The Footer's Dye Works building is the last remaining structure of a sizeable industrial complex that was once the largest cleaning and dyeing establishment in the United States—and one of Cumberland's major employers. The building housed the company's office, and the functions of cloth finishing and pressing.It played a central role in the company's operation—where administration was carried out, and crucial final steps in preparing the product took place. The bulk of the original complex was constructed in 1906 and an additional "Wet Dye House" was built in 1910, filling the block with brick factory buildings housing "America's Greatest Cleaning and Dyeing Works."
Thomas Footer passed away in 1923, but his two sons continued the company. Throughout the 1920s, Footer Dye Works continued as one of the dominant cleaning and dyeing establishments in the region. The Cumberland factory employed nearly 500 people with a weekly payroll of several thousand dollars. As many as twenty branch offices were located in the region, with major branch offices in Baltimore, Philadelphia, and Pittsburgh. One source of business included the White House in Washington, D.C., who shipped their lace curtains to Footer's for cleaning.
The 1930s, however, brought hard times to Footer's. A new "dry" cleaning process was beginning
to take hold, replacing the steam cleaning process used in the factory. With the Great Depression in full swing, pressure from dry cleaning competition, and a devastating Potomac River flood in March 1936, Footer's Dye Works filed for bankruptcy on June 12, 1936. The plant was sold on December 30th to the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond and the cleaning and dyeing operation closed. In 1997, Canal Place Preservation and Development Authority purchased the property. The Footer building was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 2013.
Vintage postcard of Footer's Dye Works, circa 1911.
The Cumberland factory employed nearly 500 workers in the 1920s.
Thomas B. Footer
Thomas Footer was an immigrant from England who received American citizenship in 1869. In 1870 he established "Footer's Steam and Dye Works" on North Liberty Street in Cumberland. By 1904, after several expansions, the company had outgrown Liberty Street. On March 1, 1906, the local newspaper Cumberland Times, announced that Footer's Dye Works intended to build a new building on S. Mechanic Street.