Dorflinger cut glass- prized by museums and private collectors - was produced by glass blowers and skilled artisans at a once expansive industrial park in the heart of White Mills, Pa. In operation from 1865 through 1921, a new museum has opened to show a new generation how it was made.
Best of all, the museum is located in the surviving Dorflinger cutting shop, a long, three-story bluestone landmark passed by thousands of motorists daily on Route 6. It is the hope and dream of the museum's benefactor, James K. Asselstine, that the public will enjoy stopping at the long dormant factory, now being renovated to partly restore what the glass workers once saw and did every working day.
The new museum complements the fine Dorflinger cut glass museum on top the hill, the centerpiece of the Dorflinger Suydam Wildlife Sanctuary, said Asselstine. He serves as chairman of the Board of Directors at the Sanctuary, although the glass factory museum has been organized at his own expense and will be under his operation. Local historian Kurt Reed is assisting as Curator.
--- Different focus
He states that the Dorflinger Glass Museum at the Sanctuary grounds focuses on the cut glass itself, and is the largest collection of Dorflinger brilliant-cut glass in the nation. The Sanctuary's musuem is an addition to the estate home of Christian Dorflinger, founder of Dorflinger Glass Company.
The new cutting shop museum will soon allow the public to see where the workers stood or sat and crafted fine, sparking goblets, vases, trays, bottles and other items once in demand by U.S. presidents and royalty. They will learn how the glass works were laid out, with glass blowing shops, cutting shops and facilities for packaging and delivery.
Built in 1883, the cutting shop was powered by steam, with water channeled into the lower section. Using vintage interior photographs, the third floor cutting area will be transformed to show what took place there Three of the wood frames where glass was cut will be displayed. They also have available stone cutting wheels used in the process.
Visitors will be able to see how distinctive Dorflinger patterns were designed, and the steps to cut the glass- first the rough, heavy cuts, then smoothing on a stone wheel and hand polishing done with a brush wheel.
Experts can discern Dorflinger glass from that made by other firms by the patented designs. The recently acquired David Dorflinger collection is quite exciting, he explained, because it reveals patterns they did not know existed.
Glass samples that visitors are welcome to feel demonstrate how a plain, glass blank was turned into a piece of fine art.
A motorized, miniature model shows little figures at work in the various cut glass company departments.
Fine cutting, smoothing and polishing took place on the top floor. The middle floor is where rough cutting was done. When the cutting shop was in operation, a glass blowing furnace was located in front (closer to Route 6). Fired glass was allowed to cool in the lower floor of the cutting shop. As the company grew, a second cutting shop and furnace were added higher on the grounds.
Page 2 of 3 - --- Office building
Along with the factory is the carefully restored 1888 bluestone Dorflinger office building next door, where the public may see where the firm conducted business and displayed examples of their wares. A research library on Dorflinger glass and the company is being assembled on the first floor.
Asselstine will also have exhibits of cut glass. He recently acquired the fine collection of glass fashioned by Ray Latournas, recently of Hawley, who is a direct descendant of one of Dorflinger's artisans. The collection had been kept by the Wallenpaupack Historical Society at the PPL Environmental Learning Center. The Society has also loaned tools used by the Dorflinger workers.
He also recently acquired the private collection of Dorflinger glass from the estate of David Dorflinger, and Asselstine's private collection is on view in the glass company office building.
Glass is on display in a room at the end of the third floor of the split-level building, with access from the backyard. The second, "middle"floor, which is directly accessed from the side, will have space for rotating glass exhibits, meetings and special events.
Most of the Dorflinger factory buildings were ravaged in a fire in 1892; the surviving cutting shop had significant damage. The factory was immediately rebuilt. After the firm closed in 1921, most of the buildings were gradually torn down. The cutting shop was used as a wood handle factory, a Coca-Cola bottling plant and as a place to make industrial baking equipment. For several years it sat empty, and there were concerns what would become of the historically important property.
--- "Needed saving"
Asselstine, who served as a member of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission from 1981 to 1987, retired in May 2013 from Barclays Capital Inc. where he was Managing Director. He and his wife Bette have a home in Tyler Hill, Wayne County.
He states that he purchased the former Dorflinger cutting shop and office to preserve them as a means to further tell the legacy of the Dorflinger Glass Company. Now that he is retired he is able to devote his time to fulfilling this goal.
The facilities, he said, were in good shape but beginning to deteriorate. "They needed saving," he said.
He explained that the significance of the Dorflinger firm and its heritage is best told with each component. These include the Sanctuary's glass museum; the cutting shop and office building; the White Mills Heritage Trail which the Sanctuary established behind the old factory; the 1911 White Mills Fire Museum -owned by the Sanctuary and containing a museum about the village; the Dorflinger Workers' Cottage on Charles Street, one of several of the unique glass company workers' dwellings and restored by the Sanctuary and the Lock House musuem, also owned by the Sanctuary.
The Workers' Cottage and Lock House were projects that were led by Dr. Walter B. Barbe.
Page 3 of 3 - "We will succeed best if we all succeed together," Asselstine added. With each of these facets taken as a whole, Asselstine said, the Dorflinger story makes White Mills a destination where visitors could spend a half a day exploring.
"We need to do that if we're all going to survive," he said.
Dorflinger Suydam Wildlife Sanctuary was established in 1980.
Further enriching the visitors' experience is a separate project a short drive down the road, the D&H Canal Park being developed by the Wayne County Historical Society. The opening of that park is scheduled August 24th. Asselstine said that this project helps as well. Dorflinger Glass Company made use of the canal, and later the railroad to ship their product.
--- Free admission
How much will it cost the visitor? The Dorflinger cutting shop museum and office building are free to visit and tour, Asselstine said. He is not operating it as a non-profit corporation or opening it as a business.
He hopes that visitors will want to learn more and visit the Dorflinger Glass Museum on top the hill. He said visitors will be encouraged to see the museum and Sanctuary grounds, which also feature a gift shop, hiking trails and the Wildflower Music Festival, as well as memberships. The ticket price for the Dorflinger Glass Museum, in turn, will grow in value as visitors there will be welcome to explore the cutting shop and see where and how the fine cut glass was made.
Currently, the cutting shop and office building are open Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Monday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and on Sunday from 1 to 4 p.m. They are closed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Work is in progress on the third floor; visitors are welcome to return and follow the progress. A grand opening is being planned. A web site is being developed.
For more information, Asselstine may be reached at the factory museum at (570)253-0220.
For information about Dorflinger Suydam Wildlife Sanctuary and the Dorflinger Glass Museum, call (570)253-1185 or visit www.dorflinger.org.