Western New York Heritage

That Old Saying About Hearts and [Shirt] Sleeves ...

While the old saying about “wearing your heart on your sleeve” doesn’t quite apply, when the Hart House Hotel became the Newell Shirt Factory in 1918, Mr. Hart may very well have been wearing the shirts – including sleeves – made there.

The Robert H. Newell & Company, Inc., ca. 1924, manufactured custom-tailored shirts for 86 years. What appears to be an early-1920s Cole Aero-Eight Sport Sedan in the lower left, identified by its unique octagonal rear and rear quarter windows, helped date the photo.

Courtesy of Andrew Meier

The Hart House 1876 - 1918

Located at 113 West Center Street in Medina, the 145-year-old, ivy-covered, red brick, three-story building was built around 1876 by Jacob Gorton. Originally known as the Gorton House, it was soon bought by banker, congressman and philanthropist Elizur Kirke Hart, and the name changed to Hart House Hotel. It operated as a first-class hotel until 1918 when it changed owners once again.

Elizur Kirke Hart, ca. 1877, banker, congressman and philanthropist, owned the first-class Hart House from ca. 1880-1892.

Brady-Handy Photograph Collection, Library of Congress

Located on the south side of West Center Street in Medina, the original balconies on the second and third floors can be seen in this postcard of the Hart House. Throughout the 1890s, free, open-air concerts were given from the balcony while huge crowds gathered on the street below to listen.

Courtesy of Andrew Meier

This photo, taken in 1901 during the building’s hotel days, shows a band of bicyclists who traveled to Medina and posed for a photo op. The current incarnation of the hotel gets lots of bicycle visitors every day who are passing through on the Erie Canal towpath, a stone’s throw from the building.

Medina Historical Society

The Shirt Factory 1918 - 2004

The building then became home to Robert H. Newell & Company, manufacturers of custom-tailored shirts whose clientele included Bob Hope, Warren G. Harding and Winston Churchill. Newell & Company remained in business for the next 86 years.

Robert H. Newell, ca. 1924.

Courtesy Andrew Meier

From a brochure published by the company, courtesy of Frank Berger:

The R.H. Newell Company has been addressing the tailoring needs of successful men since 1900 – proudly providing the finest fabrics, the best workmanship, and the broadest selection of styling options demanded by a very particular clientele.

Wearing a Newell shirt is like belonging to an exclusive club, the give-away is the monogram, a horizontal button hole for the lower button shirt fronts, two-holed buttons rather than four, and the codes stitched into the shirts.

The Newell club roster has in the past included many well-connected men including: President Warren Harding, Prime Minister Winston Churchill, former CIA Director John McCole, J. Willard Marriott, John Jacob Astor, George H. Weyerhauser, and Peter Doubleday. More recent clients of note are Dustin Hoffman, Tony Randall, Bennett Cerf, Bob Hope, Nick Nolte, and 1985 Mr. Universe, Dale Ruplinge (53” chest, 20-1/2” biceps, and a 36” waist). The Olympic riding team goes wild over Newell Western and English riding shirts.

Each customer has their own pattern – not block patterns which are then graded. Each customer pattern is kept on file. The customer may request the preferred fit – snug, medium, or loose. The customer designs his own shirt style which may include epaulets, box-pleat back, collar, pocket, and cuff style. Fit is determined in 1/8” tolerance in neck sizes, unlike ready-made shirts which only vary by 1/2” and 1/4” increments in sleeve length. Each piece is cut separately with a hand knife in the manner of Old World craftsmen. The twenty-four pieces are then sewn on single-needle lockstitch machines. It gives the shirt an exceptionally strong seam (approximately thirty-two stitches to the inch) that won’t unravel. No double-needle sewing is found on a Newell shirt.

Every R.H. Newell detail, from linings to thread to buttons, is carefully selected for function and distinctive quality. Monogramming often identifies our customer tailoring. Some are perfected by stitching cams, but many are still done by hand. There is no extra charge for a monogram at R.H. Newell, up to four letters. The customer designs his shirt and we fit it properly. The pattern is on file and orders can be made at any time with adjustments.

The R.H. Newell & Son shirt factory employed numerous local people for 86 years, including those seen here, until they closed their doors in 2004. This photo was taken in 1924 for company marketing purposes. It shows a sewing room located on the first floor of the factory in what is today the “Shirt Factory,” a café and cocktail bar.

Courtesy of Andrew Meier

President Warren G. Harding, actor Bob Hope and Winston Churchill were all clientele of the Newell shirt factory. While John Jacob Astor was also a client, his shirts were made at the previous location in Medina before the move to West Center Street in 1918. Since Astor died on the Titanic in 1912, there is a good chance there is a Newell shirt or two -- or what is left of them -- on the bottom of the ocean!

Harding: Harris & Ewing, ca. 1920; Hope: Hulton Archive Getty Images, 1957; Churchill: Library and Archives Canada, 1941

Taken on the front steps of the building, this photo shows Newell Shirt Factory salesmen attending a convention held in Medina in 1924. Robert H. Newell would summon the salesmen to Medina periodically to review new product lines.

Courtesy of Andrew Meier

In addition to the shirts shown here, Newell also produced custom fit and tailored pajamas and undergarments.

Courtesy of Andrew Meier

This ca. 1924 sketch of Newell Ltd. shows the street address at 290 Park Avenue, about a two-minute walk from St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City. Newell had many stores in high-end retail districts all over the country.

Courtesy of Andrew Meier

The New York City storefront, ca. 1924.

Courtesy of Andrew Meier

The Hart House Hotel Returns 2005 - Today

Today, the building is owned by Andrew Meier, a Medina-native and lawyer with a passion for architectural restoration. The site has been completely renovated and once again houses the Hart House Hotel, a law firm (WSM Elder Law) and a meadery (810 Meadworks), plus a cafe and cocktail bar (Shirt Factory).

The building today, ca. 2021.

Courtesy of Andrew Meier