Four HeadsYour Shalvoy/Scollin Ancestors

The Home of the Shalvoy Family Research Committee

The Shalvoys Were Hatters

We all knew that Shalvoys (and Scollins) were hatters in Danbury, right? Well, that's what we assumed until we spoke with a cousin the night before the 2000 reunion and mentioned how fitting the name Hatters' Park was for a place to hold a Shalvoy reunion. We were greeted with a blank stare and then the comment that he did not have a clue WHY that name meant anything at all. Oh, we told him, Shalvoys were hatters.

Not only were Shalvoys hatters but Danbury was known for many, many years as the Hat Capital of the World for the number of hats manufactured there.

Was this important to our family? Oh, yes.

Hatting started slowly in Danbury in the 1780s. One man, his two apprentices and three hats a day. They did it all. Hats were sold locally. From the book, "The Practice of Solidarity American Hat Finishers in the Nineteenth Century" by David Bensman published in 1985 we learn just how difficult it was for a Danbury hat manufacturer in the early 1800s to market his wares in New York City. He would have to "load his products on the stagecoach which left Danbury for Norwalk" a city on Long Island Sound. Once in Norwalk he would have to wait for conditions to be right before the sailing schooner would leave for NYC. Between muddy roads and bad sailing weather the trip back and forth between Danbury and New York City could take over one week. Of course, carrying completed hats was out of the question so they brought with them hat bodies that were made in Danbury and finished in NYC.

In 1852 the Danbury to Norwalk Railroad was opened. Schooners had earlier been replaced by steamships and later by the railroad as well. Getting hats, completed hats, to a New York City markets was suddenly much, much easier.

Factories expanded and needed laborers. Ireland was at the end of the Potato Famine. People were still emigrating from Ireland and needed work. The expanding factories in Danbury offered the Irish jobs. The work was difficult and even dangerous.

Hatting was a skilled occupation and required that an apprenticeship of possibly four years be served before a man was considered to be a hatter. Again, from "The Practice of Solidarity" (pg 3-4) we learn that making a hat required four tasks.

1. Forming...making felt from animal pelts

2. Making or Sizing...shrinking and shaping the felt

3. Dyeing

4. Finishing...this involved rubbing the outer surface of the hat with pumice, stiffening the hat by applying a mixture of beer grounds to the inside which was covered with shellac or glue. It was then softened with steam and shaped over a finishing block. The brim was also shaped at this time. Finally the hat went to a female trimmer who sewed in the lining and attached a hat band.

Hard, physical, skilled work. And dangerous. Nitrate of mercury was used to treat rabbit pelts to make felt. Mad as a hatter and the Danbury Shakes tell the results of mercury poisoning suffered by hatters. For a good description of what it was like to be a hatter the article One Hundredth Anniversary Celebration is good reading. (link to article). It is also in the Shalvoy Family Tree book.

For decades Shalvoys were hatters. Owen worked as a maker/sizer. His brother Patrick gave his occupation as "hatter" in the 1850 census. In the 1860 Census, Owen was a hatter. The 1880 census says it all.  Owen was a hat sizer and his four sons, including Frank and James, were hat finishers (finishing was more skilled than making). His daughter Mary also worked in a hat factory. We know that his daughter Annie married John J Culhane who also worked in a hat factory. We find him in the 1880 census, age 16, working in a forming factory.

Children and in-laws of Henry Scollin and Rose Shalvoy were also hatters. Henry T. Scollin was found in the 1900 census in Colorado. He was a hat salesman. Patrick J. Scollin was a hatter and so was his brother James Hugh. In-laws William V Nowlan and Patrick H Connolley were hatters too.

We know that Owen's son Frank worked in hatting in Newark and served as vice president of the National Hatters Union in the early 1900s. We know that Hugh C. was secretary-treasurer of the local Danbury Hat Finishers Union for 42 years. We know that several children of Hugh C worked in the hatting industry.

In any Danbury directory of the late 1800s person after person worked in the hatting industry. Male and female. It offered the Irish immigrant and his children a way to earn enough money to support his family, to buy a house, to live in America. The story of the hatters of Danbury is the story of our Shalvoy family.