young Ladies, and three years later he formed the Danville Street Car Company. Venturing into land development and real estate acquisition, he established the Danville Industrial and Land Improvement Company in 1889 and the Riverside Development Company of North Danville the following year. In 1901 Fitzgerald deeded his house, valued at $20,000, to the Danville Orphanage. The next year he served as a director of the Danville Lumber and Manufacturing Company.

With the increasing success of the Riverside Cotton Mills, Fitzgerald became frustrated by his lack of salary and demanded a fixed annual sum. He resigned and returned to the presidency on two separate occasions. In response to Fitzgerald's first resignation in January 1890, the board gave him a lump sum of $1,500 for previous supervisory work and agreed to an annual salary of $1,000. Fitzgerald resigned a second time in April 1891 but was persuaded to resume his office shortly thereafter. In 1893 the board set his annual compensation at $7,500, which included $2,500 for construction management.

Fitzgerald served as the first president of the Dan River Power and Manufacturing Company, chartered in July 1895. The Riverside Cotton Mills became that company's majority shareholder, which allowed for both businesses to operate with the same officers. In 1896 Fitzgerald finished the Riverside Cotton Mills' building program with the construction of a seventh mill. In January 1899 he resigned for the third and final time, after the board decided to make the presidency a nominal position without pay. During his tenure as president, company sales had increased from $130,000 in 1884 to $1,785,000 in 1899, and net earnings had increased from $6,000 in 1883 to $369,000 in 1899. The year he resigned the mills produced more than 44 million linear yards of cloth on almost 68,000 spindles and more than 2,500 looms.

Later Years

Fitzgerald remained on the board of the Riverside Cotton Mills for the rest of his life and was still serving as a director when the Riverside Cotton Mills and the Dan River Power and Manufacturing Company merged in 1909 to form the Riverside and Dan River Cotton Mills, Incorporated. With 230,000 spindles and 7,362 looms, the company became one of the largest mills in the South. His son H. R. Fitzgerald became president in 1918.

The Riverside and Dan River Cotton Mills thrived through most of the twentieth century. It became Dan River Mills, Inc., in 1946 and Dan River Inc. in 1970 and remained the city's largest employer. The influx of cheaper foreign fabrics began to erode company profits, however, and after bankruptcies in 2004 and 2008, Dan River Inc. stopped production. The Riverside Division of the company, site of the former Riverside Cotton Mills constructed by Fitzgerald, was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2000.

Ailing from pneumonia and influenza, Fitzgerald died on January 5, 1929, in his Danville home. He was buried at Leemont Cemetery.

Time Line

  • August 23, 1840 - T. B. Fitzgerald is born in Halifax County.
  • May 31, 1861 - T. B. Fitzgerald enlists in Company A of the 38th Virginia Infantry Regiment.
  • October 24, 1861 - T. B. Fitzgerald, a Confederate soldier serving in a Virginia regiment, is sent to a Richmond hospital.
  • October 28, 1861 - T. B. Fitzgerald is discharged from Confederate service due to illness.
  • September 1865 - By this time T. B. Fitzgerald has become a merchant in Pittsylvania County.
  • January 14, 1868 - T. B. Fitzgerald and Martha Jane Hall marry.
  • 1872 - By this year T. B. Fitzgerald and a partner have founded T. B. Fitzgerald and Co. in Danville.
  • August 1882 - The Riverside Cotton Mills is incorporated in Danville. T. B. Fitzgerald is the company's president and largest stockholder.
  • 1883 - T. B. Fitzgerald serves as a vice president on a board that establishes the Danville College for Young Ladies.
  • April 1883 - The Riverside Cotton Mills consists of one mill producing yarn and cloth on 2,240 spindles and 100 looms.
  • 1885 - T. B. Fitzgerald and Co is incorporated in Danville.
  • 1886 - T. B. Fitzgerald forms the Danville Street Car Company.
  • 1889 - T. B. Fitzgerald establishes the Danville Industrial and Land Improvement Company.
  • 1890 - The Riverside Cotton Mills, of Danville, builds two new mills and acquires a rival company.
  • 1890 - T. B. Fitzgerald establishes the Riverside Development Company of North Danville.
  • 1890 - The General Assembly incorporates Danville as a city.
  • January 1890 - T. B. Fitzgerald briefly resigns as president of the Riverside Cotton Mills, in Danville. The board lures him back with a lump-sum payment of $1,500.
  • April 1892 - T. B. Fitzgerald briefly resigns a second time as president of the Riverside Cotton Mills in Danville.
  • 1893 - The board of the Riverside Cotton Mills in Danville agrees to pay its president, T. B. Fitzgerald, an annual salary of $7,500.
  • July 1895 - The Dan River Power and Manufacturing Company is chartered in Danville, with T. B. Fitzgerald as president.
  • 1896 - The Riverside Cotton Mills, in Danville, finishes construction on a seventh mill.
  • 1899 - T. B. Fitzgerald resigns for a third and final time as president of the Riverside Cotton Mills, in Danville. He remains on the board.
  • 1901 - T. B. Fitzgerald deeds his house, valued at $20,000, to the Danville Orphanage.
  • 1902 - T. B. Fitzgerald serves as a director of the Danville Lumber and Manufacturing Company.
  • 1909 - The Riverside Cotton Mills and the Dan River Power and Manufacturing Company merge to form the Riverside and Dan River Cotton Mills, Incorporated.
  • February 26, 1917 - Martha Hall Fitzgerald, the wife of T. B. Fitzgerald, dies.
  • January 1918 - H. R. Fitzgerald becomes president of Riverside and Dan River Cotton Mills, Incorporated.
  • January 5, 1929 - T. B. Fitzgerald dies in his Danville home. He is buried at Leemont Cemetery.
  • 1946 - Riverside and Dan River Cotton Mills, Incorporated, becomes Dan River Mills, Inc.
  • 1970 - Dan River Mills, Inc., becomes Dan River Inc.
  • 2000 - The Riverside Division of Dan River Inc., site of the former Riverside Cotton Mills constructed by T. B. Fitzgerald, is placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

References

Further Reading
Cross, Malcolm A. Dan River Runs Deep: An Informal History of a Major Textile Company, 1950–1981. New York: Total Book, 1982.
Smith, Robert Sidney. Mill on the Dan: A History of Dan River Mills, 1882–1950. Durham, North Carolina: Duke University Press, 1960.
Cite This Entry
  • APA Citation:

    Bayless, J. D., III, & the Dictionary of Virginia Biography. T. B. Fitzgerald (1840–1929). (2016, March 31). In Encyclopedia Virginia. Retrieved from http://www.EncyclopediaVirginia.org/Fitzgerald_T_B_1840-1929.

  • MLA Citation:

    Bayless, Joseph D., III and the Dictionary of Virginia Biography. "T. B. Fitzgerald (1840–1929)." Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, 31 Mar. 2016. Web. READ_DATE.

First published: March 21, 2016 | Last modified: March 31, 2016


Contributed by Joseph D. Bayless III and the Dictionary of Virginia Biography