By Robert J. Baptista, January 7, 2008
In 1896 Arshag and Mihran Karagheusian, two Armenian brothers, emigrated to England and then America to flee Turkish massacres. The family had been in the rug business in Turkey since 1818. The brothers started importing rugs in 1899 but soon began planning for domestic manufacture. A carpet mill was set up in the former Rothschild Shirt Factory in Freehold, New Jersey in 1904.
The Karagheusians hired T.J. Breslin of Bigelow-Hartford to purchase 60 Brussels and Wilton power looms in Kidderminster, England and bring back experienced weavers who would also train new employees. By 1905 the first carpets came off the looms and the company grew rapidly. A 250,000 square foot spinning plant was established in 1923 in Roselle Park, New Jersey. The Karagheusians referred to the spinning division as “the Little Mill in Roselle Park”. Another spinning plant was established in 1925 in Tientsin, China, which employed 4,000 workers before World War II.
Figure: Arshag Karagheusian. Courtesy: Monmouth County Historical Association Library & Archives
Figure: Mihran Karagheusian. Courtesy: Monmouth County Historical Association Library & Archives
In 1918 the Freehold mill employed 300 people. By 1927 there were 15 broadlooms, weighing 15 tons each, and 196 single looms in operation. In 1928 Karagheusian introduced the famous Gulistan (Translated: Place or garden of roses) rug, a Persian rug that had a silk-like sheen previously found only in hand-woven fabrics. The company made the fiddle-patterned carpet for the newly built Radio City Music Hall in 1932 and the carpet for the United States Supreme Court building in 1933. New Yorkers flocked to the company showroom, decorated by Tiffany Studios, which was located at 295 Fifth Avenue.
Figure: Gulistan Carpet Label of A&M Karagheusian, Inc. Image: www.gulistan.com
Figure: Wilton Loom ca: 1950. Source: Freehold, NJ News Transcript, Sept 20, 2000.
Figure: Small Rug ca: 1950. Source: Freehold, NJ News Transcript, Sept 20, 2000.
At the peak of operations in the 1930s, the mill was the largest firm in Freehold, employing 1,700 workers. During World War II, Karagheusian workers volunteered to watch for German planes from the roof of the five- story mill, which was the tallest building in the area. Some of the looms were converted to make duck cloth and clothing fabric for the military.
Figure: Karagheusian Gulistan. 8’11” x 12′ Art Nouveau Rug ca: 1928-1930
Figure: Karagheusian Rug Mill Freehold, NJ 1929. Courtesy: Monmouth County Historical Association Library & Archives
By 1952 mounting tensions between management and labor led to a bitter 11-week strike. Oriental carpet production stopped in 1953. Tufted carpeting, which has threads pushed through a backing material, was introduced to satisfy the growing demand for wall-to-wall carpeting in homes and offices.
Karagheusian began to shift operations to the Southern states. J.P. Stevens & Co. purchased the company in 1964, renaming it Stevens Carpets. The Freehold mill, which was the heart of the town for 60 years, closed in 1964. Bruce Springsteen mourned the closing of the mill in his hit song “My Hometown”; his father Douglas had worked there. In 2001 the last remaining building was converted to a 202-unit apartment complex called the Rug Mill Towers. The former Karagheusian spinning plant in Roselle Park is today owned by the Romerovski Corporation, one of largest graders of second-hand clothing and wiping materials in the U.S.
Stevens Carpets underwent several name changes over the years. In 1995, in-house mill executives bought the company and renamed it Gulistan Carpet, Inc. Gulistan Carpet today operates North Carolina plants in Aberdeen (main plant), Turnersburg (yarn processing) and Wagram (dyeing) and employs 600 workers.
Figure: Gulistan Carpet Label Today. Image: www.gulistan.com
- John T. Cunningham, Made in New Jersey, Rutgers University Press, New Brunswick, NJ, 1954, p. 94
- The Industrial Directory of New Jersey, Bureau of Statistics, Trenton, 1918, p.208
- Roselle Park, by Roselle Park Historical Society, Arcadia Publishing, 2000, p. 98
- Karen Demasters, “On the Map: A Factory That Wove Rugs and Bound a Town Together”, New York Times, April 9, 2000
- Gulistan Carpet Inc. web site: http://www.gulistan.com/html/about_gulistan.html; accessed January 7, 2008
- http://www.shaneybrook.com/rugs/rug1200-1299/rug1204/rug1204s.html Art Nouveau rug and history. Accessed January 8, 2008
- Photo images of Karagheusian brothers and factory: Monmouth County Historical Association Library & Archives