History of the Town of Schaghticoke

the results of research about the history of the town of Schaghticoke

The Industrial Revolution in Schaghticoke

 

             The  Industrial Revolution in the new United States was  based on use of water power and improvement of transportation. There had been a few mills in Schaghticoke prior to 1800, saw and grist mills on the Deep Kill and Tomhannock Creeks. They produced products for local consumption.  The construction of the first bridge across the river at what is now the village of Schaghticoke around 1790 made possible the exploitation of the tremendous water power of the 100-foot falls there. I have already written of the construction of the Northern Turnpike in about 1800, another part of the transportation component of industrialization. But access to those falls was critical to future development.

             According to Beth Kloppott in her “History of Schaghticoke”, William Chase built the bridge over the Hoosic in 1788, and turned it over to New  York State in 1792 in exchange for 12,000 acres of land north of the Mohawk River. The map of the Corporation Lands at Schaghticoke- the portion of town owned  by the City of Albany in the vicinity of  the Knickerbocker Mansion, has “Chase’s Bridge” labeled. William Chase appears in the 1790 census of the town with a family of six males aged 16 and over, seven females, and one slave.  In 1794  town records show that Chase was reimbursed 59 pounds for repairs to the bridge. 

 

            A  new bridge was already needed by 1799. By that time, William Chase had moved on. He does not appear in the 1800 census. New York State authorized a company made up of John Knickerbacker, Bethel Mather, Charles Joy, Silas Weeks, John Travis, and Zephaniah Russell to build the bridge and collect tolls for 25 years, after which the state would take over. These local men were probably interested in the tolls, but perhaps more in the industrial development made possible by the bridge. While Knickerbocker and Mather were primarily farmers, Charles Joy was an immigrant from Boston who would soon build a textile mill on the Hoosic.

this section of the c 1790 map of the Albany Corporation shows the Chases Bridge label straddling the Hoosic River at what would become the Village of Schaghticoke

                After 1800, the factory system grew throughout the U.S., with larger and larger numbers of employees working in a central building, using machines operated by water power, rather than individual craftsmen working at home or in small shops.  New England entrepreneurs moved into Schaghticoke, eager to develop factories using the water power of the Hoosic. Gradually, manufacture of woolen and linen cloth moved from the home to a central factory building. The village of Schaghticoke began to grow, as people moved into town to work in the mills. They needed places to live and shop.  By 1813, Spafford’s  “Gazetteer” said the town of Schaghticoke had twelve grain mills, eleven saw mills, one oil mill, one fulling mill, two carding machines, one cotton, and one linen mill. While some of the grain and saw mills were on other streams in town, the rest of the mills were on the Hoosic at the new village of Schaghticoke Point.

                According to Sylvester’s History of Rensselaer County, Charles and Benjamin Joy of Boston constructed the first mills at   ‘Schaghticoke Point”: a carding machine (which would card wool, preparing it for spinning), a grist mill, and a saw mill. Charles was one of the group who financed the construction of the second bridge over the river in 1799.  The saw mill still survived in 1850, when Lewis Pickett built a paper mill on the spot. The paper mill was across the street from where Agway is now. Joy’s Schaghticoke Linen Mills, founded about 1800, were just downstream. They manufactured duck, a heavy canvas fabric. The site later became the Cable Flax Mills, which I will discuss in future posts. Another candidate for the first mill at Schaghticoke is a fulling mill, which would have finished the woolen fabric woven on home-based looms. A 1798 advertisement in the “Troy Northern Budget” states that Edward Hart “has taken the fulling mill at Schaghticoke Point,” which would indicate her had purchased an already-existing business.

              Sylvester also states that there was a machine shop “perhaps as early as 1800” on the south side of the river, west of Route 40, owned by George Brown and his son-in-law Giles Slocum. This later became a cotton factory owned by Ephraim Congdon, then a twine factory. The cotton factory burned and a new twine factory was built on the site. Brown and Congdon negotiated over the sale of the land, water rights, and the right to build a dam- necessary to create the vital water power. Brown sold land and water rights to the Starr Manufacturing Company, incorporated in 1814, which manufactured woolen, cotton, and linen goods. A relic of that company is the “Star Hole”, a depression in the Hoosic River under the bridge at Schaghticoke, jumped into to cool off in summer by generations of local teenagers. Further downstream on the south side was a cotton factory, built by Waddell and Shephard about 1816, which operated about twenty years before it burned.  Sylvester goes on to say that at one time there was a plan to develop the water power slightly downstream from that, at Buck’s Neck, creating a chain of factories, but that the dam necessary for the project was washed away in an unexpected flood of the river, and never rebuilt. None of the companies discussed in this paragraph was successful in the long term, but the owners continued to reinvest and build anew. 

this photo is taken from down stream- and really shows the falls on the Hoosic River at Schaghticoke. Ray Seymour found it for me.

              The Rensselaer Woolen and Cotton Manufacturing Company was downstream from an early flax mill, on the north side of the river. It was incorporated at Schaghticoke Point in 1810 for the purpose of manufacturing “woolen, cotton, and linen goods, and for making glass, and from ore, bar iron, anchors, mill-irons, steel, nail rods, hoop iron, (and other iron goods)”. From the list, it seems the goal was to use the products of the farmers and provide them with metal goods they might need. It owned land on the river which it rented to smaller companies.

             The first directors of the Company were James Brookins, James Cornell, Munson Smith, Leonard Cozzens, and Charles Starbuck.  Brookins, whom I will write  more about in other posts, was an officer in the Green Mountain Boys during the Revolutionary War, who moved here in 1793. He was also an original commissioner in the Northern Turnpike Company of 1801. Smith appears in the 1800 census, but not Cornell, Cozzens, or Starbuck, who were newcomers to town. The company advertised in “The Troy Post”, seeking raw wool to be exchanged for finished wool cloth, and for “six or seven good families, who would engage several out of each family to be employed in the Manufactory.” These families would receive housing, courtesy of the mill.  Presumably, the mill would buy its wool locally, but would have to import the cotton.

           The company struggled.  In 1812 and 1816 New York State lent the company money. In 1814, it advertised the sale of some of its cotton spinning machinery: “new cotton machinery for sale. 4 new throssel frames, containing 60 spindles each, and 2 mules of 180 spindles, apply to Messrs. Richard P. Hart and Co. Troy or at Schaghticoke Point where the machinery can be seen. Erastus Skinner, agent for the Rensselaer. Woolen and Cotton Mfr Co.”  There must have been other machinery, because on August 22, 1815, the company advertised “wanted  3 or 4 journeymen clothiers at the Rensselaer. Woolen and Cotton Mfg Co, Schaghticoke Point, Erastus Skinner agent.”  On August 25, 1815, it advertised “Manufacturers and Clothiers take notice: in May last there was a piece of broadcloth partly dressed left with us to be finished which we have reason to believe was stolen.  Any person proving property and paying charges can have it by calling on Erastus Skinner, Agent.” One wonders what story the person told who brought this length of fabric to be finished, and why the factory came to believe it was processing stolen goods! It’s also interesting to know that the factory processed fabric woven elsewhere- presumably of home manufacture.

perhaps the cotton machinery at the mills in Schaghticoke looked something like this

                In 1816, the agent tried to settle some of the unfinished business of the company. On October 8, he advertised:  “Notice: all persons indebted to Renselaer Woolen and Cotton Mfg requested to call and settle their accounts by 1st of November.  All remaining unsettled at that time will be put in proper hands for collection.  Also all persons having yarn in their hands to weave or cloth wove are requested to return the yarn or cloth without delay as the business must all be closed.” The second part of this ad gives another indication that at least some of the cloth was  being woven in private homes, then brought to the mill for finishing. I think that the reference to the business being “closed”, just means that the accounts needed to be settled. As is true now, much business was done on credit.

                I must quote another fascinating ad from agent Erastus Skinner in the “Troy Post” of January 7, 1817.”$ 30 Dollars Reward/ Stolen from the tenter bars in the Dry House of the Rensselaer Woolen and Cotton Mfg Co on Saturday night December 28: 3 pieces of cloth: 1 piece black broad cloth about 25 yards fulled, napped, and not sheared; 1 piece mixed Kerseymere about 24 yards, cotton warp, fulled and partly dressed; 1 piece country cloth black about 6 yards, fulled and partly dressed. Whoever will return the whole shall receive $20 reward or in proportion to what is returned and $10 for lodging the thief in the gaol of the county and all reasonable charges paid.”  Broadcloth can be either woolen or cotton. Kerseymere, a term first used in 1793, was a fine woolen cloth with a twill weave, though in this case, the warp was cotton. We also learn that the factory had a special building where the cloth would be spread out to dry on tenter bars. One wonders who would steal cloth that was not finished, and if the thief was caught.

this illustration shows fabric on tenter hooks

         In 1819 the company was ordered sold to cover its debt. The factory burned in 1821, but it was rebuilt by two men who would figure prominently in the continuing industrial development of Schaghticoke, Amos Briggs of Schaghticoke and Richard Hart of Troy. 

                   While the Hoosic River was the primary location of mills in Schaghticoke,  the water power of the Tomhannock Creek, which crosses Route 40 at the settlement of Schaghticoke Hill, was also used by industry. On the northwest side of the stream where the bridge crosses on Route 40, there was a grist mill, operated by the Evans family. Sylvester’s history states there was a saw mill and turning factory of George Burton nearby as well.  Just downstream was the complex known as “Knickerbocker’s Mills”, site of textile works. Sylvester states there was a mill there as early as 1800. I have found that Herman Knickerbocker ran a “Satinet” factory there around 1830. Yet further downstream is the original location of the Schaghticoke Powder Mills, founded about 1812 by the Masters brothers. I will write further about both Herman Knickerbocker and the Masters and the Powder Mill in future posts as the stories are long ones.

             Continuing on downstream on the Tomhannock Creek, there are three waterfalls- Sylvester says two, but I have visited all three. Buttermilk Falls, just upstream from the bridge on Buttermilk Falls Road, is the most visible of the falls. According to Sylvester, there used to be a grist mill and a very early bellows factory somewhere in the vicinity of that falls or the one just below it, which is visible to the west of the road, especially in the winter. Sylvester states that construction of the railroad created new water power in the area, and that Elisha Brownell built a dam and a paper mill to take advantage of it in 1852, but that the mill burned after just a few years of operation.  Farther downstream, near the current Denison Farm, is supposed to be the site of the first grist mill built north of Albany,around 1707, on a small stream which runs into the Tomhannock. William Pitt Button, who owned the farm when Sylvester’s history was written in 1880, built a small dam at the same site to churn butter for the family. Still farther downstream, Anthony Button built a flax mill around 1875.

           Mills were also built on the Deep Kill, the stream which crosses Route 40 in Grant’s Hollow. From 1819-1912, the Deep Kill was the southern boundary of the town of Schaghticoke. Michael Cook, founder of Cooksboro and a Revolutionary War veteran, had a grist mill on the Deep Kill, which formed the southeasternmost boundary of the town. The next mills on the stream were at what is now called Grant’s Hollow, mills to produce agricultural machinery, first constructed about 1836 by Issac T. Grant. I will write about Mr. Grant in future posts, as his is a fascinating  and lengthystory. Further downstream on the Deep Kill toward the Hudson, there were just a few saw mills.

         Mill construction continued in Schaghticoke throughout the 19th century, sometimes in what to us would seem surprising locations, considering the meager flow of the streams. I will discuss these mills in future columns. The early 19th century industrialization transformed the town from a purely agricultural area to a booming site of industry. The village of Schaghticoke grew quickly, and agriculture began to be focused on producing products for the textile, grist, and saw mills. Retail businesses sprang up to serve the new residents, who were both locals and new immigrants, first from New England, then from Ireland, and Scotland, come to find jobs. Schools developed to serve the children of the incomers, as did a variety of churches. Schaghticoke left its colonial past behind.

 

Bibliography:

Kloppott, Beth. History of the Town of Schaghticoke, 1988

Sylvester, Nathaniel, History of Rensselaer County , New York, 1880

Lansing Papers, NYS Archives

“Troy Northern Budget” in the Rensselaer County Historical Society

 

 

 

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