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McHone Brothers (LLC) Collection of Houck Tannery Records

Identifier: SC 0172
  • Not requestable

  • Staff Only

Scope and Content

This collection consists of 6.7 cubic feet of records that document the daily purchases and sales of the Houck Tannery and the J.P. Houck Store in Harrisonburg, Virginia, from 1870-1913, chiefly from 1890 to 1913. The collection is arranged in five series: Account Ledgers and Registries, Communication, Financial Documents, Distribution/Transportation Documents, Images, and J.P. Houck Store. The first four series deal primarily with the Tannery; materials relating to the Store are housed in series five. References to the Tannery may be abbreviated JPHTC, while the Houck Store may be abbreviated JPHS.


  • Creation: 1870-1913


Access Restrictions

Collection is open for research. Researchers must register and agree to copyright and privacy laws before using this collection. Please contact Research Services staff before visiting the James Madison University Special Collections Library to use this collection.

Use Restrictions

The copyright interests in this collection have been transferred to the James Madison University Special Collection Library. For more information, contact the Special Collections Library Reference Desk (

Bio/Historical Note

Joseph P. Houck was born on April 4, 1839, in Allentown, Pennsylvania. In the spring of 1866 he went to work for Shenandoah Iron Works in Page County, Virginia. He was successful in the business for fourteen years. Around 1880, Houck and his family moved to Harrisonburg, Virginia, as he had significant business interests there. He had bought a controlling share of the Harrisonburg Steam Tannery in 1878, which soon was renamed the Houck Tannery. In 1879 he opened the Houck Store near Court Square which sold leather goods in addition to household goods and furnishings. Houck was a prominent member of the community, a member of the Rockingham Union Lodge, and secretary and treasurer of Valley Telephone. He died on June 16, 1908. Both the Tannery and the Store were passed on to his son, Joe (J.T.). The younger Houck sold the store to William B. Dutrow in 1913, but continued to own and operate the tannery until its close in the 1920s.

The tannery which came to be known as the Houck Tannery had a long history prior to its ownership by J.P. Houck. Local historian John Wayland noted in his 1949 book Historic Harrisonburg that sources indicate that as far back 1826, Joseph Cline had “carried on the tanyard now owned by Lowenback,” and that George Conrad had later purchased Cline’s “farm & the tanyard in town,” although the date of that sale is not provided. Nonetheless, in 1871 J.A. Loewenbach owned and operated the tannery. That year, he constructed a new building for providing steam power, and in 1872 he had run a pipe from an unidentified spring in town to the tannery.

By 1878 ownership of the tannery was transferred to J.P. Houck. Although several tanneries operated in Rockingham County, Houck’s was the largest. An 1880 census reports a capital investment of $75,000 and thirty employees in the tannery. The industry also supported significant numbers of workers who supplied and transported raw materials to the factory. A spur was laid from the Chesapeake and Western Railroad directly to the tannery warehouse to facilitate the tonnage of bark required for the manufacture of leather. In 1889 the tannery boasted a well that ran 600 feet deep. In addition, the tannery's powerful steam plant is credited with being the first provider of electricity in Harrisonburg. The city contracted with Houck in 1890 to power its street lights prior to the formation of the Harrisonburg Electric Commission. The factory ceased operation in the 1920s, and its 120 foot smokestack was demolished in 1929. A municipal parking deck now stands on the site. The sole remaining structure housed Whitesel-Sinton farm equipment in the 1930s, the armory until the 1950s, and the police department until its demolition in the early 1970s.


6.7 cubic feet (8 boxes)

Language of Materials



This collection consists of 6.7 cubic feet of records documenting the operations of the Houck Tannery and the J.P. Houck Store in Harrisonburg, Virginia, from 1870-1913, chiefly from 1890 to 1913. The collection contains account ledgers, registries, correspondence, and financial and transportation documents that record this turn of the century industry.


The collection is arranged in five series. Items within each series are arranged alphabetically by topic or locality, then chronologically. Original pagination retained.

  1. Account Ledgers and Registries, 1870-1895
  2. Communication, 1900-1912
  3. Financial Documents, 1891-1912
  4. Distribution/Transportation Documents, 1893-1913
  5. J. P. Houck Store, 1898-1912

Acquisition Information

Records were donated by the present building owner, McHone Brothers, LLC, in 2000. The collection was discovered in the late 1990s during renovations to the Houck Building on Court Square (71 South Main) in downtown Harrisonburg, the former offices of the Houck Tannery and store.

Related Materials

West Virginia Pulp and Paper Company Logging Photographs, 1927-1931, SC 0130, Special Collections, Carrier Library, James Madison University, Harrisonburg, VA.


  • Barb, Mia, 1991. Tanbark Industry in the Shenandoah Valley, Oral History Interviews, SdArch 4. Carrier Library Special Collections, James Madison University, Harrisonburg, Va.
  • Bolgiano, Chris. 1999. “Tanbark Harvesting as an Economic and Environmental Factor in Appalachia.” [S.1.:s.n.], 1999. Presented at [the] Shenandoah Valley Regional Studies Seminar, James Madison University, Harrisonburg, Va., January 22, 1999.
  • Coakley, Sherry L. 1991. “The Old Tannery.” Harrisonburg Rockingham Historical Society Newsletter 13(1): 1-2.
  • "History of Rockingham—Houck Tannery.” Daily News-Record, 28 February 1959.
  • Lathrop, J.M. An Atlas of Shenandoah and Page Counties, Virginia; from actual surveys by J.M. Lathrop and B.N. Griffing. Strasburg, Va.: GP Hammond Pub., 1991. Originally published as: Philadelphia, Pa.: D.J. Lake & Co., 1885.
  • "Mr. Dutrow’s 20th Anniversary.” Harrisonburg Daily News, 11 March 1908.
  • Price, C.G. Sr. “My Recollections of Harrisonburg at the turn of the century.” Rockingham Recorder III:1, April 1979.
  • "Dutrow Buys Houck Store." Daily News-Record, 11 July 1913.
  • Suter, Scott Hamilton, and Cheryl Lyon. Images of America: Harrisonburg. Chicago: Arcadia Press, 2003.
  • Suter, Scott Hamilton, and Cheryl Lyon. Places, Faces & Traces: Historical Photographs of Harrisonburg and Rockingham County. Dayton, Va.: Silver Lake Mill, 2005.
  • Wayland, John W. Historic Harrisonburg. Staunton, Va.: McClure Print. Co., 1949.

Processing Information

The collection was received on several long strands of heavy gauge wire totaling twenty linear feet which presented some difficulty due to their great weight and inherent instability. Documents had been punched onto the wire in chronological order which facilitated their arrangement but left edges exposed to a century’s accumulation of grime and to damage by pests. As a practical matter rather than an ideal conservation practice, each article was wiped with an untreated flannel dust cloth rather than vacuumed under mesh to encourage the exposed and embrittled corners of documents to crumble away from their much cleaner cores.

In order to streamline the process of applying collection numbers, Special Collections staff completed a large-scale renumbering campaign in 2017-2018. This collection was previously cataloged as SC 4044.

A Guide to the McHone Brothers (LLC) Collection of Houck Tannery Records, 1870-1913
Chris Bolgiano, Katherine Carr, Tracy Harter, Andréa Hillebrenner, Maggie Keller, Julia Merkel, Erica Morrison, Jodie Tsou, and Sarah Vaughan
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the James Madison University Libraries Special Collections Repository

820 Madison Drive
MSC 1706
Harrisonburg Virginia 22807
(540) 568-3612