Auburn, Kentucky

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(Caldwell Lace Leather Co.)



foley1.jpg (86354 bytes)

In May 2005 a 6th generation member joined ranks of the Auburn Leather Company, Miles Leach


Auburn Leather Company website

Caldwell Genealogy


Caldwell buys August Bart, Indiana




Mapel Park Tannery.



1879: The Mapel Park Tannery was started by:
                       1. Churchill Blakey.
                       2. Monroe Hall.
                       3. David McCarley.
George Caldwell became the manager and he later bought out the interest of Blakey, Hall and McCarley.
1904 + Some time after 1904 Lloyd Stanford Howlett, who was married to a daughter of George Caldwell, started a small business, known as Caldwell Lace Leather Co.
1930: George Caldwell died in 1930 and after his death the two companies were merged and were called Caldwell Lace Leather Co.
Lloyd Howlett managed both companies. In the mid 1920’s W. C. Howlett joined the company.
1946:  Lloyd Stanford Howlett died. W. C. Howlett became President and was joined by his son J. Richard (Joe) Howlett.  Another son (Caldwell Howlett) of W. Caldwell Howlett was the Chevrolet dealer in Auburn.
1969: W. C. Howlett and Joe Howlett sold the Company to Browning Arms Company of Morgan, Utah. W. C. retired and Joe became President.
1982: By 1985 Caldwell had purchased several of its lace competitors, an additional tannery, two other leather goods plants, and bought and started two non-leather products manufacturers. Caldwell employed over 250 persons, 125 of which were in the Auburn facilities.
1983: Joe Howlett and another businessman, Harry Williamson purchased Caldwell and its division from Browning. Williamson was the majority shareholder. Williamson immediately began to dismantle the former management team and sell off the individual divisions.
1985: The lace cutting operation in Auburn was moved to New Albany, Indiana. All the other divisions were either closed or sold. The only remaining operation in Auburn was the original manufacturing plant that Caldwell had started in the late 1800’s.
Williamson decided to close the Auburn manufacturing operation, selling the last Auburn fixture of Caldwell at auction. To preserve family history, memories and involvement and little other considerations, Joe Howlett’s daughter, Lisa, purchased the Caldwell building at the auction and Joe bought the remaining assets. Thus began the Auburn Leather Company, jointly owned and operated by Lisa and Joe Howlett.
1986: First year in operation:- 12 employees with $900,000 in sales
1995: Fifty-five employees with $5 million sales.

The following are other versions of the history of Caldwell Lace Leather by different authors. The author is unknown in the following:


Auburn, Kentucky

Mr. G. W. Caldwell, a native of North Carolina, was a Confederate soldier in the Civil War. When the war ended he was near Russellville, Kentucky. He liked the community so well that he settled there. In order to make a living he began tanning various hides, but fort some reason the water there was not satisfactory for his purpose.

About 1879 Mr. Caldwell moved his entire family to Auburn, Kentucky and began working in a small tannery owned by Mr. George Thomas Blakey and his brother Mr. Church Blakey. The water in the Black Lick Creek that flows through Auburn was found to be very satisfactory for his method of tanning. Some years later Monroe Hall bought the tannery and Mr. Caldwell continued to work for him. Around 1900 Mr. Caldwell and Dr. T. O. Helm bought the tannery.

In the early years the tannery was operated and all the leather sold locally. Only lace leather was made, it being made in three types, Indian Tanned, Rawhide and Chrome. Soon after 1900 Mr. L. S. Howlett of Shepherdsville, Kentucky married Mr. Caldwell’s daughter, Ethel. He, too became interested in the tannery. He looked into the future and saw the possibility of building up a big business out of this tannery. In 1904 the tannery was sold to Mr. Caldwell and his son-in-law, L. S. Howlett. The name was then changed into Caldwell Lace Leather Co. At this time they opened a branch of the business on Main Street. This was begun in a very small room with Mr. Howlett as manager and only one employee, Mr. Jim Lively. They made knotted hame strings, boot laces and items of this kind.

Mr. G. W. Caldwell died in 1930 and Mrs. Howlett then purchased the tannery from her brother.  The tannery continued operation under the same name as before. There are not records as to how old the tannery business is in Auburn, but it has been in operation by the Caldwell's and Howletts since 1879. It has had continuous operation, with the exception of two shut downs. Back in 1908 or 1909 the Caldwells and Howletts moved to Columbia, Tennessee and operated a tannery there for about eighteen months. When it reopened World War II had already begun and the tannery went into full scale production immediately.

During the War when supplies of all kinds were urgently needed the tannery began producing, not only its usual types of lace leather, but it started production of strap leather and harness leather. All during the war the tannery furnished harness leather, sides of lace and strap leather to the Government. In the Leather Factory leather parts for tanks and trucks were manufactured. Laces were furnished for snow boot laces. Many of the boot laces were used in the Russian shoes that were furnished by lend-lease.

The tanning in the beginning was done with tan bark, but now it is all done with chemicals, such as alum, Quebracho Extract, Gambier and a number of other chemicals. The tannery is now producing one hundred sides of leather per day of various kinds and colors.

The leather products are sold through wholesaler jobbers, over the entire United States. There are also regular representatives that cover the territory. This company is still operated by the same family. Mr. W. C. Howlett, the President, is the grandson of Mr. G. W. Caldwell and the son of Mr. L. S. Howlett. Mr. W. S. Howlett, the vice-president, is the great grandson of Mr. Caldwell, grandson of Mr. L. S. Howlett and the son of W. C. Howlett.

The family is proud of the company, the labor relations between management and employees are perfect, the products are second to none in quality. The company’s policy is “Service and fair dealing with all."



A hand written note at the bottom of the historic events of Caldwell Lace and Leather reads: "Julia, hope this will help you." W. C. Howlett



Mr. G. W. (George Washington) Caldwell, a native of North Carolina was a Confederate soldier in the Civil War. When the  was ended he was near Russellville, Kentucky. He settled there and began tanning various hides. He moved to Auburn and began a small tannery on Black Lick Creek about 1879. This tannery was owned by Mr. Church Blakey, J. C. Darby and Mr. George Thomas Blakey (Deed Book 56, P. 52 – October 20, 1879).

Other persons who owned an interest at one time or another were Dr. T. O. Helm, Mr. John helm, Mr. J. Monroe Hall Sr., Mr. C. B. Hall and Mr. Lloyd Caldwell.

Mr. G. W. Caldwell, by his industry and thrift began buying out each partner until he and his son-in-law, Mr., L. S. Howlett owned all the stock.

During the time of Mr. Caldwell’s management the company was known as “Maple Park Tannery.” The kinds of leather tanned were Indian Tan, Rawhide and Chrome.

In 1900 Mr. L. S. Howlett married Mr. Caldwell’s only daughter, Ethel Nell. In 1904 Mr. Howlett began the Caldwell Lace and Leather Company and manufactured the leather of the entire production of the tannery. Mr. L. S. Howlett started in a small room on Main Street (Old Moody Building). His first employee was Mr. Jim Lively.

Mr. L. S. Howlett’s son, William Caldwell joined the firm in the mid 1920’s. In 1930 Mr. G. W. Caldwell died and Mr. L. S. Howlett purchased a large tobacco warehouse on Depot Street and moved his operations there.

 The Caldwell Lace Leather Company was operated as a proprietorship until about 1942 when interests were sold to Mr. L. S. Howlett’s son William Caldwell and his grandsons, William Stanford and Joe Richard.

 Mr. L. S. Howlett died in 1946 and the company was organized into a corporation equally owned by Mrs. L. L. Howlett, Mr. W. C. Howlett, Mr. W. S. Howlett and Mr. J. R. Howlett. Mr. W. C. Howlett and Mr. W. S. Howlett purchased the tannery to lease to the corporation.

 In December 30, 1955 Mr. W. S. Howlett sold his interest to Mr. W. C. and Mr. J. R. Howlett. Also on December 30, 1955 the Caldwell Lace Leather Company Inc. purchased the property and equipment of the tannery from Mr. W. C. and Mr. W. S. Howlett, Mr. W. C. Howlett has been President since 1946. 

In October 25th 1968 the Caldwell Lace Leather Co. was sold to the Browning Arms Corp. of Morgan, Utah.

(This was a hand written note at the bottom of the typed written document)

Note 1: This document was passed on to “Julia” which was signed by W. C. Howlett.

Note 2: William Caldwell Howlett died in 1984. He was the father of Joe Howlett





International Standards Organization Certification

Caldwell Industries earns  International Standards Organization (ISO) Certificate after years of preparations

By Amy Gibson - Staff Reporter News-Democrat & Leader (May 22, 1988)

Caldwell Industries of Auburn has achieved a long sought after goal. They have become ISO 9000 certified.

Edward Sitzler Sr. bought this division of the company in 1985 after being a sales representative for Caldwell Leather Company for 25 years. He purchased the punch press division and later added the molding operations.

This process has taken them a year and a half. Steve Jeffries, quality manager, said. "This is not over. We've got a lot of work to do. This is still a young system."

According to Eddie Sitzler, vice president, "It's going to be a big impact"

 Independent audit organizations (called registrars) are the only ones that can certify that Caldwell has developed and implemented a quality system that meets ISO/QS 9000 requirements."

Caldwell does not wait for these auditors to tell them that something is wrong. They have assigned internal auditors to do a monthly audit. These employees come from all positions and are trained in Louisville. This will help them get rid of problems before they grow.

Caldwell Industries Quality Policy: Caldwell Industries will provide defect-free products that satisfy the requirements of our customers on time and every time. Sitzler said. "We have to keep it in our head while we're on the job all day long."

"QS-9000 is a quality system model that was developed by Chrysler, Ford and General Motors.

The standard represents one of the most widespread standardization efforts in the history of the American automotive industry. By standardizing their business practices, suppliers to the Big 3 no longer have to satisfy individual customer requests which where often redundant as the automakers share the same supply base. QS-9000 removes that burden, making it easier for suppliers to do business with the Big 3."

"ISO 9000 is a series of quality system standards that were created by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), based in Geneva, Switzerland. The organization is presently comprised of more than 110 national standards bodies, with each member representing a different country. The American National Standards Institute (ANSI) is the member body representing the United States." 

"The whole purpose behind the development of ISO 9000 was to simplify the international exchange of goods and services by developing a common set of quality standards. That goal has been realized through ISO 9000."

According to Cecelia Stanley, head of training. "Training is a big part of this." Stanley keeps a file for each employee. Inside, records show what they're trained to do. 

"Today, the international standards are sanctioned by most nations of the European Community, making ISO 9000 certification a virtual prerequisite for doing business there." Sitzler said, “What it means...(is) that most of the customers that we're trying to do business with is requiring certification."

Stanley said. "The automotive industry will no longer do business with firms who are not QS certified."

"European businesses place great weight on ISO 9000 certification because it is a credible tool for ensuring the quality of a facilities' product or service. For this reason, registration to the international standard will become increasingly desire, expected and even required by certain markets and industries. 

"When companies become registered to ISO 9000, they have a adhere to a lengthy list of quality system requirements."

What does ISO mean? "The International Organization for Standardization (IS0) of Geneva,  Switzerland.

Sitzler said. "We're now a world class industry.

To : The Editor, News-Democrat & Leader, Russellville, Logan Co., KY

Dear Editor,

The people of Auburn can feel very proud of their industry. I refer here to one in particular, namely - Caldwell Industries in their recent achievement in becoming ISO 9000 certified.

This is a wonderful achievement for any company and great credit must be given to the Sitzler's and the entire work force for achieving this goal.

To qualify to become ISO 9000 certified places a huge burden on any company both in terms of costs and time, but these are outweighed by the advantages of better quality, prompt deliveries and a work force that are highly skilled.

Being familiar with the ISO Quality Standard requirements from a European perspective, I believe to maintain old customers and pursue new ones, ISO 9000 certification will be a prerequisite going into the new millennium.

The Directors, Management and Staff of Caldwell Industries have taken the lead and are to be congratulated.

                                                                                                Dermot Foley
                                                                                                P.O. Box 325
                                                                                                KY. 42206




Leather Firm To Remain In Auburn

                                                                                                    News Democrat on January 6, 1967:

Water treatment facilities: 

(Back in 1967 the lack of treatment facilities almost caused Caldwell Lace Leather Co., to relocate. The following article appeared in the News Democrat on January 6, 1967:)


Auburn, Ky.  - The Caldwell Lace Leather Co., which had considered relocation to Bowling Green, will remain in Auburn, President W. C. Howlett announced today.

The announcement followed the confirmation by U.S. Rep. Frank A. Stubblefield of a $46,340 grant to the firm for the construction of a $68,200 tannery waste treatment system.

Stubblefield said he was advised by the U.S. Water Pollution Control Administration that the grant would be made by the Department of the Interior.

The leather company's search for a new location was prompted by treatment facilities inadequate for the waste of the company.

"In view of this grant, we would not be interested in building elsewhere," said Howlett. The grant stipulates that the treatment facilities be constructed at the existing company site.

Stubblefield said he was informed that the purpose of the grant is to demonstrate the feasibility of treating complete tannery waste. The Auburn tannery is the only one in the nation which performs all three types of leather tanning - chrome, vegetable and alum.

The treatment plant also would serve as a model for the construction of such facilities at other tanneries.

The plan calls for development of a system to pre-treat the three types of leather tanned by the company, to combine them and to completely treat tannery industrial waste.


New Owner For Caldwell

                                                                                                       News Democrat on: May 10, 1983


Auburn, Ky.  - Caldwell Lace Leather Co. Inc., a company which has been in Auburn for approximately 120 years, has new owners.

          Harry Williamson, 42, of Franklin and Joseph Howlett, president of the company, are the only partners in the new ownership and they finalized their purchase of the company from Browning Arms of Morgan, Utah, April 20. [1983]

           Williamson said he owns an 80 percent interest in the company and signed copies of the bond agreement filed in the Logan County Clerk's office as secretary of the company.
           Howlett's family owned the company before it was sold to Browning in the late 1960s and he continued to manage it as president.

           The purchase of the company was financed in part with $1.8 million of industrial revenue bonds issued through the City of Auburn and a $2.25 million loan from First National Bank of Louisville.
           The reported purchase price was $5.3 million.

           The sale includes the Caldwell plant in Auburn, August Barth Leather Co. of Jeffersonville, Ind.; Thermacoustics Co. of New Albany, Ind.; and Blue Ribbon Leather Co. of Shelbyville, Tenn.

The plants make leather products including shoe laces, gaskets and horse riding gear. The Thermacoustics plant also manufactures insulation parts for General Electric appliances and insulation for metal buildings.

Williamson said he plans to put a new emphasis on expanding sales and product lines but no decisions have been finalized. The company already has started work on maintenance of the facility, he added.

In 1967, Williamson formed the Interstate Box Co. in Bowling Green, which eventually was sold to Willamette Industries Inc., the company that owns Western Kraft Paper Group.

In 1970, he started Southern Container Corp. in Franklin and sold it to Weyerhauser in 1980. Williamson owns a 49 percent interest in Southern Fibre in Franklin.

Caldwell and residents near its landfill site on Ky. 1039 have been embroiled in a dispute over alleged pollution of area water wells caused by chemicals leaching from the landfill. Lawsuits are pending in U.S. District Court in Bowling Green and Logan County Court.

T. Michael Taimi, commissioner for the Department of Environmental Protection, Monday signed a notice of violation that was sent to Caldwell because the company drained two waste holding ponds at the landfill in mid-March.

According to Joseph Schmidt of the division of waste management, the notice cites Caldwell for violating its permits and state regulations by discharging the wastes from the ponds without first notifying the state and for mixing storm runoff with wastewater.

(Landfill problems - 1983)

Caldwell received in January a permit for the landfill and submitted a plan to dig storm drainage ditches around the landfill that were to go through two existing holding ponds.

The state claims Caldwell dug the ditches, draining the water in the ponds across 300 feet of Bobby Reeves' property and into a sinkhole without state approval.

The notice of violation was originally scheduled to be sent last month was delayed, Schmidt said. Apparently there was some confusion about whether the notice already had been sent because the state sent letters about remedying the situation to Caldwell, he added.

Williamson said two employees have been hired, James Head and Nancy Preisser, to work with the company's vice president, James Moore, to monitor the situation at the landfill.

The state has issued a permit to Caldwell for a landspreading operation at the site, and the company has purchased $30,000 worth of equipment to begin injecting the wastes from the Auburn plant rather than storing it in open pits, Williamson said.

The company is waiting for a state permit to begin the injection process, William said.





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