History of the Town of Schaghticoke

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

Tag Archives: water power

Schaghticoke Point: 19th Century Boomtown

I have been working on the contents of what follows for several months. It has been hard to make the decision to publish, as I feel I will find more information. But I could work on it forever! I know I have shared information before on the industrial revolution in Schaghticoke, beginning about 1800, but I don’t feel I have emphasized it enough- and, as you will see, I have a lot more to say. To prepare for this I visited two great museums: the National Park at Lowell, Massachusetts,(www.nps.gov/lowe/) and Hanford Mills Museum at East Meredith, NY (www.hanfordmills.org). I wanted to really understand the operation of mills, from water to finished products, and both places let the visitor see that in action. I recommend both places to you. Hanford Mills is near Oneonta, very accessible to us. Lowell is filled with textile mills and the canals and machinery needed to operate them. Hanford Mills has a grist and saw mill plus several other wood working machines which operate off the same water wheel, or with a steam boiler.

Hanford Mills, East Meredith, NY

Hanford Mills, East Meredith, NY

In the past I have written about the industrial revolution in the town of Schaghticoke. Now I think it’s hard for us to imagine the gorge of the Hoosic River at the village of Schaghticoke filled with mills of various kinds, the village populated with mill workers, who lived, worked, and shopped in their village. I would like to return to that topic, to try to describe what the mills were like, and imagine the work of the citizens of the village. The Rensselaer County Historical Society in Troy owns boxes and boxes of the papers of Richard Hart, whose home on Second Street the society occupies. Richard was a busy entrepreneur in the early 19th century, and one of his major projects was to purchase and operate the mills at Schaghticoke Point, now the village of Schaghticoke. His local partner was Amos Briggs, an immigrant to Schaghticoke from Rhode Island. In the future I plan to write much more about Amos, but for now I’ll stick to the mills. The Hart Papers cover a wide range of activities at the mills. I will draw on inventories made of several mills as Hart was planning to purchase them, leases of various mills, record books covering extensive repairs to a mill in 1824, and a census of area mills Hart made in 1831, as well as a great children’s book by David Macaulay called “Mill,” a book on water power by Louis C. Hunter, and material from the National Park at the textile mills in Lowell, Massachusetts. While there were other kinds of mills at Schaghticoke Point- including a grist and saw mill at least- this article will focus on the new textile mills.
For centuries, yarn and cloth were made by hand, no matter the natural fiber: flax- linen, cotton, or wool. The fiber needed to be harvested, whether from plant or animal, cleaned and processed, spun into yarn, woven into cloth, then the cloth needed to be “finished” to be durable. There was often also a step to dye the yarn after the spinning or weaving as well. The wool fulling process involved beating and cleaning the cloth in water to make it denser, “teasing” it, originally with the seed pods of the teasel plant to raise the pile, and trimming off loose threads. The fulling was the first part of the process to be mechanized, and was done by water-powered mills as early as the middle ages. A fulling mill was one of the first at Schaghticoke, probably shortly after the first bridge was put across the river c. 1792.
The next steps of the cloth making process to be mechanized were the spinning and carding. Again, the power was provided by water. Carding, the combing of fibers to straighten them out, could be done more easily in bulk than spinning., and was mechanized by the mid-1700’s in England. Samuel Slater built the first spinning mill in the United States in Pawtucket, Rhode Island in 1793. This technology spread like wildfire through the Northeast, with inventors vying to get patents on new improvements. The goal was to be able to spin more fiber at once- have more and more spindles on one machine- to make the process faster. There were two types of spinning machines in use: The spinning mule used a two part process to spin fiber into thread or yarn: first the roving (the unspun fiber in loose ropes from the carding machine) was spun, then wound up on a pool. The throstle did the same process in one action- drawing out the roving, twisting it and winding it on a spool. A throstle is a song bird. The bird-like singing or humming of the machine at work gave it its name. The mills at Schaghticoke had both kinds of spinning devices, as well as carding machines.
throstle
The chance for profit in the new mechanization of the textile business led budding entrepreneurs to fan out from the East Coast, seeking out good sites for water power as the 19th century began. The over -100 foot drop in the Hoosic River at Schaghticoke was a magnet for these men. One of the earliest to build a textile mill here was Benjamin Joy, from Boston. Benjamin, born in 1757, was a merchant with many business interests and the first U.S. consul to Calcutta, nominated by President George Washington in 1794. While he probably visited Schaghticoke, his brother Charles was Benjamin’s agent, who ran the mills. Charles was in Schaghticoke by 1795, when he married Elizabeth Chase, who may have been the daughter of Daniel Chase, builder of the first bridge across the Hoosic in 1792. The couple lived here until about 1820. Charles was one of the founders of the Presbyterian Church in 1803, and served as a trustee until 1820. Interestingly, in the 1820 census, Charles was not listed as employed in manufacturing, but rather as a farmer. One Joy Mill processed flax, another cotton, and the Rensselaer Cotton and Woolen Mill, with local owners, later the Farmers’ Manufacturing Company, dealt with both cotton and wool, as the name implies, from about the same time. I found an ad in the ‘Troy Post” for 1819 for “patent seine twine of a perfect lay…with all other kinds of twine..” at Samuel Conant & Company in Troy. The twine was made at the linen factory of Charles Joy at Schaghticoke Point, and “known to be of superior quality.”

The falls of the Hoosic attracted entrepreneurs like the Joys. The mills they built attracted workers and engineers, first to build the mills, then to design and use the machinery inside them. I have written before of Oliver Barrett, born in Hudson Falls in 1783, who filed a patent from Schaghticoke in 1811 for a machine for making cotton roving. Carding machines produced loose tubes of fiber called roving, which would then be spun, so Oliver was working on the carding process. To succeed, factories needed to use the latest equipment, making the textile process as efficient as possible. So from the earliest years of the Industrial Revolution, Schaghticoke was on the cutting edge.

The last part of the textile process to be mechanized was the weaving. For some years, the other parts would be done in the mill, with the yarn sent out to be woven in area homes, and the fabric returned to the mill for mechanical finishing such as fulling. Or if the whole process was done in the mill, the weaving would be on hand operated mills. A genealogy of the local Banker family reports on a man named James Verity, born on Long Island in 1786. He learned to weave in the traditional way, through apprenticeship with a Quaker weaver in Nine Partners, near Poughkeepsie, from age fourteen to 21. At that point, 1807, he came to Schaghticoke Point, where he wove in the cotton mill. After his 1812 marriage to Eunice Banker, he continued to weave, but at his home, on a farm south of Melrose.

spinning frame at Lowell

spinning frame at Lowell

The first power loom in the U.S. was built at Lowell, Massachusetts in 1813. Looms would be added to the mills as soon as possible, as this would vastly speed up the manufacture of cloth. An 1831 census of area mills reported that the Joy Linen Mill had “28 duck looms propelled by hand.” So in that case, though the weaving was still not mechanized, the weavers were centralized in the mill. This would certainly give the mill owner greater control of the finished fabric and of the worker. I think that various combinations of hand and power looms were used through the 1830’s.

mechanized loom at Lowell

mechanized loom at Lowell

Building a mill involved buying both land and water rights. In general, riparian (having to do with rivers) law gives landowners ownership of an adjacent stream or river if it is not navigable. If it is navigable, the river is public property. The Hoosic certainly was not navigable at Schaghticoke!
The 100 foot water fall at Schaghticoke had lots of potential, but no mill and water wheel combination could accommodate more than about a 20 foot fall, so it needed to be harnessed. We see how it is controlled by the dam to this day, though now the water is used to power a hydroelectric facility. At a time when construction was done by hand and horse, without concrete and steel, dams needed to be constructed, along with a raceway or flume, which delivered water to the water wheel and took it away, and probably a mill pond, for storage of water: all aiming to maintain a constant flow to the mill. The flume could be carved in a stone stream bed, like that of the Hoosic at Schaghticoke, built of stones, or even elevated and built of wood. The type of water wheel would have to be chosen, designed and built. There were a number of types: flutter, undershot, overshot, breast, and tub. All would have to have a container to operate in, either a pit excavated in the riverbank or a tub made of wood.

this mill was at Lowell, but the mills at Schaghticoke were probably similar

this mill was at Lowell, but the mills at Schaghticoke were probably similar

With a number of mills being built on the Hoosic at Schaghticoke, there was intense and careful negotiation over the design and placement of the dams, wheels, and flumes. The amount of water power was limited, and all would want and need their share. Riparian law mandated that the owner of the mill would have to return the same amount of water to the river as he took out to power his mill. Deeds included very specific provisions about rights-of-way, repair of dams, and amount of water ensured to each owner or tenant. Without water, the mill couldn’t operate.
I am sure you are thinking, “Wait, what about spring floods, summer droughts, and winter freezing?” Waterpower was variable and unreliable. Some of this could be controlled by the construction of mill ponds, where water could be contained, stockpiled, so to speak, and released in a controlled manner. But there would be times when the water was totally frozen, and times when it was just too high to be controlled. Dams and flumes were easily damaged and needed frequent repair. A careless owner could create problems for not only himself, but his neighbors, including nearby farmers whose land could be flooded.
Textile mill buildings would have to be built to accommodate all of the machinery. This resulted in long and narrow buildings of multiple stories. Various belts and gears would transfer the water power from the water wheel to the various machines. The power train was long and narrow. The mills needed to have many windows, allowing use of as much natural light as possible to illuminate the work spaces. Mills could be and were heated by wood stoves and lit by oil lamps, but cloth fibers are very flammable, and the owners did all they could to minimize the risk of fire.
By 1825 or so, the cloth making process ended up with these steps, with some variation depending on the kind of fiber:
1. The fiber needed to be cleaned. For wool, this would mean washing, for flax “retting” or soaking in water, and removal of the outer husk of the plant. Both wool and flax were produced locally. Cotton, of course, had to be imported from the South. It arrived in huge bales, weighing up to 500 pounds. The bales needed to be picked apart. This could be done manually, or by a picker machine. Often this process was done in a separate building as the cotton would be at its most flammable as wispy fibers.
2. The fibers were straightened through carding, by a machine, which would produce a light, fluffy, thin mat. This would go through a drawing frame to be given a slight twist, then to a speeder, which would turn it into roving. Roving is an unspun, fragile narrow rope.
3. The roving was spun on either a mule or throstle of a number of spinners, ending up on a spool. Some of the yarn was spun to be the warp, some the weft on a loom. The yarn might now have to be dressed with a starch before weaving.
4. Now the yarn would be woven into all kinds of cloth. In Schaghticoke, the flax was also twisted into ropes, from shoe laces on up. Yarn could also be dyed.
5. Finally, the cloth would be “finished.” This depended on the content. Wool would be fulled, and stretched on tenters (long wooden frames and the source of keeping someone on “tenterhooks”); cotton could be “sized,” or glazed. Fabric could also be dyed.

The mills employed men, women, and children. According to the website of the National Park at Lowell, Massachusetts, one man could run a picker, and one could run ten carding machines. One woman could run a dressing frame, one every two speeders, one a drawing frame, one per spinner, and one weaver for two looms. Children were often employed as doffers, who would remove the full spindles, ducking under and around the machines as they operated. There would be one manager for about thirty employees, and one machinist per fifty machines, to keep them in working order. The mills would be noisy, the air filled with fiber. Before the advent of ear plugs, longtime workers would certainly suffer from deafness. Some of the processing involved noxious chemicals like bleach and oil of vitriol (sulfuric acid). In winter, the rooms would be cold, despite the use of stoves, and certainly smoky and smelly from the burning wood, and the oil lamps in use in the short winter days. Clothing and body parts could easily get caught in any of the machines.
During the 19th century, many mill workers lived in housing provided by their employers and shopped at least in part at stores they ran. This could be a mutually beneficial arrangement, as workers knew they would have a decent place to live and employers knew their workers could get to work easily and had some control over them when they were not at work. The owners didn’t want workers to come to work drunk, for example. New villages grew up around the mills, as men and women left farms to work at what they hoped would be better jobs. For women this was a first opportunity at employment outside the home. Children as young as six or seven worked at least part-time in the mill, but if the mills were running, the work day could be 12-16 hours for all, six days a week. Some owners did not employ young children, and others made sure they went to school as well as work. As the mills were often not operating in the winter, there would be time for school then.
Let’s turn to the real mills at Schaghticoke… Richard Hart of Troy did a census of mostly cotton mills in the Rensselaer/Washington County area in 1831. I think he was assessing possible competitors as he and Amos Briggs bought up all the mills in the gorge of the Hoosic River at Schaghticoke. Whatever the purpose, it gives us a rare and early snapshot of the industry at the time. The mill operators filled out the census forms themselves. There were two linen mills in the survey, both of them at Schaghticoke. The Joy Mill, built in 1809, produced 2500 bolts of sail duck, 15,000 pounds of shoe thread, and 40,000 yards of bagging each year. Sail duck would be used for the sails on ships, bagging would be made into linen bags, which were used for storing many, many commodities in pre-plastic days. To make this product, the mill used 50 cords of wood, 200 gallons of oil, 3000 pounds of potash for bleaching, 500 pounds of oil of vitriol (sulfuric acid), and 1500 pounds of “foreign bleaching salts.” Imagine the toxic pollution of the river from the latter items. The mill had 175 people living on the premises. This number would include workers and their families, as workers were housed on the property of the mill.

The second flax mill, Tibbits Briggs & Company, used 10,000 pounds of flax and 65,000 pounds of flax and hemp tow (tow is coarser outer part of flax, used to make cording and rope) per year, and made 65,000 yards of bagging, 25,000 pounds of shoe thread, and 10,000 yards of carpet warp per year. The warp would be set on a loom to weave carpets. It had fifty employees. Tibbits was the brother of Hart’s partner, Amos Briggs.
There were four cotton mills in Schaghticoke. The Joy Cotton Mill, built in 1812, had 750 spindles and throstles and 18 looms, and made 149,700 yards of cotton shirting each year. It used 40,500 pounds of cotton, 500 pounds of starch, 25 cords of wood, and 100 gallons of oil each year. Of course the cotton was all imported from the South. The mill employed six men, who made $4.50 per week, and 22 women, who made $1.60. Two or three of the employees were under 12. Sixty people lived on the premises, however.
The Ephraim Congdon Mill, built in 1820, had 432 throstles and 20 shirting looms, which used 40,000 pounds of cotton per year and made 125,000 yards of #18 yarn per year. It must have made shirting too, but that was not reported. The factory used 3000 pounds of flour for sizing the fabric each year. It employed eight men and twenty women, though 40 persons lived on the premises. An article in the “Troy Budget” in February 1834 reported the mill would be auctioned- presumably because it was bankrupt- the next month. The Star Manufacturing Company, managed by Amos Briggs, was built in 1818. It had 720 spindles and 16 looms. It used 32,000 pounds of cotton per year and made 10,000 yards of cloth, with a work force of ten males and 32 females. Sixty-five people lived on the premises. When modern residents speak of “the Star Hole” in the Hoosic River, they are referring to this mill, though I’m sure not one person knows any of its history.
The Farmers Manufacturing Company was leased by Richard Hart and Amos Briggs in 1821, and purchased by them the following year. They bought the water rights and the factory for $6,000. The brick factory had lots of cotton machinery: one picker, to the east of the partition on the first floor, six carding machines, one threader, one drawing frame, 32 power looms to the west of the partition, and two dressing machines. They also had use of 32 spinning frames, 4 mule frames, 4 stretcher frames, 8 drawing frames, 8 roping frames, and 12 winding heads, some of which was outdated machinery. They were located on the 3rd and 4th floors. There was machinery to operate a woolen mill as well, but they didn’t plan to use that. The property also included a brick store and four large and two small houses, plus room for gardens for the workers. Under the lease agreement, Amos would manage the day-to-day operations of the mill, and regulate the water, making sure to keep the grist mill well-supplied; Richard would purchase the cotton. He worked with a cotton broker in New York City, rather than buying the cotton directly from plantations in the South.

Richard P. Hart

Richard P. Hart

poster of cotton mill, from Lowell. The cotton was picked over on the first floor, ginned, and carded. It was spun on the second and third floors, and woven on the fourth floor. Note the waterwheel at the bottom center.

poster of cotton mill, from Lowell. The cotton was picked over on the first floor, ginned, and carded. It was spun on the second and third floors, and woven on the fourth floor. Note the waterwheel at the bottom center.

This established the relationship that would exist between Briggs and Hart for the next 20 years. In 1825 Amos Briggs, the hands-on manager of the mill, modernized and rebuilt the cotton mill of the Farmers Company. Richard Hart, the money man, bought a new speeder and drawing frame, and there was lots of repair of the dam and flume, with new gates installed, plus removal of the old and construction of a new tub wheel. Some of this involved digging in the rock of the river bed. The factory itself was replastered, a new brick chimney built, a bell added, the garret (attic) windows rebuilt and painted. Over a couple of months, seventy different men were employed for from a couple of days to several weeks in the renovations. Part of their wages was a tot of rum or whiskey each day. The bell would mark the beginning and end of the work day.
By the time of the 1831 census, the Farmers Factory was much bigger than its rivals. It had 2,976 spindles, mules and throstles, with 981 looms. It made 750,000 yards of cloth per year from 172,818 pounds of cotton. It used 5000 pounds of starch, 35 barrels of flour, 85 cords of wood, 1000 bushels of coal and 650 gallons of oil per year. The factory employed twenty men at $7 per week, 35 boys at $1.50 per week, fifty women at $2.50 per week, 55 girls at $1.37 per week, and twenty children at 87.5 cents per week. The children got to go to school for three months per year. I don’t know the definition of “boy” and “girl” versus “children”. As late as 1870 children as young as six worked in the mills. Five hundred people lived in mill housing on the premises.
The 1831 census included another cotton mill. Giles Slocum & Company had just been built in 1831. It had 1000 spindles, mules, and throstles and forty looms. It made 250,000 yards of cotton per year and employed fourteen males and forty females, none under twelve years of age. I assumed it was in the gorge of the Hoosic as well, but finally discovered it was on the Schaghticoke side of the Hoosic at Valley Falls. The 1856 and 1858 Rensselaer County maps show it on the north side of the river, just upstream from the bridge.

Giles Slocum was born in Massachusetts in 1789. He was in Schaghticoke by 1820 when he purchased a pew at the new Presbyterian Church. He married Helen Brown, the daughter of George and Elizabeth Brown, whom I believe were English immigrants. According to Sylvester’s History of Rensselaer County, p 454, George had a machine shop “below the wagon-bridge on the southwest side” of the Hoosic River, “perhaps as early as 1800.” Sylvester says Giles was in business with him. He branched out on his own by 1830. Besides building the mill, he erected a large brick house for himself and his family, surrounded on three sides by housing for his workers and their families. I thank Jessie Ravage, researcher, for pointing this out to me.

slocum 1861 map  From the 1854 Rensselaer County map- C.P. Slocum, labelled here, must have been Giles’ son, who had died in 1848.
This all adds up to about 400 men, women and children working in the mills, with over 800 people living in worker housing of these mills in the area of the village of Schaghticoke Point in 1830, where there had been no village twenty years earlier. (The population of the village was 600 in 2010, by the way.) This certainly changes the way I think of the village as I drive through it today, when there’s barely a place to work, and certainly no factory at all. Was this mill census accurate?
Let’s look at the 1820, 1830 and 1840 federal censuses. Unfortunately the 1830 census lists only the names of heads of households, plus numbers of males and females of various ages in each family, plus separate columns for free blacks of various ages and one column for aliens, with no detail about occupations at all. There were 3024 people in the whole town of Schaghticoke, living in 454 families. The village is not separated out, but there are just a few of the 34 pages of the census which include almost all of the 151 aliens in town, about 2% of the population. I think we may assume that the aliens mostly lived in the village, where they worked in the mills. There were 18 families composed totally of non-native people, where there had been only one in 1820. This means that most of the mill workers were natives of the U.S. We don’t know how many had come to Schaghticoke from other states, drawn by the mills, though a number certainly had. The ones I have examined came from New England. But there had been an influx of aliens too, mostly from Great Britain and Ireland.
But is it reasonable to think that of a townwide population of about 3000, about 400 people worked in the mills and 800 lived in mill housing? That’s 13% of the population as workers and 27% in the housing. In the 1820 census 600 of the 2500 residents had been farmers, or about ¼, 153 had been in manufacturing, or 16%. In both cases, this includes just the actual farmers or manufacturers, not their families. We know that the mills were built between 1820 and 1830, so it’s reasonable to think that the number of mill workers would have grown a lot. The overall population increase of the whole town from 1820 to 1830 was 8%, from 2522 to 3024 people. The 1840 census does indicate that over 425 people in town worked in manufacturing and trades. It does include women and children. So while the mill census may be somewhat exaggerated, it is not impossible.
Even if the mill census does inflate the numbers somewhat, the fact was that there was a new village at Schaghticoke, which had grown up in about twenty years. The residents would need the necessities of life available close by, with transportation so limited. Unlike the farmers, they weren’t growing most of their own food. Along with the rapid growth of mills, there must have been a real boom in the construction industry, plus need for stores of all kinds, medical care, schools, transportation, and churches. There must have been a tremendous air of excitement in the town.

Turning to another part of the 1831 census, where did the raw material for the mills come from? It’s hard for me to imagine the logistics of importing 300,000 pounds of cotton to Schaghticoke in a year, in the era before railroads. Cotton was packed into bales that weighed 500 pounds and measured about 56 x 48 x 30”. Presumably they came up the Hudson River by boat, probably to Troy, then by horse and wagon to town.

cotton bale

cotton bale

Flour was also needed for sizing the cotton. I know that there was a grist mill along with the cotton mills on the Hoosic, plus another grist mill on the Tomhannock Creek at Schaghticoke Hill. Did local farmers produce enough wheat to be ground into the flour needed for these mills to finish the cotton, plus the flour needed for domestic consumption? I don’t know.
The two linen mills required raw flax. I know that some flax was grown locally, especially in Pittstown. Was it enough for the linen mills? I know that some flax was imported from Ireland in the 1840’s, along with what was grown locally, but I don’t know about 1830. And of course the woolen mill needed raw wool. Farmers did raise sheep locally, as they do now, but I don’t know if they were able to provide all the wool needed for local mills.
By about 1840 Amos Briggs of Schaghticoke and Richard Hart of Troy owned all of the mills in the gorge of the Hoosic River, an early monopoly. It was quite a conglomerate- with cotton, linen, and woolen mills, plus a grist mill, a farm ( located on Verbeck Avenue, where West Wind Farm is today), a mill store, and mill housing, plus a number of other lots in the village, which were rented for stores and housing. In the future I will look at these two men in more detail. It’s clear there is much more to learn about these mills and the village.
Bibliography:
Hart Papers and probate files at the Rensselaer County Historical Society in Troy
Sylvester’s “History of Rensselaer County”, 1880
U.S. and NYS Census for Schaghticoke: 1820, 1830, 1840, 1850, 1855, 1860
Spafford’s “Gazetteer of NYS”, 1813 and 1824
MacCauley, David, “Mill”, 1983.
Trips to National Park at Lowell, Mass., and Hanford Mills Museum, East Meredith, NY
http://www.fultonhistory.com- newspaper articles

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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